Kittrell’s Springs, 34 miles north of Raleigh in Vance County, was the site of North Carolina’s first summer resort—a resort that became a makeshift Confederate hospital during the Civil War. All that remains of the site is a cemetery, the final resting place of 54 Confederate soldiers buried between 1864 and 1865.
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The springs, about a quarter of a mile west of Kittrell, were discovered in the 1840s. The mineral water quickly developed a reputation for therapeutic healing powers and soon cabins and tents had grown up in the vicinity. “Some who drank it found their health improved,” said Oscar Blacknall, son of springs co-owner, Charles C. Blacknall. “It grew gradually into a rural summer retreat.”
Charles Blacknall, along with George Blacknall and Thomas Blacknall, purchased Kittrell’s Springs and the surrounding land in 1858. The cabins were demolished and replaced with a three-story hotel that included well-ventilated rooms, a dining hall, a spacious ballroom, and long building-length porches on every floor. Several adjacent buildings were erected that featured a bowling alley, billiard tables, and a barroom.
Kittrell Springs Hotel opened in 1860. Unlike the Glass House, the Blacknalls’s resort catered exclusively to a wealthy southern clientele. The Glass House was a haven for northerners looking for mild weather and good hunting during the colder months. Most of Kittrell Springs Hotel’s business derived from affluent neighbors in nearby counties making healthful pilgrimages. Often rooms would be crowded with four to eight guests at a time. It is believed that the hotel housed 500 guests at a time in 1860.
With the onset of the war in 1861, Charles Blacknall returned to Kittrell to organize troops and prepare for what he viewed as an “unholy war, in which we have been forced by our unnatural enemies of the North.” Blacknall trained his company, the Dixie Guards, who later became the Granville Rifles, in Kittrell’s Springs. After enlisting, Blacknall was appointed captain of the Granville Rifles, which then became Company G of the 23rd Regiment of North Carolina troops.
George Blacknall remained at home and managed the resort, which continued to be a profitable business until 1864. However, as the war moved closer to North Carolina with the Petersburg campaign in southern Virginia, Confederate casualties continued to shift towards the rear. Given that Kittrell’s Springs was on the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad line, the Confederate government pressured the Kittrell Springs Hotel into becoming a hospital.
The conversion of the resort to General Hospital Number One was first announced in the Raleigh Daily Confederate on June 18, 1864: “This popular place of summer resort is now open for the reception of our sick and wounded soldiers—as we have turned it over to the government for their benefit.” The hospital began admitting patients in June 1864. By the third week 223 soldiers had been admitted. Reverend Matthias M. Marshall, an Episcopal priest from the nearby St. James Episcopal Church, worked as the hospital chaplain and saw over religious services and the deaths of patients in the hospital.
Only 17 percent of patients at the hospital suffered from war wounds. The rest suffered from various fevers, diseases and illnesses. Estimates are that about 70 soldiers died there. From the known causes of death of the 54 buried nearby, almost half died of typhoid fever and pneumonia. Only seven percent of the buried died by gunshot wounds.
Charles Blacknall died after being wounded and captured at the Battle of Winchester in September 1864 and having his leg amputated. As the war ended, the chief surgeon of the hospital, Holt F. Butt surrendered with Joseph Johnston to Maj. Gen. William Sherman in 1865.
Thomas Blacknall eventually reopened the hotel in 1872 (it had been a female academy in the intervening years). However, after several years, the spa was closed again and Blacknall left North Carolina.
The hotel burned in 1885. Only the Confederate cemetery still stands at Kittrell’s Springs. It is owned and maintained by the Vance County Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The members annually hold memorial services honoring the 54 soldiers buried there, four of who are simply listed as “unknown.”
Samuel Thomas Peace, Zeb’s Black Baby, Vance County, North Carolina: A Short History (1955)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Bill Sharpe, A New Geography of North Carolina, I (1954)
Mark J. Crawford, “Resort of the Dead,” America’s Civil War (March 1995): 50-57