As someone who has been interested in the Civil War for almost two decades, it’s amazing to consider that I really haven’t delved into researching my ancestors from that time period until just recently. Within the past few months I’ve managed to find a wealth of information on relatives who fought for both sides as well as uncover many previously unknown facts and anecdotes, which range from the mundane to the bizarre.
My father’s side of the family goes back in the state to the early 1800’s, when my great-great-great-great grandfather James Holland settled in Haywood County after trekking across the Tennessee state line. Not much is known prior to this, but what we do know is that he bought a sizeable chunk of land and sired thirteen children – three of which served for the South: Mathias (my direct descendent), Humphrey, and Thomas.
Mathias and Humphrey enlisted together in Company F of the 25th North Carolina Volunteers, popularly known as the “Highlander” regiment because its members were recruited from counties in the mountainous regions of the state. Company F is significant because it is also the company that William P. Inman served in. Inman was the basis for the main protagonist in the best-selling novel Cold Mountain, as well as the 2003 film adaptation of the same name. It wouldn’t be completely out of the question to claim that my ancestors knew Inman, either through shared service or prior acquaintance.
The 25th served in tedious garrison duty on the coast of North and South Carolina for the first ten months of its existence before finally being transferred north to Virginia in time to participate in the Seven Days’ Battles with Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, including the Battle of Malvern Hill, where the regiment suffered its heaviest losses of the war. The regiment participated at Antietam in the fighting around the Dunker Church and then defended the stone wall with Longstreet’s corps at Fredericksburg. In early 1863, the regiment was transferred back to North Carolina and apparently Mathias had seen enough of army life or had become bored with the monotony of garrison duty as he deserted in January 1864. Making his way to Knoxville, he signed the oath of allegiance to the Union in May of 1864.
Meanwhile, Humphrey was still serving with the regiment as a color corporal when his regiment helped to recapture Plymouth, NC. Transferring back to Virginia, they fought in the Bermuda Hundred campaign and in the trenches at Petersburg, where they participated in the Confederate counterattacks at the Battle of the Crater. At some point, Humphrey was wounded in the hand or arm, as he is mentioned in a letter written home to Haywood County by a hospital visitor. This letter is now in the possession of Western Carolina University. Apparently, he remained on the muster rolls until at least February 1865, after which no more record of his service exists.
Thomas enlisted at a later date in Company I, 62nd North Carolina. The 62nd never saw much in the way of front-line service although it’s experience is unique in that it spent most of it’s time chasing bandits and deserters through the mountains of east Tennessee and western North Carolina. Sometime in 1863, Thomas purchased a substitute and transferred out of the 62nd and into his brothers’ unit, the 25th. Perhaps he longed for more action or wanted to be closer to his family. At any rate, his transfer probably saved him from spending the rest of the war in a northern prison camp, as his regiment was infamously captured in its entirety when Cumberland Gap was surrendered in the fall of 1863. Although he managed to avoid that fate, he was wounded in the leg by a piece of shrapnel during the siege of Petersburg, dying in late July of 1864.
The desertion of Mathias and the death of Thomas would appear to end the saga of the Holland brothers during the war, but there is still one strange anecdote to tack onto the end. A popular story has developed over the years involving Mathias and one of his brothers, although it doesn’t specify which, fighting with their regiment at Chickamauga, GA and becoming separated from the rest of their unit. According to the story, they ran down the side of a hill and never returned to the battlefield, instead making their way to Texas where they hauled pork in exchange for salt, a seemingly bizarre scenario which I still do not quite understand. The brothers then crossed the border into Mexico and returned with a considerable amount of money, enough to buy a large amount of land in western North Carolina which the family still owns today. Holland Mountain, near Canton, NC, takes its name from the family.
This story makes for good print but somewhat disappointingly it is almost certainly pure fantasy. The 25th never served in GA, let alone at Chickamauga and Mathias’s service record shows no evidence of him having fought in any other unit besides the 25th. Another (and based on existing evidence, more plausible) story concerns Mathias hiding out in the mountains with the women taking him food and clothing. Western North Carolina was patrolled by roving bands of armed men looking for deserters and draft dodgers. Most likely, Mathias was hiding from these men to dodge the hangman’s noose and avoid the fate of his fellow serviceman, W.P. Inman, who was shot and killed by one of these rogue units in the same vicinity. The latter half of the story, concerning the trip to Mexico and its resulting mysterious financial gain, is actually true to the best of my knowledge.
That concludes the saga of Mathias and his brothers but I have more to tell in the future concerning my family and its involvement in the war. I enjoyed writing this and hope to return in a few months with another personal contribution to the blog.