Joshua P. Stepp, CSA
December 26, 1824 - August 27, 1862
 Civil War Service - Lost in the Records?

by Iris Teta Eubank Wagner
2nd great granddaughter

 Whisenhunt archive
I produced this Civil War, 1862 photograph of Joshua from a glassplate ambrotype found among my great-aunt Frances Whisenhunt's saved treasures.  The leather and soft velvet case, still in good condition, had been held by  loving hands of descendants through the years -  likely most often by Joshua's widow, Isabella Anna Porter Steppand by daughter, Rachel Jane Stepp Jones, and her daughter, Frances B. Whisenhunt . 

He would have liked knowing that we remember him.   He is this handsome man in the photograph, looking back at us, in anticipation of a time, only he could have let us see.  That time is lost to us, yet Joshua stays with us through his image and his story. . . . Iris

Some time back in the 1990's, I began  research to find the Civil War Service records of great-great-grandfather Joshua P. Stepp. I submitted an application to the National Archives.  The inquiry was not successful. . . . no  information for Pvt. Joshua P. Stepp, age 35, Confederate soldier from Buncombe County, North Carolina.

Since that time, the National Archives has begun contributing images of military and other historical documents to  Among those documents now online are the Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina.

The Stepp cousins from Buncombe
Several cousins named STEPP from the Swannanoa Valley in east Buncombe County joined a company of men led by Capt. Zebulon B. Vance who  organized the company in Asheville on May 3, 1861.  The Stepp men were descendants of prominent early Buncombe County settlers, and their families were in 1860 among the most prosperous farmers in Buncombe, owning large farms and slaves.   Capt. Vance was a robust, strong minded, and popular lawyer in Asheville.  He had served two terms as a U.S. Congressman from his district. The men rallied to him and to the Confederate cause -  Vance's Rough and Ready Guards from Buncombe County. Most of the men likely felt pride in their leader and felt honored to be joining his company of fighters.

Young Swannanoa resident of the time, William McRee Gudger, was a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. F.  His great-great granddaughter Catherine Brady tells in an article that . . . at the start of the war William and the area Buncombe County men enlisted in Company F, the 'Rough and Ready Guards.'  It is noted in this  Gudger biography that William's brother Charles, also in Company F, died of typhoid fever in a hospital at Lynchburg, Virginia, on July 9, 1862.  

The company was organized as the 4th Regiment of North Carolina Volunteers.  By November, 1861 the regiment had been re-named and designated the 14th Regiment of Infantry of North Carolina Troops.  the 'Roughs' became Company F of the regiment.

As the men marched east, away from their Buncombe homes, George W. McCoy captured that morning.

The scene was one of contrast the sadness of farewell amidst great natural beauty. Along the Swannanoa, the birch and other water-loving plants grew out over the stream to form at places almost tunnel-like canopies through which softly flowed the mountain-born waters of the rugged and great Craggies high mountains covered with virgin forests and known for their beautiful laurels and rhododendrons. There many of the Guardsmen had hunted and developed their keenness as riflemen in the natural deer parks and black bearlands.

The Confusion of Names
Three Stepp brothers from Buncombe County are on the official Rolls of the 14th Regiment, Company F : Jesse, James Parley, and Tisdale.

Three Stepp men had first names starting with the letter 'J.' - JESSE STEPP, JOSHUA STEPP, and a younger cousin, JAMES PARLEY STEPP, who entered the war at age 18, in July, 1863. 

The Confederate records list the men variably as J.P. - J. Parley - J. - Jesse - Jesse Parley. 

Tisdale Stepp, and brother JESSE STEPP have several records as they were in the war until their deaths at Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864. 

After studying the documents of these various identities, one document stands out in my mind as significant for  JOSHUA P. STEPP.  It is the document below which is included, mistakenly, with the Jesse Stepp records. Jesse's name is written out on  each of his records on (Jesse died in the war in 1864.)  Only this document below refers to "J" Stepp.
This document is the only instance, in the collection of documents for the cousins, that refers to J. Stepp.  The document shows J. Stepp was on the hospital register of Camp Winder  hospital on August 29, 1862, with  Febris Typhoides. The admission date is so close to the date on Joshua's grave stone at Patton Hill Cemetery - August 27, 1862 - that I cannot help but think this is indeed  a record for Joshua P. Stepp. 

Jesse Stepp was listed on a  muster roll  as having been sick since Dec. 1, 1862, later than the time frame for this item.

An article by George W. McCoy published in 1961 in the Asheville Citizen-Times,  writes about  Company F, the Buncombe "Roughs," in detail, from organization through the end of the war.  The name J.P. Stepp does not appear on the muster Roll of Company F, according to the records found in the John Evans Brown Papers at the State Department of Archives and History at Raleigh.

As McCoy writes, several of the officers contracted disease in the dreary swamps of the Chickahominy, and died in July, 1862.  Zebulon  Vance's  law partner in Asheville before the war, William C. Brown, died in July in Richmond from disease. The 14th's regimental commander, Col. Roberts, as McCoy writes from the record, "was seized with a malignant fever indigenous to those parts."  The colonel died of his illness in July in Richmond.

A scholar on Civil War Military Hospitals, C. P. Schulze, explains that, Injuries and diseases which are today minor annoyances were in the 1860's often fatal.  And the best care was  to little avail.

From a report in  the Richmond Whig newspaper August 29, 1862 :
Several hundred sick soldiers arrived in the city yesterday afternoon by the Central Train, and for want of proper arrangements for their reception and accommodation, the poor fellows had to lie down in the streets, near the Provost Marshal's office, where they remained for two or three hours.  They were at length marched off to Camp Winder, two miles distant.  Many of them had eaten nothing during the day.

 [As the report in the Richmond Whig was published on August 29, 1862, and the sick soldiers arrived in the city the day before on August 28.  Joshua Stepp may have died on the train on August 27.  The document states there was a transferral on Sept. 17 to the Medical College Hospital.  A death was not indicated on the document, but the fact the transferral was to a "Medical College Hospital," could be seen as significant.

The Roll of Honor
Both Jesse Stepp and his brother, Tisdale Stepp, died in 1864 near Spotsylvania Courthouse. They are included on the Roll of Honor of Co F, 14th Regiment of North Carolina Troops.

There is also J. PARLEY STEPP whose name is included on the CONFEDERATE ROLL OF HONOR FOR COMPANY F, 14TH REGIMENT OF NORTH CAROLINA TROOPS and identified as  18-year-old J. Parley Stepp, who enlisted at age 18 on July 1, 1863.   James Parley Stepp, son of Adeline and the elder Jesse Stepp of Swannanoa,  did not die in the war.  He died in Attala County, Mississippi in 1886.   He is entered  on the 1880 U. S. Census in Attala County, Mississippi, with his family.

The Confederate Draft enacted April, 1862
As he was older, Joshua may have waited to join the 'Roughs,' or a different company, until after the Confederate Draft was enacted on April 16, 1862, after which time older men would have been drafted into service.  He may have decided to join and serve with men he knew from Buncombe, and traveled to their camp in southwestern Virginia, arriving in July, unaware that the typhoid outbreak there was most dangerous.  He may have become ill over the next few weeks without ever having enlisted.

Alexander Porter's death in December, 1861
Another reason Joshua may have waited to join or enlist in the war, was the illness and death of his father-in-law Alexander Porter.  Alexander died in December, 1861. Joshua may have felt an obligation to his family, his wife and children, to stay with them at this difficult, personal time, and to not  volunteer for war service

A conveyance-of-property deed signed by all Alexander Porter's children and children-in-law, including the signatures of Joshua P. Stepp and wife Isabella Stepp, registered at the Buncombe County Courthouse on June 30, 1862, only two months between the registration date of the deed and the date of death on Joshua's tombstone.  Joshua may have reached the place where Company F was in camp in July, 1862.  The 14th Regiment would have been in camp in the swampy area around the Chickahominy River.

Given the chaotic time of war in which the Confederate Records originated, unless a later item of proof surfaces from as yet an untapped source, I am convinced Joshua P. Stepp became ill with typhoid fever in the summer of 1862 in unsanitary Civil War camp environments in the swamps of the Chickahominy River. 

Records indicate that some men did not officially enlist until the company was camped near Suffolk, Virginia.  The absence of an official enlistment document could indicate that Joshua became ill early in the company's encampment at Camp Ellis, near Suffolk, before he had officially enlisted. Therefore, no official enlistment document ever existed for him, so none was found to place his name on a list.

I will consider that August 27, 1862 - the date on Joshua's grave stone - to be the date, or near date, of his death of typhoid fever in Richmond, Virginia. 

Background Information

Zebulon Baird Vance

Vance was a young, respected attorney in Asheville, born to a family of early settlers in Buncombe, as  were the Stepp men, of early and prominent settlers in east Buncombe.  Vance's father settled on Reems Creek, north of Asheville, where in 1830  Zebulon was born.  By 1857 Vance had served two terms as a U. S. Congressman.

The 1790 census of Wilkes County, shows Vance's mother's Zebulon Baird family owned an adjoining farm to Thomas Stepp's farm.  Thomas was Joshua P. Stepp's grandfather. 

The mountain called Mt. Mitchell today was Black Mountain in early 19th century

University of North Carolina professor Dr. Elisha Mitchell lost his life in 1857 on Black Mountain that now bears his name, and whose measurements of the mountain still stand to this present day as its official height, which makes Mt. Mitchell the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.  The elder JESSE STEPP,  father of young  TISDALE, JESSE, and JAMES PARLEY STEPP owned most of the mountain, and donated five acres for a tomb and memorial for Dr. Mitchell. 

Dr. Mitchell was descending the mountain in Buncombe County when he lost his footing in the forest darkness and fell from a high cliff and waterfall (above).  On the day of Mitchell's death, when he didn't appear for a pre-arranged meeting, the call went out for search volunteers, a group that grew to 500 men.  Dr. Mitchell's body was found at the bottom of a deep ravine.  Vance was one of the first men to volunteer in the search. He later wrote of the experience.  In his article, Vance  remembered the names of 35 volunteers, and named them in his article.

Joshua P. Stepp was among those men he remembered and named, who volunteered for the search team in 1857.

Vance later built a large home in the mountains near Black Mountain which he called Gombroom.  There he hosted reunions of surviving soldiers of his Rough and Ready Guard and of the 26th Regiment he had commanded as Colonel before being elected Governor of North Carolina  in 1862.

Vance was with his Roughs less than five months.  On August 27, 1861, he was commissioned a full colonel and given command of the 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. 


Original Narrative copyright Iris Teta Eubank Wagner 2009-2016

Sources : 
Joshua P. Stepp and Isabella Porter Stepp, tombstones, Patton Meeting House Cemetery, Buncombe County, Swannanoa Valley, North Carolina, at Bee Tree, off Old Highway 70, on Patton Cemetery Road.

Inquiry to the National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20408-0001, May 26, 1999, form # A486954.

National Archives and Records Administration - Publication Number M270, Compiled Service Records of Confederate soldiers from North Carolina units, labeled with each soldier's name, rank, and unit, with links to revealing documents about each soldier. Military Unit:  Fourteenth Infantry.

George W. McCoy, "Buncombe 'Roughs' in Last Charge At Appomatox," transcribed by Catherine Brady from the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, December 24, 1961, to the website

W.T. Jordan, Jr., compiler, North Carolina Troops 1861 - 1865: A Roster of Soldiers, pp 451-452; Unit Histories by Louis H. Manarin, Vol. VII Infantry of the 22nd-26th Regiments, pp 246-247, 455-457. Raleigh, North Carolina, Divison of Archives and History.

Janet P. Hewett, ed. and Joyce Lawrence, arr., North Carolina Confederate Soldiers 1861-1865, Unit Roster, Vol 3, Broadfoot Publishing Co., Wilmington, N.C., 1999, p1047.

Mark Tindall, Civil War Historian, email, 2007, with suggestions and possibilities, and answers to questions concerning the re-naming of the North Carolina Regiments.

Civil War Richmond  - from the Richmond Whig, August 29, 1862.

Mrs. Marian E. Miller, Old Buncombe County Heritage, Article #559, Jesse and Adeline Stepp.

Information provided by Catherine Brady, great-great granddaughter of William McRee Gudger, 2nd Lieutenant, Co. F, 14th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.  Transcribed to website

Pete Ivey, "Mitchell Died 100 Years Ago," article appearing in the April 13, 1957 issue of the Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, North Carolina.

Zebulon B. Vance, "The Search for Professor Mitchell's Body," The Asheville Spectator, August, 1857.