The Sons of Thunder (Extended Version)



Brendan Camp LeGrand


Except for the Revolutionary War, the Civil War is the defining event in our nation’s history, and it was the greatest crisis in the history of our country.  The long struggle disrupted every aspect of American life.  As we mark the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War, we look back on the event, whose history is still as popular and as controversial today as it ever was. Fought over issues of states’ rights and slavery that had simmered for decades, it took bloodshed and the lives of nearly 600,000 soldiers, to determine the course of our nation’s history.  It was fought with new industrial age technology in arsenal that made it the bloodiest war to that date, at a time when medical science was in its infancy.  A war whose participation could be bought off, if one had the necessary funds, making it “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”  In the South, seventy-five to eighty-five percent of men from 17 to 50 years old served in the military.  Devastating the Southland, the terrain of the seceding Confederate States, it was perhaps the saddest war in history, impacting families on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, as it pitted brother against brother. Because of divided loyalties, families were torn apart and bonds of friendships strained or severed.  In none of the states did the people unanimously favor one side.  At one time or another, 300,000 men from Confederate States served in the Union Army.

Four of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s brothers and two of her brothers-in-law served in the Confederate Army.  One of the most famous family quarrels that lasted for many years after the end of the war involved the Virginia family of Union Cavalry Gen. Philip St. George Cooke.   Gen. Cooke and his Pennsylvania-born wife were loyal to the Union, and Gen. Cooke remained in the U. S. Army during the war.  Jacob Sharpe, the husband of their youngest daughter, Julia, became a successful Union brigadier general.  However the other family members favored the Confederacy, and his son and other two sons-in-law resigned their Union commissions and joined the Confederate States Army, after Virginia seceded in May 1861.  Their son Col. John Rogers Cooke resigned the U. S. Army and served the Confederacy with great distinction as a brigadier general.  Their daughter, Maria’s husband, Dr. Charles Brewer of Maryland, a surgeon in the U. S. Army, resigned his Union commission and served the Confederacy as a surgeon on Gen. Robert E. Lee’s staff.   Their daughter, Flora’s husband was U. S. Army Capt. James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart.  He resigned to join the Confederate Army and was one of the most famous cavalry commanders of the war.  Gen. Cooke had been Jeb’s Stuart commanding officer in the Union Army.  Stuart was furious with his father-in-law, considered him a traitor to the South and never spoke to him again.  He even changed his son’s name from Philip St. George Cooke Stuart to James Ewell Brown Stuart, Jr.  Gen. Cooke and Stuart met on the battlefield during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia in 1862.  The Union and Confederate cavalry skirmished at Williamsburg and Yorktown, but the two did not get the opportunity to confront each other.  During the Seven Days Campaign, as Gen. Lee pushed the Union Army away from Richmond, the Confederate capital, Stuart, as the Confederate cavalry commander, made his famous First Ride around Gen. George B. McClellan’s entire Union Army from June 12 through 15, 1862, as his father-in-law pursued him in vain.

In our own family, our Grandfather Camp’s brothers, James and John, the sons of Lawson Camp, served on opposite sides in the Civil War.  Born in Cleveland County, North Carolina, the family moved to Hendersonville, in Henderson County, North Carolina when James and John were just boys.  A span of eight years and, later, ideology separated them.

John Movas Camp married Armilda Ward, and in 1860, they had a daughter, Sarah Ann, named after his sister, Sarah Ann.  John enlisted in the Confederate Army in Henderson County in October 1861 as a member of the 35th NC Infantry Regiment, Company G, Henderson Rifles.  They fought at New Bern, Seven Pines, and at Malvern Hill where they had significant casualties with 18 killed, 91 wounded and 18 missing.  In September, they fought at Sharpsburg/Antietam, the “bloodiest single day of the war.” They were not heavily engaged, but their Captain and two others were killed.  In December 1862, they fought at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and were placed at the famous Sunken Lane behind the stone wall on Marye’s Heights late in the day.  John was wounded that day and had his leg amputated.  That seems to suggest he was wounded on the way to the wall, because he was unlikely to be hit in the leg while standing behind a stone wall in a sunken road.  His unit was near the top of the hill subjected to enemy fire until they were placed behind the wall.  It is likely that he was hit while they were either waiting or while they were moving to the wall.  He died from his wounds a month later.

His brother, James Jefferson Camp, was in the 62nd NC Infantry Regiment, Company E, organized 1862 in Waynesville, Transylvania County, N.C.  He enlisted July 14, 1862, and he is listed as a resident of Transylvania County.  His unit worked in the west along the North Carolina/Tennessee borders.  His unit was poorly equipped and was surrendered by their commander to the U. S. Cavalry pretty much without a fight at Cumberland Gap on September 9, 1863.  He was captured at Carter’s Depot, Tennessee and a prisoner at Camp Douglas.  He was exchanged and deserted in 1863.  A month later, he joined the Union Army as a member of the 2nd NC Mounted Infantry.  This unit was organized in October 1863, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a large number of the 62nd NC boys joined up.  Most of this unit formerly served in Confederate regiments prior to enlisting in the Union Army.  Perhaps they were pretty upset at the Confederate Army for being surrendered, poorly equipped, etc.  Some of them likely did it to get out of prison, but either way there must have been a real salesman that talked them into it.  The 2nd NC USA served in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, and did a lot of raids around Boone and Asheville.  Most of the service in East Tennessee was patrol duty and scouting and not fighting in major battles.  The unit stayed together until August 1865, when they all mustered out.

However, James J. Camp’s service records show that he had been attached to the 3rd NC Mounted Infantry during Stoneman’s Raid.  The 3rd NC Mounted Infantry moved March 21-April 25 into Western North Carolina, arriving in Asheville April 27-30, 1865 as part of Gen. Stoneman’s Raid, whose goal was not to fight in battles, but to rob civilians and devastate and destroy the communities.  This unit did quite a bit of damage to the western part of North Carolina.  Was James Camp attached to the 3rd NC Mounted Infantry for this campaign because he knew this area of North Carolina so well?

Daddy did not mention that his Uncle Jim fought for the Union too.  He just said that family seemed to think he might have stayed in Tennessee or gone to live in Texas after the war.  Our belief that James Camp left North Carolina because he fought for the North is correct.  In looking into his war records, we found that he said on his pension application that he “left because of adverse southern sentiment in his family and among his neighbors.  He was obliged to leave home shortly after being discharged and has had no communications with friends and relatives since.”  On another document he says he left after “finding confederate sentiment too strongly adverse to federal soldiers.”  His pension records show that he did stay in Tennessee until 1884.  He moved to Georgia in 1885, then moved to Louisiana in 1886, lived in Arizona over twenty-two years, working in mining towns wherever he went.  He died in Los Angeles, California, in 1937, and is buried there in Los Angeles National Cemetery.

He lived to his nineties, and spent his last years in Veterans Homes.  When he died, there was no one to notify.  His personal effects consisted of his clothing and a box of letters he had been saving.  They were disposed of by the administrators of the Veterans Home.  They tried to send a telegram to his brother, Abner Camp in North Carolina, but it was returned due to incomplete address.  By this time, Abner had been dead for seventeen years.  We’ll never know who the letters were from, but we do know that someone kept in touch with him after he left, or family wouldn’t have known he went out west.

So many hearts must have been broken over this family division.  James Camp’s brother, John, his brother-in-law, Isaac Randall, as well as many of his cousins, had been killed fighting for the Confederacy.  Many family members who survived the war were maimed for life.  The Southland lay in devastation.  Emotions were raw, and there must have been harsh words said when he returned to the family after he was discharged from the Union Army.  He soon left home again and went back to Tennessee to live.  He got married in 1869, in Tennessee to Mary Jane “Polly” Tarwater, but they divorced in a couple of years and had no children.  He must have lived out his life as a lonely existence, exiled from his family.  In looking back at the Civil War and calculating the loss of property and lives, we are reminded that emotional trauma is immeasurable collateral damage, and to many families, perhaps a fate even worse than death.