Friday, 14 February 2020 17:21

COLUMN: The war within a war

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COLUMN: The war within a war J.A. Bolton

In today’s world do we really know the folks who live in our community? Probably not unless they are kin. Do we all have the same political or religious views? Certainly not. Do we go around arresting, killing or burning our neighbors homes or farms down? I hope not.

Our generation and those of grandparents in America have not witnessed guerrilla warfare against our neighbors since the American Revolutionary and Civil wars.

During the Revolution in our country, there were at least two very different political views. One was called the Loyalists (Tories, who supported King George). The other called themselves, Whigs (Patriots, who supported being free from England).

There were many large battles fought for independence all up and down the east coast of what would later be called America. But, what was it like on the homefront of the two warring armies?

In North Carolina, both Loyalists and Patriots were extra cruel to each other. The Tories, along with the British Army, seemed intent on breaking the spirit of the so-called rebels by plundering, pillaging, robbing, burning possessions and outright killing along the home fronts. Women, children and parents of soldiers who were off fighting, were left to the mercy of the enemy. In retaliation for their crimes, Tories and English soldiers were bushwhacked and shot on-site by the Patriots.

One group of Tories, led by a tyrant by the name of David Fanning, was responsible for many raids in our area. With the speed of a small cavalry, he burnt homes and murdered anyone who he thought might have supported the rebel cause.

When Tories were spotted or reported to be in an area, many a local patriot father and brother were frequently called upon to form a local militia to track down the tyrants. But, when you were serving your country, on a six-month enlistment, you were not around. Such was the case of a Rowan County man by the name of William Gipson. When Gipson came home, he found that during his absence, “his mother, a widow woman,” had been tied up and whipped by the Tories, her house burnt and property destroyed, all because she could not tell where her son was.

Fast forward another 85 years to the American Civil War. A war unlike many Americans had ever seen. The armies of the North and South fought many great battles, but as in the Revolutionary War, guerrilla warfare was fought along the home fronts in N.C.

At the start of the war, troops from the South volunteered by the thousands, although in some parts of our state, folks were adamantly against the war and slavery. Economics and religion played a big part in the Piedmont and mountain areas of the state as to whether you supported succession or were pro-Union. Some folks like the Quakers, who were pacifists, were impressed into service or put in prison. 

As the war went on, the South passed a law that said if you could pay a certain amount of money to get another person to serve in your place, that was fine under the law. Soldiers were soon to find out that this was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

During the war, desertion became a real problem for the South. Men got letters from home saying their families were starving to death. Some pro-Union papers said that conditions were so bad down South that a crow flying over the area better be carrying his dinner. While some men were just tired of fighting and others just took the easy way out, a high percentage of these deserters came from the mountains of N.C. and the Piedmont. In fact, the Randolph County area had the highest desertion in the state. 

Areas like Randolph, Chatham, Moore and Montgomery counties became infested with deserters. The deserters were called “Outliers,” ” Lincolnites,” “Outlaws,” “Tories,, and “Bushwhackers.” These were the most common and printable names.

The Outliers tried their best to hide out as close to their homes as possible. This was a tactic that was used by runaway slaves. They would hide in the daytime in caves or heavy brush and slip into their homes at night to get food. Signals — like hanging quilts a certain way on the clothesline, beating pots and pans together, or a light in a certain window — would let the Outliers know if it was safe to come around.

The Outliers were not by themselves in the woods for the militia — or later, the Home Guard — was all around the area trying to capture these deserters and return them to service.

After Gettysburg, the deserter rate went sky high. The Outliers were running in gangs all over the countryside of what some called the “Randolph Area.” They were robbing, burning barns and houses, and even killing folks they called “Secesh” (pro- Confederates).

Gov. Zebulon B. Vance sent in militia and more regular troops six times, but when they got there most of the Outliers had vanished. Finally in March of 1865, General Robert E. Lee sent 500 troops to secure the railroads in and south of Greensboro. They were under order to capture or shoot any Outliers they ran across. The Outliers, not knowing that Lee’s troops came in by train, were caught off guard and about a hundred of them were shot on the spot — including a Federal cavalry officer who was in the group.

If you would like to learn more details of “The War Within,” join us Feb. 17 at the Richmond County Historical Society meeting at the Rockingham City Hall at 7 P.M. The public is invited.

J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club, the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies, the N.C. Storytelling Guild and the Story Spinners of Laurinburg. Contact him at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..