Mountains Memorialize Both Sides of Civil War

North Carolina Department of Cultural ResourcesMountains Memorialize Both Sides of Civil War

Explore the birthplace of North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance in Weaverville

The Civil War did not spare the people of North Carolina’s mountain communities. It divided many, forcing residents to take arms and choose sides. Loyalties spawned skirmishes and pushed some people into wartime roles that are regarded today as significant. Visit their homes and battlefields, where you’ll come to know them and their choices.

2-Day Itinerary

Day 1: Visit the homes of Civil War leaders, including Gov. Zebulon Vance, and battle sites when you drive from Asheville to Blowing Rock.

Day 2: Follow Gen. Stoneman’s raid through Deep Gap and Boone before taking the Blue Ridge Parkway to an 1860s home in Brevard and an Asheville cemetery, where Confederate and Union soldiers are buried.

Day 1: Meet the fighters

Start in Asheville with breakfast at Tupelo Honey Cafe, where the biscuits and blueberry preserves are good enough to steal the meal. The Grove Arcade is just a few blocks away, and is worth the walk to the Civil War Trails marker there. During the 1865 Battle of Asheville, Confederate Battery Porter was posted here before its capture.

It’s a short drive to Smith-McDowell House Museum, the city’s oldest standing house and former home of William Wallace McDowell, who organized the first Confederate volunteers in Western North Carolina. Exhibits explain slavery in the mountains, and display McDowell’s battlefield saber and Union troop movements. Next, drive to The University of North Carolina at Asheville, where the Battle of Asheville marker points to the earthworks used by 300 Confederate troops to stop a Union force three times as strong.

Drive north to reach Weaverville and Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace State Historic Site. He began the war as a Confederate colonel and finished as North Carolina governor. Tour the reconstructed outbuildings and homestead. Trace the early years of Vance and his brother, Robert, a Confederate army brigadier general, through Visitor Center exhibits.

The Rush Wray Museum in Burnsville is next. Before entering, find the marker at the Visitor Center next door. It describes the division between Union and Confederate supporters here, which made it a haven for deserters. Inside the museum, you'll see photos and items of John W. McElroy, the home's owner and leader of the Western North Carolina Home Guard, which captured the deserters.

Head east to the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow it to Blowing Rock and a Civil War Trails marker that details Stoneman’s raid. Blowing Rock is a good place to stay the night. Lodging includes Green Park Inn, which was built by a Civil War veteran and two others in 1891. For dinner, Woodlands serves Western North Carolina-style barbecue, which uses a tomato-based sauce. Nearby Boone has more options, including Dan’l Boone Inn, which has been serving family-style meals for more than 50 years.

Day 2: Raids and skirmishes

Start with a short Parkway drive to Deep Gap. There you’ll find a marker where half of Stoneman’s force built a fort and raided the countryside for supplies before meeting their comrades in Wilkesboro, where they kept Confederate Gen. Lee from retreating south. Take U.S. Highway 421 to Boone, and you’ll see the spot where Stoneman’s force beat local militia. While in Boone, stop by Mast General Store and treat yourself to dozens of types of candy, and one of the delis on King Street to pick up sandwiches for a picnic lunch at Mount Mitchell State Park. It’s home to the highest peak in the East, and is up next, just off the Parkway.

After lunch, continue down the Parkway, past Asheville to Wagon Wheel Gap and then Allison-Deaver House in Brevard. Here you’ll learn about Confederate Capt. James Deaver and his father, who was killed by Confederate deserters and Union loyalists. You can tour their home, which has its original fireplaces and paneling.

Follow the Parkway to Balsam Gap and then Waynesville and three markers. One is at Sulphur Springs Park, marking the Waynesville Engagement. Another is at the gravesite of Col. William Thomas, who organized Confederates to fight in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky and delay the Union in Western North Carolina. Battle House, where Thomas’ force surrendered at the end of the war, is the third.

Retrace your steps to Asheville and your last stop, Riverside Cemetery. Download a walking tour and visit the gravesites of the Vance brothers and more than 250 Confederate veterans. Abraham Lincoln bodyguard Capt. James Posey also is buried there.

Pete Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer who says lakes, race tracks and barbecue joints are his favorite places to enjoy North Carolina.

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