Kemp Burpeau, Civil War News, Feb/March 2010
The Cornelia Henry diaries, spanning 1860-1868, are a fascinating window on daily life in western North Carolina during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Cornelia and her husband William were prosperous entrepreneurs owning farmland, orchards, a mill, distillery and hotel at Sulphur Springs, a resort frequented by Low Country planters. A person of local prominence, William was a magistrate.
The Henrys were zealous Confederates. William served as a Home Guard officer in bloody confrontations with Unionists partisans and Confederate deserters characteristic of the bushwhacker war in the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains.
He also participated in conventional fighting such as the April 3, 1863, battle of Asheville.
Blood feuds and partisan revenge prevented William from being able to safely return home for months following the formal end of hostilities. His home was repeatedly plundered and his livestock stolen. By war’s end the once prosperous family was impoverished, struggling to hide one horse from Unionist partisans for spring planting.
Surprising is the relative normalcy of everyday life amidst the monumental events of the catastrophic conflict. Cornelia recorded her cooking, childcare, ministration to sick family, slaves and neighbors, sewing, weaving and church attendance.
Yet the war was always present. Family and friends enlisted or were drafted; word was received of deaths at the front from sickness or battlefield casualty.
Misinformation and rumors were rampant in both soldier gossip and press reports. Sherman’s army was believed to be devastated; Washington was thought to be plundered.
Some commodities, particularly coffee, become prohibitively expensive and ultimately unobtainable. Rationing and crop impressments were fixtures of daily survival.
Cornelia wrote in a heartfelt, concise, modern style, without any distracting literary flourishes or affectations. She demonstrated her undying patriotism for the Confederate cause, denouncing the “reign of terror” imposed by Northern aggressors and their local “Tory” sympathizers.
She maintained hopes that France would support Maximilian and make war on and defeat the Federals, to give the Yankees a feeling for war’s total devastation. Her attitudes toward slaves and freedmen reflected typical deplorable racial prejudices of the era. Cornelia asserted that slaves were not sufficiently appreciative of their masters’paternal benevolence.
Postwar she bemoaned that blacks must be paid cash as a motivation to work. Yet she could evoke sympathy for the freedmen, stating, “poor negroes, they sicken and die and no one cares.”
Both the academic and general reader interested in the fratricidal war in Appalachian North Carolina, Asheville history and the operation of a 19th-century resort will find Fear in North Carolina invaluable.
The editors provide informative, but unobtrusive, supplemental pictures and documents seamlessly integrated into the text. Comprehensive Henry and slave genealogies are useful reader aids.
Kemp Burpeau has a Ph.D. in American history. He has served on the North Carolina Historical Commission, is a local government attorney and teaches at Mount Olive College. He is the author of God’s Showman, a study of American missionary John Graham Lake.
"Fear in North Carolina" is a collection primarily from the journals of Cornelia Henry, 25-year-old at the outset of war. While the subtitle notes a family collection, she is far and away the primary voice, based on the full inclusion of her three journals dating between 1860 and 1868.
Cornelia wrote on almost a daily basis, giving the reader an in-depth look at 1860’s life in western North Carolina. While the bulk are written during the war years, her focus is the day-to-day challenges of raising children, helping run a family farm and boarding house (including dealings with slaves), and constant concern for the welfare of her husband "Mr. Henry" (14 years her senior), who business and militia duties take him frequently away from home.
Her journals are rich in detail, revealing not only her activities (no "Tara" here; this woman worked hard, sewing clothes constantly it seemed), but her thoughts, concerns and hopes (for good weather, safety and health for all and a peaceful end to the war with much of these hopes directed via prayer).
The journals remind us as well of the strife at home, as much of Mr. Henry’s militia duty involves dealing with the local "Tories" (southern Unionists).
It is also clear how much a community was an extended family, as multitudes of other people come in and out of the picture. The editors, via footnotes, try to assist the reader in keeping track of these people, but so, it remains difficult.
Another editorial decision, to clean up copy via insertion of punctuation and forego the frequent use of [sic] was a wise decision in terms of easing readability. However, I would have liked to see more explanatory footnotes on the activities and terminology that is foreign to today’s reader.
This is a highly-detailed look at life in the 1860’s. While the Civil War is a influencing factor, the journals don’t deal with the war per se, but its impact.
It gives context to an understanding of how the period impacted people and families. Cornelia’s writings are a rich resource.
The North Carolina Historical Review
Oct 2008, Vol LXXXV, Number 4
Those of us researching and writing about the Civil War and Reconstruction in western North Carolina have had many good reasons to visit the Pack Memorial Library in Asheville, but none more so than to get our hands on the journals and correspondence of Cornelia Henry. Her three journals--dating from January 1860 to October 1868-and lengthy, descriptive letters provide as vivid an account as any we have of daily life in southern Appalachia during and after the Civil War. It is a voluminous and exceptionally rich body of material, and to have it readily accessible in published form-even with its rather odd title-is a real boon. Scholars and more general readers will now have the chance to discover a distinctive voice and perspective on the trials and traumas of the wartime home front and its aftermath.
South Carolina native Cornelia Smith married William L. Henry in 1855, and in 1859, they took over the farm and the Sulphur Springs Hotel that his father had built on over seven hundred acres just west of Asheville. The hotel was destroyed by fire early in 1861, but the Henrys continued to farm their estate with the help of several families of slaves and other hired labor. If it is the rhythms and routines of farm life that dominate Cornelia's writings throughout the nearly nine years it covers (and her commentary on slaves both before and after emancipation is among the most intriguing facets of her chronicle), it is also full of meaty nuggets regarding the war waged in the mountains, state and local politics, and the uneasy readjustment to postwar occupation and racial tensions.
William's activities as captain of a local Home Guard company were among Cornelia's foremost concerns. In that role, he participated in several notable clashesthe infamous Shelton Laurel massacre and George W. Kirk's defense against a Union raid from East Tennessee in 1863 (in which he was wounded), and the so-called Battle of Asheville, a minor skirmish early in 1865. With Stoneman's Raid into Buncombe County at war's end, William became a target of occupying forces and went into hiding for several weeks. Cornelia's letters to him, full of news and urgent pleas that he lie low, serve as a particularly poignant demonstration of the emotional turmoil and physical danger many mountain women endured in a war that brought to their doorsteps bushwhackers, renegades, and deserters, as well as Union troops. Notably for western North Carolinians, the latter reality came only in the weeks after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.
Editors Karen Clinard and Richard Russell, who also operates the local press that produced the book, have packaged these writings effectively. While further annotation would have enhanced and made more meaningful much of the content, the book is profusely illustrated and followed by a series of valuable appendixes. The juxtaposition of the Henrys' correspondence with the journal entries is particularly well handled. It all makes for a remarkable chronicle of the war in Cornelia/Henry's astute and often strongly opinionated voice, which deserves the much wider readership it is now likely to reach in this new and far more accessible form.
STEVEN E. NASH, Appalachian Journal
PAGE 382 SUMMER 2008
By compiling and editing Fear in North Carolina: The Civil War Journals and Letters of the Henry Family, Karen L. Clinard and Richard Russell have performed a great service for all people interested in the Civil War and Reconstruction in Southern Appalachia. Researchers working on Civil War-era western North Carolina are familiar with these materials already, but Clinard and Russell have made these materials easily accessible to any interested reader. Largely the writings of Cornelia Smith Henry, these journals and letters offer insight into Appalachian society during a deeply transformative period as well as the basic human story of a woman trying to preserve her way of life during a time of war.
Cornelia Henry married well in 1855. When she left her father's home in
South Carolina for Buncombe County in the western North Carolina mountains,
she entered into the elite class of white mountaineers. Her new husband,
William Lewis Henry, inherited a substantial farm, an active hotel, and several
slaves from his father. According to the 1860 federal census, he owned $45,000
worth of real estate and personal property valued at $22,000. W. L. Henry's nine
slaves also added significantly to his family's comfort, performing most of the
agricultural work, cooking, and milling on the Henrys' property. Although the hotel burned mysteriously on the cusp of the Civil War, the Henrys maintained comfortable circumstances. Cornelia performed only the labor befitting a woman of her station. She sewed clothes for her family and slaves, cleaned house, cared for her husband and children, and monitored the work of her domestic slaves.
What comes through most in Cornelia's wartime diary is the intensely localized nature of the war common throughout Southern Appalachia. Her husband served in a home guard unit whose primary responsibility was to hunt Unionists and deserters in the counties along the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Only when Cornelia's husband went on active duty did the war really resonate with her. For that reason, Cornelia Henry poses something of a conundrum to modern historians because she defies neat categorization. In her writings, she noted the fates of local men, but major battles and policy decisions elicited only brief mentions. Gettysburg, for instance, went unnoticed in her diary. Whenever her husband left, however, the tone of her writings changed, and her diary filled with anguish. She frequently placed her husband above the Confederacy, as evidenced by her feelings towards conscription. She traced the progress of Confederate conscription, and although she never acknowledged its need, she frequently fretted that it would take her husband and that she might die without him, Continuous prayers for an "honorable peace" became commonplace at those times, but she never defined that peace, In fact, in her diary, she largely omits any discussion of what divided the South from the North. For Cornelia Henry, family came first, community second, and the Confederacy seemed at best a distant third.
Cornelia's loyalties became clearer late in the war and after the Confederacy's fall. Defeat made Cornelia a more profound Confederate. She named her son, Edmond Lee, after Robert E. Lee, whom she mentioned sparingly in her wartime diaries. More importantly, the value of slavery in Cornelia's life became more obvious once the war destroyed slavery. Cornelia Henry chronicled the movement of African American highlanders, especially women, in the wake of emancipation. Freedwomen moved in and out of the Henrys' house and performed a variety of jobs. Sometimes they worked for wages, and on other occasions, they left abruptly for new opportunities. The shock of losing slaves upon whom she depended accentuated Henry's racism. When black women defied her orders, Cornelia recoiled in disgust and vowed to consider them forever her inferiors. Reconstruction marked a distinct dividing line in Cornelia's life. Before and even during the war, she was able to avoid a large Union military presence and a great deal of labor, but after the war, that changed, and her disdain for those she held accountable-Yankees and her former slaves-grew more intense.
Fear in North Carolina will find a welcome place on scholars' and interested lay readers' shelves. For an academic audience, the appendix will be of great interest. To their great credit-and I am sure their frustration as well-Clinard and Russell pieced together scraps of information on the Henry family's slaves for an appendix that grants valuable insight into black mountain families and clarifies the names that flow in and out of Cornelia's writings. For genealogists and historical enthusiasts, this volume also contains family trees, obituaries, a number of family photos, and an index to help maneuver through a massive amount of material. Fear in North Carolina offers a deep rendering of a well-to-do mountain family during the difficult years surrounding the Civil War.
For Cornelia, local events were the most important. Now, historians can examine
her writings and connect them to themes beyond Cornelia's Buncombe County
frame of reference. Cornelia's journals were a well-kept secret for too long.
Thankfully, everyone can now discover for themselves the richness of her
wartime and Reconstruction-era writings.
STEVEN E. NASH
Steven Nash is a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia. He is currently working on a dissertation on Reconstruction in western North Carolina entitled "The Extremist Conditions of Humanity: Emancipation, Conflict, and Progress in Western North Carolina, 1865-1880."
From TOCWOC - A Civil War Blog
by Fred L. Ray, author of Shock Troops of the Confederacy
Social history is very much in fashion these days and much of it frankly a bit tedious, especially when accompanied by a lot of interpretation. What I do find interesting, however, is reading the primary source material. What did the people think then, as opposed to how we see it now?
Richard Russell, a fellow Ashevillian, compiled and edited the journals and letter of the Henry Family, leading citizens of Asheville during the Civil War. Although there is a great deal of family material in the book (Russell had the active cooperation of the Henry family descendants) like photos, letters, etc. the bulk of the book is three daily journals kept by Cornelia Henry between 1860 and 1868. These constitute an invaluable look into an era forever gone. It was, for example, a much more formal age. In her diary, and presumably in person, Cornelia refers to her husband as “Mr. Henry.”
William L. Henry and his wife Cornelia ran an inn/resort at Sulphur Springs, just outside Asheville. They were slave owners. There was no plantation economy in the mountains, but the Henrys had a sprawling spread with mixed agriculture, animal husbandry and orchards. Most of this they used either themselves or for inn, and sold the excess on the market. Some slaves were “learned a trade” such as carpentry and hired out. Still, the life of a slaveholder was no bed of ease. Although Cornelia was spared many of the most odious domestic tasks, she still filled her days with cooking, sewing, and a lot of domestic work, plus having and raising several children. Then there was the management of the slaves. On Dec 11, 1861, Cornelia notes: “Nothing of interest going on…Jim Parker had to thrash some of the negroes yesterday evening & Jim [a slave] ran away last night. Jim Parker started after him this morning.”
When war came William Henry did not do regular service but served in a Home Guard company, where in addition to security duties he had the disagreeable task of hunting down an ever-growing number of deserters. Henry was wounded slightly at an action at Warm Springs and participated in the Battle of Asheville (one of the last Confederate victories, fought on April 6, 1865). The Henrys were staunch Confederates and hoped for independence until the last. Hunted by Col. George Kirk’s men after the fall of Asheville, he barely escaped with his life and and had to flee to South Carolina.
We moderns may sneer at period gender roles, but women of the time were respected, even by their enemies. Even though her house and inn were plundered several times by Union soldiers, she seems to have had no fear for her safety or virtue. Even when Kirk’s raiders entered her home—who would have killed her husband on sight—they said they would respect her. For Cornelia it was an eventful spring. With her husband on the run for his life, she gave birth to a baby boy on April 22nd, just in time to see the town occupied by Yankees who sacked the house and took many of their animals. To add to her problems the newly-freed slaves left her to run the place on her own.
William Henry eventually returned to rejoin his family and lived to a ripe old age. After the war, following a fire and the loss of their bound labor, the Henrys fortunes declined, although they remained prominent citizens. Cornelia put her thoughts and feelings on paper each day as it passed, had no particular agenda, and did not attempt to revise the diary later.
The Henry journals have been know for some time and available since they were donated to the Asheville library by a descendant in 1980, but Russell deserves credit for making them available to a wider audience. Reminiscing Books, is, like CFS Press, a micropublishing outfit here in Asheville. The book is in paperback only, and is attractively laid out and well indexed. An added value are the excerpts from the local papers concerning things like hiring slaves, recruiting, capturing deserters and the like, as well as photos of the Henry family and contemporary personalities, documents (e.g. slave schedules, Henry’s Amnesty) and family letters. In all, there is a huge amount of information for the for the researcher and though it’s not exactly a page turner, I recommend it highly.
Fear in North Carolina marks the first publication of the journals of Asheville, North Carolina resident and supporter of the Confederate cause Cornelia Henry. Originally written in three volumes spanning the period 1860-1868, the journals have been compiled and edited for publication in a single volume by Karen Clinard and Richard Russell.
Not surprisingly, much of Mrs. Henry's daily concerns are related to raising a family and running a household and farm (with the help of slaves). Although frequently wracked with headache complaints, Henry was nevertheless an extremely diligent diarist, a boon to future researchers and historians. Non-domestic matters are also prominent, especially with husband William Henry away in the army. With the Union occupation of East Tennessee, the western border of North Carolina was open to Federal incursion, the fears and realities of which Mrs. Henry was completely aware. Earlier, her husband was able to resign from the Confederate army in order to lead a local home defense company. In western North Carolina, their war then became one of raids and guerrilla attacks. During this most turbulent period, the journal entries became even more detailed, with Cornelia Henry perhaps seeking comfort in her writing. Diary entries continue through the occupation of Asheville in 1865 and early Reconstruction, providing readers with a lengthy account of one family's experience during those difficult transition years of political, economic, and social upheaval.
In preparing the journals for publication, editors Clinard and Russell took Mrs. Henry's original writing, which lacked formatting and punctuation, and organized it into paragraphs, inserting sentence breaks and some spelling correction. Footnotes were also included, albeit infrequently. Interspersed among the journal pages are full transcriptions of letters to and from Mrs. Henry, the most frequent correspondent being Mr. Henry. Beyond providing insight into relations between the devoted couple, it brings to light William Henry's war service. Illustrations also abound in the form of newspaper clippings and other document reproductions. Photographs of persons and places are inserted throughout, with a set of family images assembled in the back of the book. Other appendices include a family tree, obituaries, a short history of the slaves associated with the Henrys, a will, and a set of maps. One of the latter depicts the battle of Asheville, illustrating troop positions along with other landmarks, including military camps. More detailed information about wartime Asheville and environs is provided by three other archival maps. All are quite useful.
A REVIEW by TERRELL T. GARREN
Author of "The Secret of War" and "Mountain Myth"
Fear in North Carolina is one of the most important compilations of Western North Carolina Civil War history ever done. What makes it so special is that it is a genuine account taken from the time. Most of the material that historians work with is written after the war, sometimes decades after the war. This book is a day-by-day record of the period.
For those who are familiar with this history this book will be recognized for the masterpiece that it is. The Henry family letters follow known historical events as they occurred. Readers will note that some of the writing is an account of simple, ordinary and often mundane experience. There are discussions of clothes, crops and weather that have little to do with the volatile times. But laced in and among the mundane accounts of daily life are nuggets of historical gold. This book contains priceless information that may be found in few other places.
The reader will also discover rare photographs and documents supporting the writings of the Henrys. There are newspaper announcements regarding the raising of Confederate troops, the sale of slaves and other important events of the period. On pages 318 and 319 there is a copy of William Henry’s pardon signed by post war President Johnson. There are posting for the arrest and retention of Confederate deserters.
Civil War historians often refer to what Confederate soldiers called “swallow the dog,” or taking the oath of allegiance to the United States. A copy of William Henry’s oath is included in this work.
Perhaps the saddest inclusion is the account of criminal conduct on the part of Union soldiers in the last days of the war. Mrs. Henry gives credible accounts of robbery, house burning and criminal violence on the part of the “Yankees.” As in other cases, most of the criminal conduct is associated with Union Colonel Kirk and several other units under the command of Tennessee Unionist General Alvan C. Gillem who took command of Stoneman’s Cavalry when they came here.
Fear In North Carolina will become required reading for those studying the war in the western part of the state. It is the most significant publication on western North Carolina Civil War history printed in at least a quarter century.
Click for Amazon.Com Reviews
Mother’s journal balances baby’s 1st steps,
Civil War ‘slaughter’
by Rob Neufeld published May 7, 2008 12:15 am
History is often preserved by diary writers, begging the question: Who are the diary writers?
The remarkable diary of Civil War-era homemaker and hostess Cornelia Henry might lead us to think that women of that time were depressed and waged a war of willpower against neglect and chaos.
But it’s hard to say if this generalization is true.
Cornelia had special circumstances: chronic headaches, wartime worries and enormous responsibilities. Her husband, William L. Henry, owned the Sulphur Springs Hotel in West Asheville — a premier retreat and occasional soldiers’ refuge.
Like John Adams in David McCullough’s biography, William, though a doting husband and father, was often called away on business.
“Mr. Henry gone off somewhere on the farm,” Cornelia wrote on June 16, 1861. “The children are all at play whilst I write. There has been some fighting between the North & South. … I feel as if my life would be a burthen if my dear husband should go.”
Mrs. Henry was a lonely woman for whom writing in her “studio” by the branch was a comfort and a besieged woman, whose attentions were monopolized by officers, slaves, bereaved neighbors and her own children.
“It is so lonesome here when Mr. Henry is gone,” she wrote on Dec. 19, 1861. “That old crazy Herrel staid here last Tuesday night. I fear he will come while Mr. Henry is gone & it would frighten me to death nearly.”
The day following Herrel’s visit, she wrote, “Things don’t go well when (Mr. Henry) is away. George (a slave William inherited from his father) is troublesome when he (William) is not here & all the negroes in general. They don’t like to obey me.”
The Henrys had about 20 slaves on whom they depended for everything from fieldwork to child care. Cornelia worked hard, constantly making clothes. The news she received of Confederate losses were offset by the day-by-day progress of her youngest child, William, her pet.
“Willie made his first step alone this morning,” Cornelia noted on March 6, 1862. Two days later, it was “Muster here tomorrow.” On March 20, she wrote, “Willie can walk across the room & not fall”; and on the 21st, “Nashville has been surrendered to the Federalist.”
On April 26, Mr. Henry returned from a 12-day trip with troops to Marshall, where a new company comprising married men had gone to put down Union depredations.
Cornelia reported, “I heard from Madison (County) today. They are taking tories prisoners.” Four days later, Willie climbed stairs and traveled where he pleased.
By the time Willie was running about, the Union Army had taken possession of New Orleans. And on June 2, Mrs. Henry made this morose entry: “I have done nothing of importance today. I mended some old dresses. It is very warm today. Mail brought no news. They have been a fight near Richmond. Terrible slaughter on both sides.”
The Henry family survived the war pretty much intact. Their children had not been of fighting age. On Dec. 10, 1866, as Christmas and some prosperity approached, Cornelia wondered about the nearly 400 pages she had penned by that time.
“I am tempted at times to lay it apart entirely,” she reflected.
“But Mr. Henry tells me it will interest my children at some future day and I wish to live in their memory long after I am in the silent tomb.”
This is the opinion of Rob Neufeld, who writes the local history feature “Visiting Our Past” for the Citizen-Times and may be reached at RNeufeld@charter.net or 768-2665. He is the author of “A Popular History of Western North Carolina.”