The ruined barn across from the site of the old Wall House.

The Wall Murder – Wake Forest’s Civil War Legend

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.

Portrait of William Henry Wall (Courtesy of Ronald Wall)
Portrait of William Henry Wall (Courtesy of Ronald R. Wall)

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.

The barn across from the site of the old Wall House.
The barn across from the site of the old Wall House.

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 Wall Letter

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.

“Aunt” Ellen Lewis, ca 1940

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.


  1. I think I mIght have some resources for background for this and probably copies or printed info which no has made connection. If interested, for whoever is covering, this may be good contact.The closest neighboring family plantation would have ours. I think Jennifer would be excellent go between in sticky go between. At the very least, photographs could be used. I would encourage fairly soon contact if interested. SPB

  2. I don’t quite understand these remarks. In any case, I was only recounting the family story I heard regarding the circumstances of Henry Wall’s death. I can be certain neither of it’s veracity nor it’s precision–just seems to me it matches pretty well with what Ellen Lewis recalled in 1945.

    The other facts offered regarding Henry Wall are solid and documented. The Wall property was directly adjacent to the Harris Plantation–one of the largest in this area.

    1. This portrait (or a copy) hangs in my house. My father was George Wall Holden Jr, son of George Wall Holden Sr from Wake Forest. I believe we also have a copy of the portrait of the wife. My kids always tell me that I resemble the man in the portrait. The protrait came from my grandmother’s home in Henderson, NC and I knew nothing about the man in it. George Sr passed before I was born, maybe around 1963. His wife (my grandmother) Nella Sharpe Holden lived until the age of 102, passing Dec 12, 2011. I would like to learn more.

      1. That would make Tom my second cousin once removed—and to my knowledge, we’ve never met. That was the case with pretty much all the descendants of my great aunt Mary Wall Holden who I remember well. But I don’t remember knowing any of her children or grand children.

        You’re welcome to give Tom my email address. I probably have lots of ancestry information he might find interesting. And he might have some I need. I’ve already added death (and birth) information on Nella Sharpe Holden to my tree.

        Also, attached here is a portrait of Rebecca Robertson Wall (Henry’s wife) that might be of some interest to you—and it’s probably the portrait Tom mentioned. I suspect the portraits he has are just as original as mine, and could very well have been made at the same time

        Ronald R. Wall Rolesville


  3. Fascinating story of the army’s withdrawal north. Your account of all views has been carefully and thoughtfully written.

  4. Please email your contact information. I know very little about the Wall/Holden side of the family. Thank you, Tom Holden

    For your documentation, my father George Wall Holden Jr passed away February 14, 1995 and my mother Mary Ann Powell Holden passed away October 23, 2015. My brother, George Wall Holden III lives in Raleigh and my sister, Jenny Stuart Holden Gomatos lives in Cary.

    1. Yes, Mary Elizabeth Wall was your great-grandmother. the house built for them by her father, George Henry Wall, is on N. Main St. in Wake Forest. I will send you more information tomorrow when I can get your actual email address. I’ll give my actual email and phone #.

    1. Thanks for the questions! Here are the museum we’re not aware of relatives in Alabama, though there is some military history reaching back to the Civil War. Perhaps one of the descendants on this thread will respond with more info.

  5. My 5th Great Grandfather was Henry Eziekial Wall; Henry Wall’s Father. Henry Wall’s Brother Jesse Wall had a Daughter Named Martha Wall who Married my 3rd Great Grandfather Thomas Augustus Powell. We have been told stories about how Henry E Wall’s son Henry was shot by a Yankee soldier after the War itself but it stilk continued as the North started to take over parts of the South. So I would say that the account of my 5th Great Uncle being shot by a Union soldier would be correct because that is the stories we have been told since we were children.

    1. This particular Henry Wall (there were several in North Carolina in those days) was a son of Burrell Wall (who had a brother named Jesse). These two and four others were offspring of Arthur Wall who had moved to Wake County from Northamton County sometime before the Revolution. His sons Burrell and Jesse served as replacements for Arthur on a couple of occasions during the War. Arthur lived to be 122 years old and, on account of that, was the subject of numerous local, national, and international newspaper articles.

      As far as I can tell after fairly extensive research, Henry Eziekial Wall is not a person in this direct line.

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