AUTHOR: Oren Jerry Hill, Jr. (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
Geographical, cultural, political, and socioeconomical diversity in the mountain counties of North Carolina led to the occurrence of a wide range of incidents, from those of unusual cruelty to those of uncompromising love, during the American Civil War. Unfortunately, many of the stories of these events have been completely lost with the passage of time. Genealogical research can often resurrect some of these historical events. One personal wartime story was found during such research. This story focuses on Holbert’s Cove, and the young heroine is Charity Holbert (Abt. 1840 – Dec. 24, 1915). Holbert’s Cove runs southwest to northeast approximately six miles, paralleling the Green River Valley to the west in present-day Polk County, North Carolina. It was in this area of old Rutherford County, North Carolina that John Holbert settled in the beginning of the 1800s. Benjamin Holbert (1794-1873), John’s son, had prospered in the prewar economy: In the 1860 U.S. Polk County, N.C. census, Benjamin’s estate was valued at $10,510.00, which included real estate, personal property, and eight enslaved people. That was an impressive wealth, particularly in that Blue Ridge environment.
The heroine of our story, Charity Holbert, was the fifth daughter (out of at least six) born to Benjamin Holbert and Charity Stover Holbert (1797-1872) and was named after her mother, who was of the early Shenandoah Stover family. The Holbert family was large: Charity also had six brothers. Sometimes, a declaration of war can hasten declarations of love and marriage, and on May 8, 1861, Charity married Thomas Newman, who belonged to an old, established family in these highlands. Thomas fought for the Confederate States of America, enlisting into the service of E Company, 7th Battalion Cavalry (North Carolina) on July 15, 1862. He was twenty-five years old when he enlisted, and he left behind a heart broken, fearful, and pregnant wife. Most likely this was his last farewell, because the war records show he was killed in a skirmish on January 23, 1863. I’ve been unable to find the location of that skirmish or the burial place of this young Southern soldier. Charity adorned herself in black and went into mourning but remained hopeful that she would deliver a healthy child. On May 5, 1863, Charity celebrated the birth of a beautiful and healthy baby girl she named after her fallen father, “Tommie Newman.” In census records and genealogical records, Tommie is often recorded as male!
Time passed: Broken hearts mended, love reawakened, and hope rekindled. On February 26, 1868, Charity married Ransom F. Foster, another man who had fought in the Civil War. Very little is known of Ransom. Neither his father nor mother are known. Researchers often claim Catherine Foster to be his mother because Ransom was living in Catherine’s household in the 1850 U.S. Rutherford County, N.C. census; however, in the 1860 census, he was listed in the household of Jackson Foster. The relationships of the Fosters’ in this area were complex. Ransom and Charity had several children: a son named Lanson (possibly a misspelled “Ransom”) who died at a young age; a daughter named Mindy Louise Foster; and a son named Horace Greeley Foster (1873-1960). Ransom and Charity’s youngest son was named for Horace Greeley, who died a few months before baby Horace was born. Horace Greeley (Feb. 3, 1811—Nov. 29, 1872) was the founder and editor of the New York Tribune newspaper and a man who was influential during the pre and post war years. He was running for president as the candidate representing the Liberal Republican Party when he died unexpectedly in 1872. The obvious question is “Why would southerners name a son after a northerner like Horace Greeley?” As noted earlier, political diversity was common in the area.
There were many Unionists in Appalachia. Ransom Foster was a Unionist and had enlisted in the Union Army as a private during the war. Ransom served in Company H of the 2nd Mounted Infantry (North Carolina) for a term of three years. He was mustered out of service on August 15, 1865. Genealogical records reveal that Ransom died sometime before 1900, while Charity lived until Dec. 24, 1915. After Ransom died, Charity lived with her children: In 1900, Charity was residing with her younger daughter, Louise, and her family (“Louie” married a man named William Parker); then, in 1910, Charity was living with Horace and his family in South Carolina.
I often wonder what kind of reception Ransom Foster had in Charity’s family’s home and if he had had the nerve to ask her father, Benjamin Holbert, for Charity’s hand. It should be noted that, after the war, in the 1870 Polk County, N.C. census, Benjamin’s estate was valued at $675.00, including real estate and personal property. When the sun starts its descent in the western sky, the shadows deepen quickly in Holbert’s Cove.
The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War, John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, 2000, The University of North Carolina Press
Bushwhackers! The Civil War in North Carolina, Volume II, The Mountains, William R. Trotter, 1988, Signal Research, Inc.
U.S. Census Records, 1860-1915