Tom Dula: Poor Boy Was Bound to Die

On October 21, 1866, Tom Dula was convicted of the murder of Laura Foster.  It was at daybreak that the jury returned the verdict in the Iredell County Courthouse, where it had been moved from Wilkes County.  The jury had not received their orders from the judge until about midnight the night before. dulathomas2They deliberated during the night.  The defense moved for an arrest of judgment, which was overruled and the judge pronounced sentence: that Thomas Dula be hanged by the neck until dead on November 9, 1866.  Former Governor Zebulon B. Vance represented Dula pro bono.

Speculation abounded as to Vance’s reasons for taking the case, one of the few he ever lost before a jury. Regardless of his motives, he gave a spirited defense and succeeded in twice taking the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  The crowds of spectators and reporters that appeared in the courtroom were as likely there to see the charismatic Vance as they were to hear the sensational testimony.  Ultimately, however, the High Court upheld the conviction and Dula was hanged for the crime in May 1868.

Lincolnton Native Stephen Ramseur, Casualty of Shenandoah Campaign

A Civil War-era daguerreotype of Ramseur held by the N.C. Museum of HistoryOn October 20, 1864, Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur died from wounds received the previous day. Born in 1837 in Lincolnton, he attended Davidson College, where he studied mathematics briefly before entering the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1856. There he became close friends with several future Union generals including George Armstrong Custer.

After graduation Ramseur served with the 3rd United States Artillery stationed in Washington, D.C. He never reported to his new command after a promotion in February 1861 and instead he resigned his commission and offering his services to the Confederacy.

After briefly serving with an artillery unit, Ramseur was appointed colonel of the 49th North Carolina, a regiment he led with distinction at Malvern Hill where he was severely wounded. Promoted to brigadier general and assigned a brigade in the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, he led his brigade at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. In the fall of 1864, Ramseur led his division in the Shenandoah Campaign. On October 19, 1864, he was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek, Virginia. Taken prisoner, he died the next day at Union headquarters surrounded by many of his former friends and West Point classmates including General George A. Custer.

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The Road to Yorktown via the North Carolina Piedmont

surrender_of_lord_cornwallis1On October 19, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered more than 8,000 troops to a combined Franco-American force at Yorktown. The surrender came on the heels of much fighting in North Carolina. From January to March 1781, Cornwallis’s army pursued troops—including some local militia—under Daniel Morgan around the state. He continued chasing Morgan’s successor Nathanael Greene, in what became known as the “Race to the Dan.”

The campaign included several skirmishes, namely Cowan’s Ford, Bruce’s Crossroads, Clapp’s Mill and Weitzell’s Mill. It culminated in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the largest engagement fought in North Carolina during the Revolution. Although an American defeat, Cornwallis lost more than a quarter of his army; so many men that he had to retreat to British-held Wilmington. Charles Fox, a British Parliamentarian, reportedly exclaimed upon learning of Cornwallis’s losses, “Another such victory will ruin us.”

After Guilford, as Cornwallis’s army marched for Virginia, and Greene headed into South Carolina, North Carolina became a battleground for an ongoing civil war between local Patriots and Tories. Loyalist David Fanning terrorized the region, and in September captured Governor Thomas Burke and other lawmakers in a raid on Hillsborough. Fanning left North Carolina for the relative safety of the British forces at Charleston after the surrender at Yorktown.

Thomas Wolfe and “The Old Kentucky Home”

The Old Kentucky Home in Asheville in 1946. Photo from the State Archives

On October 18, 1929, Charles Scribner’s Sons published Look Homeward, Angel, the best-known novel by Asheville author Thomas Wolfe. Inspired by a marble angel outside his father’s monument shop on Pack Square, Wolfe wrote his first and largely autobiographical novel about the fictional Gant family wherein the father is a volatile stonecutter and the mother a business-minded boardinghouse operator.

Wolfe was only 6 when his own mother, Julia Westall Wolfe, left her husband and older children and bought the “Old Kentucky Home,” a rambling Victorian boardinghouse in downtown Asheville, to which she brought young Tom. With his family divided, Tom felt lost amongst his mother’s tenants and resentful of the changes the tourists were wreaking on his hometown.

Always aware of the life and people around him, Wolfe later turned his observations into a novel in which his mother’s boardinghouse became “Dixieland” and Asheville, the fictional town of “Altamont.”  Although names were changed, Asheville residents still recognized Wolfe’s characters as themselves and were scandalized. Only in 1937, a year before he died, did Wolfe return home to visit. He was, however, buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery. His mother’s boardinghouse is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, one of 27 state historic sites.

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“Choo Choo” Justice Barreled Down the Football Field

Justice with fellow Tarheel teammate Art Weiner in 1949. Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library

On October 17, 2003, football star Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice died at his home in Cherryville at the age of 79. A native of Asheville, Justice acquired his nickname in the Navy, into which he was drafted in 1943. Seeing him dodge tacklers for the Bainbridge Naval Training Center team, an officer remarked, “He looks like a runaway train. We ought to call him ‘Choo Choo.'”

After the war, Justice played for the UNC, though many other college vied for his talents. From 1946 to 1949, while Justice played for the Tar Heels, the team had a record of 32-9-2, went to three bowl games and even achieved a number one ranking in the AP Top 10. Justice was named National Player of the Year in 1948, was runner up for the Heisman Trophy in 1948 and 1949 and remains in the record books at UNC for a number of achievements.

Justice played for the Washington Redskins in the National Football League in 1950 and again between 1952 and 1954, before retiring to work in the oil business and then in the insurance industry. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1963.

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Dorton Arena Dedicated in 1961

Dorton Arena against the backdrop of the 1962 N.C. State Fair. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Dorton Arena against the backdrop of the 1962 N.C. State Fair.
Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On October 16, 1961, the Livestock Judging Pavilion at the North Carolina State Fair was dedicated and renamed the J. S. Dorton Arena, honoring the memory of “Doc” Dorton, a longtime fairgrounds manager who had died earlier that year.

Internationally recognized for its revolutionary architectural design, the arena opened in 1952. Its soaring, criss-crossed parabolic arched roof amazed fairgoers right from the start. The innovative creation was the work of Matthew Nowicki, a Polish architect who was then head of of the architecture department at what is now N.C. State’s School of Design.

Nowicki had sketched the building’s preliminary drawings in 1950, prior to his departure for India where he was engaged in planning the new Punjab capital city of Chandigarh. Returning to the United States, he was killed in a plane crash in Egypt, and Raleigh architect William Dietrick carried out the construction of Nowicki’s visionary work. Recipient of the first American Institute of Architects Honor Award in 1953, and recognized as a National Civil Engineering Landmark, the arena was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 for its exceptional national significance only 21 years after its construction.

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Alfred Moore, Soldier and Supreme Court Justice

On October 15, 1810, Alfred Moore, Revolutionary War officer and associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, died. Born in 1755 in New Hanover County, Moore was descended from the early settlers of the Cape Fear region and was the grandson of the founder of Brunswick Town.

moore_alfred1During the Revolutionary War, Moore was commissioned as a captain in the First North Carolina Continental Regiment. He saw action at Brunswick Town, Moore’s Creek Bridge and Charleston before resigning and returning home to manage the family estates. At the war’s conclusion, Moore began a lengthy career in public service, first as a state senator from Brunswick County, and then as state attorney general. He resigned that position in 1791 to return to the state assembly a year later. In 1795, he ran for a United States Senate seat, but lost.

In October 1799, President John Adams appointed Moore an associate justice to the United States Supreme Court upon the death of Justice James Iredell. Moore retired from the Supreme Court in 1804 due to ill health.  He is buried in the graveyard of St. Phillips Church in Brunswick Town, and Moore County is named in his honor.

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