With Stoneman’s Raiders
Mrs. Sylvester Bleckley
Anderson, S. C.
It was a clear, beautiful morning, 1st of May, 1865, when all nature smiled in kindliness at the approach of Spring, all schools had a holiday, and the gay young girls and boys, with their teachers and friends, went in big, roomy old rumbling wagons, with mules hitched in, to picnic on Rocky River’s shady banks, to pull down yellow Jessamine vines, to search for blue violets, and fish and bathe in the flowing stream. There was no thought of a disturbing element to mar the happy, gay laughter with that young crowd, and no one gave them a warning note of anything to disturb their pleasure.
For a day or two there had been some little anxiety of a Yankee raid. But the few older heads, whom we looked to for advice, said, “Oh, there’s no danger; Anderson is the safest place in the Confederacy.” It seemed it was considered so, for many had refugeed here from Charleston and other points; many people sent their trunks, with silverware, jewelry, clothing, and anything valuable, to be stored away for safe keeping, as our little village had always been considered safe from the enemy. So, with the little warning we had, we heeded not, and, like the people in Noah’s time, we pursued the even tenor of our way, unbelieving, unexpecting any trouble from the enemy, particularly as Lee had surrendered, and all things were in a state of adjustment, and it took only time to bring order from confusion. On this certain May morning, my little children had gone with their nurses and teachers to the picnic and May day festival. Mrs. John B. Sloan, a near neighbor, came to see me, and together we planned to spend the day with my grandmother, who lived two miles from the town, on the Greenville road. We set out, walking the distance in a very short time. While we were at the dinner table, in the happiest and most unconcerned mood, my Uncle Elias John Earle came from the village and told us a cavalry regiment of Yankees was reported to be on the road between Greenville and Anderson, and that my brother, who had returned a few days before from the army, and had left my house that morning, had been on a reconnoitering expedition and had come suddenly on a squad of the enemy on the road between Anderson and Greenville. They had pursued him, but he outdistanced his pursuers, and rode into the town and gave the alarm. My uncle said there was great excitement in town, and he would advise us to get home as soon as possible, for the raiders would certainly be in Anderson by night.
Mrs. Sloan and I hurriedly left the table, rushed through the front gate and down the road, running with all our speed, to reach our homes and be prepared for the raid. Suddenly we heard a mighty roaring and clashing, like a wind storm. We looked back and, oh, my! amid clouds of dust and flashing steel, and wild whoops, we saw at once we were surrounded by a thousand of Stoneman’s Cavalry. “Halt!” was the order given. Never women stood so still, or hung their heads so humbly. Mrs. Sloan spoke up quickly, “We are unprotected women, returning home from a visit; please protect us.” An officer then rode up and offered us an escort home, and gave the order to proceed. Then commenced that long two miles’ march, right in the middle of the road, with an officer on each side of us. I never can forget the feelings I had; they were of the most bitter humiliation and disgust. I was too afraid to speak except to answer questions in the most polite manner.
I had the most unhappy thoughts of the fate of my husband, who was in the enrolling service; of my little children, who were away from home; and how was this military escort to release us? were we their prisoners? and all sorts of horrid things crossed my brain. My companion in trouble, Mrs. Sloan, chatted brightly about the war, Lee’s recent surrender, and how they came here, making this raid upon a people who had already surrendered. To all this they had a ready response to excuse themselves. As we neared the town, they gave the order to halt. We did so immediately. I thought, “We are going to be shot sure.” They gave an order for us to stand aside, as they were preparing to make a charge into the town. We opened a gate and entered the yard to the home where Mrs. Lizzie Cater now lives. I do not remember who lived there then. There was no one at home. We stepped upon the porch; in an instant a large bulldog rushed upon us in the most ferocious manner; we fled again to the street, screaming with fright. One or two dismounted soldiers beat the dog away and, laughing, told us we were more afraid of bulldogs than Yanks.
So we remained right on the side of the road and let those raiders ride swiftly by, and as the last squad passed us, we set out running right behind them, through clouds of dust, taking all the near cuts, through patches and gardens, climbing fences, and shouting to our neighbors, as we went by, the news of the attack. When I entered my back door, it seemed to me a hundred of those marauders entered the front at the same time. The house was pillaged from top to bottom. In less time than I can tell you, smokehouse, dairy, pantry, everything had been cleaned up. Everybody’s house had been entered at the same time, and all kinds of depredations made. Old men were choked and beaten to make them tell where their valuables were hidden. Some gave up rather than be so persecuted; others stood it out, and would not give them any information. The women and children were frightened nearly to death.
The picnic crowd had been surprised and their horses and mules taken from their wagons and buggies, and parties who had started home were left sitting in the road, too much frightened to know what to do. Some ladies were so frightened when they saw the soldiers approaching the house that they would rush towards them, offering them their watches and jewelry, and begging them to get away as quickly as possible. Some had time to hide away their things, but were so frustrated as never to remember where they had hidden them.
I remember a Mr. Sam Moore, who had a wooden leg. The leg was hollow. He carried six gold watches in his leg for several days, which different people had given him to hide for them. Many threw their bags of gold and valuables in their wells. Some hid them in the chimneys. These marauders took away all guns or firearms they found about the house, and took away clothing. They also ripped up the silks, tied them around their horses’ necks, and paraded the streets as an aggravation to the citizens.
We dressed ourselves and children in all the clothes we had, piling on two and three dresses at once, and went about looking like stuffed animals; we hid everything else in the way of clothes between mattresses, to save them from being destroyed by the vandals.
The men were all taken prisoners as soon as these soldiers entered the town. They were locked up in the courthouses and kept secure for one night, and then let out on parole and sent by a guard home to their families, to remain a few hours.
These wretches remained in our town two days and nights, committing all kinds of depredations, and left us in a deplorable state, with nothing to eat, and our homes looted of everything valuable.