Under the heading "SOMEBODY OUGHT TO DO THIS–"
The next time I roll through the crossroads at Mount Sterling, I should be listening to an old fiddle tune, Grooms Tune… or Bonaparte’s Retreat. Not the jazzed-up western swing version of Bonaparte’s Retreat, but a doleful rendition played slow and sad. The real Grooms tune. Somebody ought to do this next week. Because April 10, 1865 (the day after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse) was the day that three men were executed near Mount Sterling by Teague’s Home Guard.
The area had been ravaged by scalawags and bushwhackers, and the populace had suffered numerous raids of family farms by Union troops hunting provisions. The village of Waynesville had been burned two months earlier, and the citizenry was beleaguered and anxious.
For whatever reason, Henry Grooms, his brother George and his brother-in-law Mitchell Caldwell, all of north Haywood County, North Carolina, were taken prisoner by the Home Guard. The group traveled toward Cataloochee Valley and Henry Grooms, clutching his fiddle and bow, was asked by his captors to play a tune. Realizing he was performing for his own firing squad Grooms struck up Bonaparte's Retreat. When he finished the three men were lined up against an oak tree and shot, the bodies left where they fell. Henry's wife gathered the bodies and buried them in a single grove in Sutton Cemetery No. 1 in the Mount Sterling community, the plain headstone reading only "Murdered."
Now this account of the story was attributed to a Geoff Cantrell article in the Asheville Citizen-Times (February 23, 2000). Grooms family member Bettie Tanana, however, tells the story differently:
George was forced to play Bonaparte’s Retreat (later called Groom's Tune which can be found on the internet). Mitchell, according to Archives records, was an idiot and was told to put his hat over his face before he was shot. All three men were buried in a common grave. George was my great great great grandfather. My great great grandmother signed an affidavit stating that when she found her father's body his fiddle was found at his feet.
Some of Teague's men were also deposed verifying how the murders occurred. (I have copies of these records.) Most of the men in Teague's Homeguard were older men and neighbors of the men they shot. They even continued to live as neighbors after the war. Incidentally, another great great great grandfather, Henry Barnes was also found several miles away killed by Teagues Homeguard. His daughter, Amanda, married George Groom's son.
I had no idea that this scene was going to be in the movie Cold Mountain. I wanted to stand up and cry through my tears that that was my family being killed.
Myself, I’d like to think that come April 10, some fiddler will stand by the side of the little dirt road leading into Mount Sterling, and that fiddler will play Grooms tune one more time…really slow and sad.
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