Malinda Pritchard Blalock
The Couple that fights together stays together
Confederate, Unionist, Devoted Wife
In 1861, the story of Romeo and Juliette was replayed in Watauga County, North Carolina with Malinda Pritchard and William (Kieth) Blalock occupying the staring roles. However, this story of undying love in a time of war is decidedly less hopeless than the Shakespearian classic, and decidedly more badass.
In The Shadow of Grandfather Mountain
North Carolina in the mid-nineteenth century was a place steeped in history and tradition, and bound up in a strong cultural heritage. This is the world that Malinda Pritchard was born into in the year 1839, and it was in this atmosphere of rigid family ties and traditional values that she met William McKesson (Kieth) Blalock in a one room schoolhouse. Their love story was far from average- their families had been feuding for over 150 years. Yet, in 1861 the couple shocked the county and were married.
North Carolina was severely divided over the question of succession, and the same was true for the mountain community in which the Blalocks resided. For the people in this region the issue of allegiance was a complex one, not least of all for Keith who opposed President Lincoln, but who was also a stringent Unionist. When a Confederate recruiting officer passed through town, Keith was swept up in the excitement and followed some of his fellow townsmen to the recruiting post. This decision made Keith one of the newest members of the 26th N.C. Infantry, which was commanded by the future governor of the state, Col. Zebulon Vance.
An Unexpected Addition
Soon thereafter, Keith was marching away with the 26th. Perhaps he failed to consult with his new wife. Perhaps he was too involved with the march to take notice of much else. What is certainly true is that Keith was unaware of his wife’s plans in response to his recruitment. Shortly after the march began, Keith was surprised to find that another soldier was following him. It did not take long to notice that this soldier was his wife. Malinda had enlisted, cut her hair, dressed in her husband’s clothes, and now wanted to be known as “Sam,” Keith’s brother.
Unlike her husband, Malinda originally sympathized with the cause of succession. Their opposing views did not come between the newly weds, however, as illustrated by Malinda’s decision to join the fighting force at great personal risk to the both rather than be separated from her beloved. However, once Malinda arrived on the scene, Keith confided his secret plan to her - join the Confederacy only to defect to the Union side once in Virginia. Their plans fell apart before they began, though, when they were moved to Kinston, North Carolina, instead of to the northern front of Virginia. During this time, Malinda remained in hiding and never came close to discovery. She performed the duties of an average soldier and took part in the everyday ruddiness of military life. In the meantime, Keith was recognized for his superior talent almost immediately and was made brevet sergeant. Together they fought three battles.
In April 1862, Keith’s regiment was directed to scout the Neuse River region in search of a Union regiment under the command of Ambrose Burnside. During this mission a skirmish broke out, resulting in retreat. In the confusion following the fight, Keith realized that Malinda was missing, only to discover her later clinging to a pine tree and bleeding from a severe shoulder wound. Keith brought her to the surgeon, Dr. Thomas Boykin, where the bullet was removed. Dr. Boykin gave his word that he would not report Malinda immediately, giving Keith enough time to form a plan. Keith’s plan was to strip off his clothes and roll in a patch of poison ivy. His reaction was severe enough to frighten the commanders into evacuating him. Malinda, however, remained trapped in the camp since her wound was not severe enough to warrant discharge. In the end, she confronted Colonel Vance and revealed the truth of her gender. She was immediately discharged and was made to return the original enlisting reward of 50 dollars.
Malinda and Keith returned to Watauga, but they were not settled for long before local Confederate forced demanded Keith to enlist again or be drafted. This led the couple to flee once again to Tennessee where they joined the US-10th Michigan Cavalry led by Colonel George W. Kirk. Life was quiet while Keith performed administrative tasks as a recruitment agent, but soon enough they two decided to pursue more adventure by joining Colonel Kirk’s voluntary guerrilla squadrons. In this new position, Keith served as a guide for the Watauga Underground Railroad, guiding escapees to the safety of Tennessee, always with Malinda close by his side. Yet, as 1863 came to a close, the skirmishes that the they faced became more brutal. Keith’s forces had no mercy on those they targeted, raiding farms, stealing, and killing. During this time Malinda was once again wounded in the shoulder and Keith was shot in his eye.
After the War
When the war ended, Malinda and Keith returned to Watauga to live as farmers where they had four children. Despite Keith’s abhorrence of Lincoln, later in life he joined the Republican Party and even made an unsuccessful bid for a place in Congress. Malinda died in 1901 of natural causes at age 59. Keith followed twelve years later in a railroad accident.
Women served in combat roles during the Civil War in far larger numbers and in a much wider capacity than is currently recognized by text books and lesson plans. Usually, in order to discover these women's stories one must seek out information from diaries, memoirs, letters, or family histories. However, by discovering these stories we can develop a better understanding, not only of a woman’s experience on the battlefield, but also of the deep divides the country faced during the Civil War and the impact that had on the makeup of the nation. Despite the fact that tensions ran high as the 1860s began and divisions in the nation had never been deeper, Malinda and Keith Blalock show that not every citizen had strong feelings about the fight. The situation was far more complex, with some not wanting to participate in the war at all. Malinda and Keith Blalock show that their allegiance for one another was greater than an allegiance to either the “Greys” or the “Blues.”
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Civil War Brass Band, 1861. Retrieved from http://www.jvmusic.net/brass-band-links/
William “Kieth” Blalock. Retrieved from https://www.ourstate.com/outlaw-blalocks/
North Carolinian Ten Cent Bill. Retrieved from https://blackarchivephotos.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/page/3/
Civil War Cooking. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/6816571415
The Three Colonels of the 26th (Lt. - Rt.) Col. John R. Lane, Col. K. Burgwyn, Col. Zebulon B. Vance. Painted in 1904 by artist: William George Randall. Painting Currently hangs in the North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC. Retrieved from https://www.companyh26th.com/colonels-of-the-26th.html
Confederate Doctors, November 1862. Currently in the archives of the Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/stoker/gallery_war.html
Colonel George Washington Kirk and his wife, Louisa Jones. Retrieved from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33515051/george-washington-kirk
Last Days of the Civil War. Retrieved from http://www.civilwarfamily.us/the-last-days-of-the-war/
Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock. Retrieved From http://simplebooklet.com/publish.php?wpKey=nnC07HRpQCFBTjzqhypTsb#page=7
Casey, Cindy H. Piedmont Soldiers and Their Families. Arcadia, 2000.
Ohio State University, Department of History. “Malinda Blalock.” EHistory Database, ehistory.osu.edu/biographies/malinda-blalock.
Slappey, Kellie. “Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock (1839-1903).” North Carolina History Project, northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/sarah-malinda-pritchard-blalock-1839-1903.