Women in the Civil War in Cheraw, South Carolina
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Mrs. Virginia C. Tarrh.
Florence, S. C.
In looking back through the long vista of years, I think I must always have had quite a big spark of patriotic feeling, for I sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at each recurring Fourth of July celebration with unabated enthusiasm, and listened with equal interest to the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence.
And so, by the time the Ordinance of Secession was passed, and the year 1861 had dawned upon us, the spark of ardor had developed into a flame of rebellion, and I was at once a full-fledged Secessionist, and I determined to do all in my power to further the cause of the Confederacy.
Cheraw, which was my native place, and which was also one of the oldest towns in the State, had always taken prominence in matters of patriotism, and she now proved no exception in allegiance to the cause she deemed right.
One of the first things attempted was to establish a women’s sewing club, under the leadership of Mrs. Inglis, she being chosen on account of her husband’s prominent position in South Carolina.
I was very zealous, and at this period had my first experience in knitting socks. My zeal came very near overreaching any service I might have rendered, if there had not been an unusually large man in the Twenty-first Regiment, to which command my husband be-longed, and that we knew of, so I was much comforted in being told I might send this special pair of socks to him, as they were of such tremendous proportions we did not know if they would find any other owner so worthy. I refer to Colonel Graham, a connection of our treasurer, Mrs. Harllee.
As time passed on, I must have improved wonderfully, for I soon became quite an adept in tailoring. I remember, one Saturday afternoon, I assisted my sister and a friend in town to turn a coat for the friend’s brother, which had to be accomplished in those few hours, as the soldier had to leave on Monday to join his regiment.
After that, at different times, I made two suits of uniform, with my sister’s help, for my husband, and if I may be pardoned for saying so, both were very creditable.
I suppose we were like everybody else in making all sorts of contrivances, and using substitutes, and though on several occasions we were quite fortunate in receiving some presents from more favored friends, as I look back I often wonder how we made both ends meet.
The last calico dress I had cost $175, and was purchased in Augusta, Ga., and in the same place I got two bunches of yarn for having some homespun dresses made, paying for each $175.
One bonnet did me during the whole war. It underwent many changes and divers colors of trimmings. Sometimes it would have a piece of pasteboard put on in front to give the additional height known in those days as sky-scrapers; then when fashion changed, the pasteboard could be taken off to diminish the shape.
I was the fortunate possessor of a black and brown silk, and as it had seen good service, towards the end of the war a friend gave me a puff of black silk, which she had ripped from one of her own dresses, and which I was charmed to put on the bottom of mine.
There was a dress with a similar trimming worn by a lady in Cheraw during the invasion, where she secreted valuable papers in said wonderful puff. A friend of mine sat knitting very complacently while the house was being searched, and had her watch concealed in her ball of knitting cotton. At the same time, she had a bag of flour slipped into each pillow-case on the bed, and they escaped detection. Lucky escape, as my mother at that time was paying $500 for a sack. Cowpeas and rice were two of the principal articles of diet, and we sometimes had molasses pies for dessert. We tried all kinds of substitutes for coffee, and I wonder now, even with all my patriotism, how I drank it and it sweetened with sorghum. Unlike the provision for coffee, however, we were so fortunate as always to have a small supply of genuine tea on hand, generally sent as a present to my mother.
We chanced to have a diminutive teapot, whose capacity was only for a small-sized cup, and after my mother and sister had the first and second drawings, I came in for the third. This was a luxury almost unsurpassed, and I doubt if, even now, I would think of it in comparison with the most cheering cup dispensed from a five o’clock tea table. All this time my husband was stationed on Morris Island, and once or twice had the good fortune to procure a few articles from a blockade runner, and from the “Keokuk,” which was sunk off its coast. As long as these lasted, we indulged in extras on special occasions, one of these being when he came home on a furlough; and I recollect once I bought some other ingredients I needed for a whortleberry pudding, costing me $30, and still another time I had a pound cake for which I paid out $25.
Towards the end of the struggle, our work was diversified by a hospital being established in the town hall, that being the largest and most central place to be found.
I recall very distinctly a young soldier who was brought in, and who had been shot in the skirmish on the river bridge, just as our troops were evacuating the town. Rather than let the enemy use this bridge, it was, just after the skirmish, set on fire. The poor fellow spoken of was so badly wounded as to have one of his legs amputated. He was so boyish looking, and withal so good looking, I felt much drawn to him. And, I am very glad to say, he finally recovered. His name was Charlie Bruce, and I have often wondered where his lot has since been cast.
The soldiers who died in the hospital were buried in the old cemetery of St. David’s, and the devoted women of Cheraw raised a monument to their memory. Their poor dust is cared for every spring by loving hands. Some of the mounds are marked “Unknown,” but the living remember always that “somebody’s darling lies buried here.”
I do not think it will be out of place for me to mention that the Episcopal Church in Cheraw is one of its landmarks, and is one of the very oldest colonial churches in the South. It is venerable, historic, and interesting. The same old wrought nails, the foundation of imported English brick, and the identical sash, glass and shutters are as sound and perfect today as they were in 1770 and 1772, although the erection of the church was begun in 1768. During the War of the Revolution, after General Gates’ defeat at the Battle of Camden, the British troops converted the church into barracks and stabled their horses there. The burial ground around the church is associated with many endearing memories, and in it there are many old and moss-grown stones, among them an ancient looking mound composed of brick, said to be that of General McArthur, a British officer.
But with all our privations, trials, anxieties, and troubles, so far, nothing was equivalent to the greater sorrow still in store for us, and which fell upon us in the afternoon of the 3d of March, 1865. The town was filled to overflowing with our troops, leaving in at directions, and my little nephew, in going to see a soldier cousin stationed near town, met with a terrible accident. It has been sup-posed he lost his footing in crossing the railroad track, and fell backwards, while a car loaded with heavy artillery passed over his left leg. Could there be a greater climax of misery? He was borne to his home by four soldiers, and immediately visited by several physicians from the hospital, who gave orders for him to be kept perfectly quiet until the next morning.
Then the town became infested with Sherman’s army, and 60,000 entered during the day. Our soldiers left by one way as they entered by another, and it was while a Georgia regiment was passing our door, headed by a band of most elegant music, that the amputation took place, I standing by and holding the little sufferer’s hand.
In a few hours our miseries increased, for crowds of rough and rude soldiers besieged us most continuously. Most unfortunately, we had buried all the valuables we were possessed of most of them put in the cellar for greater security and everything was found. One thing I particularly regretted was the capture of one of the uniforms before spoken of, as being so proud of having helped to make. It was perfectly new, and had been left behind when my husband was ordered to Virginia. When found, it was claimed by a Lieutenant Dayton, of Ohio, and by a strange coincidence, was spoken of some years after in Cheraw by a Northerner as having been exhibited by Lieutenant Dayton as a trophy.
For several days, all we had to eat was what our servants shared with us, of what had been given them by the Yankees. We were in great anxiety as to getting something to eat for our little boy, and several times were annoyed by calls at the door, telling us they were sure we had a rebel concealed upstairs. After fruitless at-tempts to persuade them of the untruth of such a thing, Dr. Kollock, our family physician, sought out a Dr. Rose, a surgeon in the Northern army, and brought him in to see for himself. I think when he did see the terrible sight, and that it really was a little boy only ten years old, he was moved to pity, and afterwards sent him something suitable to eat. We were also indebted to his influence in having a guard placed at our front gate to stay interruptions from that quarter. About the third morning after the operation, the news flew through the town that preparations were being made to shell it, and we were all panic-stricken, and did not know what to do ourselves, nor with our little cripple. So, after a consultation with the doctor, it was decided to remove him to the upper part of town, which was about a mile from our home. His faithful nurse lifted him in her arms, though at the peril of her life, and carried him to Dr. Kollock’s house, where a shutter was unhinged and he was laid upon it, and borne on it until an open field was reached, where, after several hours were passed, and only one shell had been fired, he was taken to a friend’s house, and kept the rest of the day. This same shell killed several Northern soldiers in its explosion, and they were taken to St. David’s for burial, and one of them actually placed in our family lot. When I found it out, I had the fence moved, thereby putting him outside. He was afterwards brought to the National Cemetery here, as well as the others.
For several days the immense army remained in Cheraw, one of those days being Sunday. On the morning of that day, as we lived just across the street from the Presbyterian Church, we were forced to listen to sounds painful in the extreme, but intended for high revelry. A band was placed in the pulpit, so many times adorned by the illustrious Thornwell and the gifted Coit, to furnish music for a company of dancers in the body of the church. If any of us chanced to be peeping from a window, for we never dared to take a deliberate view, it was very usual to recognize some friend’s carriage piled high inside with bacon, or filled with Negro women, probably lured from their old homes, and going to follow the army.
The larger portion of our house, during all these dreadful days, was occupied by a number of officers and men, and oftentimes the back yard swarmed with the rougher class of privates, intent on plunder. They destroyed a quantity of furniture, and entirely laid waste the contents of a china closet that they broke into.
My room happened to open on a side piazza, and I. suppose they must have found out my name, for one afternoon they knocked at my mother’s room, where I was, and asked for me. I went to the door, and saw one of the most pompous of small men a very sprig of military who told me he had been informed that I had whiskey concealed in my room. I assured him it was not so. In fact, if I had wanted to be at all communicative, I certainly could have added I had not seen any for several years. But I simply offered him my key, and to go with him to the suspected place, which, from my view, standing on the threshold, I thought he searched thoroughly, and he appeared satisfied, so went his way. In about an hour’s time, he came back again, assuring me he had been told beyond a doubt that I did have liquor. So a second time we made a tour of investigation, he still doing the searching very diligently. He looked into everything available except the stove, which, as he was on the point of leaving, I suggested he should do, but he did not notice me, and went out, and I saw him no more.
It was during this raid that the flag of the Eighth South Carolina Regiment, which had been made by some ladies of the Pee Dee section, was concealed in the house of a most loyal and enthusiastic matron of Carolina, who sent six sons to its defense. Last year it was carried to the Richmond Museum by a captain belonging to the regiment, and who is now a prominent veteran in Cheraw.
All this time, and for several months, I had heard nothing of my husband, who, however, was making his way home, under many difficulties. He had served throughout the entire war on Morris Island and James Island, near Charleston, and at different points near Georgetown, and afterwards was ordered to Virginia. He raised his own company in Chesterfield County, promising at the same time never to leave them. Once, when at Georgetown, the position of lieutenant-colonel was offered him, but he refused, remembering his promise, and preferring faithfulness to his word, and fidelity to his men, to an added honor. I have the original roll of his company now in my possession, also his commission as captain in the Army of the Confederate States, signed by General Harllee, when he was Lieutenant-Governor of the State both of which I intend sending to the Confederate Memorial Institute, as soon as it is established, in order to preserve forever the memory of his duty and service to his adopted State and to his country. Loyal in life faithful unto death!
And it is in his memory, too, that I am, and always will be, a devoted Daughter of the Confederacy.