Hunting Pinkney Inman
“Cold Mountain,” the movie starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger, is based on Charles Frazier’s novel set in the mountains of North Carolina. Elizabeth Hunter paid a visit to the spot where some say Pinkney Inman died.
Five of us are climbing the slope of Sentell Mountain (also known as Big Stomp) in Haywood County, N.C., on a little pilgrimage to visit the spot where Ted Darrell Inman, our guide, says his great-great uncle William Pinkney Inman was shot and killed toward the end of the Civil War. It’s mid-October. A few apples still cling to branches of an old, scaly-barked tree along our route. The sky is overcast, the leaves ochre, chestnut, burgundy – beginning to fall. Until Charles Frazier’s best selling novel “Cold Mountain” made Pinkney Inman (known only as Inman in the book) famous, his existence was the briefest of footnotes in Inman family history.
“Nothing is known of him” – no dates of birth or death, or whether he was married – “except he and John Swanger were killed on Big Stomp in [the] Civil War,” wrote local historian Thomas Erwin, who lived with one of Pinkney’s brothers in his youth.
The protagonist of “Cold Mountain” is a loner. On his long trek home, after deserting the hospital in Raleigh where he was recovering from wounds received at Petersburg, Inman dreams “of getting home and building him a cabin on Cold Mountain so high that not a soul but the nighthawks passing across the clouds in autumn could hear his sad cry. Of living a life so quiet he would not need ears.” The war has not produced this alienation. In one of the novel’s many flashbacks, we see Inman in his room in town, just before going off to fight.
“It was tiny with but one small window high on the far wall, and that with a prospect only on the clapboards and the shakes of the store across the alley. For furnishing, the room had a narrow iron bedstead, a chest of drawers with a washbasin atop it, a straight chair and writing table, some books in stacks. All in all more fit, she [Ada, his love interest] thought, for a monk than for someone she might class as beau.”
Frazier credits his father Charles O. Frazier with setting him “on Inman’s trail,” and apologizes, in the book’s acknowledgments, “for the great liberties I have taken with W.P. Inman’s life and with the geography surrounding Cold Mountain.”
Though Ted Darrell Inman hasn’t read “Cold Mountain” – and says he doesn’t plan to see the movie – he doesn’t think much of Frazier’s fictionalizing. An amateur historian, he’s on his own search for Pinkney Inman.
“I’m here for history; I stand up for history,” he says. Born a half mile from where he now lives, and a mile and a half from where Joshua Inman – Pinkney’s father and the family patriarch – settled when he came to the Upper Pigeon Valley 1825 or 1826, Ted Darrell Inman combs census and other historical records, piecing “the facts” together to create a family tapestry that’s vivid in his mind.
“I have copies of the census for most of the 1800s, and have followed through as best I could. But a lot’s left off the census books,” he says. “Those census fellers from over in Waynesville didn’t come up in these mountains all the way. If you weren’t on the beaten path, you didn’t get recognized.”
A Little Family History
Both Charles Frazier and Ted Darrell Inman are great-great nephews of Pinkney Inman. Both descend not only from the patriarch Joshua, but from his eldest son James Anderson Ingram, born Feb. 15, 1826. In 1843, a few days after his 17th birthday he obtained his father’s written permission to marry Mary (Polly) Kirby. By the time he joined his younger brothers Joshua Ervin, Hezekiah, Logan and Pinkney – and their sister Mirinda’s husband Andy Crawford – in enlisting in the Confederate cause, eight (perhaps nine) of his and Polly’s 10 children had been born.
Charles Frazier descends from one son, Pingree; Ted Darrell Inman from another, Ballou. According to Thomas Erwin’s history, Pingree was born in 1851, Ballou in 1853. Erwin spells the name “Balew,” but Ted Darrell Inman has an 1883 letter from Anderson to “James Hosey Ballou,” and thinks he was born earlier, in 1847 or 1848.
A blacksmith and a cooper, Anderson Inman had a turning lathe, a corn mill – and deeply held religious beliefs. Known as “The Prophet of Pigeon River,” he was ordained a Universalist minister after returning from the war, and later built a (still surviving) chapel on his land. A transcription of a letter he wrote to his “Ever dear wife and children” from “Cumberland Gap, East Tenn.” over several days, from July 27 to Aug. 2, 1863, contains a little family news – and lengthy religious exhortations and professions of faith.
“Polly, as you are the mother of all the children and is older than any of them, and consequently moor (sic) capable of giving instructions, setting a good example, etc., etc.,” he writes, “I will depend on you to raise the children in the way they aught (sic) to go. I have a good supply of religious Books at home. I suppose they are all on the Book shelf as I left them, but I fear they are all covered over with dust. That is, I fear you don’t use them enough to keep the dust off of them. I want you and the children to read my Religious Books and try to improve your minds the best you can til I come. It is my prayer that you may grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth as you advance in years.”
Toward the end of the letter, he adds word about his brothers. “I am just off picket again. The sweat hant (sic) dried on me yet. Login (sic) and Joe are both well. We got a letter from J.E., W.P., & L.H. [Ervin, Pinkney and Hezekiah] last Friday night bearing the date July 15, 1863. The Boys was all well."
There are discrepancies between Anderson’s letter and Erwin’s history. The letter – and notes added by its transcriber – indicate that Joshua Inman had a sixth son, Joseph, also enlisted in the war, and that all six were alive in the summer of 1863. Erwin’s history says Logan, the first to enlist, died of scurvy with Lee’s army in Virginia on Aug. 18, 1862, “according to Confederate records.” The transcriber adds that five weeks after Anderson mailed the letter, “he, Logan, Joseph, and most of their regiment were taken as prisoners of war to Camp Douglas, Illinois. Logan and Joseph died there, probably of smallpox, and were buried in Confederate Mound at Camp Douglas, now called Oakwoods Cemetery, in Chicago, Illinois.” Logan’s death date is given here as Christmas day, 1864; Joseph’s as April 15, 1864.
However many Inman boys there were, and wherever Logan died, Thomas Erwin’s assertion that “the dreaded Civil War took a heavy toll [on] the family of Joshua Inman” is undeniably the case. Hezekiah was “with Lee in Virginia and witnessed the ‘Blow Up’ at Petersburg. He nursed his brother Ervin when he was wounded until his death. He made the box for the body and dug the grave for the burial,” Erwin writes. Pinkney was killed “in a skirmish” on Big Stomp. “The date of death was about 1864.” Only two of Joshua Inman’s sons – Anderson and Hezekiah (and son-in-law Andy Crawford) – were still alive when the fighting ended. Anderson survived not only the war, but the century, dying on Aug. 15, 1913, at the age of 87.
Perhaps it was the religion, perhaps something else, but Ballou Inman had a falling out with his father sometime after Anderson returned from the war. Ballou left home, went west – to Texas and California. Eventually he returned and married, in his late 40s or early 50s, and fathered four children, the youngest of whom was Willis Ted, Ted Darrell Inman’s father. Willis Ted was born when Ballou was 64 or 65 years old; he was 13 or 14 when his father died.
Ballou was a blacksmith, and, for seven or eight years from about 1890 on, he carried the mail from Waynesville to post offices at Retreat and Levonia (near current day Lake Logan). The 14- to15-mile route followed an old wagon road over Big Stomp. Ballou made the trek “on foot most of the time. When the snow was deep, he drove a steer in front of him to break the trail,” Ted Darrell Inman says. He was paid $112 a year for this work, and he was required to make the trip three times a week, 12 months out of the year. His pay was docked five dollars for every trip he failed to make.
“My granddaddy said he walked right by the place where Pinkney Inman died every time he carried the mail,” Ted Darrell Inman says.
We’ve reached our destination now, up above the “Big Stomp” – the wide, flat area on the south side of the mountain where the drovers and their cattle stopped for the night, stomping the soil hard and clearing it of vegetation. Huge oaks and walnuts stud the slope above us. We’re standing just below two boulders that rest at angles from one another, the space between them filled with stacked rock. Vines drape the rock wall; we rest on the fallen log in front of it, as Ted Darrell Inman continues his story.
“Granddaddy gave this account to his wife and my daddy. He said the ‘fort’ where Pinkney was shot was in the V of a rock, with stones stacked in the V. The Home Guard – if your politics were right, you got to be Home Guard – was up here guarding the route between Waynesville and Pigeon Valley, looking for deserters. I don’t know who found Pinkney’s body, but somebody did, and came down and told his father. Old Joshua Inman came four miles from Inman Branch with a horse and sled and picked the bodies up. You’ve got to think what was on his mind, making that trip up the mountain, wondering how bad they were tore up – how he was going to find them. He carried them down off the mountain, and buried Pinkney way in the night."
Charles Frazier wrote an account in 1997 of a trip he made “up the hill where my father says the real Inman is buried. There’s nothing to tell exactly where he lies. Just a bunch of sunken oblongs with wooden markers rotted down to stubs or flat stones with unreadable scratchings on them. All anonymous. If he’s there, he has a fine view to the forks of the Pigeon River…. His long view is up toward Cold Mountain.”
That doesn’t sound like the place Ted Darrell Inman took us after our hike down the mountain. Ted Darrell took us to Bethel Community Cemetery, where he says Pinkney is buried in an unmarked grave right next to Joshua Inman’s marked one. He also thinks that Pinkney Inman was killed, not on his return from Petersburg and the hospital in Raleigh, but on his way back from a journey of a different nature, and in another direction.
“My great granddaddy fought on both sides of that war,” Ted Darrell Inman says. “Lots of men did. Pinkney wouldn’t have been on this road if he was coming home from Raleigh, but he would have been, if he was coming back from Tennessee.” He shared his theory with writer Tony Horwitz, who interviewed him for a story for the Wall Street Journal back in 1998, when “Cold Mountain” was a best seller. After the story appeared, Horwitz sent him a copy – and some tidbits from his research.
“I checked at the National Archives to see what there was on the brothers Inman,” Horwitz wrote. “Turns out W.P. [Pinkney] was dark-haired and only five-foot-seven and that he deserted twice, as you said, as well as being wounded at Malvern Hill and Petersburg and hospitalized also for diarrhea. He also did make it over the mountain to Tennessee to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union, which suggests he was shot on the return trip over Big Stomp.”