The story of the War Between the States, in all its political and martial phases, has been told and retold by abler pens than mine. Looking back to 1860, to the scenes through which I myself have passed, it is a child’s point of view, perhaps, that has become en-graved upon my mind; but, as that has seldom been given, I will recount to you the impressions made upon me then, which have but strengthened with my years and experience.
The atmosphere of Charleston rippled and swelled with excitement all through that memorable fall. The Minute Men, who had organized on every side, made the streets gay with their uniforms, and the young girls devoted their time to manufacturing every kind of patriotic device in palmetto and silk ribbon. Military buttons were in demand, and every young woman was as defiant, as ardent, and as determined, as her brother, or her sweetheart. They were ready for all emergencies, and when the first troops were ordered down to the islands, they packed knapsacks, sewed on straps and buckles, and chattered cheerfully of all things to hide their own dread and sorrow from the older women, the mothers who were sending their all into the great unknown of the future – ready to answer what-ever call their country made.
The older men met and talked. Constitution, Secession, State Rights, Self-Protection, Union, Usurpation, Imposition, were words that fell upon childish ears, that soon learned to understand their full import.
Mottoes were flung to the winds on hundreds of flags. “There is a point beyond which endurance ceases to be a virtue” was one that carried with it the whole gist of the occasion.
The people had determined not to “endure” any longer and, as another motto said, were willing to give “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
The building of the harbor defenses was begun. Stevens’ Iron Battery was discussed and dilated upon until every boy in town could build it in miniature, for the children had caught the fever, and all their games were based upon war and engineering. So passed the months until the winter came, with excitement ever growing, enthusiasm ever increasing. Each man knew he would reply when his State called; each woman felt she was ready to sacrifice her own heart on the altar of her country; both believed that their State was right, and had faith that a just cause must succeed.
Secession became an accomplished fact; the cannon roared; the populace shouted; in mammoth lettering, the papers announced “The Union is dissolved.”
The Palmetto Banner hung upon the outer wall, and every man, woman and child in Carolina knew that the future was big with im-port, and that their fiery State stood ready for “freedom or death.”
“Hurrah for the rattlesnake bold,” sang the girls, and the men joined in with “Again ’tis preparing to spring,” and even the children chanted, “For fearful its wrath to the foe in its path, be he President, peasant or king.”
Young people grew up quickly then: each week was so crowded with feeling, emotions, events. Each occurrence was so portentous that months were years. Children matured in thought and deed; fourteen-year-old boys were men ready to bear arms; little girls were women, capable to work, to plan, to hope, fear and suffer.
The night after Christmas, when Anderson, under cover of darkness and storm, stole into Fort Sumter, dishonorably, clandestinely, in flagrant violation of the promise made by his government at Washington, the glove was flung down to Carolina, and she needs must lift it or be craven in her contention for the right.
Her answer to this defiance rang out when, on January 9, 1861, “Tucker” (George E.) Haynesworth, of Sumter, S. C, of the Cadet Battery, sent a ball splashing into the waves directly in front of the “Star of the West.” And the world stood still and listened to the protest and assertion of our dear mother State.
For miles in every direction, the noise of this cannonading was heard, and stirred one’s very heart. On every plantation, anxious groups of planters’ families discussed its meaning – for no man could tell what a day might bring forth. Many sent their colored boys on horseback to the city posthaste to learn the news, bidding them not to spare their animals, but to hasten, and then, imagining a thousand evils, paced with growing impatience to and fro, until hoof beats told of the courier’s return.
The news meant war, to every thinking man, and every woman tried to steel her heart and nerves for all that was to come.
The excitement increased. Various companies were ordered down to the islands, and the work of fortifying went on unceasingly. In the city, speeches were made from every vantage point, and each orator tried to be more eloquent, more fiery, more convincing and warlike than the last, until their audiences thrilled in response, giving back cheers and words of encouragement and determination. About this time, in the middle of Meeting Street, opposite Hayne, a lofty Liberty Pole was raised, from which flew the Palmetto flag. A platform for speakers was erected at its foot, and here the crowds gathered and were harangued until they burned with excited patriot-ism. One of the speakers who attracted great attention, and stirred the people to fever heat by his earnest eloquence, was Sam Hammond, who had been a resident of Aiken. His speeches were ad-mired, and his example followed. He became a lieutenant in the Richardson Guards, was in one of the first regiments that went to Virginia, and gave his life for the cause, being killed in battle near Chester, in that State.
South Carolinians were not selfish in their patriotism; their blood dyed the battlefields of many States.
This Liberty Pole stood, and its flag waved through all the long four years of siege and shot and shell that Charleston braved; but after the city, emptied of its defenders, capitulated on the 18th of February, the flag was hauled down, and sometime between then and April 1st, the pole was removed, cut shorter and otherwise disfigured. Afterwards, the enemy raised it as a flagstaff on the Battery, from which flew the Stars and Stripes over White Point Garden.
Time led on to the Battle of Fort Sumter, when the population of Charleston sought the water fronts, and men went wild with excitement and patriotism, and women prayed and wept, smiled and encouraged all at one time, waiting in agony of heart lest some dear one be the one to claim the honor of being first to lay his life down for his country. But when the two days’ fight was over, when the Palmetto Stars and Bars replaced the flag which had come to mean to us oppression and wrong, when “the boys came home,” and not one was missing, nor injured, then arose a very babble of exultation and thanksgiving, while sweethearts embraced without shame (for do not the brave deserve the fair?), and mothers clasped their sons, and fathers wrung their hands and felt proud of their boys, just passed through such a baptism of fire.
The ladies of Charleston had made a Confederate flag, for the special and particular purpose of being hoisted over Sumter, for no one doubted our success.
When the fort surrendered, Captain Ferguson, of General Beauregard’s staff, and Colonels Moses and Dearing, of Governor Pickens’ staff, raised, at the same moment, the national and State emblems above its ramparts – the Stars and Bars, given by the ladies, was raised by Captain Ferguson, the Palmetto by the Governor’s aids. That was on the 13th of April. On the 17th, to the joy of all, came the news of Virginia’s secession, and immediately our young men began to agitate the question of volunteering for service in that State, believing it would be the bloodiest battlefield of the Con-federacy.
The Washington Artillery, of Charleston, formed a company of volunteers from their ranks, which, with the Washington Light Infantry, became a part of Hampton’s Legion. The first named company was led then by Stephen D. Lee, but it soon changed commanders and name, and will stand forever gloriously upon the records of fame as “Hart’s Battery.” The Carolina Rifles, the Irish Volunteers, and the Richardson Guards also volunteered, and helped form Gregg’s Regiment, which was the first command to leave Charleston for Virginia.
Many were the hands that had labored to make them comfortable, and many were the hearts that were wrung with anguish as they bid their dear ones farewell – an eternal good-bye, as it proved with but too great a number; yet no woman there but was brave and cheerful when the time came for the last handclasp, the last word; and no man in all the ranks but knew he was right, and had confidence in the result. They were heroines then, forgetting themselves and their fears, and their heroism made each man eager to be a hero. The Southern women put their Southern men upon a lofty height, and every man rose to the occasion and justified the belief she had in him.
It was in June, 1861, when Hart’s Battery went to the front in Virginia. The fair daughter of Mr. M. C. Mordecai, of Charleston, headed the committee of ladies who presented them with the now celebrated guidon, which Sherfessee, the young color bearer, took into his keeping, pledging his sacred honor to bring it back unsullied when the war should be over. How well he kept his word, our peer-less Hampton can testify. The battery was a part of his legion, and through 143 engagements the guidon led it on, and Sherfessee brought it home at last, unsullied and un-surrendered, a memorial of the brave men who fought beneath its folds, a relic to be preserved forever, crowned with the glory of a cause grander in defeat than any cause that ever yet was won!
E. Lindsay Halsey, then a private in the Washington Artillery, but afterwards commander of Hart’s Battery, came near bringing on the battle of Fort Sumter a month or more before it did occur. Each day his company had to practice with the guns of the iron battery, aiming at Fort Sumter, and using blank cartridges. Halsey wearied of this at last, and told a comrade he “was tired of the foolishness,” and just to watch him “put an end to it.” So one night he slipped a round shot into the mouth of one of the dogs of war, and the next day when at practice, it barked to better account, for the shot struck Sumter fair and square. Immediately all was in commotion. Anderson fancied himself attacked, opened his port-holes, and prepared for action. Beauregard did not know how it came about, supposed it an accident, and sent Stephen D. Lee to the fort to explain the affair. Are not all the details in the records of the War Between the States?
The men enjoyed these pranks. They were the leaven that lightened the dread realities of war, and many a funny incident broke the monotony of their duties. It was of a Sumter (S. C.) man – Summerford – of whom they tell that, having been enlisted as a private, and put upon guard, he was warned that he must not give up his gun to any one, on any pretext. One night, sometime after, Lieutenant James Salvo, of his company, came up while Summerford was on guard, and said: “Here, let me see that gun?” The private saluted and gave it. Instantly Salvo called for the corporal of the guard and ordered him under arrest. “What for?” asked the man. “For giving up your arms,” said the officer. “But you were my lieutenant, I thought.” “No matter what you thought; your instructions were plain; you had no right to surrender your gun.” “Do you mean to tell me that you will have me arrested and put in the guard house for that?” said Summerford. “I do,” said Salvo. “Then,” said Summerford, drawing his revolver (ladies, excuse the language), “Damn you; drop that gun, or you’re a dead man,” and he aimed point blank for Salvo’s head.
The gun was dropped, the sentry picked up his weapon, resumed his beat, and no arrest was made that night!
The daily life of every Charleston home was now a preparation for what must surely come – years of war and trial, battle, death, wounds, and want. Every household was getting in order all that a soldier could need in camp, or in hospital. Mrs. Robertson, as President, and Mrs. Snowden, as Vice-President, had started in Charleston, on Chalmers street, the Soldiers’ Relief Association. There the matrons and maids, and even the children, congregated, to make bandages and scrape lint. Garments that were cut out there were taken home, to be made for the soldiers; and they knit socks, woolen comforters, and warm caps and gloves, and these were distributed to the men as they came through the city, or went to the relief headquarters and made known their wants. This place was first opened in July, 1861, the day after the first Battle of Manassas.
It was after this battle that we saw our first sadly glorious spectacle of a military funeral, when the bodies of General Bee and Colonel Johnson were brought home from the battlefield of Manassas.
“Sweet and proper it is to die for one’s country” was borne into the onlooker’s mind by pomp and carnival of war, joined to the sobs, the tears, the anguish of the mourners.
Old St. Paul’s Church did honor to the full to the knightly gentlemen, “the holy dead,” “the brave who sank to rest by all their country’s wishes blest.”
On May 11, 1861, the blockade of Charleston was begun by the United States frigate “Niagara,” and then commenced the lessons of thrift, makeshift and invention, which developed so wonderfully through the four years of struggle, and stood the women of Charles-ton in such good stead when the final crash came and left them broken, bruised, and helpless, upon the barren shore of a seemingly hopeless future.
All commodities went up enormously in price, and those who had such things as coffee, tea, etc., on hand, put them away for sickness, and resorted to poorer beverages.
This “Postum coffee,” so highly recommended now for the nerves, is but our poor mixture of parched wheat and rye, ground and dripped, or boiled, as one may have fancied. The seed of the okra, parched light brown, and ground, was used, and sweet potatoes, too, were cut into tiny squares, dried in the sun, then parched and ground and used in the same way, while corn was also made use of as a substitute, and was said to be a cure for dyspepsia; but certainly the first mixture was the best of all the substitutes for coffee, and happy the housewife who, when company came, could find one tablespoon-ful of Java to add to the pot for flavor. The leaves of the blackberry vine, dried in the sun, and kept close shut from the atmosphere, did duty ordinarily for tea, while others made the leaves of the cassena or yaupon do duty, and still others used sassafras, or some of the many herbs. The ladies on the plantations soon learned how to make their own toilet soaps, as well as all the coarser kinds for laundry and kitchen. A substitute for cooking soda was found by burning corn-cobs to ashes in a clean Dutch oven. This was put in a jar, covered with water, and allowed to stand until clear. One part of this to two of sour milk, mixed into cake, or the various Southern breads, made them delightfully light.
Out of the berries of the mistletoe, the young girls made the daintiest of white wax for their fancy work, while from the profuse growth of myrtle was gathered, by the wagonload, the berries, close-clustered on their stems, from which was boiled and refined a clear, green, aromatic wax, which made candles fit for the candelabra of a king. These and lightwood knots only illuminated many a house-hold, and were packed into many a soldier’s box and sent off to the camps all over the land, to remind the boys of the dear ones at home, and light the evening hour while they wrote to sister, sweetheart, or mother.
The girls learned to card and spin, and to knit socks, stockings and gloves for the men and old people at home. Every woven stocking was treasured, and when the feet were utterly worn out, the legs were carefully unraveled, their thread twisted smoothly and firm on the spinning wheel, and knitted into new stockings, or into gloves and mits. Old underwear was treated in the same way, and helped out wonderfully in the family economy, while every knitted woolen thing was valued for its possibilities in contributing material for soldiers’ caps, comforters, and chest protectors.
From the waters that laved our coast, planters made their own salt, and the children soon knew how to roll and pulverize it into the fine table article to which the family were accustomed. Mustard seed was raised, and the best and purest table preparation manufactured from it by the young girls, who regarded an old Swiss muslin dress as a real treasure, for it yielded the bolting cloths that were necessary in its preparation. Palmetto, corn shucks, and many grasses and straws, were plaited and woven into pretty, graceful hats and bonnets, while for their trimming, bits of ribbon were saved and washed and dyed, twisted and turned, and served times innumerable through all those four years.
The girls learned to fashion and sole their own bedroom and house slippers, and became adepts in all the household arts, first making their own vinegar and then putting up their own pickles. The ladies manufactured wine and superintended and directed the making of syrup from cane and sorghum, using this in lieu of sugar in preserves. They soon learned all the dyewoods of the forest, and made purples, yellows, crimsons, and browns at pleasure.
It would take too much space to go further into details; suffice it to say that the women of the household on every plantation were the power that evolved something out of nothing, and from the slimmest materials fashioned great comforts, rendering it possible for all the men to be away at the front while they ran the plantations, and raised the crops that fed the armies.
On the 21st of August, 1863, at two o’clock in the morning, with-out warning to the sleeping women and children, the first shell was thrown into Charleston. It came from the “Swamp Angel,” a Parrott gun mounted on a battery built in the marsh between Morris Island and James Island, where the enemy had obtained a foothold. This gun soon burst, but daily the town was shelled from the Yankee fleet and batteries, and it was on the five hundred and sixty-eighth day of this siege, as it was chronicled, that the un-garrisoned city was entered. All through this dire experience, many women and children remained, for here were their homes, and here they had to stay, or go shelterless out in the world. Numerous families had refugeed into the upper part of the State, facing hardships and want among those who were strangers to them, but oftener yet receiving kindness and assistance from the people among whom they sought refuge.
Casualties were reported from time to time among the women and children left behind; their homes were shattered sometimes, and sometimes burned, but they became at length used to the condition of things. That part of the city within range of the enemy was deserted by its inhabitants, who took up their abode in houses beyond the firing line; and soon the little children learned to laugh and clap their hands while they watched the shells fly over upon their futile mission.
During all this time, the blockade runners came and went with almost the regularity of packet lines, and beyond the reach of the shells was established, in Bull Street, in Charleston, the famous Bee Store, which put on sale the entire cargo of each vessel as she came in. Everything was there, and all to be had for a price in Con-federate money, which was plentiful; whether millinery or groceries, it could all be found in the Bee Store, for the vessels entered with their cargoes and departed with their cotton, and laughed at the fleet lying big, threatening and belligerent before the city’s Seagate.
Two of these blockade runners, the “Let Her Be” and the “Let Her Rip.” seemed to bear a charmed life. They were endeared to the childish heart by the very impudence of their names, while to the Chicora Company, that owned them, they were little mines of wealth, bringing, besides, many comforts and necessaries to the people who toiled and the men who fought.
Wherever the soldiers went, and women could reach them, they were fed and tended and served. They came into the plantations singly, in couples, in squads, in companies; still, they were fed, and the best given them that the place could furnish – their haversacks were filled, and they went their way rejoicing and grateful, only to be followed by others and others, as the days, weeks, months and years passed on.
Oh! they were a light-hearted company, and enjoyed the passing hour, and made every girl in sight enjoy it with them, I trow – talking, singing, dancing, flirting, with each successive one. The young people made the most of the present, and looked not into the future, for he who was there today, tomorrow might be seen lying stark and stiff – his soul to God, his body on his native earth, his life an offering for the freedom of his country.
How we loved them all, those soldier boys, tattered and torn, earnest and brave, making love as they fought – with dash and daring, and hopeful ever that the best must come to the cause for which they were willing to die.
God bless them all – the sacred dead in their graves, and the old veterans that are left to us, living monuments of the spirit and the glory of the South!
For four years we believed entirely, we, the youth of the land, soldier and maid, in the power of our cause to conquer and rise superior to numbers. In February, 1865, however, the end was very near.
The neighboring planters, too old to join the army, but raising food to feed it, sent their young women into the City of Charleston to find safety in numbers, and be with their kind out of the way of Sherman’s marauders.
For days previous to February 18th, stores were being removed and ammunition sent away with each successive body of men who left the city. On the 16th, cotton was piled on the public square and burned, that it might not enrich the enemy. The rice – tens of thousands of bushels – at Lucas’ Mill was set on fire. On the 17th, the Northeastern Depot, where a large amount of military stores had been collected and abandoned, was thronged with a motley crowd of people, who bore away to their homes provisions of every kind. As the day wore on, explosions were heard on every side; the gunboats “Charleston” and “Chicora” were blown up at their wharves; the “big gun” at the corner of South and East Battery was exploded, and tore out the windows and doors and shattered the roof and piazzas of Mr. Louis DeSaussure’s residence, at the opposite corner. The night which followed was a fearful one; no one slept; few went to bed. Fires started everywhere, and there were only Negroes to put them out and they knew the end had come; that the white men had gone or were going, and that the city was helpless and expecting its foe on the morrow. Yet, be it said to their honor, not a case of out-rage or violence disgraced their record that night. They hauled the engines about to the tune and words of “Massa run away; nigger stay at home,” but they put out the fires, and helped the whites, and did their duty manfully.
Late in the night of the 17th, the “Palmetto State,” the gunboat that the ladies built, was blown up at the Gas Company’s Wharf, where she lay. Women who had worked and striven and contributed to its building stood at their windows and viewed the flames from the burning boat color the sky, and lo! as the last detonation sounded, the smoke arose and, upon the red glare of the heavens, formed a palmetto tree, perfect and fair, that stood out against the sky, then wavered and broke apart as we watched it through our tears, then crumbled into wreck and ruin and was lost in the darkness and gloom!
It was a terrible, heart-breaking, awful night. The men who were garrisoning Sumter had come over in their small boats, bringing their flags. In the early morning of the 18th, they were gathered in the city on the wharf, and there they cast themselves down on the earth and wept aloud. Some prayed; some cursed; all said they would rather have died in the fort they had so long defended than have her ramparts desecrated by the invader’s tread.
About eight o’clock in the morning of the 18th, a terrible accident occurred through the carelessness of boys who went back and forth from the Northeastern Depot stores, carrying powder in their hands and throwing it upon the burning cotton in the yard. The place was crowded with plunderers, people of all sorts and conditions, and as the powder trickled through their fingers, the boys unconsciously laid a train from the burning mass to the depot. There was a fear-ful explosion, and the place was torn to atoms; a hundred and fifty persons were killed, and about two hundred wounded; but no one had time to concern himself with it – the flames spread, and soon the fire was raging down the entire length of Alexander Street, wiping out some of the handsomest residences in the city.
All day on the 17th, the evacuation of our troops had proceeded. On the 1 8th, at ten o’clock, on Meeting street, near Anne, the last body of armed Confederates we were ever to see said good-bye to the weeping women who pressed around them. Yet, even then, some laughed and jested, for, God pity us, we were hopeful still, and they were brave, and we could not think that the end had really come. We knew we were right, and we still believed that a just cause must triumph; but even then the enemy was landing on our shore. With lingering steps and heavy hearts, our men left us there, and on that same morning, about twelve o’clock, or later, on the same street, and at the same corner where she had told good-bye to the men and the flag she loved so well, a young girl came face to face with the Yankee column, marching down into the heart of the city, with banners flying, bands playing, a victorious army indeed! Could she stand and watch them pass? Could she make her way through their ranks? She turned and fled from the hateful sight, shocked, distressed, by the untoward incident.
Over the west side of Charleston, in the vicinity of the Arsenal, every inhabitant of the neighborhood had fled, terror-stricken, from their homes, to the Christ Church Chapel, up Rutledge Avenue. The warning had gone out that a train of powder had been laid, and a slow match applied, and that the magazine and building would be blown up. They set wide open every door, and raised every window in their homes, then fled for their lives. In dread they listened for the explosion that would doubtless have left them homeless. The minutes passed, but no detonation was heard; all was still. Soon came another messenger, crying that the enemy were in the city, and the arsenal was saved; the Federals had hurried to take pos-session of it, and were just in time, it was said, to extinguish the fuse.
But another danger threatened, for they were told that all unoccupied houses would be immediately taken possession of by the troops. Back rushed the harassed crowd of women, children, and servants, to go to their homes, close windows, lock doors, and await in dread what would be next.
That day (Saturday) passed without event, but Sunday ushered in an era of outrages. They were mostly Negro troops, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett, who entered Charleston, and these, on the 19th, were permitted to go and liberate their “brothers in bondage.” They entered everywhere; they thrust them-selves into the apartments of delicate women, cursing and raving at them, and ordering them to give up the slaves they were “concealing.” In the meantime, the house Negroes, shaking with fear;
came out from where soever they were, and meekly allowed themselves to be escorted off. Then began the new life for the women of Charleston – the life of service to family necessities. They did their whole duty in that sphere, cheerfully and well, in spite of the traditions and training of generations of gentlewomen. They cooked, swept, and scrubbed; they split wood, fed horses, milked and watered the cattle, and took upon themselves the duties of not only the servants of the family, while filling their own places, but they had to be the men of the household as well, for some slept on the battlefields, some in the burying grounds of distant prisons, and others were incapacitated by sickness and wounds, and came home to be cared for, and be a precious, loved, but additional burden, upon the devoted women who were then, and for long years after, the mainstay of the home.
But the young boys, bless them! often, twelve, fourteen, were a comfort indeed. They were everywhere, lending a helping hand to this old lady or splitting wood and carrying water for some girl who had not yet learned how to handle an axe or lift a heavy bucket; going “down town” on many an errand, when women shrank from being in the crowded streets, jostled by the Negro soldiery. And how we valued them! how glad we were to save for them a nice tidbit, a dainty Cake, a part of whatever we had that was best ! We were grateful to them, and tried to show it, and I trust that every boy who helped us then, found some help in turn when, grown to man-hood, life’s stress and strain made him need it most.
The Negroes came straggling back after some days; but they did not stay. There was no money to pay them regular wages, and their uniformed friends had taught them that to work without a compensation in money was still to be in slavery. Some very few were fond enough of their “white people” to stay by the children they had helped raise; a good many lingered for a month or two, and then went off to someone who could pay them well. No one blamed them for that: every human being seeks to better his condition. There were some cases of bad behavior, but those were comparatively few, and applied to those who, like the woman throwing her arms above her head, and dancing down the sidewalk, screamed out: “I’m free; I’m free; I’m free till I’m fool!”
It was the Negro soldiery and their white brethren in arms who committed the dastardly outrages but too common in the city. One poor lady with a babe but two or three days old was turned out of her bed, her mattresses and blankets taken, her house looted, and she was sent out into the street to seek succor. Some kind friend took her in and cared for her; but mother and child both died. That was but one instance; there were many others as dreadful. Here is one in lighter vein: Mrs. Laura Postell Geddings wrote to a friend that she had just come out of the kitchen, where she had been cooking Dr. Geddings’ supper, while her maid, who had possessed herself of her mistress’ best silk gown, sat down in her parlor and entertained the Yankee officers!
This paper has stretched to too great a length, and yet there is much more to tell, of how the end came, and of those many years after, which tried men’s souls. But my tale is done, for to us in that sorrowful city the sword had fallen, and we could know neither hope nor joy. We drew our sable garments of affliction about us and mourned our dead, working on meanwhile for the living who were dear to us. Our hearts were the sepulcher of our hopes, and even as we loved our heroes and gloried in their faith, honor and bravery, so we loved our country and gloried in the deeds and principles that were hers. Principles never die; those of that day live on in the memory, heart and soul of every true Southerner.
Lee C. Harby.
Charleston, S. C, November 14, 1901.
[Written by request of Dick Anderson Chapter, to be read at State Convention, U. D. C, held at Sumter, November 27-28, 1901.]