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ECU Professor writes book about civil war general

(Feb. 26, 1999)   —   When it came to the business of war, Bryan Grimes, a Confederate major general from North Carolina in the War Between the States, was as lucky as he was capable.

Battle after battle in such places as Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and Gettysburg, he led charge after charge. Horses dropped beneath him, his knapsack was blown away by grapeshot and his coat was ripped by lead, but the enemy never drew a drop of his blood.

Such were the discoveries of T. Harrell Allen, an East Carolina University professor, whose book, Lee's Last Major General: Bryan Grimes of North Carolina , was just released by Savas Publishing Co. and distributed by Stackpole Books. The story is about Grimes, a native North Carolinian from Pitt County, who, like so many young southern men in 1861, was a farmer until leaving home to become a soldier.

In 1865, after four years as an officer, he returned to his plantation home at Grimesland (named after his grandfather) to become a successful planter and a benefactor to a struggling University of North Carolina. His potential as a state leader was enormous, but the role of statesman was not to be in his future.

A character trait that made him stern and strict with a stubborn sense of duty may have prompted the blast from an assassin's shotgun that ended his life on a dark road near his home in 1880.

Dr. Allen, a professor and the chairman of the Department of Communication, learned about Grimes after moving to Greenville from California several years ago. He said he had always been a Civil War buff and on a drive along highway 33 east of Greenville he saw the state history marker for Grimes along the side of the road. When Allen went to the library to read up on the man, he discovered that very little had been written about him. There were no biographies. His research led him to Chapel Hill where he found in the university's archives a collection of long and detailed letters that had been placed there by the family.

"I began to read the letters and found them really fascinating," Allen said. "Most people have never seen those letters. And the more I got into it and found out about the depth of the man and began to look at his achievements and his interesting life, I decided that this really should be a biography."

The task of conducting research was not an easy one. Allen said the letters were yellowed and fragile and the handwriting was difficult to read. "Hieroglyphics" was how Grimes himself described his writing. In his research, Allen discovered a great deal about the man who grew up on a 6,000 acres farm and enjoyed many of the rewards reserved for those who were considered to be rich and privileged.

In his youth, Allen said, Grimes may have been a bit "like a spoiled child." When he was a student at the University of North Carolina, beginning at the age of 15, he regularly drew the letter grade of "T" which stands for tolerable -- a gentleman's "C" by today's standards. His grades reflected his interests in the such subjects as the classics of literature, Latin, other languages and mathematics. Grimes didn't have much interest in those subjects. He wanted to be farmer. As soon as he completed his college studies, he returned to Grimesland and to a life as a farmer. He matured quickly.

Allen said Grimes displayed a strong sense of duty in everything he did whether it was being a soldier, a farmer or a husband and father. When the war started, Grimes was 33 years old. He was given the rank of major, although he could have been higher and maybe even commanded his own troop. He chose instead, to serve under Gen. George Anderson, a graduate of West Point from whom he hoped to learn about "soldiering."

He fought in Stonewall Jackson's 2nd Corps and just missed the battle at Bull Run. In most of th


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