SUBMITTED BY: Phyllis Gordon Womble
The Inman family of Haywood County, NC possesses strong ties to the American Civil War having committed all six sons to the Haywood Highlanders Company in 1861 as a part of the Confederate Army. Most famously, William Pinkney Inman’s story served as the inspiration for author Charles Frazier’s bestselling 1997 novel Cold Mountain that was later produced into a feature film of the same name in 2003. He, along with his brothers Joshua Ervin and Lewis Hezekiah, would go on to serve directly under General Lee’s Northern Virginia army, attached to Co F 25th Regiment, while brothers Joseph Asberry, Daniel Logan, and James Anderson would attach to Co I 62nd Regiment. Their experiences would include seeing action in major battles such as the Seven Days Battle near Richmond and in the Petersburg Siege where William Pinkney was wounded in 1864.
The Inman family was not slave owners, though their rural mountain life was still certainly impacted by the economy of the antebellum south. Charting the service of these six mountain men offers poignant insight into the lives of infantry soldiers during the Civil War. Recognizing their stories honors their memory and their family’s sacrifice.
The 25th Regiment, which included Inman brothers William Pinkney, Joshua Ervin, and Lewis Hezekiah engaged in twelve battles between June 1862 and August 1864. A year into his service, Joshua Ervin was hospitalized with typhoid fever, a disease resulting from contaminated water or food that killed an estimated 30,000 Confederate and 35,000 Union soldiers during the Civil War. Official leave was rarely granted: Author of My People: History of a Mountain Family Cheryl Inman Haney, a descendant of the Inman’s, suggests William Pinkney and Lewis Hezekiah’s documented desertion from September-November 1862 coincides with their brother’s hospitalization in Chimborazo Hospital #5 in Richmond, VA. The conditions of the extremely large Chimborazo Hospital, which opened in October 1861 after the outbreak of the Civil War, had a 3,000-person Occupancy and included 120 buildings in all. Five Divisions were designated for VA, KY, MI, TN, MD, and a 45-person medical staff claimed 17,000 wounded cases. Conditions were noted as extremely poor by a reporter for Charleston Mercury regarding the vast wards of Chimborazo. Having transferred from Chimborazo November 1862, Joshua Ervin deserted at some point after he was released from Danville Hospital, January 1863. He was under arrest between May and June of 1863 before being allowed to rejoin his regiment.
The three Inman brothers of the 25th Regiment were reunited in the Spring of 1863 but were set to face a truly astonishing attack during the Petersburg Siege in Virginia at the Battle of the Crater. A Union Army regiment made up of Pennsylvania coal miners dug a 500ft tunnel under Confederate trench positions and filled it with 8,000 pounds of gun powder to be detonated. The explosion was followed by a frontal assault out from the makeshift mine. The thirty-foot deep crater is still visible today. The Union Army botched the operation after the initial explosion killed almost 300 Confederate soldiers. Ultimately, Confederate soldiers were able to defend their position and suffered nearly 1,500 casualties compared to the nearly 4,000 suffered by the Union. William Pinkney Inman suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, an occasion that is depicted in the opening events of the film Cold Mountain. Lewis Hezekiah Inman recalled to his family that Joshua Ervin succumbed to his wounds during the Battle of the Crater and that he buried his brother in Virginia.
Official Confederate records list William Pinkney as having deserted after he was discharged from a hospital in Raleigh NC, October 1864. Lewis Hezekiah is also recorded as having deserted after being listed on a sick furlough at a hospital in Morganton NC, November 1864. Both brothers are listed as taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States at the Provost Marshall General’s office in Knoxville Tennessee on December 31,1864, according to records reviewed by Cheryl Inman Haney; although some list William Pinkney as taking the Oath on December 15th. The circumstances that took William Pinkney and Lewis Hezekiah from eastern North Carolina, past their Haywood County home on Inman Branch, to East Tennessee are not clear. Lewis Hezekiah is known to have survived the Civil War, though William Pinkney’s death retains an air of mystery.
While it’s confirmed by multiple sources that William Pinkney met his fate at the hands of Confederate home guardsmen, loosely organized militias charged in part with capturing deserters, the exact circumstances of the skirmish are not well documented. Some insight into this mystery can be found in a story recounted by Confederate deserter Samuel Massey in his petition for Record of the 50th Congress (1887-1889) to obtain a Federal pension for his service as a recruiting agent for the Union. He claims William Pinkney along with his brother-in-law John Swagner were all ‘Pilots’ who would shepherd Union soldiers through Confederate territories to reach Union bases. Massey made 11 roundtrips from Knoxville to western NC and upper South Carolina, assisting an estimated 400 Union Soldiers. On one such trip, Confederate soldiers near Waynesville were encountered, and both William Pinkney and John Swagner were killed. This may help to explain why William Pinkney Inman left the Raleigh Hospital, passed through Haymount County, to Knoxville, Tennessee and the events that transpired before his untimely demise.