As Confederate General Robert E. Lee was meeting with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to surrender the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, another Union force was now moving through western North Carolina to disrupt rail lines stretching eastward to Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and his Confederate Army of Tennessee in North Carolina. This force was a cavalry division under the command of Union Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem, but under the overall command of Major General George H. Stoneman. General Stoneman was directed to “raid” into western North Carolina with the support of local Union forces under the command of Colonel George Washington Kirk and disrupt the Confederate rail infrastructure in support of Major General William T. Sherman’s Union armies advancing westward toward Raleigh, North Carolina. On March 24, 1865, Stoneman’s force left their camp in Morristown, Tennessee, and by March 28th, the Union cavalrymen had taken Boone, North Carolina. They quickly moved through Wilkes County, and turned north into Virginia by April 3, 1865. Some seven days later, the Federal cavalry had reached the small community of Germanton located sixteen miles northwest of the duel communities of Winston and Salem, North Carolina.
At this point, General Stoneman ordered Union Colonel William J. Palmer to move his brigade of three regiments toward the county seat of Forsyth County in an effort to destroy factories producing cloth for the Confederacy as described in our earlier posts several years ago. As Colonel Palmer and his Union cavalrymen rode toward the town of Winston, local officials were meeting to convene the Forsyth County Superior Court on Monday, April 10, 1865. The Clerk of Superior Court, John Blackburn, described the events that were unfolding that day in an entry in the Forsyth County Superior Court Minutes. While waiting for the judge to arrive, word was received that the “…Yankee army was apparently on its way…” Blackburn described those called for jury duty and those who had arrived to pursue cases in court soon “… began to disperse rather unceremoniously…” from the Forsyth County court house. As clerk of court, Blackburn began to gather his court papers and dockets to prevent them from falling in the hands of what he described as the “…Yankee army…” Interesting enough, he chose to hide the records in several houses of women in the town such as one widow named “Mrs. Elizabeth Long,” maybe under the belief that Union cavalrymen will not harm the dwellings of women in town. He also noted that the local Confederate Conscription enrolling officer and his detachment “…left precipitately…”
After locking up his office, Blackburn joined the mayors of both Winston and Salem, the principal of the Salem Female Academy, and one other individual as they walked up to Liberty Street to meet the Union soldiers. Near sunset, a squad of Union cavalry rode up with pistols drawn, and the small party “…raised White handkerchiefs to let them know our mission was peace…” The cavalrymen were looking for “…Confederate or rebel soldiers…” who had recently fired on them. Soon after, Colonel Palmer and his staff arrived on the scene and accepted the surrender of the two small communities, and asked the small party to accompany him into town. Blackburn closed his account of the events of that day by noting that Colonel Palmer established his headquarters in the house of the Joshua Bonor, the Mayor of Winston.