R. C. Hoyt (Mrs. Col. James Hoyt)
Greenville, S. C.
Indelibly impressed on the mind of the writer was the visit of Stoneman’s raiders. It was May day, 1865. For days rumors had come to us that a contingent of the Yankee army was passing through the State, and would surely reach Anderson soon. Although Lee had surrendered in April, and there was no excuse for this visitation, Stoneman paid no attention to that, and continued his march through the South, accompanied by about two thousand merciless invaders, pillaging and destroying everything within reach.
Early on the morning of this beautiful May day, a party of young folks had determined to have their annual May picnic, just on the outskirts of the town, and enjoy themselves. They were reminded that the Yankees might come, but nothing deterred them, and bright and early a crowd of sweet young girls and happy-hearted boys were off to the picnic. All went well until about twelve o’clock, when a messenger came from Greenville, S. C, with positive assurance that the Yankees were on the way, and were destroying as they came. Farm houses were entered and rifled of everything valuable, their worn out, sore backed horses were turned loose, and the horses and mules of the farmers taken. What provisions for man or horse they could not consume they destroyed. Even featherbeds were taken out and ripped open, and cast to the winds. As this news came to the town, all was consternation. The picnic was forgotten by parents in their anxiety to hide away their valuables. In some cases, silver and jewels and other valuables were packed in jars or boxes and buried in yard or garden.
The young folks were overtaken on their return and came in terrified. By five o’clock in the afternoon we heard the clank of swords and tramp of horses, and before we knew it the whole town was filled with bluecoats, the first we had seen, as our place was remote from the actual scenes of war. Three days of terror followed their coming. Every man in town was halted t on being met by the Yankees, and instantly robbed of watches or other valuables; then they, without being given any chance to communicate with their families, were marched into the courthouse, where they remained until everything about them could be found out. By communication with their servants, the Yankees found out their names and their financial standing.
The Negroes were wild, and could be intimidated into telling anything. As they had been told that the North was fighting for their freedom, they were ready to bow down and worship them. If a man lived comfortably, they told that he was rich, and doubtless had plenty of money, and the Yankees believed it all and proceeded to get hold of some of this reputed wealth. Many of our best and most honored citizens, poor now, in that they had lost their slaves, and used all their money to live as plainly as could be, were hung up by their thumbs, or choked almost to death, to be made to tell where their money or valuables were stored.
In the meantime, every house was entered and pillaged. Ladies were insulted and required to make known the whereabouts of their valuables. Rings were stripped from fingers or ears; watches were taken. We were commanded to get supper ready for an indefinite number; this, to many of us, meant taking all that we had. The stores around the square were entered and emptied, and the little they contained which could not be carried off by the soldiers was given to the Negroes, or emptied into piles in the middle of the streets, where the Negroes flocked in droves to help themselves. Even the contents of the drug stores were pounded together and mixed so that no use could be made of them.
After this state of things had gone on for a day and night, the people, in order to protect themselves from utter demolition, had to humble themselves and ask the “gallant commander” of this valiant troop for a guard to protect their families from the further insulting abuse of the soldiers. The request was most graciously granted, but many times, as was the case in our own house, the guard was a terror.
By this time the soldiers had gained access to a wine cellar, and the majority of them were crazed with drink. While our old guard was lying stretched on the piazza bench, sleeping off his drunk, the house was filled with soldiers, who searched every nook and corner; even bureau drawers and writing desks were entered. The night before I had burned up all my letters, and in my desk was found only a little silk Confederate flag, which I purposely left there, and it cost me dearly, as it only exasperated these wicked men.
My father, then an old man, was ordered to pull off the only shoes he possessed and hand them over. My mother was ordered to “turn out them pockets; we knows you have something hid there.” At this rude and ungentlemanly treatment, the delicate, nervous, and sensitive nature of the dear one all gave way, and she fell into our arms, all unconscious of what would pass for several hours. We became indignant. Young and hot headed. I lost all fear, and while every drop of blood boiled in my veins, I spoke my mind. They declared they would burn down the house of such a d__d Rebel as my father, and all the long hours of the second night we were packing and arranging to get out at a moment’s warning, expecting to see the flames from some part of our town. But it proved to be only a threat, and on the evening of the third day our hearts were rejoiced at the sound of the marching out of “the enemy.”
They did not leave, however, without the shedding of blood. A noble young boy was shot in cold blood as he lingered, with a group of friends, near the principal hotel. This filled us with new horror, and another sleepless night was added to the three preceding ones. During these terrible days and nights, very few ladies had undressed, for they knew not what an hour would bring forth.
The country people along their route fared even worse than people in town. As they passed the country home of my uncle, the family, not being apprised of their approach, rushed to the front piazza to see the cause of such an unusual noise and tramp of horses. As they halted, pistols were fired, a ball just missing my uncle, and lodging in the body of his daughter nearby. She has always been a sufferer from the effects of it. A few miles distant from this, in the town of Hartwell, Ga., my uncle’s eldest son, a prominent physician, who had passed through the war unhurt, lived; they entered the town in his absence, and he soon after rode up to his door to alight; as he did so, he was shot, and died instantly.
After this, affairs in our Southland quieted down, and all tried as best they could to accept the situation bravely. Our cause was precious, and as just to us as ever, but we were overpowered, out-numbered. The returning soldiers we gladly welcomed home again. The loved and lost were talked of at every gathering. Almost every home had its hero. The pride of our hearts were our wounded and maimed soldier boys. Our greatest delight was to minister to a one armed hero, or come to the help of a soldier on crutches.
Let me say that while my young life was somewhat shadowed, and I was cut off from the privileges of an education, and over this there is much regret, still I am glad to have lived through a period like this, and believe that what there is in me of womanliness and strength of character and endurance is greatly due to the lessons of self-sacrifice and helpfulness to others taught me during the war.