“Don’t Kill Him! He was My Commander in the Mexican War.”
In 1814, John Haywood Alley, Jr. was born in Rutherford County. In 1837, as a First Lieutenant in the U. S. Cavalry, Alley was sent to Whiteside Cove, North Carolina, to enforce the government-ordered evacuation of the Cherokee and guide their trip west. After the Trail of Tears was completed, Alley left the military, turned his horse east, and made the journey back to the North Carolina Mountains. There he married Sarah Whiteside Norton, daughter of Barak Norton, on December 16, 1845.
The couple had one child with another baby on the way when Alley was called away to participate in the Mexican War under the command of General Winfield Scott. However, during their marriage, Alley and Sarah, had fourteen children, ten of them living to adulthood. All were born and raised in Whiteside Cove, first sharing a home with Sarah’s parents, and later living in a substantial house built by Alley, which still stands.
Alley was forty-seven years old when the Civil War started, and he joined the Confederate Army, serving as Colonel. During his first year of service, he sustained severe injuries to his leg, which led to its amputation. Despite losing a leg, he was appointed the head of the North Carolina Confederate Home Guard.
Close to the end of the war, a group of Union soldiers led by Col. George Washington Kirk, a Union officer from Greene County, Tennessee, came to the Alley house. At the time, the Alley children were all bedridden with something like the flu, but ‘Kirk’s Raiders’ told everyone in the family to go outside anyway. Then the bushwhackers dragged all the mattresses out the front door, slashed them open, and poured molasses over them.
The raiders also opened every drawer and cabinet looking for food or something to steal. While looking in the Alleys’ closet, Col. Alley’s Confederate uniform was found, which angered Kirk’s men so much that Col. Alley, with a rope around his neck, was put on a horse. The soldiers attached the rope to a large tree branch, but just before the horse was encouraged to move, another Union soldier rode into the yard, screaming, “Don’t kill him! He was my commander in the Mexican War.” Alley was saved and lived on to the ripe old age of 88.