Burke County Courthouse
—Stoneman's Raid —
On March 24, 1865, Union Gen. George Stoneman led 6,000 cavalrymen from Tennessee into southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina to disrupt the Confederate supply line by destroying sections of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, the North Carolina Railroad, and the Piedmont Railroad. He stuck at Boone on March 28, headed into Virginia on April 2, and returned to North Carolina a week later. Raid ended at Asheville on April 26, the day that Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham, N.C.
During the Civil War, Confederate recruits mustered here on the grounds of the old Burke County Courthouse. The first unit—the Burke Rifles (Co. G, 1st North Carolina Infantry)—was enrolled for active duty on April 18, 1861, and mustered into state service in Raleigh on May 13.
While many of the young Burke County men went off to war early, the conflict did not come to the county until April 1865, when Stoneman's raiders passed through. Union Gen. Alvan C. Gillem led two cavalry brigades to Asheville through Burke County and Morganton while Gen. George Stoneman escorted most of his command to Tennessee from Lenoir, North Carolina. On April 17, Gillem encountered the Home Guard under Gen. John P. McCown at Rocky Ford on the Catawba River nearby.
Gen. Alvan C. Gillem
Courtesy Library of CongressAfter a brisk engagement, the Confederates withdrew, and Gillem entered Morganton, where "large supplies of corn and bacon were found," he reported.
Some of Gillem's troopers destroyed courthouse records, while others plundered private property. Slaves assisted the cavalrymen, numbers of whom were "home Yankees" (native Unionists) who exacted revenge against Confederate sympathizers. Almost as quickly as they appeared, however, Gillem and his men vanished, riding west on April' 19, ultimately to Asheville.
In 1837, builder James Binnie completed this stone courthouse to replace the first Burke County Courthouse, a wooden structure. From 1847 to 1862, this was the only courthouse outside Raleigh in which the North Carolina Supreme Court convened, to escape the summer heat. The exterior was stuccoed in 1885, and in 1903 architect Frank Milburn raised the porticoes and replaced the simple cupola depicted here with one in the Baroque style. In 1976, the county completed a new courthouse and moved from this building. The Old Burke County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.