LOCATION: 414 N. Main Street Wake Forest, NC 27587 CONTACT: 919-556-2911
UPDATE – Wall Family Descendant Ronald R. Wall, Colonel, USAF (Retired) has kindly provided the facts to fill in the blanks of this fascinating piece of history. Read his remarks here, and the original post below.
William Henry Wall (addressed and referred to as Henry by all) was my second great grandfather. Henry’s son was George Henry Wall whose son was William Henry “Will” Wall whose son was William Henry Wall, Jr., my father.
Henry was chief of farms and an agriculture teacher for Wake Forest Institute (the precursor to Wake Forest College), but he was just as unable as those who preceded and followed him to make the farming operation profitable. He’s mentioned at least twice in Dr. Paschal’s History of Wake Forest College. I have heard the story that he agreed to teach if he could be paid the same as the president–but as far as I can tell his heritage was all English, not Scottish.
Regarding his death, the family story I’ve heard is that he was killed at the Wall home place by a Yankee soldier. A Yankee captain told him he’d have to send his slaves away. Henry told the captain the slaves could leave if they wished, but, since this was their home, he would not force them to go. An argument ensued, and Henry, being a hot-tempered sort–even at age 67, took his walking stick and knocked the Yankee captain off his horse. Another Yankee soldier shot him DRT. This would make him the only Wake County casualty of Sherman’s passage through this area.
There is a footnote on page 520 of “Wake, the Capital County, Volume 1″ that refers to Henry Wall’s death. That, with Aunt Ellen’s story (which, I believe, IS about Henry’s murder) seem to match up fairly well with the story I heard.
Henry was quite a character as best I can discover. Wake Forest Institute students reveled in playing pranks on him, and he was a renowned snorer. He established the Wall Farm from nothing to 800+ acres in northwestern Wake County before 1840, and his descendants live there still today. He served as a County constable, and he was once sued for slander by his first cousin, James Madison Terrell and lost. The family did bury/hide some of their valuables from the Yankees. My father, as a small child in the 1920s, found Henry’s maple four-poster bed that had been hidden in an out building. I have the bed in my house now. Portraits of Henry and his wife Rebecca Robertson hang above it.
Ronald R. Wall
Colonel, USAF (Retired)
Legend has it that a local man was murdered when Sherman’s soldiers marched through Wake Forest at the end of the Civil War. That troop movement occurred in late April and early May of 1865– exactly 150-years ago; and a search of the museum’s records turns up enough evidence to suggest this story is true.
The basic facts are these: It was April 17, 1865– days after the Confederacy’s surrender– when William Henry Wall was shot on his own property. The Wall House, which burned down about 20 years ago, originally stood roughly a mile north of today’s Joyner Park, on the east side of Wall Road. To find the site, look for the remains of a ruined barn directly opposite.
Like all interesting legends, the exact circumstances are murky yet compelling. The museum contains records with two different versions of the tale.
The first account is found in a 1971 letter written to Wake Forest College Professor E.E. Folk. It spells out events as recalled by members of the Wall family. This version involves an unscrupulous northerner, one of those who traveled south at the end of the war to swindle the defeated citizens of the former Confederate States.
William Henry Wall was killed by a carpetbagger on his plantation on April 17, 1865. I have been told by his son, George H. Wall, that he taught agriculture at Wake Forest College.
The second account, published in The Wake Weekly as part of a 1985 article about the history of the Wall House, presents another possible version of events.
William Henry Wall, killed by a Union soldier while trying to defend his home, is buried with his wife, Rebecca Robertson Wall, in the family cemetery on the property.
So although it seems clear that William Wall was killed in Wake Forest during a conflict that arose in the chaos following the Civil War, documentation differs on how his death took place. Any Wall family descendants with information are urged to please comment!
A different story referencing a separate murder— this one in early May 1865– was revealed in May 1945, in an article commemorating the 80th anniversary of the conclusion of the War Between the States. A student reporter with the Wake Forest College newspaper interviewed 95-year-old “Aunt” Ellen Lewis, who was a teenage slave on a Wake Forest plantation when Union soldiers passed through town.
Unlike the murder of William Wall, this war-related death isn’t a famous local legend. The victim’s identity isn’t known. However, Lewis gave a gripping eyewitness account of life under the thumb of the marauding Union troops.
The soldiers who came through here did not come until some time after the war was over. They were primarily the stragglers who were walking home. Once here, though, they stayed a long time. The first ones who came through stopped all the colored workers in the fields from working and told them they were free.
Aunt Ellen was very emphatic about how glad they all were to be out of slavery. “Child, don’t you know, everybody wants to be free.”
When people here knew the Yankees were coming, they didn’t bury many of their valuables; they thought it would be useless. They realized they would just be wasting their time. The Yankees ransacked the premises and tore up everything until they found what they wanted. They were big enough to do anything they wanted to do–when they gave orders they meant business, and most of the people realized this.
Aunt Ellen said it was fatal to object in anything the soldiers did, or proposed doing. She said she saw only one man offer any resistance at all. This was a white man who objected to the slaves stopping work after they had been told they were free. The man was killed right there. After this no one objected openly.
Museum Executive Director Ed Morris says Union soldiers, moving north from Raleigh following the final surrender of the South’s last remaining fighting troops on April 26, 1865 at Bennett Place near Durham, camped on the Kitchin plantation in the vicinity of current day Ligon Mill Road. The shooting recalled by Ellen Lewis likely would have occurred in that general area.