John Edward Sentelle's death date of May 17, 1863 must be
The three boys - Samuel Gavan, Thaddeus H., and James R -
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"Now even if Grandsire Dick did have sons fighting for both the North and the South, his sense of loyalty to Old Glory showed no sentiment toward the feelings of William R. and David Jasper his sons. He had also at least one grandson and a nephew under the colors of the Confederacy. No one knew more than he that this was indeed a war of brother against brother. Nevertheless, most of his family were deemed strong Federalists by association with his own strong convictions.
Few slaves or even free Negroes were in the community but the virtues of abolition and slavery were opposing shadwos that stalked the valley along Jeter Mountain while Big Willow still moved the mill wheels along its aspen flow undaunted by the furors of man.
The days of impending sacrifice were veiled in both the eyes of the blue and gray alike by the shouts of defiance by the gentlemen from the South and the challenge of the defenders of freedom from the North. Jonathan Edward knew sacrifice ealy when he gave up his license to preach to wage ware on the "greatest evil in the world" as his dad called it - slavery. Even then, he could not estimate the loss of life and property and the ensuing poverty and deprivation that would come even to his own, to the country and to Crab Creek community.
Hannah was opposed at first to his going to Tennessee to enlist in the Union Army. She felt herself so alone with her 6 remaining children ranging from 14 year old Richard down to Johnnie who was only 2. She could almost hear the voice of Grandsire Dick rise up to note that he had 4 sons fighting in the Freedom Army even if he did have an unacknowledged lump in his throat which he tried to ignore. He seldom mentioned those that were in the Confederate armies, yet his charity reached out to the family."
"The appearance of a Rebel detail had been noted over the last several weeks, once watering their horses right above Grandsire Dick's mill run along Big Willow. They stayed fairly well hidden but some said they were watching the trails where more and more men were moving into the border states of Tennessee and Kentucky, some carrying intelligence, some smuggling items both out and in and some actually being guided to the nearest Union outpost to be mustered into the Federal army."
"While the regiment was stationed at Cumberland Gap on 4 May 1864, John E. and Lewis were detailed to make boards to cover the shanties in quarters. E. F. Case, a private in the same company, said they told him before leaving camp that day that they were going home. Lewis' wife was expecting a baby, and he wanted to be with her for the arrival of their sixth child. With them went Daniel Gilbert from H Company."
"Troubled sleep had fallen upon three soldiers dressed in civilian clothes. They were unshaven and tattered from their long trek south through the rugged terrain. They could not dare use the trails where walking would have been much easier and more timely. They had planned to make it home by late Saturday night but, being exhausted, decided to catch a bit of rest north of Mount Pisgah and slip quietly in on the Sabbath. They too had been given word of the Rebel details and had been cautious all the way.
Since camps were often pitched along the streams, these too had to be avoided and as a result the dawn of Sunday, May 17 found the men somewhat rested but thirsty and hungry.
As they were already in familiar territory, they decided to drink at a spring nearby on the other side of Pisgah Cover near the Buncombe side of the mountain.
Soon they were drinking deeply of the cold mountain spring and ducking their faces to restore the vitality they had lost over the last few days. The men suddenly became strangely still as they heard the sound of a dead twig breaking on the trail slightly above them. John Edward knew that it was not a twig but the click of a pistol being cocked and made ready to fire.
The three soldiers...were harshly ordered to their feet and up to the trail by a man named Burnette. They were detained for a few hours in an old shack near the spring until one of the authority showed up on the scene. Several of the captors talked in low tones outside the shack and then their leader's order came loudly and tersely, "Guards, take these Yankees to be impounded at Asheville.
As they headed down the mountain, the orders were amended before they were beyond hearing distance. "Oh yes," he reminded them, "You report back here in fifteen minutes."
Knowing it was several miles to Asheville, the men read in this statement the orders for their extinction. Just out of vision of the commanding officer, they were ordered to halt.
John Edward, always the minister, requested that he be allowed to pray for his friends, his country and his family. Not once did he ask permission to pray for himself. One unnamed member of the escort told many years later how the soldier-preacher was on his knees in prayer with his fellow captives. He started to mention his family one by one and as he reached the name of his wife Hannah, he paused, "Heaven help Hannah, especially dear Hannah -----" One impatient member of the executioners, fired his pistol point blank into the back of the bowed head of John Edward before he finished his prayer. Two additional shots were fired and then the pockets of the three dead men were searched for anything of value before pushing the bodies off the trail into the underbrush. The sum of sixty dollard, all the money that he had earned since he had left Hannah on that cold night in November last, was taken by the man who held the still smoking pistol in his hand and as a distant church bell chimed from the valley below, the hopes of home, family and a sojourn to a better life were dashed for the unsuspecting Hannah and her little cabin filled with innocent children.
Some unknown good Samaritan rolled the bark of a dead chestnut tree about their bodies in semblance of a crude coffin - and Hannah still waited, her eyes on the hill to the north."
"The sun rose hot on Monday, June 1, 1864. The short spring school term was already out because most of the parents in the Cove needed their children to help plant the crops. Richard and Josiah had hardly attended at all, Hannah needed them so. As she prepared to line up Richard and Josiah to help her in the fields, she was giving the last list of instructions to the twin girls now almost 6 in caring for Minerva Jane who was not yet 2 and Johnnie who was well past 3.
One of the children call out, "Maw, Maw, yonder comes Uncle Sam and Aunt Lizzy."
It was not only an unusual time of day to receive a visit, it was strange indeed for Hannah to see Samuel, John Edward's older brother and his wife, approaching her house. They had two sons in the war but they both had joined the army of the Confederacy at the same time. "Hardly a casual visit", thought Hannah, as she watched them come past the barn and stop to talk with Richard. She couldn't hear what they said but Elizabeth came toward the house while Samuel continued to converse with his nephew, who had already begun to unhitch the mare from the harrow.
The look in the eyes of Elizabeth portrayed anything except a political or social difference as she came through the swining gate and up to the cabin door."
""It's John Edward, have they got John Edward? Where is he, Lizzy, where is he?"
"He's up to the mountain, Hannah, nigh up to Mount Pisgah, him and Lewis too, we heered only this mornin'."
"Where will they take him? Can't I see him before they take him away? Lizzy, what's Sam and Richard doin' down there at the barn?"
"Hannah, you must set down," and as Elizabeth helped her sit on the top of the steps to the cabin, she dropped the biggest burden onto Hannah that a wife can ever feel.
"He's dead, Hannah, John Edward's dead. Josiah Huggins and Sam is goin' to fetch 'em back and Sam said he reckoned Richard could help. If'n they go now they aughta be back by nightfall. Josiah's gone down to Grandsire Dick's now to tell him so's he can make the coffins. I'm shore glad that Confederate soldier knowed our sons so's he felt close enough to tell us, Hannah. No tellin' if'n we'd have ever knowed. Another thing, Hannah, they've beed dead nigh onto three weeks so's it won't be a perty sight."
"About twilight time, a one horse wagon made its way up the winding road from the valley below. It was the folks from Lewis' place farther up Big Willow sent to bring him home. Only the clippity clop of the spirited horses' feet shattered the silence that surrounded the cabin. Within minutes, a sled was seen coming south from the mountains with two bundles wrapped in some old quilts that had once been on Hannah and John Edward's very own bed.
The poor old mare looked as sad as the three figures who followed the crude bier as they slowly neared the cabin.
Someone looked for Hannah but she had already noticed and was on her way from in back of the house toward the barn lot. When they saw her coming, Josiah Huggins stopped the mare. Same and Richard stood between her and the quilt wrapped objects as if to protect her from further pain.
"Hannah, it's a bad sight. Are you sure you wanta see, John - like he is and all?" Sam inquired softly.
Without answer she pushed around them, and when he saw her insistence, he hurried to lift the corner of the quilt aside. What she saw was beyond any horror she could endeavor to describe. It was John Edward but not the John Edward she knew. His bloated face and his uneven beard was splattered with dried blood. His rigid left arm was raised as if to ward off the blow of a long since gone assassin but on the tattered sleeve that was partially rolled up near the elbow was the letter "H" meant to show the Yankee ladies who he belonged to. No need for that now, he was where he belong - back home. With a deep sob, Hannah collapsed and had not Richard caught her, she would have fallen headlong across the odoriferous quilt clad figures.
They were drawn on up to the swinging gate and there they were placed in the boxes, still rolled in their ignoble wraps but not before each of the children had been held by Grandsire Dick to gaze on the remains of the two humiliated heros.
The box containing the body of Lewis was transferred to the waiting wagon which faded off into the deepening night on its way home.
The night was warm, and it was decided that the coffin would be best left in the open air just outside the door of the cabin. Several of the adults sat up all night and remained outside with the body of John Edward but were careful to sit a bit apart and upwind from the crude pine box.
Hannah did not regain consciousness until near morning. She wondered what the lantern was doing outside and whose were the murmuring voices she heard out there. Too weak to rise, she slowly figured it out and began to cry softly. Elizabeth, John Edward's step-mother dozing nearby comforted her with her calm remembrance of the Twenty-third Psalm."
"Strongly advised against going down to the Yankee buryin' ground the next day, Hannah firmly took issue and was half carried to the wagon, borrowed for the occasion, and rode painfully down the rough road.
The circuit riding preacher could not be reached in time for the burial. The hot weather made it imperative that the funeral be delayed no longer than it took to open a grave.
Shortly before noon on Wednesday, Hannah with her children gathered about her, leaned on the wheel of a borrowed wagon and watched the man of her life laid beside three small headstones that didn't look quite so lonely anymore. Grandsire Dick, in an unfaltering voice, read from the Scriptures as he had done for so many others before and there in the blazing sun, Hannah felt a darkness close even more densely around her life."
It appears both John Edward Sentell and Lewis Sentell were charged with desertion. That would be understandable since they never returned to duty, no one there knowing their tragic fate. Sam Sentell notes "Charges of desertion against these and other soldiers in the regiment were removed by act of Congress, 26 March 1869."
Sam also corrects the location of the crime, "John Edward probably was murdered near Elk Pasture Gap where now State Rt. 151 intersects with the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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Colonel William C. Bartlett
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Carolina Mounted Infantry
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G.A.R. grave marker image