Red Strings

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The Red Strings (also Heroes of America) were a group in the Southern United States during the American Civil War. They favored peace, an end to the Confederacy, and a return to the Union. They began early in the war as a group of Unionists and Quakers in the Piedmont regions of North Carolina and Virginia where slavery was largely nonexistent and the causes favoring secession were weakest.


With the war weariness increasing in civilian parts of the Confederacy during 1863, pro-Union activities began to become organized as resistance. The Loyal Order of the Heroes of America were started by several men from North Carolina, including Henderson Adams, North Carolina's State Auditor during this time. The actual leader was John Pool, later a Republican Senator from North Carolina, who spent some time in a jail in Richmond, and who traveled through western Virginia in 1864.[1]

Their name comes from their insignia of red strings worn on their lapels or hung outside of their windows to distinguish themselves from the rebels. This symbol comes from the Biblical story of the harlot Rahab, who had helped two spies of Israel escape from Jericho with a red cord, and was advised by them to hang a red thread on her window as a recognition symbol and to show her faith. Joshua, Chapter 2, Verses 18, 21, and Chapter 6, verse 23: "..thou shalt bind this line of scarlet in the window which thou didst let us down by... ...and she bound the scarlet line in the window... ...And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had. And she dwellest in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers that Joshua sent to spy out Jericho."

The organization was completely decentralized, and most knew only one other member for certain; most of their anti-Confederate activities were carried out in secret. Some estimate that by the war's end, as many as 10,000 people belonged to the Red Strings. They were comparably as disruptive to the Southern war effort as the Copperheads were to the Union.


"The best developed of the peace societies, the Order of the Heroes of America, may have been organized as early as Dec. 1861, though by whom and where is uncertain. Active in North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee, the Heroes protected deserters, aided spies and escaped prisoners, and supplied Federal authorities with information about Confederate troop movements and strength to bring about a Confederate defeat. Brig. Gen. John Echols, who investigated the order in Virginia when it was discovered there in 1864, believed it had been formed at the suggestion of Federal authorities. Union civilian and military officials cooperated with the order by assuring its members safe passage through the lines and by offering them exemption from military service if they deserted, protection for their property, and a share of confiscated Confederate estates after the war. In addition to their signs and passwords, the Heroes identified themselves by wearing a red string on their lapels and thus were nicknamed the Red Strings" and the 'Red-String Band.'"[2]

The Order of the Heroes of America extended into southwestern Virginia as well. Paint Bank, Virginia was known as a Union-Hole because of the pro-Union membership in these societies. One of the members of the Order was a Christiansburg, Virginia wheelwright named Williams. It is not known if this is the same man named Williams that residents of Back Valley, Virginia spoke about as a member of the Loyal League.[3]

In addition to the organized opposition groups such as the Red Strings and Heroes of America, there were other groups that were closer to bandits. Known as "Buffaloes," these men and some women were a mixture of Confederate deserters, draft-dodgers, pro-Union men, escaped slaves and other men escaping the noose such as arsonists, rapists and murderers. Living in small groups in the swamps of eastern North Carolina or the woods of the central and western parts of that state, they attacked isolated homes, often with impunity, since many of the men were away at war, and there was no protection from their lawlessness. "The correspondents in the war records seem unaware that North Carolina, like all Gaul, was divided into three parts- the Confederate, the Yankee and the Buffalo. It was easier to let the Yankee garrison the strip of coast and keep him there than have the expense of it ourselves, but it is amusing to read of "The Rebels Invading North Carolina."[4]

The "Red Strings" were also interested in forming blacks into soldiers and having them fight for the Union as well. There are miscellaneous accounts of these black companies being formed during the war, as are mentioned in Elizabeth Lee Battle's autobiography, "Forget-Me-Nots of the Civil War."[5]

After the war, they actively opposed the Ku Klux Klan. "One of the main causes for the organization of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina was to combat the influence of the Union League. Governor William Woods Holden was the first president of the League in North Carolina, and James H. Harris, a Negro, was Vice-president. " Prof. Lefler later recounts: "If there had been no Loyal League in North Carolina, there would have been no Ku Klux Klan, or clubbing together of the white people there… Still the negroes [sic] operate upon each other, so that one dare not depart from the ranks; they are arrayed yet in a solid phalanx…" He later quotes from a Congressional investigation into the origins of the KKK in North Carolina: "It was at a time when the Republican party had three secret organizations in operation in the state, the Union League, the Heroes of America, and the Red Strings. They had a paper called the Red String, printed at Greensorough [sic], edited by Mr. Tourgee (Albion W. Tourgée). Our friends thought it proper to organize a secret society for the purpose of counteracting that influence.- Ku Klux reports, North Carolina Testimony, pp. 8, 309-310, 318, 363."[6]

Red Strings Baseball Team[edit]

The term "Red Strings" became popular among different groups after the war. Indeed, during the next generation, there was an exceptional baseball team formed in Yadkin County with the name, "Red Strings." They only lost three games out of some sixty games that they played in their brief career. Many of the players were trained in Quaker schools, although they denied any relation to the "Red Strings" of the Civil War. "How the name Red Strings originated is not known definitely. Members think Captain Gus Long, organizer and manager, gave the name… Elkin-ites didn't like the name Red Strings- too much like night riding political group about this time, the Red Shirts, reminiscent of the earlier Ku Klux Klan. They preferred to call them the Longtown boys."[7]

Red String Conspiracy[edit]

It is unknown if an earlier Southern conspiracy with a similar name, also organized by slaves and indentured servants, that took place in Georgia in the 18th century had any influence or association with the later Red Strings. In 1735 and 1736, a conspiracy among indentured servants was quashed in Savannah, Georgia and in South Carolina. The servants would be known "by a red string tied around their right wrist" and they would kill the white masters and escape to join Native Americans, escaped slaves and other runaway indentured servants.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Turk, David S. The Union Hole: Unionist Activity and Local Conflict in Western Virginia. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1994. Pages 49-50.
  2. ^ "Historical Time Encyclopedia Of The Civil War" Edited by Patricia L. Faust.
  3. ^ Turk, David S. The Union Hole: Unionist Activity and Local Conflict in Western Virginia. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1994. Pages 83-84. The author is also quoting from the "Report of Detectives," October 10, 1864, published in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series IV, Volume 3, page 807.
  4. ^ Carolina and the Southern Cross. Volume 1 (9), November 1913, page 14.
  5. ^ Forget-Me-Nots of the Civil War. Chapters 13, "Bummers and Red Strings," and chapter 14, "Ku Klux Klan," pages 165-175.
  6. ^ Hugh T. Lefler. "The Red Strings and the Union League in North Carolina." In: North Carolina History Told by Contemporaries. Chapel Hill: UNC Press. 1934. Page 318-321. Also pages 332-333.
  7. ^ Dunnagan, Macon Rush. Red Strings Baseball Team of Yadkin County, N.C. 1896-1902. New Bern, N.C.: Owen G. Dunn, 1956.
  8. ^ Peter Linebaugh, Marcus Rediker. 2000. The many-headed hydra: sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic. Verso Press, 2000. ISBN 1-85984-798-6, ISBN 978-1-85984-798-5. Page 197.


  • Dunnagan, Macon Rush. Red Strings Baseball Team of Yadkin County, N.C. 1896-1902. New Bern, N.C.: Owen G. Dunn, 1956.
  • Faust, Patricia L, ed. "Peace Societies In The Confederacy." "Historical Time Encyclopedia Of The Civil War"
  • Noe, Kenneth W. "Red String Scare: Civil War Southwest Virginia and the Heroes of America," North Carolina Historical Review Vol. 69 #3 (July 1992): 315-322. ISSN 0029-2494.
  • Elizabeth Lee Battle. Forget-Me-Nots of the Civil War. St. Louis, Mo., Press A. R. Fleming printing co. 1909

External links and references[edit]