Reminiscences of Sherman’s Raid
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M. V. Green.
Lancaster, S. C.
I have been requested by my friend, Miss Bessie White, a Daughter of the Confederacy of the Fort Mill Chapter, to write my reminiscences of Sherman’s raid in my home and community, not-withstanding it is indeed sad and heart-rending, for I assure you, my readers, I had hoped the remembrance of such was buried in oblivion, never to be resurrected until the general resurrection, when we are “called upon for acts clone in the body” and for taking things that do not belong to us.
It was only a few mornings after the burning of our beautiful city of Columbia, the great reflection of which we witnessed, that I was standing in my bedroom, with my only two little boys, completing my toilet, preparatory for breakfast, when my nurse and dining-room servant rushed into my room, exclaiming, “Miss Virginia, the Yankees are crowding in the back part of the house!” At the same time I saw numbers charging through the gates to the stables, for horses, bridles, saddles, etc. I had had the four bedrooms upstairs nicely made comfortable, and my first impulse was to meet them politely and inquire if I could accommodate them with anything, and oh! how perfectly absurd was that impulse! “Yes,” was the reply, “by God! I expect to get what I want!” I turned to go back into my room from the front piazza, when, lo and behold! I could not see my room door they poured in back and side doors. I wended my way into my private bedroom, took my seat in the mahogany mohair rocking chair, and there I remained the two weeks that my house was inhabited by these thieves, with Johnnie, my delicate, timid, bewildered son of four years, crouched as closely under my knees as possible, while Tom, my older son, was talking to them and answering all inquiries “Where is your papa?” “How long since he left home?” etc.
I must add that I was about in the center of the brigade. Sherman spent the time here. It is said eight thousand encamped here and within a mile. My husband, Mr. F. D. Green, owned a large number of slaves, and had killed over a hundred head of hogs, and in less than an hour the smokehouse and flour house doors were taken off and carried to make shelters for the privates’ convenience. Not a piece of meat, except a hog jowl, which fell in the lye soap trough, or a dust of meal or flour, left in their respective barrels. My breakfast soon disappeared in like manner. Now and again they would demand “your sody (soda) box or bottle.”
My children (the two little boys) and I had nothing to eat the whole two weeks, only what my noble, trusty carriage driver and his wife Alex, and Mary would bring to us. As she would pass the soldiers they would violently curse her. “If you carry another morsel to that white woman and her children we’ll kill you.”
Perhaps my readers would like to know how these colored friends came to have anything to bring. They would go into the camps and pick up hams, shoulders, etc., where only the lean had been taken out. Yes; they gathered up enough to last them three months after the army left our country.
My cook was a timid old woman, and left her house to their mercy. She, my nurse, dining-room servant, and dear old “Mammy” Pickett were my constant companions day and night. The latter was a very bright servant, and was all the time taken for my mother, and ordered time and again, “Give up your gold and silver; hand up your gold watch.” She’d reply, “I am a servant.” They’d say, “What f you a servant! whoever has you for a servant ought to be killed!” and with a most terrible oath, turning to me, “Don’t you think so, lady?” My reply was, “There she is; she can answer for herself.” “No, sir; I am treated as one of the family, and just as my mistress lives I live.”
A Yankee told me to “go to such a man and ask for a guard.” It was now near sundown. I went. Two soldiers were stationed in the hall or passage, just in front of my bedroom door, who rendered good service until about eleven o’clock that night, when, through the doors leading into the sitting-room, and the one into the hall, six or eight soldiers would open the doors, come in voluntarily, look and stare at me, often stand up by the fire, not uttering a word. I clasped my hands, and turned to “Mammy” Pickett, “My God! Have mercy on us! Mammy, how can I stand this?” I asked my visitors if anyone knew in which room upstairs were the commanding officers. “The one over the parlor.” I took “Mammy” Pickett, nurse, and another, went up, left cook and another to take care of the little hoys, as they enjoyed nature’s sweet repose; knocked at the door. “Come in,” unbolted it and stepped back into the hall. One officer was ransacking my brother’s trunk; the other raised up on his elbow in bed. I said, “Gentlemen (which was much against my will, to address them as such), will you not, for God’s sake, protect me and my little children? Your men persist in opening my private room doors. I come begging your protection; I know my children and I are in your power.” He said, “Certainly, madam.” And he ordered the one engaged in brother’s trunk, “Place a responsible guard directly in front of her doors.” And we were not molested any more during the night. But, alas! alas! how could I sleep, or even rest, when I knew my whole house nine other rooms was filled by hundreds with such a rough set of thieves?
The next morning the officers inquired at my door, “Were you and your little boys disturbed any more during the night? You and the boys come and eat breakfast with us.” I thanked him. “We do not feel like eating, and feel much obliged for your protection.” Kind reader, that was pretty hard to swallow, to refuse an invitation to eat at my own table. Let me say that not much of my silver adorned Sherman’s breakfast table that morning; it was lying in the woods, “beneath the sod.”
As soon as practicable, faithful Alex, and his wife, Mary, came to see after my welfare, brought us something to eat, and filled my box with wood for the day. In a few moments Alex, was back in my room. “Missus, these Yankees will force me to go to Lancaster this morning; but don’t you be uneasy; I’ll be back tonight, and as I pass through the back yard I will be whistling.” One can’t imagine how anxiously I listened for that “whistling.” It was indeed a long day.
So often was I asked by these thieves, “Why don’t you lie down and rest, lady? You look very feeble and weak.” I told them I was. I had just recovered from a severe spell of convulsions and fever, and showed them where my hair had been shaved, head scarified and cupped, and thought if they had sympathy that would test it. As I had been frequently told by them they would burn my house, I told them my health was too bad to be thrown out in such miserable weather. “All we want is to get you out,” said they. “If you burn my house, you’ll burn me up in it,” I replied, for I felt it was death either way.
About nine o’clock I heard faithful Alex’s “whistling.” Oh, how my heart went to heaven in earnest prayer for him as I heard his familiar footstep on the threshold.
The Yankees had been informed that Alex had buried so many boxes of silver and other valuables. He was taken up and threatened in every way imaginable, but he, his wife, and my cook were true as the best of steel, and we saved all, notwithstanding the holes that were dug, and even the heavy granite tiling torn up from the hearths in the sitting-room and parlor. I did lose my mother’s gold spectacles.
Mr. Green had been discharged on account of his health, and sent home to raise provisions for the Confederate army, he being a large planter. His health gave away during the second year suffered from vertigo. As soon as he rallied, he joined his brother’s (Wm. Green’s) company, in Sumter County. He took measles, and was sent home again, and that was how he came to be home at the time of Sherman’s raid. He left only two nights previous to the raid, and beat up towards North Carolina, endeavoring to save his and his neighbors’ stock that was entrusted to his care, which he did.
On the fifteenth day, I was again at my window, and saw three cavalrymen coming into the back yard, the yard enclosure having been torn down and burnt up the first day of the raid. My “companions” and I soon recognized them as my brothers, James and Sam Cureton, and Mr. Reeves Wade, who had been sent out as scouts. The latter secreted himself behind my large house, “watching,” for fear of being flanked on the west, while my brothers were talking to me. It is needless to say I met them in tears as I said, “You three have come, tired and hungry, and not a morsel of anything have I to give you; the little boys are now begging for some bread.” My brothers drew from their haversacks nine dirty, black biscuits, several days old, which they eagerly devoured, without reference to color or age.
The cavalrymen went to Mr. Wade’s, a few hundred yards off. My brothers “kept watch” while Mr. Wade talked to his sister and her refugees, old Mrs. Benjamin F. Taylor and her daughters, of Columbia. They, too, of course, had a deplorable tale to relate. I regret to add that Mrs. Wade’s servants were not such “steel” as ours were.
The morning of Sherman’s raid, Mrs. Taylor, a lady of seventy winters, was on her knees, enjoying her “morning devotion,” when fifty or more entered her room. “Get up, old woman; the Yankees are on you; no time to pray,” and one of them walked up and lifted a pair of gold spectacles from her eyes.
I neglected to say, while our cavalry returned, “Mammy” Pickett ran to her house, got a teacup of fine Java coffee, which had run the blockade at Charleston, parched it, and had it made, without any sugar, which they enjoyed hugely. She had secreted it under the mattress of her husband’s bed, who had feigned a severe case of rheumatism.
The second day after our cavalrymen left us, I reported my condition to my brother, Dr. Cureton, and he sent me a ham and a few pounds of meal and flour. I was then worried to know where to keep it; my companions advised me to hide it in the box, under the wood and chips, till we could get an opportunity of enjoying it.
It was indeed a sad spectacle to see our corncribs, gin house, filled with over a hundred bales of cotton; smokehouses, filled with meat and molasses (this year Mr. Green made 1,000 gallons of sorghum, not only for our own consumption, but to supply our brave Confederate soldiers), committed to flames in broad, open daylight.
During their stay with us, my nurse came to me and said, “Miss Virginia, is there anything of importance in the baby’s trunk? The men are about to break it to pieces.” I took her back with me, and found it as she said. I asked them, “Please don’t break the trunk; there is nothing in there but my dead baby’s clothes.” I unlocked it, and propped up the lid. When he saw it, he picked up a garment, with a terrible oath of profanity. “I don’t want your baby’s clothes,” he said.
In our community there were several wealthy farmers who suffered in like manner. My neighbor, Miss Mary Barnes, afterwards Mrs. Ervin, being an heiress, and her father holding an important office, and killed in the Sharpsburg battle, lost all her silverware and valuables. Her servants betrayed her. The Yankees fired her house and furniture several times, filled her handsome phaeton with meat, and thrust an ax in the back of it, and carried it off several miles, to a camp. When I know of my neighbors’ unfaithful servants, I feel indeed proud of my own “dear companions.” May God’s richest blessings ever rest upon them.
I neglected to mention the sad fate of “Old Tom.” When Mr. Green left me, two nights previous to the raid, he said, “Virginia, I will leave ‘Old Tom,’ ” a family horse that was quite old, to which I and the little boys were much attached. Mr. Green thought I would perhaps need a physician, or want to send to mill. Poor “Old Tom” was shot, wended his way to my window, gave one dying groan, and fell.
I’ve tried to give you a mere statement, and must beg you to excuse me from the rest, some of which is too vulgar to recall to memory, much less to commit to paper; and I must beg you to pardon the briny tears, which have caused many ugly spots on this paper.
And may our South never pass through another such a trying scene.