By Abi Cole
Asheville – Sandwiched between Nine Mile Restaurant and UNC Asheville, one of the last battles of the Civil War took place in an unassuming North Asheville neighborhood. The five-hour standoff between Union and Confederate forces weaned into the evening dusk 155 years ago. Col. Isaac B. Kirby led nearly a thousand Union troops of the 101st Ohio Infantry from Greeneville, TN with orders to “scout in the direction of Asheville”. As the Union troops crept within five miles of Asheville, local residents of the Sondley and Woodfin farms alerted Confederate Col. John B. Palmer on April 6, 1865.
Asheville had once aspired to be the “capital of the Confederacy” because of its geographic centrality. In the 1860s, Asheville commanded the region politically and economically as a large trading center for a variety of European goods that entered through Carolina ports. The city was home to Confederate recruitment camps and a rifle factory. One camp of soldiers trained at Weaverville’s Lake Louise but never saw battle. Disease ravaged the soldiers.
Union forces captured nearby Knoxville in 1863, the largest city in East Tennessee. Asheville was appealing to seize because of the Buncombe Turnpike, Western North Carolina’s open highway, which spanned from East Tennessee from the South Carolina border.
Confederate forces were able to only scrounge up 100 to 150 men and three cannons in a showdown beside the French Broad River. The Ohio troops were led to assume that they faced a much more daunting force than what awaited them. Union Col. Kirby received false reports that 2000 men and 20 cannons were to greet him in Asheville. Under the shroud of stormy skies, Col. Kirby’s troops retreated and abandoned efforts to take Asheville.
The local victory was fleeting. Two weeks later Maj. Gen. George H. Stoneman’s calvary raid swept through Appalachia and approached Asheville. Word of Robert E Lee’s April 9th surrender at Appomattox hadn’t reached the mountain city, but both sides agreed to let the Union soldiers march unchallenged through the city on their way to Tennessee. The peaceful passage was overturned a day later when Federal troops returned and pillaged and burned the armory.
Today, cars hurdle down Broadway St that links UNC Asheville to Downtown. The road weaves alongside the French Broad River through neighborhoods and commerce. 155 years ago, a short-lived Confederate victory marked this road. Note the Battle of Asheville Historical marker on Broadway.