John Wesley McElroy

John Wesley McElroy, brigadier general of North Carolina home guard troops, was born on April 7, 1808, in Yancey County, North Carolina, the son of John and Elizabeth (Jamison) McElroy. The ancestors of the McElroys emigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1729, then drifted south into Virginia and North Carolina. Wesley McElroy (as he was called) became a prominent Burnsville merchant and fanner. He owned a number of slaves and was partner in a business to produce ginseng locally. A prominent Methodist layman, McElroy was elected Yancey County's first clerk of the Superior Court (serving from 1834 to 1846) and served on the board of trustees of the local academy. Before 1834 he had been elected colonel of the county militia regiment.

In the first years of the war McElroy performed the minor duties that fell to him as colonel of the Yancey County (111th) militia. On July 7, 1863, the North Carolina General Assembly formed a new militia organization, the "home guard," to consist of men exempt from the draft. On September 26, 1863, Governor Zebulon Vance commissioned McElroy brigadier general of the newly formed 1st Brigade of the home guard. McElroy's brigade was charged with protecting the northwest border of the state against inroads from east Tennessee, which Union forces had occupied that summer. McElroy's daughter had married Governor Vance's brother, Brigadier General Robert Vance, a factor which must have aided his appointment. The 1st Brigade, which operated from a base in Yancey County, engaged in a variety of home defense tasks—guarding bridges, hunting down deserters, guarding prisoners—till the end of the war. McElroy met with little success in this thankless job. The mountainous area was overrun with "Tories," deserters, and bushwhackers. After one bushwhacker raid on Burnsville, his hometown, McElroy observed that "the County has gone up. It has got to be impossible to get any [deserter] out there unless he is dragged out" and predicted "ruin."

After the war General McElroy remained in Burnsville and resumed his life as a merchant. He died on February 8, 1886, in Graham County, North Carolina, and is buried in Robbinsville Cemetery.

General McElroy, one of only two generals of the North Carolina home guard, is listed as a general in Clark's Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865.

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Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.