SUBMITTED BY: Lee Keyes
VETTED BY: Cheri Todd Molter
Solomon Keyes (also spelled Kees and Keys) (b. 8/31/1836 on Stony Fork, Wilkes County, d. 1/02/1929 in Caldwell County) enlisted on 9/15/1862 at Camp Holmes, near Raleigh, NC. He became part of Company C 26th North Carolina Regiment, also known as the “Wilkes Volunteers.” This company was commanded by Captain Isaac A. Jarratt. Solomon fought at Rawls’s Mills with this company.
In February of 1863 Solomon was transferred to Company K 53rd North Carolina Regiment for which he served to the end of the War. They were commanded by Capt. William J. Miller who later died at Gettysburg and was replaced by Captain Jesse Franklin Eller. The 53rd later became part of the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by General Robert E. Lee, was involved in major and minor engagements, including Gettysburg, and was present at Appomattox. Of the 1,335 men who enlisted in this regiment, by the end of the War 116 were killed or died of wounds, 218 died of disease, and 471 were taken prisoners of war.
A few of Solomon’s statements concerning the War and his life were provided by Mr. Wayne Steelman and Mr. Sam Mask, who is a descendant. When Mr. Steelman was a young boy Solomon told him he once woke up in the night at the front lines of a battle and went to a creek to drink water. He thought the water had a bad taste. In the morning he went to the same spot and discovered the bodies of his dead comrades, upstream in the creek. He also recalled seeing one of his friends get shot through the head when the friend stood up over a rampart to get a better look. “I told him not to,” he said. Solomon was also noted to have said that he did not like Robert E. Lee, as he had witnessed him having a fellow soldier who was a friend shot for disobeying orders. In another incident, it was said that “after a battle in Virginia, Solomon’s unit was pulling out of the area when they passed a Union soldier, wounded and begging for someone to please help. His pleas fell upon deaf ears as one after another walked on past. Solomon knelt down pulling the wounded man up in his arms. He gave him water and listened to the man’s dying words were ‘God will bless you with a long and healthy life for this deed you’ve done.’” Lastly, “…there was a frail built fellow who, when an engagement would come about, would get behind a tree no matter how big or small the tree, if one was to be found. During a battle, he went behind a very small tree and shortly after, the tree was hit with cannon fire, and Sol said when he turned to look there was nothing left, just pieces.”
After the War, Solomon lived in a shelter made of rock, called The Rock House, for a short time. Later a heavy rain caused part of it to collapse when a chestnut tree fell on it. Mr. Steelman recalled seeing Solomon traveling down a road with his recovered belongings in the back of a wagon, including the remnants of a clock which clanged loudly as the wagon went by.
One of Solomon’s wounds from the battle at Winchester affected one arm, which was described as “withered.” Still, he was able to climb ladders in order to build chimneys and could throw a dirt clod on a specific rock that he wanted his assistant to bring to him. The author’s great grandmother, Nell Cook Keyes, once said that Solomon would walk to her house on occasion, and when he left, he would take a few cakes of cornbread with him in his pockets. Her husband, James Avery Keyes—the author’s great grandfather and Solomon’s son—once said he never took to drinking because he saw Solomon putting rotten apples, worms and all, into his liquor mash. It is known that James spelled his name Keyes, and he may have been the first in this line to do so.
Solomon was married to Elizabeth Waters, and together they had 12 children. Elizabeth and three of their children died from typhoid fever. Solomon’s maternal grandmother, Sheli Bird Keller, was half-Cherokee. Solomon was once recognized in a Lenoir News-Topic article on October 20, 1927 for being a champion chimney builder in North Carolina, having made 646 chimneys. He died not long after purchasing his first automobile. He is buried in the Laytown Community of Caldwell County.