Nesting Season

There’s no place like home

By Susan Campbell

It is almost that time again for our feathered friends: nesting season. Pairs of birds will team up to bring forth the next generation. In some cases, they will even repeat the process once or twice before the days shorten and temperatures begin to drop.

As with so many behaviors, reproduction is triggered by hormonal changes, which are the result of changes in day length. Females will become responsive to the advances of males as daylight increases. And before long, the hunt for a spot to nest will begin. Interestingly, the strategies vary among the bird species we find in central North Carolina.

The investment in nest building for some species is minimal. Killdeer, for instance, only create a slight scrape in a sandy or pebbly surface. They are ground nesting birds whose splotched eggs blend in perfectly with the substrate. Furthermore, killdeer young are precocial, meaning that they are mobile as soon as they hatch and will instantly begin following their parents. There is no nestling phase, so protection of the young birds is unnecessary.

In the Sandhills it is not unusual for mourning doves to nest at ground level in a layer of grasses or small twigs. Even when doves nest in small trees or shrubs, their nest platform is minimal. It is amazing that the eggs or young do not fall through the nest. Then again, this species is known to raise young in virtually any month of the year, so losing an egg or youngster through the cracks is not problematic in the long run.

Cup nests are a very common strategy for nesting — especially among songbirds. Northern cardinals, blue jays, American robins all form a typical nest from small branches, twigs and grasses. Such nests can be visible through the leaves and are not infrequently depredated. As a result, some species, such as blue-gray gnatcatchers and ruby-throated hummingbirds, have evolved to use camouflage in the form of mosses or lichens on the outside of the cup so that the nest is not obvious to predators on a bare limb.

Hawks and eagles have taken nestbuilding to the next level and may create an enormous, cupped platform for their young. These huge stick nests, placed high in a live tree or snag, typically are enlarged with more material every year. They can be very noticeable given their bulk. However, given the size and ferocity of these birds, the strategy is not problematic. Furthermore, one of the adults typically guards the nest until the young are close to fledging.

And then there are the species that use holes: the cavity nesters. Woodpeckers and nuthatches can carve out a cavity in dead wood using their powerful bills with little trouble. Species such as chickadees, titmice, bluebirds or wood ducks will move right into these spaces when the architects move on. It is these birds that many of us have been giving a helping hand by erecting bird boxes. Box design varies by species, of course, given the different reproductive requirements of different birds. The height, the depth of the box and, most importantly, the size of the entrance hole will determine who will move in.

So, if you have not yet done so, this is the time to be cleaning out and repairing nest boxes for the breeding season. Old nests should be removed, and the boxes should be aired out for a day or two.  It would not hurt to give them a rinse with the hose as well — but do NOT use cleaning products. And then stand back: It will not be long before your first feathered tenants will be moving in!  PS

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photographs at



We Know Great Writing When We See It

Since 1986, the Moore County Writers’ Competition has promoted and honored superior writing throughout our communities. Join the awards ceremony where certificates and cash prizes will be presented for poetry, fiction and nonfiction submitted by writers in five different age groups. Winners will read a selection of their entries from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 12, at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines. For information go to Admission is free but registration is required.


A Night with Kelli

The Tony Award winning star of HBO’s The Gilded Age, Kelli O’Hara, will appear live at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst, on Saturday, March 18, at 7 p.m. Among her many stage, film and television credits, O’Hara received a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in 2015 for her portrayal of Anna Leonowens in The King and I, and an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Katie Bonner in the hit web series The Accidental Wolf. For tickets and information go to 


A Southern Tale

The Country Bookshop and the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities present Marjorie Hudson in conversation with Katrina Denza about Hudson’s debut novel, Indigo Field, on Wednesday, March 22, at 5:30 p.m. at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines. For information and tickets go to


Here Comes the Bride

Richard Wagner’s masterpiece Lohengrin returns to the Metropolitan Opera — and the screen at the Sunrise Theater, 250 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines — on Saturday, March 18, at 12 p.m. Famed Polish tenor Piotr Beczala stars as the mysterious swan knight. The Bridal Chorus may ring a bell. For information call (910) 692-3611 or go to


Oscar and Steve

The Sandhills Repertory Theatre will present An Evening with Oscar and Steve: The Music and Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim at the Sunrise Theater, 250 N.W. Broad St., Southern Pines, on Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m. and again on Sunday April 2, at 3 p.m. For tickets and information got to


With a Little Help from Your Friends

Recommended for children from kindergarten to second grade, the heart-warming story A Sick Day for Amos McGee will be performed Saturday, March 4, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at BPAC’s Owens Auditorium, 3395 Airport Road, Pinehurst. Zookeeper Amos McGee knows friends can come in all sizes and species, too. Amos runs races with the tortoise, cares for a particularly shy penguin, and reads stories to an owl. One day, Amos is too sick to visit his zoo friends, but, fortunately, the animals know just what to do. For information and tickets go to


Three for the Ages

The Sandhills Repertory Theatre presents Judy, Joni and Joan: The Music of Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez at the Sunrise Theater on March 18 at 7 p.m. and again in two shows on March 19 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Three outstanding New York-based female musicians — Elizabeth Nestlerode, Samantha Sayah and Jane Bruce — will have you singing along in this tribute to three extraordinary friends and artists whose music transcends the generations. Tickets can be purchased at the Sunrise box office by calling (910) 692-3611 or online at either or


Back in Bloom

The Garden Club of the Sandhills ushers in springtime by hosting the 2023 edition of “Blooming Art” at the Campbell House Gallery, 482 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines, on Saturday, April 1, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and again on Sunday, April 2, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The “Blooming Art” exhibit pairs local art with interpretive floral arrangements. Among the professional floral designers participating this year are Carol Dowd, Matt Hollyfield, Leslie Habets, Crystal Blue, Ellen Burke, Jeremy Bowden, Bill McPhail and Cynthia Ballantyne. Members of the Southern Pines, Olmsted, Pinehurst and Linden Garden Clubs, in addition to the Weymouth Dirt Gardeners and the Garden Club of the Sandhills, will also be represented. Advance tickets are $15 and are available at Funds raised by “Blooming Art” support scholarships for students in the horticultural program at Sandhills Community College, projects by the Sandhills Horticulture Gardens, and horticultural programs for children.


Photograph By Melissa Schaub

Tee It High and Let It Fly — for Charity

The Carolina Philharmonic will host its 8th annual Maestro’s Cup at Pinewild Country Club, 85 Glasgow Drive, Pinehurst on Sunday, March 12. All proceeds benefit music education programs in the community. For information call (910) 687-0287 or go to Then, on Monday, March 20, you can re-tee in The Kelly Cup Golf Championship at Forest Creek Golf Club, 200 Meyer Farm Drive, Pinehurst. Win a car for a hole-in-one on the designated par-3. All proceeds benefit the Sandhills Children’s Center. For information call (910) 692-3323 or go to

The Beat Goes On

The Beat Goes On

From the Mountains to the Sea

By David Menconi


Type design by Keith Borshak



Map Illustration By Miranda Glyder


Springtime in North Carolina means college basketball madness, azaleas blooming — and the earliest days of outdoor music. Our state has a staggering array of A-list music festivals spanning numerous genres from now until fall. Here are some of what you should be making plans for.



Dreamville Festival 

Between apocalyptic weather and the coronavirus pandemic, rapper J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival has had a rocky existence in its short history. But in spite of multiple postponements, Dreamville has been a huge success, starting with 2019’s sold-out debut at downtown Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Park that immediately established it as one of the nation’s top hip-hop festivals. Dreamville’s second edition in 2022 expanded from one day to two with an onstage lineup featuring the entire roster of Cole’s Dreamville Records label, and it also sold out. Round three returns to Dix Park the first weekend of April as another multi-day affair. It should be another big success, with Cole himself in the headline slot.

April 1 – 2, Raleigh;




Centered on the multi-style “traditional plus” music played and loved by its late, great founder, Doc Watson, MerleFest has been a tradition at Wilkes Community College since 1988. The venerable roots-music festival is a signpost event on the Americana circuit. And after the same pandemic problems that every other live-music event faced in recent years, it’s back with an impressive lineup featuring the Avett Brothers, Maren Morris, Little Feat, Tanya Tucker and more.

April 27 – 30, Wilkesboro;


Bear Shadow

The mountains of the far western corner of North Carolina are the setting for this springtime festival, which happens the same weekend as MerleFest. First conceived in 2021, this year’s model has a first-rate alternative-leaning lineup featuring Spoon, The Head and the Heart, Jason Isbell and Amythyst Kiah.

April 28 – 30, The Highlands Plateau;



Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of  Music & Dance 

Started in 2003 as a nonprofit music and dance festival, Shakori Hills takes place on a bucolic 9,000-acre spread in rural Chatham County. It’s probably the top camping festival in the greater Triangle region, with solid Americana lineups. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Malian singer/guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, beach legends Chairmen of the Board and festival regulars Donna the Buffalo. There’s also a fall version of Shakori Hills, which happens every October.

May 4 – 7, Pittsboro;


Annual Carolina Beach Music Festival

Dance to beach music with your toes in the sand at the 37th Annual Carolina Beach Music Festival on Saturday, June 3 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Billed as “the biggest and only beach music festival actually held on the beach on the North Carolina coast,” three bands will be performing. Shows are accessible from the Carolina Beach Boardwalk at Cape Fear Blvd. and Carolina Beach Ave. S. For information on tickets call (910) 458-8434.

June 3, Carolina Beach


Festival for the Eno

The granddaddy of music festivals in the Triangle, Festival for the Eno dates back to 1980 and happens on the grounds of Durham’s West Point Park. Started as a fundraiser for the Eno River Association, the festival — which also offers a craft and food market — has hosted a who’s who of Americana-adjacent and roots artists including Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson and Loudon Wainwright III. Recent years have featured rising regional acts including Mipso, Rainbow Kitten Surprise and Indigo De Souza.

July 1 and 4, Durham;


Mountain Dance and Folk Festival 

Reputedly the first event in America to be called a “folk festival,” Asheville’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival was founded in 1928 by the folk music legend, Bascom Lamar Lunsford. It remains the longest continuously running folk festival in the country, and it’s as much about the folk dance traditions of Western North Carolina as the music.

Aug. 3 – 5, Asheville;


Earl Scruggs Music Festival 

A newcomer to the North Carolina festival circuit, the Earl Scruggs Music Festival debuted last year at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring. As you’d expect for a festival named after the man who invented the three-finger style of bluegrass banjo, the lineup trends toward classic bluegrass and Americana.

Sept. 1-3, Mill Spring;


John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival 

Although he made his mark as an artist elsewhere, John Coltrane was born and raised in Hamlet, North Carolina. He was one of the towering figures of 20th century jazz, a key collaborator with Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and his fellow North Carolina native Thelonious Monk. The John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival has been paying tribute to his legacy every Labor Day weekend since 2011 with solid lineups — 2022 featured trumpeter Chris Botti, singer Patti LaBelle and saxophonist Kirk Whalum, among others.

Sept. 2 – 3, High Point;


Hopscotch Music Festival

Downtown Raleigh has a well-earned reputation for doing music festivals right, and one of the events that helped pave the way is the alternative-slanted Hopscotch. Originally started in 2010 under the auspices of the Indy Week newspaper, it showed off Raleigh’s walkable grid of downtown nightclubs and outdoor stages to fantastic effect. Past headliners have included Flaming Lips, The Roots, Solange Knowles and St. Vincent. Hopscotch director Nathan Price reports that this year’s model should feature “an expanded lineup closer to pre-COVID size.” Here’s hoping.

Sept. 7 – 9, Raleigh;


North Carolina Folk Festival 

In 2015, the National Council for the Traditional Arts brought the long-running National Folk Festival (which has been around since 1934) to Greensboro for a three-year run. It was such a success that, after the national festival’s Greensboro run ended, the city opted to keep it going as the rebranded North Carolina Folk Festival. Last year’s lineup was typically eclectic, featuring everything from George Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars to the Winston-Salem Symphony String Quartet. Expect more of the same in 2023.

Sept. 8 – 10, Greensboro;



World of Bluegrass 

The International Bluegrass Music Association moved its annual business convention and festival to Raleigh in 2013, where it has been a huge success. Between the convention, trade show, “Bluegrass Ramble” nightclub showcases, awards show and street festival, total attendance can top 200,000 when the weather’s good. Past headliners have included Steve Martin, Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck and just about every notable picker and singer in the genre. Year in and year out, it’s downtown Raleigh’s biggest music festival.

Sept. 26-30, Raleigh;


That Music Festival 

Sponsored by Raleigh’s Americana/roots radio station, That Station, 95.7-FM, That Music Festival made its debut in June 2022 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park with an all-North Carolina lineup featuring American Aquarium, Steep Canyon Rangers, Mountain Goats, Rissi Palmer and more. The sophomore edition is tentatively scheduled for October, most likely in Durham again.

October, Durham;


Annual Bluegrass Island Music Festival 

Music lovers will be flocking to the Outer Banks, beach chairs in hand, for the 12th Annual Bluegrass Island Music Festival October 19-21 held at the Roanoke Island Festival Park overlooking miles of the pristine waters of Roanoke Sound. Buy your tickets and book your lodging well ahead of time. Acts this year include The Goodwin Brothers, Seth Mulder & Midnight Run, Rhonda Vincent & The Rage, Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Leftover Salmon, The Kody Norris Show, Thunder & Rain, AJ Lee & Blue Summit, The Kitchen Dwellers, The Steeldrivers, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Breaking Grass, Tim O’Brien and the incomparable Sam Bush. 

October 19-21, Manteo;  PS

Creators of N.C.

Creators of N.C.

The Right Track

On the trail with Charles Frazier

By Wiley Cash

Photographs By Mallory Cash

The first time I met Charles Frazier was in Asheville back in the spring of 2016. Along with several other authors, we had been invited to participate in a fundraiser at the Asheville Community Theater. I knew most of the authors there that evening, but I didn’t know Charles, and I was nervous about meeting him. Like most people in the world, I had read Cold Mountain after it won the National Book Award in 1997, and then I saw the Oscar-winning film, which starred Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Renée Zellweger, when it was released in 2003. I’d read the two novels he’d published in the intervening years. My love for them only contributed to my nervousness at the idea of meeting their author.

But apparently Charles Frazier wasn’t one bit nervous about meeting me. He walked right up to me backstage and said, “I was up in Hot Springs a few months ago, and I saw that you were scheduled to do an event in town. I left a note for you at the public library. Did you get it?”

Reader, I was too shocked that Charles Frazier even knew who I was to be shocked by his reliance on paper technology. Needless to say, we’ve been friends ever since. He joined me onstage a year later for an in-conversation event for the launch of my novel, The Last Ballad, and I did the same for him when his novel, Varina, was released in 2018. We’ll be back onstage together on April 10 on the campus of UNC Asheville for the launch of his latest novel, The Trackers, a book that will both please and surprise fans of Charles Frazier.

There’s an old saying that serious writers never write the same book twice, and Charles never has, but he has almost always written about the same places, which is to say Appalachia and the Southern United States. The surprise that’s in store for readers is that The Trackers, which is set in Depression-era America, ranges far afield from the swamps of Florida to the big skies of Wyoming to the sooty factory towns and transient camps of the Great Northwest. But readers who loved Charles’ previous novels will find echoes of those works in his new one. Like Cold Mountain, The Trackers is the story of a man on a quest. WPA mural painter Val Welch is in pursuit of Eve Long, the wife of a wealthy rancher who has absconded with a priceless piece of artwork, and like Thirteen Moons (2006), the new novel is awash in era-appropriate research, from automobiles to art and architecture to the politics of the New Deal. Like Nightwoods (2011), The Trackers expertly employs noir tropes like tight, scene-driven dialogue and dark, ominous settings, and like the titular character in Varina (2018), Eve Long is a dashing, magnetic heroine: a former runaway turned traveling honky-tonk singer who finds herself married to a wealthy political hopeful before pulling the plug on it all and disappearing without a trace. Her husband, who is sponsoring Val’s mural project in a local post office, makes Val a financial offer he can’t refuse: track Eve and find out where she is, why she left, and, most importantly, who she really is.

According to Charles, it was nearly 10 years ago when the idea for the novel that became The Trackers first came to mind.

“We were up in Boone, and I was just killing time,” he says. “I visited the post office, which has one of those Depression-era WPA murals. After that I had more time to kill, so I went to the library at Appalachian and looked up information about WPA projects, specifically the Treasury Department art projects. One of the first images I saw was a photograph taken inside one of those small post offices, and there was a mural in progress on the wall with two young guys working on it. Standing on the floor looking up at them was an older guy and a woman. They were both well-dressed, and I thought, OK, there’s a story here.”

As the story rattled around in his mind over the following months and years, Charles dispatched with one of the two mural artists and focused on a single artist and how he might interact with the well-heeled couple who were watching him work. Artist Val Welch and rancher Jake Long and his mysterious wife Eve were born.

Charles and I are standing in the midcentury modern house he and his wife, Katherine, own in Asheville, a home that’s not quite ready for them to inhabit. Like many people in post-pandemic America, they’re waiting on the right contractor to come along to update the house and make it fully habitable. For now, Charles has set up a writing desk in the light-filled living room, a stone fireplace against one wall and tall windows opening to the yard, where, despite it being mid-January, the view is alive with greenery.

I think about Inman, Ada and Ruby, the three characters who drove the narrative in Cold Mountain, and ask Charles if there’s something that spoke to him about using a similar triangulation of characters in The Trackers.


“Well, that’s one of the things that appealed to me while writing this book. I could keep a handle on the relatively limited number of characters because I have a problem sometimes with expansion,” he says. “Having that very clear arrangement of characters helped me keep it under control and forced me to focus on trying to keep the book short. But, in The Trackers, Eve is the reason the triangle exists. I never lost sight of her as the main character.”

Eve is no doubt the main character. Even when she’s not on the page, her presence drives the action and tension. And even though this book is relatively short in comparison to some of his longer novels, many of the scenes feel expansive because Charles allows them to breathe and exist as the reader witnesses them in what feels like real time. One scene that comes to mind unfolds over a long night in the swamps of Florida when Val encounters Eve’s former in-laws, a dangerous band of lawless folks who are as suspicious of Val’s outsider status as they are of his questions about their former daughter-in-law’s whereabouts.

“That was a really fun scene to write,” Charles says. “It was fun to get that rhythm, that really slow, heavy rhythm to the dialogue and pacing. This is the point in the novel when Val is beginning to learn that he is truly in over his head.”

There were points in writing The Trackers when Charles began to fear that he was in over his head too, especially when the pandemic struck and he could not make use of the location scouting that had benefited all of his previous novels and brought the realities of place and landscape to the page. But he had an ace or two up his sleeve when writing about the West and about Florida: He and Katherine spent the bulk of the 1980s living in Colorado with their young daughter, and after Cold Mountain was released, they resided full time on a horse farm in central Florida. Of course the process of writing The Trackers was full of research, but when you read the novel and encounter far-flung Western states, the boggy swamps of Florida and people who understand horses intimately, you are encountering worlds that Charles Frazier knows well.

If you read the novel, you might also be reminded of a literary genre Charles also knows well: the travel narrative, which his novels certainly borrow from, especially Cold Mountain and Varina. But it is his lesser known first book, Adventuring in the Andes, a travel guide published by the Sierra Club, that most reflects his love for the genre.

During the long years of writing The Trackers, especially during the COVID lockdown, travel was on Charles’ mind, and he was itching to get out West and look around, but he found himself settling for photographs, music and art that was resonant of the West in the 1930s, especially Woody Guthrie and Diego Rivera. But writing a novel as complex and rich as The Trackers is hard, and it takes a long time, despite how many books you’ve published before or how many millions of copies they’ve sold.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Charles says. “At least it hasn’t gotten any easier for me. And I’m just an enormously disorganized writer. Every time I finish a novel I’m a little bit surprised.”

As if to give insight to the expanse of hours spent at his desk, he shows me the tiny slips of paper he uses to record his word counts along with the dates of his daily writing sessions. When I look at his handwriting I can’t help but be reminded of the note he left for me in Hot Springs years earlier, and I wonder how Val Welch would go about tracking it down.

Well, I’m no tracker. So, to the people of Hot Springs, North Carolina, if you find a little slip of paper that contains a message that Charles Frazier wrote to Wiley Cash years and years ago, do me a favor, hang onto it until I’m back in town.  PS

Wiley Cash is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, is available wherever books are sold.

Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

Courage and Candor

Daniel Wallace’s thought-provoking memoir

By Stephen E. Smith

If you read the promo material for Daniel Wallace’s new memoir, This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew, you’ll assume the message is straightforward: Hero worship is an exercise in disillusion. But the “hero” in Wallace’s memoir isn’t a hero in the accepted sense (the sociological definition for “significant other” is a more accurate term); and the message, although essential and timely, is predictably ambiguous.

Wallace is the author of the bestselling novel, Big Fish, and six other much-praised works of fiction, and the qualities evident in his earlier works are perfectly transferable to his first foray into nonfiction. He crafts a compelling narrative that pulls the reader headlong into a story whose energy never wanes. He’s thoughtful and thought-provoking. He makes sense of the past in order to free the reader to face the future, and he writes with courage and candor.

Wallace introduces his hero, his future brother-in-law, William Nealy, in a scene where he happens upon Nealy attempting a perilous leap from the rooftop of the family home into a swimming pool 25 feet below. Nealy takes flight, plunges into the water, climbs out and repeats the jump over and over. “It was pretty magnificent,” Wallace writes. “It wasn’t some unformed idea I had about masculinity or manliness in him that I was drawn to; I wasn’t into that, then or now. It was just the wildness, the derring-do, his willingness to take flight — literally — into the unknown, an openness to experience and chance that so far in my short life had not been previously modeled to me by anyone.” Wallace admits that he didn’t need to emulate Nealy’s behavior but that he learned “. . . how to become the me I wanted,” and that he would think of that day — he was 12 at the time — as the moment he was born again.

The first third of Wallace’s memoir is a biography of Nealy’s short life: his need for constant adrenalin highs, his success as a cartoonist and writer, his marriage to Wallace’s sister, their loving but troubled relationship, and how Nealy’s example encouraged Wallace to become something other than a cliché — not a writer, but someone “demonstrably unique, amusing,” someone living on the fringes.

Following Nealy’s example Wallace threw himself into several unsatisfying pursuits, eventually settling on the writing of fiction — the telling of quirky tales in which nothing is as it seems — that led to the success of Big Fish.

The Nealys settled near Chapel Hill, where they purchased a large tract of wooded land and William built a house, wrote books and produced cartoons and maps about the challenges of outdoor life. In the context of contemporary existence — the use of drugs and alcohol notwithstanding —  it all seemed idyllic, skewed perfection in a humdrum world that was constantly encroaching. But that encroachment became all-consuming when a close mutual friend, Edgar Hitchcock, a drug dealer whom Wallace characterizes as “the kindest man I have ever met,  so smart, funny and loving,” a dealer who confesses that “selling drugs is the final frontier,” is murdered.

The second part of the memoir centers on the mystery surrounding Hitchcock’s death. Nealy became obsessed with finding the man who murdered his friend, and the road led almost immediately to a likely suspect. Relying on simple intuition, Nealy was able to identify the culprit when he first shook his hand. “It was a notion that would be lodged into the marrow of his very being and would not be dislodged, not ever, not for as long as he lived.”

For purposes of the memoir, the suspect’s name is Stanley, a personable enough acquaintance whom Nealy “befriended” in an attempt to discover the truth surrounding Hitchcock’s murder. When Hitchcock’s body was discovered five months after his disappearance, Stanley began to subtly reveal his culpability.

It’s a long and tangled tale that leads to Stanley’s indictment and his eventual release because of convoluted legal circumstances that hindered prosecution. Nealy was powerless to avenge his friend’s murder, and his continuing obsession with the unpunished culprit damaged his marriage to Wallace’s sister. For one of the few times in his adult life, Nealy found himself powerless to influence events. His need to control the uncontrollable becomes apparent in a brief journal entry: “My whole life has been a struggle against the world to preserve my ‘being’ and it’s put me in dire conflict with the people I love . . . I MUST NOT LET THEM SEE WHO I REALLY AM!”

Nealy committed suicide in his early 40s, Wallace’s sister died in 2011, and Wallace inherited their ashes and Nealy’s journals, leaving him to piece together the events that led to his friend’s tragic end. The journal entries aren’t particularly revealing, but one laconic passage exposes the source of Nealy’s recklessness. Nealy’s hero, a Scoutmaster, sexually assaulted him while at summer camp. Nothing more is revealed about the encounter — and what more needs to be said? A physical dissociation from oneself is the inevitable outcome of such a traumatic event and might explain Nealy’s reckless behavior.

Wallace is left to manage his grief and grapple with the psychological pain suffered when the person upon whom he modeled his life proved himself fallible. He eventually comes to what he believes is a satisfactory understanding of William Nealy’s life and death, but that solution isn’t simple or straightforward. There are no easy answers — and the conundrum remains: What becomes of us when our significant other stumbles? “Can we ever know why we are who we are,” he writes, “the recipe that makes us the unique, bewildering, beautiful and sometimes insane creatures we end up becoming?”

Wallace doesn’t shy from the final truth: There are many ways to die — murder, suicide, illness — and he’s philosophical about the state in which we find ourselves: “. . .  there appear to be no safe places left in the world, on our streets or in our hearts.” How true are those simple words?

This Isn’t Going to End Well is not an easy or uplifting read, but it is a memoir borne of intense experience and introspection, which is the only available panacea for what troubles us. Suicide is a perilous subject for the writer and the reader, but Wallace acknowledges that contemplating the taking of one’s life is the most damaging secret a person can have. The “Author’s Note” lists The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number.  PS

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

The Land of Pods

What’s old is new again

By Deborah Salomon

Until recently, I knew pods only from the English peas growing in Granddaddy’s garden . . . and tent-like enclosures E.T. might take camping.

In mankind’s insatiable quest for the new, the shiny, he-she-they occasionally turn up a relic that, when dusted off, can be recycled, then touted as le denier cri. I speak of podcasts which, in generations before Gens. X-Y-Z, were called radio: Sit down in front the wireless, the transistor, the boom box, and listen to people talking, music playing, ad jingles, news and weather, whatever.

Relax. Close your eyes. You could be listening to The Fat Man or The Jack Benny Show. More recently, on road trips, I enjoyed NPR’s Car Talk, international news, and a show where listeners challenged a chef to contrive a recipe from unlikely ingredients.

I understand why Gens. X-Y-Z prefer podcasts. Podcasts are chic, informative, entertaining. But thinking they invented the talkie genre, no way.

As for the name, Google informed me that it attaches iPod — the delivery hardware for the original product — to broadcast, an ancient verb turned noun. Though still confused, I stand better informed.

My first podcast experience was on TV. At the end of HBO’s mini-series The Gilded Age the audience is invited to stay tuned for a podcast exploring the show. What followed was a conversation between writers and producers. On the screen remained a still of the opulent set. Like when the picture freezes. My brain, accustomed to multi-stimulants, tuned out.

Better Google a definition before proceeding: “A digital medium consisting of an episodic series of audio, video, PDF subscribed to and downloaded through Web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device.”

Discouraged but still intrigued, I booked an in-person conversation with Frank Daniels IV, The Pilot’s radio/podcast-meister who was still a teenager when podcasts came into being, circa 2004. His tutorial filled me with shock and awe, as would a neurosurgeon explaining how to cut open a brain. He explained platforms, monetizing a famous or ordinary name, how 60 percent of Americans have listened to at least one podcast, creating your own, accessing subject matter, even libel vs. slander dispensed by hothead podcasters like the infamous Joe Rogan. He spoke on lack of filtration (censorship), when and where people listen (forget the bathtub), the appeal for children who can don headphones and run around or fall asleep while listening to Grandma read a story.

Really, Daniels knows more about podcasting than I know about chicken soup. Always smiling, he convinced me podcasts were the modern-day World Book Encyclopedia.

Like baking bread and knitting, podcasts grew in popularity with better-educated housebound techies during the pandemic. Only disappointment: no loaf, no sweater.

Daniels concedes that the medium has gone in too many directions. Millions exist, some super-interesting and educational, others mere ego trips. “But it won’t burn out; podcasting is here to stay,” he says.

Not sure I am, however, despite Daniels’ patient and enthusiastic tutorial. Obviously, podcasting makes him happy while just making me anxious, same as artificial intelligence and deep-fake videos. Have you heard about the new program that writes an essay or report from inputted facts? There goes my job. Besides, not sure my Android cell is au courant, or compatible. No Sirius or laptop, either, just a rickety old PC, a non-smart TV and an AM-FM radio. Can’t grasp RSS feeds. Too much up and downloading. Too many choices, like looking for a good beach read at the Library of Congress. Besides, ear buds render me slightly dizzy.

So I’ll stick with my little portable radio, a go-to during power outages. NPR survives storms and, even Daniels concurs, nothing lifts the spirits like classic rock. Should that pale, I’ll dig up old-time podcasts of 20 Questions, The Jack Benny Show and Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick, the must-hear news and gossip hour consumed 1945-63.

At least until E.T. invites me for a weekend camping.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at

Sporting Life

Sporting Life

Remembering Wild Places

And finding a project for spring


By Tom Bryant

“So what a man has got to do is take a little time off as he grows older, and devote the waste space to remembering the things he did that he maybe won’t never do again.”

        — Robert Ruark, The Old Man and The Boy

It was one of those after the New Year, late winter, hoping for spring kind of days when the frosty wind was out of the northwest, blowing hard enough to keep most everyone, animals included, close to home. I had a pretty good case of cabin fever, so I decided to ride down to the little farm I lease, close to Drowning Creek, and check out the cold weather doings.

I’ve been using the farm to do some dove and turkey hunting, but mostly as just a getaway from civilization. I pulled the Cruiser into the pines and cut the engine near the fallow fields that the farmer was getting ready to plant. During a lull in the wind, I decided to get a little exercise and walk around the perimeter of the pine grove, a circle of about a mile. No game was moving, not even birds. Too cold. Everybody’s trying to stay warm.

I thought how fortunate I was to have had so many wonderful wild places to hunt, fish and camp, beginning with growing up in Pinebluff. Not saying that Pinebluff was wild, but a short bike ride could take you to the woods where wildlife was abundant. There was a sandpit area close to the railroad tracks where we used to camp, and farther south toward Addor were more undeveloped acres that were ideal for a young person with a vivid imagination to roam at will and imagine that he was deep in the African veldt searching for roaring lions or charging rhinos. As I grew older, I hunted the woods on either side of the tracks for squirrels, rabbits and doves.

My granddad had a fish camp on the Little Pee Dee River. It was nothing real fancy, a one-room shack with a tin roof. Inside there was a homemade double bunk bed with ropes holding thin mattresses. A small alcove off to one end was the makeshift kitchen where granddad kept a small gas cook stove. A shelf on one side held all the cast iron pots and skillets used to fry untold numbers of bream and redbreast fish. It was a wonderful place with smells of swamp and river.

One of my most cherished memories is of granddad swimming in the fast-moving river, a Mae West life preserver tied around the big girth of his shoulders and his ankle tethered to the dock with about a 15-foot rope. He floated in the river like a small whale, laughing and blowing like a geyser. It was, he said, his Saturday night bath. I had to do the same but in the shallow water where we docked his fishing skiff.

We were usually on the river for a week or 10 days. When granddad was ready to go fishing, he went for a while. He said to me many times, “It takes a day or two just to get the lay of the land and get used to the ways of the swamp.” Later, when I was a few years older, he built a first-class river house more like something you would find at the beach. I was 16 with a driver’s license, sports had entered my picture, and I had discovered girls. I put fishing on the Little Pee Dee River on the back burner.

Nothing stays the same, they say, except death and taxes. Time rolled on faster than anticipated and I was ready to head off to college. Not much chance to enjoy the great outdoors, as I was doing all I could to make the grades so I could play baseball. I was lucky, though. I was in the middle of the mountains right next to the Pisgah National Forest with miles of wild land to explore. As soon as I became acclimated to the rigors of actually studying, I began to explore Pisgah’s beautiful natural resources.

I was driving an old 1940 Chevrolet Deluxe that my dad gave me my senior year in high school, and I outfitted it to be my SUV long before some Detroit auto designer coined the phrase. If someone wanted to interpret my lifestyle, all they had to do was inventory the contents of that ancient conveyance. I kept a small backpack loaded with all the necessities required to survive a couple of nights in the woods. A good knife, a hatchet, candles, eating essentials, including a cook kit saved from my days in the Boy Scouts, and of course, waterproof matches. In another duffel bag were a pup tent half and two wool Army blankets suitable for sleeping.

During the seasons, the inventory would reflect what was happening. In the spring and summer, fishing gear would hold forth, and fall and winter would usher in hunting paraphernalia. Of course, the seasons would overlap, and from time to time, my collections of gear would have to be purged and started over again. This in itself was a monumental job.

Cold was settling in, and I decided to give it a little more time and then head home to build a fire. I had a shabby camouflage duck hunting coat in the back of the Cruiser, and I grabbed it and put it on to ward off some of the chill. I bought the coat many years ago from a good friend and hunting buddy who owned a sporting goods shop, and it has stayed with me and become part of my hunting wardrobe. It was with me while hunting Currituck, Mattamuskeet, the Haw River, Black Creek and other fields and swamps too numerous to remember. The old coat is like a good luck charm. I can put it on and it automatically brings back memories of special times and good friends.

The hazy late winter sun was beginning to settle in the west and promised a moonless dark night, so I started up the little Cruiser and drove out of the pines on the narrow sand road that passed by a miniature pond nestled back in the woods, almost out of sight. On a whim, I stopped the vehicle as silently as I could and sneaked quietly, using the pond bank alders as cover, to check out the waterhole for wildlife.

I peeked over the brush and saw that the little slough was empty, but just as I turned to leave, a pair of wood ducks, wings whistling right overhead, softly splashed down in the water under a towering cypress tree.

Wow, I thought, that made the day. I need to come down here in March and put up a couple of nesting wood duck boxes.

It’s good to have a new project, and I thought back to the not so distant past and the numerous boxes I had positioned around lakes and beaver ponds. I usually do this in March because that’s when the wood duck, in my mind nature’s most beautiful duck, begins nesting.

I silently eased up to the vehicle, cranked her and headed home to a warm fire, also maybe a little libation, and a search to find my plans for building wood duck boxes. It’s gonna be a good spring.  PS

Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.

A Rude Awakening

A Rude Awakening

Bravery, blunders, and bloodshed at Monroe’s Crossroads

By Bill Case    

Art by  Martin Pate and the Fort Bragg Cultural Resource Management Program

Gen. Kilpatrick misdirects Confederate cavalry.

The arrival of dawn on March 10, 1865, became an unwelcome wake-up call for Lt. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. Stirred from his bed by the sound of thundering hoofbeats, the Union cavalry leader, clad only in his nightshirt and drawers, rushed to the front porch of Charles Monroe’s farmhouse, 8 miles east of present-day Southern Pines on what is now the Fort Bragg — soon to be Fort Liberty — Army reservation. Having commandeered the house for his temporary headquarters, what Kilpatrick saw shocked him. Hordes of Confederate cavalry were swooping down on his sleeping encampment, slashing with sabers and firing point-blank at bleary-eyed Union troops. Thus began “The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads.”

“In less than a minute,” Kilpatrick would later report, the Confederate horsemen “had driven back my people, and taken possession of my headquarters, captured the artillery (two cannons), and the whole command was flying before the most formidable cavalry charge I ever have witnessed.” The general’s immediate thought was, “Here is four years’ hard fighting for a major general’s commission gone up with an infernal surprise.”

Tagged with the scathing moniker “Kill-cavalry” because of a history of unnecessarily putting his troops in harm’s way, the general’s improvident failure to set pickets and safeguard his headquarters was an especially egregious omission and could well torpedo his military career. It enabled Confederate cavalry, led by Gen. Wade Hampton and subordinate generals Joseph Wheeler and Matthew Butler, to ride undetected and unopposed straight into the Union camp.

Kilpatrick’s attention may have been distracted by the presence of a woman. Depending on the historian consulted, the woman was either the beautiful Marie Boozer or a plain Yankee schoolmarm named Alice. In either case, the woman was believed to be sharing Kilpatrick’s bed at the farmhouse. The general, it seems, was caught with his pants down.

One objective of the Confederate attack was to capture Kilpatrick. A cadre of Georgia cavalry, finding a man still in his bedclothes standing on the porch of Monroe’s farmhouse, demanded to know where the Union general was. It was Kilpatrick, of course, and he quickly pointed to a figure riding off in the distance, “There he goes on that black horse!” exclaimed the general.

The Georgians turned and rode off in pursuit. Leaving either Alice or Marie behind, Kilpatrick scrambled off the porch, climbed aboard a stray horse — not his prized Arabian stallion “Spot” — and promptly hightailed it into the woods, where many of his cavalrymen had retreated. To this day, the general’s flight is disparagingly labeled “Kilpatrick’s Shirt-Tail Skedaddle.”

The Confederates had good reason to target Kilpatrick, whom they had come to despise for his part in the Union Army’s devastating blitz of the South. Six months earlier, on Sept. 2, 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s 60,000 Union soldiers had occupied and burned the city of Atlanta when depleted Confederate forces — commanded initially by Gen. Joseph Johnston, followed by Gen. John Bell Hood — were unable to halt the Union troops’ advance. In response, the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, installed Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard as the commander of the newly formed Department of the West, comprised of five Southern states that included Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Hampton’s scouts discover tracks to Kilpatrick’s encampment.

But with fewer than 30,000 soldiers scattered over several states, Beauregard was equally powerless to prevent Sherman’s next move, his “March to the Sea,” made during November and December, 1864. During a five-week trek from Atlanta to Savannah, Union soldiers laid waste to military installations, factories and railroads in an effort to choke off the Confederacy’s economic lifeblood. Leading the Union cavalry was Kilpatrick, whose zeal for destroying enemy property made him, according to Sherman, “just that sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition.” The general, aware of Kilpatrick’s faults, also referred to him as “a damn fool.”

After the Union troops reached Savannah on Dec. 21, 1864, commander-in-chief Gen. Ulysses S. Grant considered having Sherman move his army north by sea to Virginia, where the two generals would combine their forces to finish off Lee in Petersburg. But Sherman had a different plan in mind. He proposed marching his men north through the Carolinas to link up with Grant. Sherman persuaded his commanding general that the maneuver would devastate resistance in both states. Grant agreed, ordering him to “make your preparations to start on your expedition without delay . . . break up the railroads in South and North Carolina, and join the armies operating against Richmond as soon as you can.”

The bulk of Sherman’s army began exiting Savannah at the end of January 1865, soon entering South Carolina. Sherman was not inclined to treat the first state to secede gently. “The whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreck vengeance upon South Carolina,” he would write. “I almost tremble at her fate, but feel that she deserves all that seems in store for her.”

Sherman and other Union commanders have been criticized for rebuffing the pleas of numerous former slaves seeking the army’s protection during its Southern campaign. Hungry and fearful of being recaptured (or worse) by their former masters, the liberated, but nonetheless desperate, slaves attempted to attach themselves to the Union force. But the army mostly stiff-armed them on the grounds that the Blacks need for food and supplies would drain available resources and slow the march. In one measure of retribution against the slaveholders in the Deep South, Sherman issued an edict setting aside 400,000 acres of coastal areas in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida for freed slaves, an order later reversed by Andrew Johnson. 

Gen. Wade Hampton, commanding the cavalry supporting Lee’s army in Virginia, could not bear the thought of being absent from the upcoming fight in his home state of South Carolina. Hampton, deemed by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet the “greatest cavalry leader of our or any age,” was granted leave by Lee to return to the state along with Gen. Matthew Butler and the latter’s cavalry division.

Hampton also convinced Lee to place him in command of the Confederate cavalry in the area. This created friction between Hampton and “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, who had days before led his men to victory over Kilpatrick’s cavalry at Aiken, South Carolina. Hampton and Wheeler managed to put aside any ill feelings and established an effective working relationship, later evidenced at Monroe’s Crossroads.


Readied for the dawn attack.

In the early stages of the Carolinas Campaign, Sherman kept Beauregard and Hampton guessing where his army was heading. To confuse them, he ordered the Union left wing westward toward Augusta, Georgia, while directing his right wing to feint in the direction of Charleston. Then Sherman brought the troops back together to make a beeline to Columbia, South Carolina. The state capital was lightly defended, and Hampton had no choice but to order his troops to evacuate. On Feb. 17, Sherman’s unopposed army occupied the city.

A massive fire broke out that consumed most of Columbia’s buildings. Arguments raged regarding who caused the conflagration. Did the responsibility lie with fleeing Confederates who allegedly set fire to a storehouse of cotton bales? Or was the fire ignited by vengeful Union soldiers? Sherman pointed the finger at Hampton, who pointed his own, presumably uplifted, digit back at “Uncle Billy.”

The two adversaries exchanged hostile messages regarding the fate of Union foragers, a number of whom Sherman claimed had been murdered by Confederate soldiers after capture. He notified Hampton of his intent to respond in kind by executing a like number of Confederate prisoners. Hampton emphatically denied Sherman’s charge and upped the ante, promising that “for every soldier of mine ‘murdered’ by you, I shall have executed at once two of yours, giving in all cases preference to any officers who may be in my hands.” Both generals got each other’s message, and no further executions of foragers or other captives occurred.

The Columbia debacle accentuated fears of Confederacy higher-ups that annihilation of their cause was at hand. On Feb. 22, a desperate Gen. Lee relieved the beleaguered Beauregard and brought Gen. Johnston back to command the Department of the West. Johnston was under no illusion he could reverse the course of the war. In his memoirs, the general acknowledged that his primary object was “to obtain fair terms of peace; for the southern cause must have appeared hopeless then to all intelligent and dispassionate southern men.”

Given the Confederate Army’s vanishing manpower, achieving any terms beyond the CSA’s unconditional surrender would be a daunting undertaking. At the time Sherman crossed into North Carolina (March 3, 1865), the only Confederate infantry in Sherman’s immediate vicinity was Gen. William Hardee’s corps of 6,000 soldiers. Outnumbered 10 to 1, the most Hardee could be expected to do was shadow Sherman’s advance.

A more workable short term option for Johnston was employing his Hampton-led cavalry to dog the Federals with hit-and-run raids. As author Eric J. Wittenberg explained in his book, The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, the 4,000 horse soldiers of Hampton, Wheeler and Butler resisted Sherman by “hovering around the edges of the Federal column like a swarm of angry hornets ready to exact a heavy toll whenever an opportunity presented itself.”

Another dilemma for Johnston was not knowing where the Union Army would head after sacking Columbia. Sherman’s actual next destination was Fayetteville. Once there, his army could obtain supplies transported by steamboats sailing up the Cape Fear River from the coastal port of Wilmington, the latter having fallen into Federal hands in February. After destroying the arsenal at Fayetteville, Sherman intended to cross the Cape Fear and move his army to Goldsboro, North Carolina, where it would link up with Gen. John Schofield’s corps of 30,000 soldiers. Their combined force of 90,000 soldiers would then join Grant in Virginia for the final push against Lee.


The confederate charge at Monroe’s Crossroads.

A critical element of Sherman’s strategy was getting to Fayetteville before Hardee. Doing so would enable him to block or destroy the bridges across the river. Either measure would prevent Hardee’s corps and Confederate cavalry units from joining up with Braxton Bragg’s corps and other remnants of Joe Johnston’s dwindling forces.

Johnston’s strategy was basically a mirror image of Sherman’s. If Hardee reached Fayetteville ahead of the Federals, he was directed to cross the river and blow up the bridges behind him. This would frustrate, or at least delay, Sherman’s own crossing. Meanwhile, Hampton’s cavalry would hound the Union Army, inhibiting its progress.

The race would entail both Federal and Confederate forces passing through Moore County. Exhausted forces on both sides shivered as incessant, near-freezing rains with accompanying spring floods hampered their movements. Moore County was a quagmire! Kilpatrick described the grueling conditions as “the most horrible roads, swamps, and swollen streams.”

When Kilpatrick entered the county on March 7, he was several miles ahead of Sherman, who sent a message directing his cavalry leader “to deal as moderately by the North Carolinians as possible.” The general also counseled Kilpatrick to “keep up the seeming appearance of pushing after Hardee, but really keep your command well in hand, and the horses and men in the best possible order as to food and forage.”

As Kilpatrick consumed a meal of boiled sweet potatoes at the farm of Evander McLeod (near present day Pinebluff) on the evening of March 8, it had become abundantly clear that the West Point grad would be hard-pressed to avoid hostilities with the Confederate cavalry buzzing around him. Wade Hampton’s men had left McLeod’s farmstead just hours before.

The impending danger was compounded by Kilpatrick’s decision to send out scouting parties in search of alternative routes to avoid his troops’ overtaxing of the roads. As Wittenberg writes, “The farther his (4,000) men spread out . . . the more the Federals risked attack by marauding Confederate cavalrymen hovering just beyond the fringes of Kilpatrick’s column.”

At times, Kilpatrick seemed oblivious to these concerns. During the following day’s march, a Confederate prisoner, while walking alongside the carriage of “Little Kil” —he stood 5 feet, 3 inches in height — observed the general laying his head in Alice’s (or Marie’s?) lap and dangling his feet out the carriage window.

Meanwhile, at about 2 p.m. on March 9, Kilpatrick’s Third Brigade, headed by Col. George Spencer, arrived at the small hamlet of Solemn Grove, comprised of Buchan’s post office, a store, a mill and a few houses, including that of Malcolm Blue. Spencer was followed by William Way’s dismounted Fourth Brigade accompanied by 150 Confederate prisoners. Little Kil’s first and second cavalry brigades, commanded by Col. Thomas Jordan and Brig. Gen. Smith Atkins, respectively, were farther behind.

Kilpatrick’s men counterattack.

Upon receiving intelligence that Hampton’s cavalry was heading for Fayetteville, Kilpatrick concocted a scheme. He would seek to intercept the Confederate horsemen and prevent their planned rendezvous with Hardee, now certain to beat the Federals to the Cape Fear. The gambit meant blocking three different roads that Hampton and his subordinates, Wheeler and Butler, might potentially use: Morganton Road, Chicken Road to the south, and Yadkin Road to the north. Kilpatrick ordered Spencer to block the Yadkin Road. Another sortie was assigned to Way’s 400-man dismounted brigade. It marched farther east to block Morganton Road. Atkins, following behind as a rear guard, was urged to close up his brigade’s distance from Spencer and Way. The three brigades were ordered to establish camp at Monroe’s Crossroads, though circumstances would prevent Atkins from arriving there until well after hostilities commenced the following morning.

Way’s brigade reached Monroe’s Crossroads at 9 p.m. and set up camp adjacent to Charles Monroe’s farmhouse at the intersection of Morganton and Blue’s Rosin roads. Spencer’s brigade arrived soon thereafter, setting up its camp on a plateau that sloped toward a dismal swamp. Meanwhile, Jordan’s First Brigade, 3 miles distant, blocked Chicken Road. Kilpatrick’s separation of his brigades carried risk as each unit was rendered more vulnerable to attack. At the time Kilpatrick’s bugler sounded “taps” the night of March 9, there were around 1,400 Union soldiers at Monroe’s Crossroads, but had Kilpatrick played into the enemy’s hands by dividing his brigades?


Meanwhile, Confederate Gen. Butler had an unexpected prize fall into his lap. While patrolling with his division on the evening of March 9, he detected the sound of approaching hoofbeats. Butler called out, “Who goes there?”

“Fifth Kentucky,” came the response. Butler knew the 5th was a Federal unit.

He beckoned the soldiers to come forward and, without firing a shot, Butler promptly disarmed and took into custody 28 unsuspecting Kentuckians. The captives were all members of Kilpatrick’s headquarters escort company. It appeared Kilpatrick had been nearby and had narrowly avoided his own capture, hightailing it to Charles Monroe’s farmhouse. Sharing the residence with Little Kil and Alice (or Marie) were brigade leaders Spencer and Way, who bunked upstairs. Despite his close call and the distressing disappearance of the escort company, Kilpatrick inexplicably neglected to post any guards.

As a gleeful Butler regaled Hampton with the tale of his evening’s adventure, a scout rushed up to inform the generals that the tracking of hoofprints had led him to discover the union cavalry’s encampment at Monroe’s Crossroads. It appeared unguarded to the scout. Hampton, after conferring with Wheeler and Butler, sensed an opportunity to catch Kilpatrick napping (or otherwise occupied) and ordered a dawn attack.

Wheeler thought the attack would be more effective if made on foot. But Hampton overruled him. “General Wheeler,” said Hampton, “as a cavalryman I prefer making this capture mounted.” And so it was that at 5:20 a.m., the oft-wounded Hampton, astride his horse, led his cavalry’s ferocious charge into the Union camp. The 49-year-old master horseman reputedly dispatched three Union soldiers in the process.

It seemed certain Hampton was on the threshold of a glorious victory — one that could demonstrate to all that the war was not yet over. But the unforced errors were not the sole province of Kilpatrick. Several columns led by Wheeler were supposed to attack through an area that was marshy and full of thick vegetation. Wheeler thought the terrain would pose no hindrance, but he was wrong. Approximately half of Wheeler’s troops failed to make it through the muck and were late to the battlefield.

The attack caused the Union soldiers guarding the 120 Confederate prisoners to flee to the woods. Suddenly freed, the now ex-prisoners ran headlong and “frantic with joy” toward their liberators. At first, the cavalrymen thought the men sprinting toward them were retreating soldiers whose forward charge had been repulsed. The resulting confusion caused a temporary blunting of the Confederate assault. Furthermore, one of Butler’s brigades did not take part in the attack as it was ordered to escort the elated, but famished, former captives to the rear.

The newly liberated soldiers weren’t the only hungry ones. The Confederate cavalry soldiers also craved food. Many availed themselves of the opportunity to poke through the Union camp to find and consume whatever edibles they could lay their hands on. They looted belongings, scavenging shoes, blankets, saddles and mounts. The breakdown in discipline stemmed the momentum of Hampton’s onslaught and provided the Union cavalry breathing space to reform and rally. Local Civil War buff Jim Jones believes that the cavalrymen’s attention to the needs and whereabouts of their horses following the initial rush may also have added a distraction that would have been avoided had the charge occurred dismounted.

Hampton made another decision he would regret by not searching the farmhouse. Unknown to the general, Union brigade leaders Spencer and Way were still inside, hidden upstairs. Playacting by Kilpatrick’s paramour prevented the officers’ capture. Adopting the airs of a Southern belle, Alice (or Marie) greeted Hampton at the porch and assured him there were no Union officers inside her home. The chivalrous Hampton, not wanting to further trouble such a fine lady, posted a guard to keep rebel soldiers out of her hair, then bid the woman adieu. Spencer and Way remained grounded in the bedroom until the battle’s conclusion.


Lt. Stetson fires away.

Given the disarrayed and bedraggled appearance of Kilpatrick’s cavalry, it seemed next to impossible they could mount any sort of counterattack. Though they were chilled to the bone and nearly naked, most of Kilpatrick’s men had the presence of mind to grab their guns and ammo before fleeing from the camp. Jones points out that the veterans in Sherman’s army were as battletested as any in the war. “They bent at times but never broke,” says Jones.

According to Ohio horse soldier T.W. Fanning, Little Kil “cobbled together enough men to order an advance.” Then at his command, the horse soldiers “moved up the ridge, firing as they moved.” According to Fanning, the men “with one wild shout, swept down upon the rebels, who were swarming around the captured artillery and Kilpatrick’s former headquarters.” Adding impetus to Kilpatrick’s thrust were Capt. Theodore Northrup and his company of Union scouts. They had rushed to Monroe’s Crossroads upon learning of Kilpatrick’s plight.

Engaged as they were in premature celebration, it was Hampton’s cavalry now caught flatfooted. In the fog of the renewed gunfire, Lt. Ebenezer Stetson, who had been hiding from the Confederates under the farmhouse since the initial attack, surreptitiously crept to one of the cannons just 20 steps away. He loaded it with canister and fired away at the startled Confederates. Several of Hampton’s men were killed instantly. A second artillerist, believed to be Sgt. John Swartz, rushed to the second cannon and fired it to like effect. Together, they were able to inflict considerable damage until the guns were recaptured by Gen. Wheeler, largely through the ultimately fatal charge of Capt. Moses Humphrey. Swartz also died from wounds suffered in the battle.

Gen. Wheeler suddenly made his presence felt, charging into the camp and, according to a Georgian horseman, “killed several Yankees in close encounter.” He and Butler made repeated efforts to drive Kilpatrick’s men back toward the swamp, but they were met with withering gunfire courtesy of the Spencer seven-shot repeating carbines carried by an Ohio unit in the Union cavalry. Southern casualties were exacerbated because Wheeler’s and Butler’s men were packed close together due to the vagaries of the landscape. A disconsolate Butler reported that the carbines “made it so hot for the handful of us we had to retire. In fact, I lost 62 men (wounded and killed) there in about five minutes time.”

Coupled with his belief that Sherman’s infantry would soon be coming to Kilpatrick’s aid, Hampton ordered his cavalry to pull out and move on to Fayetteville. Both sides claimed victory at Monroe’s Crossroads. Kilpatrick boasted that he had driven the Confederate cavalry from the field. However, his negligent preparations would come under fire and Sherman never trusted him again. Hampton claimed his surprise attack freed prisoners and successfully stalled the Union cavalry, thus allowing Hardee to escape unscathed across the Cape Fear. But Hampton’s failure to capitalize on his initial advantage undercuts a claim of Confederate victory.

The precise number of battlefield deaths at Monroe’s Crossroads is unknown. The CSA wasn’t keeping records anymore, and Kilpatrick probably inflated the casualty figures. It would appear from accounts that a total of 150 dead is not far off. It was the last true cavalry engagement of the war.

As a result of Hardee’s escape, Joe Johnston was able to marshal 21,000 troops to battle Sherman at Bentonville on March 19. But Johnston was still outnumbered 3 to 1. As a result of heavy losses in this battle and the futility of further conflict, Johnston ultimately surrendered to Sherman. This followed Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th.

Today the Monroe’s Crossroads battlefield can only be accessed by prior arrangement. Happily that’s not difficult. Jonathan Schleier, associated with Fort Bragg’s Cultural Resource Program, offered to provide a guided tour but because the penetrating boom of military munitions can still be felt there 157 years after Lt. Stetson fired a cannon at the site, Schleier had to find a date from Range Control when artillery operations would not be occurring in the area.

On a hot July morning, I met Schleier at Fort Bragg’s Ranger Station No. 2, located at the point where East Connecticut Avenue meets the post’s border. As the roadway continues into the reservation, it’s called Morganton Road, an unimproved pathway little changed since 1865. Riding in Schleier’s Ford F-150 we observed neither vehicles nor people en route to the remote battlefield. Schleier said that present day officers, as part of their training, walk the battlefield to study the tactics and maneuvers of the long-ago fight.

The Monroe farmhouse is gone, but an obelisk marks its location. The battlefield has a surprising number of monuments, all of them installed since 1990. There are combatants’ graves, including those specifically dedicated to unknown soldiers. One memorial is situated at the spot where Lt. Stetson unleashed his cannon. Schleier unfolded maps to aid in comprehending the movements of the antagonists. Walking the ridge-filled terrain and eyeing the steep incline down to the swamp it was possible to visualize the logistical challenges faced by both cavalries.

The old battlefield was eerily quiet. Not a sound to be heard. Just like it must have been before all hell broke loose at 5:20 a.m. on March 10, 1865.

To schedule a tour of the battlefield, call Jonathan Schleier at (910) 396-6680.  PS

Pinehurst resident Bill Case is PineStraw’s history man. He can be reached at

Poem March 2023

Poem March 2023

Ice Cream Parlor

The woman has a gold stud through her tongue,

her companion a snarling tiger tattooed on his neck.

They hover over cups of Crazy Vanilla and Chunky

Chocolate as she describes the final scene from an old

Tom Hanks movie in which a single white feather is

lifted on a breeze to float gently through the universe.

“It’s symbolic of death and rebirth,” she says,

and claims the movie’s protagonist is dying

as he sits on a bench pondering his young son’s

passage into tomorrow. The woman with the studded

tongue says the feather’s random motion is evocative

of fate and free will and that we are all reborn

with our final breath, our souls gently ascending.

The man with the tiger tattoo sees it differently:

“Sometimes,” he says, “you’re just full of it.”

And there, in the sumptuous clamor of the ice

cream parlor, you become aware of a cold certainty

that has nothing to do with feathers or movies

or tattoos or tasty confections or the clear blue sky

or the universe about which the stud-tongued woman

is so emphatic on this spring morning when you

are again reminded that for every bright romantic

notion there’s a spiteful truth that will crush it.

  Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith’s Beguiled by the Frailties of Those Who Precede Us will be published this spring by Kelsay Books.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Tea Leaf Astrologer


(February 19 – March 20)

Einstein was a Pisces. While it’s true the German physicist struggled to remember his own birthday — “It is a known fact that I was born, and that is all that is necessary,” he would say — he had that Piscean knack for thinking outside the box. Imagination is your superpower. Keep that in mind this month when Mars dips into your fourth house of home and family, and tries yanking up the rug. Tension, like time, is relative.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Aries (March 21 – April 19)    

The fast lane is overrated. 

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

You can’t pull a rabbit from an empty hat.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Best to leave yesterday behind you.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Follow the breadcrumbs.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Try screaming into a pillow.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22) 

As you were. Or consider flying a kite.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

It’s time to speak your piece.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Be sure to read the fine print.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

You’re smothering it again.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Wear your power color.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

There’s a fine line between boundaries and dissociation.  PS

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla.