Where Home Used to be.
Apr. 12th, 1865.
Your precious letter, My dear Janie, was received night before last, and
the pleasure it afforded me, and indeed the whole family, I leave for you
to imagine, for it baffles words to express my thankfulness when I hear
that my friends are left with the necessities of life, and unpolluted
(sic) by the touch of Sherman's Hell-hounds. My experience since we parted
has been indeed sad, but I am so blessed when I think of the other friends
in Smithville that I forget my own troubles. Our own army came first and
enjoyed the cream of the country and left but little for the enemy. We had
a most delightful time while our troops were camped around. They arrived
here on the first of March and were camping around and passing for nearly
a week. Feeding the hungry and nursing the sick and looking occupied the
day, and at night company would come in and wait until bed-time.
I found our officers gallant and gentlemanly and the privates no less so.
The former of course, we saw more of, but such an army of patriots
fighting for their hearthstones is not to be conquered by such fiends
incarnate as fill the ranks of Sherman's army. Our political sky does seem
darkened with a fearful cloud, but when compared with the situation of our
fore-fathers, I can but take courage. We had then a dissolute and
disaffected soldiery to contend with, to say nothing of the poverty of the
Colonies during the glorious revolution of '76. Now our resources increase
every year and while I confess that the desertion in our army is awful, I
am sanguine as to the final issue to the war.
Gen. Wheeler took tea here about two o'clock during the night after the
battle closed, and about four o'clock the Yankees came charging, yelling
and howling. I stood on the piazza and saw the charge made, but as calm as
I am now, though I was all prepared for the rascals, our soldiers having
given us a detailed account of their habits. The pailing did not hinder
them at all. They just knocked down all such like mad cattle. Right into
the house, breaking open bureau drawers of all kinds faster than I could
unlock. They cursed us for having hid everything and made bold threats if
certain things were not brought to light, but all to no effect. They took
Pa's hat and stuck him pretty badly with a bayonet to make him disclose
something, but you know they were fooling with the wrong man. One impudent
dog came into the dining room where Kate and I were and said "Good morning
girls, why aren't you up getting breakfast, it's late?" I told him that
servants prepared Southern Ladies breakfast. He went off muttering
something about their not waiting on us any more, but not one of the
servants went from here, they remained faithful through it all, with one
exception, and Pa has driven him off to the Yankees.
Mr. Sherman, I think is pursuing the wrong policy to accomplish his
designs. The Negroes are bitterly prejudiced to his minions. They were
treated, if possible, worse than the white folks, all their provisions
taken and their clothes destroyed and some carried off.
They left no living thing in Smithville but the people. One old hen played
sick and thus saved her neck, but lost all of her children. The Yankees
would run all over the yard to catch the little things to squeeze to
Every nook and corner of the premises was searched and the things that
they didn't use were burned or torn into strings. No house except the
blacksmith shop was burned, but into the flames they threw every tool,
plow etc., that was on the place. The house was so crowded all day that we
could scarcely move and of all the horrible smelling things in the world
the Yankees beat. The battle field does not compare with them in point of
stench. I don't believe they have been washed since they were born. I was
so sick all the time that I could not have eaten had I had anything. All
of Uncle John's family were here and we lived for three days on four
quarts of meal which Aunt Eliza begged from a Yank. Didn't pretend to sift
it, baked up in our room where fifteen of us had to stay. When and how we
slept, I don't know. I was too angry to eat or sleep either and I let the
scoundrels know it whenever one had the impudence to speak to me. Gen.
Slocum with two other hyenas of his rank, rode up with his body-guard and
introduced themselves with great pomp, but I never noticed them at all.
Whenever they would poke out their dirty paws to shake my hand, I'd give
the haughtiest nod I could put on and ask what they came for. I had heard
that the officers would protect ladies, but it is not so. Sis Susan was
sick in bed and they searched the very pillows that she was lying on, and
keeping such a noise, tearing up and breaking to pieces, that the Generals
couldn't hear themselves talk, but not a time did they try to prevent it.
They got all of my stockings and some of our collars and handkerchiefs. If
I ever see a Yankee woman, I intend to whip her and take the clothes off
of her very back. We would have been better prepared for the thieves but
had to spend the day before our troops left in a ravine as the battle was
fought so near the house, so we lost a whole days hiding. I can't help
laughing, though the recollection is so painful when I think of that day.
Imagine us all and Uncle John's family trudging through the rain and mud
down to a ravine near the river, each one with a shawl, blanket and basket
of provisions. The battle commenced on the 15th
of March at Uncle John's. The family were ordered from home, stayed in the
trenches all day when late in the evening they came to us, wet, muddy and
hungry. Their house was penetrated by a great many shells and balls, but
was not burned and the Yankees used it for a hospital, they spared it, but
everything was taken and the furniture destroyed. The girls did not have a
change of clothing. The Yankees drove us from two lines of fortifications
that day, but with heavy loss, while ours was light. That night we fell
back to the cross roads, if you remember where that is, about one sixth of
a mile from here, there our men became desperate and at day-light on the
sixteenth the firing was terrific. The infirmary was here and oh it makes
me shudder when I think of the awful sights I witnessed that morning.
Ambulance after ambulance drove up with our wounded.
One half of the house was prepared for the soldiers, but owing to the
close proximity of the enemy they only sent in the sick, but every barn
and out house was fill and under every shed and tree the tables were
carried for amputating the limbs. I just felt like my heart would break
when I would see our brave men rushing into the battle and then coming
back so mangled. The scene beggars description, the blood lay in puddles
in the grove, the groans of the dying and the complaints of those
undergoing amputation was horrible, the painful impression has seared my
very heart. I can never forget it. We were kept busy making and rolling
bandages and sending nourishment to the sick and wounded until orders came
to leave home. Then was my trial, leaving our poor suffering soldiers when
I could have been relieving them some. As we passed the wounded going to
the woods they would beseech us not to go. "Ladies, don't leave your home,
we won't let the enemy fire upon you." But orders from headquarters must
be obeyed and to the woods we went. I never expected to see the dear old
homestead again, but thank heaven, I am living comfortably in it again.
It was about nine o'clock when the courier [sic] came with orders. The
firing continued incessantly up and down the lines all day, when about
five in the evening the enemy flanked our right, where we were sent for
protection, and the firing was right over us. We could hear the commands
and groans and shrieks of the wounded.
A line of battle was formed in front of us, and we knew that was certain
death to us should we be unsuccessful in repelling the charge. Lou and I
started out to do the same thing, when one of the vedetts [sic] saw my
white flag (my handkerchief (sic) on a pole) and came to us. I accosted
him, "Are you one of our men or a Yankee?" "I am a Reb, Mam." "Can't you
go and report to the commanding officer and tell him that the hillside is
lined with women and children he sent here for protection, and the line of
battle over there will destroy us?" "I'll do all I can for you", was the
gallant reply and in a short time we were ordered home.
Well, Janie dear, I am really afraid of wearying you with my long epistle,
but if you feel as much interested in Smithville as I do in the welfare of
Ashwood, I know you won't complain. You inquired after Cam. I believe the
excitement cured her. She is better now than she has been for years.
Their house is ruined with the blood of the Yankee wounded. Only two rooms
left, Aunt Mary's and the little one joining, which the family occupied.
The others she can't pretend to use. Every piece of bed furniture, etc. is
gone. The scamps left our piano, used Aunt Mary's for an amputation table.
The Yanks left fifty of our wounded at Uncle John's whom we have been busy
nursing. All that were able have gone to their homes, and the others
except four, are dead. The poor things were left there suffering and
hungry with only one doctor. I felt my poverty keenly when I went down
there and couldn't even give them a piece of bread. But, however, Pa had
the scattering corn picked up and ground, which we divided with them, and
as soon as the Country around learned their condition, delicacies [sic] of
all kinds were sent in. I can dress amputated limbs now and do most
anything in the way of nursing the wounded soldiers. We have had nurses
and surgeons from Raleigh for a week or two. I am really attached to the
patients of the hospital and feel so sad and lonely now that so many have
left and died. My favorite, a little black eyed boy with the hitest brow
and thick curls falling on it, died last Sunday, but the Lord has taken
him to a better land. He was the only son of his widowed mother. I have
his ring and a lock of his hair to send her as soon as I can get an
opportunity. It is so sad to receive the dying messages and tokens for
the loved ones at home. It grieves me to see them buried without coffins,
but it is impossible to get them now. I have two graves in my charge to
keep fresh flowers on, the little boy just mentioned and Lieutenant
Laborde, the son of Dr. Laborde of Columbia College. The latter had passed
through the fight untouched, and while sitting on the fence of our avenue
resting and making friends with his captain, whom he had challenged, a
stray ball pierced his head. His with three other Confederate graves are
the only ones near the house. But the yard and garden at Uncle John's, the
cottage and Aunt Mary's are used for Yankee grave yards, and they are
buried so shallow that the places are extremely offensive. The Yankees
stayed here for only one day, a few for a day or two would come. "We had a
romantic time feeding the Confederate captain they brought here, hiding
the bread from the rogues".
We had to walk about three miles going to the hospital at first to avoid
the Yankee pickets. Our soldiers were there suffering and we were
determined to help them.
Cousin Rice came home yesterday wounded by a pistol shot in the fleshy
part of his shoulder. He looks well considering his long walk. We have no
way of sending for our wounded brothers now. Bros. Henry and Fark came
about a week after the Yanks left. I never was so glad to see folks in my
life, but they are so saddened by the dissolution in Smithville that they
don't seem like the same boys. Cousin Walter is also at home. Each one of
the boys brought their rations and it looked so strange. Cousin Rice was
wounded on the 6th inst. at Petersburg. Tom's horse was lost. The others
were all safe at that time. It sickens me when I think of the bloody
battles they have been in since, and we can't hear from them. I think you
ought to be thankful that your brother is captured, though I know how you
feel about him. All things are for the best and I feel it is so. Your
Uncle David spent the night with us as he passed on a sad mission. I was
so glad to see him and hope that he will bring his wounded son here on his
way back. I reckon he thought there was no end to my questions. Sloke was
in the battle of Bentonville, but escaped unhurt. He had to leave home in
spite] of our entreaties, volunteered for the emergency, says he and his
horse had a funny time dodging behind each other. This is the only
"critter" he saved, but our army got them. We plow old bags of bones the
Yanks would not trouble to kill, pick them up from the battle field. We
are getting on very well in the eating line. As you suppose, we had little
corn left at the plantation and a cow or two. I am not afraid of perishing
though the prospects for it are very bright. When our army invade the
North, I want them to carry the torch in one hand, the sword in the other.
... I know you think this a very unbecoming sentiment, but I believe it is
our only policy now.
.... I will wait until tomorrow to finish my volume as Jess can't bear the
light in his eyes and it is too dark for me.
Sloke is quite sick with measles, took cold and I am staying with him
while sister and Louise are out enjoying the lovely spring evening. All
nature is gay and beautiful, but every Southern breeze is loaded with a
terrible scent from the battle field, which renders my home very
disagreeable at times.
End of Letter