Historical association looks at Civil War times in Polk County

Published 1:12 pm Friday, October 15, 2010

The Polk County Historical Association recently reviewed some local history from Civil War days (1861-1865) with living historian and Civil War re-enactor David Smith.

Polk County was made up of mostly farmers during the Civil War (1861-1865) with an estimated 500 men joining or being drafted into regiments. Smith said that most men joined the war through peer pressure. Rallies were held and if there were 20 men there and 18 joined, the other two would also join to avoid their families being outcast. Some drafts for the Civil War were done by gunpoint.

Abraham Lincoln was not on the ballot in North Carolina when he was elected. When Lincoln asked for troops, then N.C. Governor John Ellis (1820-1861) initially told Lincoln he could get no troops from North Carolina. Ellis had a connection to Polk County as he married a Pearson woman from Saluda. Ellis also served as a judge in the beginning days at the Polk County Courthouse. He was not the governor during the Civil War; he died in 1861.

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PCHA President Anna Pack Conner and Smith provided interesting facts about the Civil War, including the facts that more books have been written about the Civil War than any other war and that some doctors got rich selling deferments for men to avoid being drafted. North Carolina was also unique in that early in the war N.C. soldiers wore special uniforms made in North Carolina specifically for the state’s soldiers. As the war went on and food and supplies diminished, soldiers wore whatever was available.

Smith said blankets were in such scarce supply and some battle areas were so cold that soldiers used to fight over the blankets in which dead soldiers were wrapped and buried. Diseases were rampant, including typhoid, tuberculosis, smallpox and scabies. Prisons were horrible, with men living in holes and men using the bathroom upstream from their drinking water, Smith said.

In Polk County, news traveled slowly. Most Polk County residents, an estimated 9,000 at that time, did not own slaves and state and national news had little effect on them, Conner said.

One resident’s Confederate ancestors had to walk from Salisbury and Charlotte back to Polk County when the war was over, without food and some without shoes.

Polk County soldiers noted at the meeting included the man the Town of Columbus was named after, Dr. Columbus Mills. Mills was a surgeon in the war and enlisted in 1861.

Napoleon Hampton, whose father was one of the men who donated land to form Columbus as the county seat, also served in the war. Hampton and 64 other men organized the 2nd company on April 5, 1862. When the war was over, Capt. Hampton returned to Polk County and served as sheriff from 1868-1890 and also served as clerk of court. Hampton is buried in the Hampton cemetery in Columbus.

Conner said her great-great grandfather, Jesse Green, enlisted in the Company G in 1862. Green was wounded in the bowel in Georgia, but Conner said he apparently recovered from his war injuries as he had two children prior to the war, four more children following the war and, after his wife died, another 10 with another wife.

Conners other great-great grandfather, William Pack, served and died in the Civil War. William Pack was buried in Georgia.

Audience members were also invited to tell of any ancestors that served in the Civil War. Dewayne Sherman told of his great-great grandfather, George Washington Bradley, who enlisted after the age was lowered at 17. Bradley was born in McDowell County and was the great grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier. Bradley moved to Coopers Gap from McDowell County and was placed in Company C in Asheville during the Civil War. On Dec. 25, 1864, he participated in the Battle of Fort Fisher, Sherman said. He contracted scabies on Jan. 25, 1864 and after the surrender on May 2, 1865, Sherman read, soldiers walked back from Salisbury to Coopers Gap. Bradley raised six children and had 30 grandchildren. Sherman says his death certificate reads that Bradleys cause of death was worn out, with Bradley dying in his 70s.

Conner said in looking at Polk County soldiers history, many were listed as deserted for a few months then returned. Speculation is that since most Polk County residents were farmers, the soldiers deserted the war in order to come home and plant, then returned to service.

Not much is known about Civil War soldiers from Polk County. Historical association president Anna Conner and Smith ask that county residents with family history, pictures, documents or stories to let the association know and give historical items to the museum if possible. Anyone with information they want to share about the Civil War or any other historical pictures and items are urged to contact the Polk County Historical Museum, located in Columbus.