Lt. Walsh: “Raleigh’s Lone Defender”

These two accounts [see links below] of the first moments of the Federal army entering the capitol city of Raleigh give slightly divergent details about the time-line of events.  They both, however, agree upon the final action centered on the initial occupation: a Confederate soldier – a Reb – shot at the Federals and in return was hanged.

The City of Raleigh was wedged between two opposing forces – the retreating Confederates and the advancing Federals.  Governor Zebulon Vance had created a small party of men, including two former governors, to go out and meet with the Federal officers and surrender the city.  It was hoped that in doing so the city would be spared the fate of other capitol cities that fell to Sherman’s army. The honorable Kenneth Raynor also went out to surrender the city.  No timely word was received by Vance, the surrendering party having been delayed along the route. Vance decided he would leave and went to meet the main body of Confederate troops near what is now Cary.  He left the keys of the State Capitol in the hands of Alex – described as a “faithful old black.”  Raleigh itself was left to General Wheeler’s cavalry who began to plunder in earnest the night of April 12th.  Early on the 13th they set fire to a train depot to keep the goods out of the Federal’s hands and retreated.

As the sun’s first light shown on Raleigh, the remnants of Confederate looters scattered from the city.  Even as the sound of their horses’ hooves died down the martial sounds of a conquering army entered the city and echoed up Fayetteville Street.  At the northern end of the street stood former Governor Swain, who had been one of Vance’s surrender emissaries.  He now held the keys previously entrusted to Alex.

As Federal forces under General Kilpatrick came abreast of the Market House on Fayetteville Street two Confederate cavalrymen appeared at the head of Fayetteville Street near where Swain was standing.  A citizen happened by at that moment and seeing one of the cavalrymen pull a pistol and level it at the Federals cried out “for God’s sake don’t shoot the city has surrendered.”  His cry was too late for the cavalryman snapped a round from his pistol at the Federals.

The other cavalryman fled down Hillsborough Street leaving the shooter alone.  Kilpatrick’s men recovered from being shot at and began a dash up Fayetteville Street towards the State Capitol.  The window sash of a nearby house flew open and the occupant yelled to the remaining cavalryman – ‘The town has surrendered.  Don’t fire; you are jeopardizing us all.” The cavalryman cursed the Yankees, saying “I’ll take one last crack at ‘em” and emptied five more shots in the direction of the Federal riders.  The shots scattered the Yankees but a group of US cavalrymen spur their mounts on and give chase to the lone Confederate.

The shooter lost precious seconds riding down the wrong street to leave Raleigh. The street ended in a land drop too steep for his horse to make – the bridge was a block away on Hillsborough Street.  Retracing his path allowed the Federals to catch up and when his horse went down the Rebel cavalryman was at the mercy of the Federal soldiers.  They gathered him up and took him back to the end of Fayetteville Street where Kilpatrick and Swain were standing near the statue of George Washington.

Kilpatrick asked the man what was his command.  “I belong to Wheeler’s Cavalry and am from Texas.  My name is Walsh.”

Kilpatrick ended the brief exchange by ordering Walsh’s execution – “take the man out where no ladies can see him and hang him.”  Walsh was executed on April 13, 1865.

[For an excellent account of the Walsh story see the News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C. July 3, 1927, page 5.]

James D. Crozer letter

Newspaper article giving account of the Lt. Walsh incident

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