Stoneman's Raid: One of Many Markers Across The State - TribPapers

Stoneman’s Raid: One of Many Markers Across The State

Photo by Clint Parker

Black Mountain – This week’s historical marker is just one of 17 that line the highways of the state about Stoneman’s Raid. Like other recent ones, this one is located in Black Mountain at Old Toll Road and reads, “Southern troops turned back Stoneman’s US cavalry, raiding through western North Carolina, at Swannanoa Gap, near here, April 20, 1865.”

However, there is another in Buncombe County. You’ll also find one on US 25 (Hendersonville Road) south of I-40 in Asheville. There are also others in Henderson, Polk, Rutherford, Watauga, Burke, Surry and other counties just to name a few. So, who is this Stoneman, and what happened in the raid that caused him to get so many markers along state roads?

Native New Yorker Stoneman trained at West Point, where his roommate was Stonewall Jackson, and he was a 1846 graduate. He served in the Mexican and Civil Wars and retired from the Army after 36 years, going on to be governor of California.

During the American Civil War, the mountainous terrain of Western North Carolina became a battleground where strategic military maneuvers and decisive engagements shaped the course of the war. Among these significant events, Stoneman’s Raid is a critical moment that left a memorable mark on the region’s history.

In the spring of 1865, Stoneman led a daring cavalry raid deep into Confederate territory, targeting crucial supply lines and disrupting the enemy’s communication networks. Departing from East Tennessee, Stoneman’s expedition aimed to sever Confederate transportation routes, disrupt reinforcements flow, and weaken the enemy’s hold on the region.

The raid lead to the Battle of Asheville, fought on April 6, 1865, near the present-day city of Asheville, North Carolina. In a fierce engagement, Union forces clashed with Confederate defenders in a desperate struggle for control of the vital transportation hub. Although the battle resulted in a Union victory, it came at a heavy cost, with casualties on both sides and widespread destruction inflicted upon the town.

As Stoneman’s forces advanced they encountered fierce resistance from Confederate defenders determined to repel the Union invaders. Stoneman’s defeat at Swannanoa Gap marked a significant setback in his ambitious raid through Western North Carolina during the Civil War. As Union forces under Stoneman’s command advanced towards Asheville in April 1865, they encountered fierce resistance from entrenched Confederate defenders at Swannanoa Gap. Despite initial progress, Stoneman’s troops faced overwhelming opposition as they attempted to breach the fortified Confederate positions.

The sketch of the battle states, “The Union forces reached the Swannanoa Gap on April 20th after a successful raid on Morganton. At the gap, they were met by a blockade of 500 Confederates and artillery. Gillem, aware that the Confederates were in a good defensive position, ordered his men to deceive the Confederates as some men maintained the guise of a frontal assault while others flanked the Confederate position. Because of the mountainous environment, the flanking movement was a wide march that took Gillem and his men into Rutherfordton, forty miles south of the Swannanoa Gap, on April 21. ”

The Confederate forces, bolstered by their intimate knowledge of the rugged terrain and strategic advantage of higher ground, repelled the Union advance with determined resolve. The defeat at Swannanoa Gap dealt a blow to Stoneman’s raid, forcing him to alter his plans and regroup his forces. While the setback slowed his progress, Stoneman’s determination to press on with the campaign remained undiminished as he continued to seek opportunities to disrupt Confederate operations and advance Union objectives in the region.

One of the raid’s most notable objectives was the destruction of the vital Confederate saltworks located in Saltville, Virginia. By targeting this critical resource, Stoneman hoped to deprive the Confederacy of essential supplies and strike a blow to its war effort. Although the raid ultimately failed to achieve its primary objective, it inflicted significant damage on Confederate infrastructure and disrupted key logistical networks.

In the aftermath of Stoneman’s Raid, Western North Carolina lay ravaged by the ravages of war, its communities scarred by the violence and upheaval of conflict. Yet, the raid’s impact extended beyond the battlefield, signaling the beginning of the end for the Confederate cause in the region and hastening the collapse of the Southern Confederacy.