Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock (1839-1903)

Written By Kellie Slappey

Historical records mention only one woman who fought in the Civil War for the Union and the Confederacy: Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock.  She fought for the Confederacy disguised as a man and then later fought for the Union as a woman guerrilla and raider.

Sarah Malinda “Linda” Pritchard was born in Alexander County, North Carolina to Alfred and Elizabeth Pritchard on March 10, 1839.  She was the sixth of nine children and spent her childhood in Watauga County.  There, a young Linda Pritchard attended a one-room schoolhouse in which she met William “Keith” Blalock, who was ten years older than her.  Despite a 150-year feud between the Blalocks and the Pritchards, the two developed a close friendship.

In 1856, a seventeen-year-old Linda Pritchard married Keith Blalock at the Presbyterian Church in Coffey’s Gap.  The married couple resided on Grandfather Mountain, where Tar Heel mountaineers were divided regarding secession and impending war.  As calls for war became louder and conflict seemed inevitable, the mountain region became more divided along partisan lines.

Union sympathizers, the Blalock couple feared that Keith would be conscripted into the Confederate Army.  So Keith conceived a plan. He would enlist with the Confederate Army, join a unit that would soon be sent to Virginia, and then defect to the Union Army.  On March 20, 1862, Keith Blalock initiated his strategy by joining Company F of the 26th North Carolina Regiment.

Unknown to Keith, Linda Blalock meanwhile had her own plans. She cut her hair, dressed in her husband’s clothes, and enlisted in Lenoir as twenty-year-old “Sam” Blalock, a brother to Keith Blalock. Linda Blalock is one of only two women known for having served in any North Carolina Confederate regiment.

It was not until the 26th North Carolina began marching that Linda found her husband, and he became aware of his wife’s presence.  However, their plan for desertion was foiled when the regiment was not sent to Virginia but to Kinston, North Carolina. Linda stayed with the regiment and lived and trained alongside the men.  Her true identity, as far as we know, was never suspected.

In April 1862, after having only served one month, the 26th regiment was engaged in a night operation when a firefight broke out and most of the men, including Keith Blalock, escaped unharmed. Linda Blalock was not so lucky.  She suffered a bullet wound in the shoulder.  The surgeon removed the bullet and in so doing discovered “Sam’s” true identity.  Linda Blalock was reported to the authorities and summarily discharged after her recovery.

Keith Blalock, desperate to secure his release from the Confederate Army and be with his wife, went into the forest, stripped off his clothes, and rolled around in poison ivy.  The next morning, he suffered a persistent fever while his affected skin was inflamed and covered with blisters.  Keith told doctors that a recurring and highly contagious disease plagued him. Doctors, fearing an outbreak, discharged Keith.

Keith and Linda Blalock returned home, but Confederate agents discovered that Keith was healthy and ordered him to re-enlist. To avoid conscription, the Blalocks moved and started hiding out with other draft dodgers.  In a few months the couple joined Colonel George Kirk forces and became raiders for the Union army throughout the Appalachian Mountains.  During one raid Keith was shot in the face and lost an eye. When the war was finally over the bold young couple moved back to their Watauga County cabin to resume their lives as farmers and to start a family.  They had five children who later gave them numerous grandchildren.

On March 9, 1903, at the age of sixty-four, Linda Blalock died in her sleep of natural causes and was buried in the nearby Montezuma Cemetery in Avery County.  A heartbroken Keith Blalock subsequently moved in with his son, in nearby Hickory, North Carolina. Keith Blalock died in 1913 in a railroad accident and was buried beside his wife.