Work at Greenville, South Carolina
Paper by Mrs. Brunson, written in 1899
When the South felt that she was gradually losing that for which she had fought in the war with Great Britain, she raised her standard for States’ Rights, and her men and boys rallied with the greatest enthusiasm to its defense. We all felt that the South had been un-justly treated, and we hoped to withdraw from our sister States in peace, but we did not intend to be governed by the North as if the United States were a monarchy.
So our homes were saddened by the departure of most of our men, and the women began to work for them.
The “Butler Guards” left Greenville early in April, 1861. Soon after, the “Brooks Troop” followed, both going to Virginia. Other companies from Greenville County also went.
The ladies of our town met at McBee’s Hall, and the basement of the Baptist Church, to sew for soldiers. Country neighbors also formed sewing circles, and some of the old ladies were so expert as to be able to knit as they walked or rode along. Miss Ann McCall, a descendant of Isaac Hayne, of Revolutionary fame, had inherited a set of gold needles, and I doubt if she could have counted the socks she knit. Her fingers fairly flew, and she never stopped to count.
Mr. Bussy, an old English tailor, would cut and assist in making fatigue suits for two companies from town. The ladies and girls put pin-cushions, soap and handkerchiefs in the pockets of these clothes, and then they were packed and sent on.
I think it was twice a year that a member of the Butler Guards would come on with measurements for the men’s clothes, and then the ladies would work hard until these uniforms were finished.
The woolen socks were most acceptable to the infantry, as they were soft to their feet while marching. Good knitting is quite an art among old ladies. Boxes filled with hams, sausages, dried beef, butter, bread, dried fruit, pickles, etc., were sent on to the soldiers by their families. Cloth was woven by small hand looms, both cotton and wool. Miss Rydes, a country lady, spun and wove a nice gray woolen cloth and sent it on to General Beauregard as a present. He wrote her a very courteous and grateful letter for the acceptable suit of clothes.
Good boots and shoes were made in Greenville, and other parts of the South, for soldiers. There was a tanyard in the town of Greenville which had long shipped leather to New York, and now worked exclusively for home people, making fine leather of goat and calf skins.
Ladies of Greenville made nice buckskin gloves, also knit many gloves and scarves for men of the cavalry and artillery. I could go into the woods now and find the same kinds of leaves with which we colored the wool and cotton. Indigo was planted and used for coloring both wool and cotton. A mixture for gray cloth was, one-third of blue wool, one-third of black, and one-third of white, carded together, spun by hand and woven on a slate-colored chain of cotton thread, making a fine cloth for the loved ones who stood on guard through storms of sleet and snow. Maidens found, in chests and drawers, a few skeins of scarlet wool, to crochet and knit stripes in scarves for young friends in artillery service.
The flocks of sheep seemed to grow patriotic, giving us fine wool. A family from Rappahannock County came to Greenville County as refugees, bringing a large flock of sheep. Those sheep produced elegant wool. Captain Willis, the owner, had received a wound in the arm, and had to retire from service for a while. His wife wrote and distributed religious tracts to soldiers, showing that she had a heart filled with reverence to God and kindness to her fellow creatures.
Churches in the South had services several times a week, and earnest prayers ascended on high for the safety of our armies, and for consolation to those who had lost their dear ones. Women had been told of their grandmothers’ loyalty and industry during the war with England, and were trying now to show the same love to their defenders.
Such confidence we felt in our soldiers! If one, six, or more men sought shelter and food at private houses while passing through town, they were invited in and entertained. We greatly admired the people of Virginia for their kindness to the soldiers. Many times have we been told of the bonny-clabber, bread, butter, etc., given to our friends by the ladies of Virginia. We could but exclaim, with the Negroes: “Ole Virginny neber tire.”
Housekeepers gave away their blankets to any soldiers who needed them. Men of experience and age were appointed in neighborhoods to distribute provisions to the wives and children of men who had to labor with their own hands for the support of their families, but were now in the army. Dr. Buist, a Presbyterian minister, went every afternoon to the Greenville and Columbia depot to meet the train. Quickly the conductor handed him a newspaper, and he read it so that a large crowd of anxious people could hear every word.
Gen. M. C. Butler’s mother had seven sons in service. Col. Wm. Butler at one time commanded at Fort Sumter. She heard at the depot that her youngest child had lost an arm, and fainted. No one saw her but two young girls, who were with her in her carriage. They took her home, where she soon revived and set to work sewing and doing everything in her power for needy soldiers.
Frequently she took feeble looking men in her carriage and had them driven to their homes, or to the hospital. Her brother had fought the Battle of Lake Erie.
The first hospital in Greenville was in the Male Academy. Mrs. W. Pinckney McBee was president. To that building all sick and wounded soldiers were carried and personally attended by the ladies of the Soldiers’ Relief Association and the kind physicians of the town. Nice, clean beds and good food were provided, and servants to assist in caring for them. Quilts were made and kept washed for the use of the hospital. Committees of ladies relieved each other. Housekeepers were notified when their turn came to provide meals. Good milk, and any delicacy a soldier fancied, was provided, if possible.
All over the South, ladies met trains, provided with baskets of food and hot, steaming rye coffee for traveling soldiers.
When the Confederate Government established a hospital in the Marion House in Greenville, the ladies assisted there in caring for sick and wounded men, visited them, and provided nice food for them, taking it to the bedside themselves. One lady was highly amused at the request of a sick man, who asked her to bring him some “tater custard.” She went to the doctor and got permission and then provided the man with the most dainty looking sweet potato custard, which he ate with great relish.
Ladies scraped lint off old linen, rolled bandages of soft, white cloth, and sent them on to the Richmond Hospital.
All the land devoting itself to the army! Such an inspiration of patriotic devotion to the defenders of our homes! I look back to it with admiration.
(Signed) Jane Carson Brunson.
February 2, 1899