A planter, Confederate general, and a University of North Carolina trustee, Bryan Grimes was one of the Tar Heel State’s most respected men. His life had an unfortunate end; returning from a political convention in Beaufort, Grimes was assassinated in 1880. It would take seven years for the assassin’s identity to be determined conclusively.
Grimes was born in Pitt County, North Carolina at Grimesland, a plantation approximately eight miles from Washington, North Carolina. In 1844, Grimes matriculated at UNC and became active in its Philanthropic Society. After graduation, Grimes became a planter (his father had given him Grimesland). When the Civil War came, Grimes participated at the state secession convention and signed the Ordinance of Secession.
During the war, Grimes saw battle many times and rose in the ranks. In 1861, Grimes accepted the command of the Fourth North Carolina. In this position, he led Tar Heels in every battle in the eastern theater (except Antietam). His performance during the Seven Pines campaign (1862) impressed his commanders, and he was promoted to colonel. During Fredricksburg, he commanded a brigade under D.H. Hill’s command. Back in charge of the Fourth North Carolina, Grimes led troops into battle at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863. After the grueling Wilderness campaign in 1864, Grimes became a brigade commander and he accepted a promotion to brigadier general. In February 1865, he became a major general and the last man to receive that rank in the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Robert E. Lee. Grimes surrendered, two months later, at Appomattox Court House.
After the war, Grimes became an influential figure in his home state. After a brief time in Raleigh, Grimes returned to Grimesland in 1867. There he became a successful planter and started serving as a UNC Trustee in 1877. Three years later, he was shot dead while returning home from a political convention in Beaufort. William Parker murdered Grimes; he did not want the former Confederate general to testify in court. This information, however, was confirmed seven years later. Parker had always been suspected by many to be the assassin, but he was acquitted in a court of law in 1880. When drunk seven years later, Parker admitted his crime. A few days later, Parker was found hanging from a tree. No trial for Parker’s murder ever occurred.
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1963) and William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 2006).