Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> Titles by Bryan Grimes >> Bryan Grimes, 1828-1880

Source: From DICTIONARY OF NORTH CAROLINA BIOGRAPHY edited by William S. Powell. Copyright (c) 1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Bryan Grimes, 1828-1880

Grimes, Bryan (2 Nov. 1828-14 Aug. 1880), Confederate general and planter, was born on a large plantation in Pitt County, approximately eight miles west of the town of Washington. The plantation had been named Grimesland, by Bryan's grandfather, and the family name is still maintained by a small town that developed near the birthplace of young Grimes. His father was Bryan Grimes, Sr., a career planter described as one of the "most upright, honest, and enterprising farmers in Pitt County"; although he did not enter public life, he was a follower of Henry Clay who thoroughly detested Jacksonian democracy. His mother was Nancy Grist, the daughter of General Richard Grist of Washington County, Ga.

Young Grimes spent his childhood on the Grimesland plantation. His mother died when he was only four months old; thus any female influence on his early training came from either his older sister, Susan, or his stepmother, Lucy Olivia Blount Grimes, whom his father later married. After attending a school in Nash County and an academy in Washington, N.C., he became a pupil of William James Bingham, at his noted school in Hillsborough. In June 1844, at age fifteen, Grimes, entered The University of North Carolina. Although not among the scholastic leaders of his class, he was an active member of the Philanthropic Society. Among his classmates were Victor Clay Barringer,, Oliver Hart Dockery, Seaton Gales, James Johnston Iredell, and Willie Person Mangum, Jr., all of whom became prominent in the state. Grimes was graduated in June 1848. A year later his father gave him the Grimesland, plantation with approximately one hundred slaves to cultivate it. From then until 1860 he managed his large estate, achieving the rewards of a successful agriculturist. Travel abroad in 1860 added to his reputation as a distinguished southern planter.

Upon his return from Europe, Grimes found himself in the midst of great political excitement over the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. With the bombardment of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's subsequent call for troops, the people of North Carolina called for a convention; on 13 May 1861, Grimes was elected without opposition to fill a seat. He took his stand with the ultra- Secessionists at the state convention; where he was active in promoting support for the army then being raised. On 20 May 1861, the members of the convention passed the Ordinance of Secession. Bryan Grimes was proud to be one of the signers on that memorable May morning. In fact, he kept and treasured the pen he used to sign the ordinance. After the first session of the convention; he resigned his seat to accept the appointment of major in the Fourth Regiment of North Carolina State Troops. Although Governor John W. Ellis offered him two other appointments of higher rank, Grimes refused both, stating that he preferred a subordinate position until he could gain needed experience.

From May 1861 until the end of the Civil War, Grimes fought gallantly for the Confederate cause. During the first year of the war he participated in the Battle of First Manassas, the Peninsula campaign, and the Battle of Seven Pines, where he and the "Fighting Fourth" received their "baptism of fire." Grimes had become the official commander of the Fourth North Carolina Regiment after First Manassas. The Seven Days' Battle in the Richmond area followed Seven Pines. Grimes, now a colonel, displayed great courage during the engagement, especially in the fighting in and around Mechanicsville. Because of an injury caused by a severe kick from a horse, he was not present at the slaughter at Antietam (Sharpsburg, Md.). He returned to active duty for the Battle of Fredericksburg, in December 1862 where he was temporarily assigned to command a brigade in General Daniel Harvey Hill's division. Chancellorsville was the scene of battle in May 1863. Once again, Colonel Grimes and his fellow North Carolinians fought gallantly. In a letter to Governor Zebulon Baird Vance, General Robert E. Lee referred to the regimental commanders as "among the best of their respective grades in the army."

Grimes and his regiment were the first to enter the town of Gettysburg on 1 July 1863. The North Carolinians drove the enemy through the town to the heights beyond; on 3 July, however, when the heaviest fighting took place, they were held in reserve. During the retreat from Pennsylvania, Grimes was placed in the rear guard to assist in protecting the withdrawing army. For the remainder of 1863 he had no further military encounters. In August of that year he presided over a meeting of North Carolina troops held in opposition to the peace movement that was developing in the state. The strong Confederate sentiment he expressed while leading this delegation further widened the gap that had recently come between Grimes and William Woods Holden, editor of the North Carolina Standard and one of the Unionist leaders in the state.

During the final year of the war, Grimes's continual display of courage and leadership, especially in the Wilderness campaign, led to his appointment as a permanent brigade commander and to his promotion to brigadier general. Grimes and his men were in the thickest of the fighting in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in the fall of 1864. Afterwards, he was placed in command of General Stephen D. Ramseur's division, Ramseur having met his death in the valley fighting at Cedar Creek. Grimes remained a division commander in the Second Corps of Lee's army until the end of the war. In February 1865 he became a major general, the last officer of the Army of Northern Virginia to be promoted to that rank. Grimes and his men occupied the trenches in and around Petersburg in March 1865, participated in the defensive fighting there late in the month, and served as rear guard of the retreat from Petersburg, which began on 2 April. Upon reaching the area around Appomattox Court House, Grimes succeeded in driving the enemy from the Lynchburg Road, thus opening up a route of escape from General Ulysses S. Grant's encircling army. Orders from General Lee to fall back ended this final achievement of Grimes's division.

Upon hearing of the forthcoming surrender, Grimes thought of joining General Joseph Johnston, who was then in North Carolina, but the pungent words of General John B. Gordon changed his mind. Gordon informed Grimes that to escape while a flag of truce was pending would not only discredit him but also General Lee. Consequently, Grimes relinquished any intentions to escape surrender. Later on the afternoon of 9 April after the surrender had been publicized, he rode over to his old regiment, the North Carolina Fourth, and shook hands with each member. These men had followed Grimes through four years of suffering and toil, and he praised each of them for a job well done. As he approached one ragged, barefooted member of the regiment, the soldier grasped his hand tightly said: "Goodbye, General; God bless you; we will go home; make three more crops and then try them again." With this, the Civil War came to an end for General Bryan Grimes.

Soon after the surrender terms were completed, he returned to North Carolina. Following a brief residence in Raleigh, he and his wife set out for Grimesland, arriving in January 1867. There he worked hard to restore the plantation to its former economic position. The years that followed were happy ones for General and Mrs. Grimes. While they raised their large family, Grimes became one of the most successful planters in the state. He contributed a portion of his earnings ($250) to The University of North Carolina, of which he was appointed a trustee in 1877. By 1880, he was considered one of North Carolina's most respected sons.

On the afternoon of 14 Aug. 1880, General Grimes was returning to Grimesland, in his buggy from "Little Washington," as it was then called, where he had been to attend the Beaufort County political convention and to take care of some business. His only companion was twelve-year-old Bryan Satterthwaite, the son of a neighbor. While they were crossing Bear Creek, approximately four miles from Grimesland, the gun of a concealed assassin was discharged, killing Grimes instantly. Young Satterthwaite drove to the nearest neighbor and received assistance in taking the dead man home. A few days later funeral services were held at Grimes's residence. After burial services at the Episcopal church, he was interred in the family burying grounds about three hundred yards from his residence.

The alleged cause of the assassination was to prevent Grimes from testifying in court about some criminal matter. One William Parker, described by the Raleigh News and Observer as a "sorry kind of a fellow with no particular occupation, and with a reputed bad character,"was arrested on suspicion of murder. The jury found him not guilty, however, and Parker was set free.

Except as a subject of conversation, the Grimes case lay dormant for the next seven years. What happened toParker during this period is not known. At any rate, he was back in Washington on a Saturday night in early November 1888, when he got drunk and boasted that he had killed General Grimes. He was immediately picked up on a charge of drunkenness and placed in the Washington jail. Early the next morning, between ten and fifteen masked men entered the jail, took Parker out, and strung him up on the drawbridge across the Pamlico River. A coroner's jury assembled and returned a verdict of "death by hanging at the hands of parties unknown." Charges were never filed, and no serious effort was made to solve the new murder. The people had gained revenge by killing William Parker, but the hanging of the lowly assassin could never compensate for the loss of Bryan Grimes.

Grimes was married twice. On 9 Apr. 1851 he married Elizabeth Hilliard Davis, who died on 7 Nov. 1857. They were the parents of Bryan, who died in infancy, Bettie, Nancy, and Bryan. On 15 Sept. 1863 he married Charlotte Emily Bryan and they were the parents of Bryan, who died in infancy, Alston, John Bryan, Charlotte Bryan, Mary, Bryan, Susan Penelope, William Demsie, George Frederick, Junius Daniel, and Theodora Bryan.


Titles by Bryan Grimes available on this site: