Personal Experiences with Sherman’s Army at Liberty Hill

Mrs. C. P. Poppenheim.
Charleston, S. C.

My Dear Children:

What I write today seems more a dream than a reality of thirty-five years ago. In fact, it seemed then a dream that we were passing through. As you know, I was married November 24, 1864; and your father, being retired on account of the unhealed wound in his arm, that he received while carrying the flag at the Battle of Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862, he was placed on duty in the quartermaster’s department in Charleston, and we lived at your grandfather’s plantation, old ”Gallant Hill,” twenty miles from Charleston. He would go in town every morning at five o’clock, returning at five in the afternoon. The whole country was in a most unsettled condition, and we had become reconciled to the war continuing this way for ten years, or longer. One day we had reports of a victory; the next day of disaster to our scantily clothed and poorly fed soldiers. Prisoners were often carried by the plantation gates, and your dear grandmother was often terrified at the thought of some of them escaping and entering the house.

When your father left us at 5 a. m., we would busy ourselves knitting and sewing for the soldiers, helping to make Confederate coffee of potatoes, cut in little squares, dried, parched, and ground; and Confederate candles of myrtle wax, until he returned at 5 p. m. for dinner. The evenings were spent by glowing pine-knot fires, in exchanging the hopes and disappointments of the day. One afternoon he came in with a look of anxious distress on his face, and told me to pack my trunks, ready to leave by the next train. Sherman was marching through Georgia; South Carolina would soon be invaded; Charleston was to be evacuated, and everything to be destroyed; the enemy had threatened to lay the city in ashes and sow it in salt. We must leave for a place of safety; must try and get up to your Grandfather Bouknight’s plantation, on Saluda River, fifty miles above Columbia. We took the train at Mt. Holly, a small station on the N. E. R. R. My six trunks and four servants were hurried on in great confusion, for all the plantations were unsafe, and every one trying to get away. At Strawberry, the conductor put all our servants off, to give place to soldiers. I told Frances, the oldest woman, to find her way back to the plantation, and take my room and contents into her possession, if I never saw her again, as the Yankees were destroying everything in their march. At Florence, the confusion and crowd was terrible; conflicting rumors flying everywhere; trains running all night; soldiers hurried from place to place. When we reached Kingville, there was a long wait, and we did not realize the condition or the cause until we saw a great red glare in the sky towards Columbia. Sherman had reached Columbia, and the city was burning. The railroad was all torn up between Kingville and Columbia, and we must find a way to get around and above Columbia before Sherman and his army left. Miss Fanny DeSaussure and father, and the two Misses Drayton, were with me in the depot at Kingville. We all looked in dismay on the fire of burning Columbia, and felt a horror at the thought of Sherman and his cruel army being there. The railroad being torn up, we could go no farther in that direction, but must find a way to get above Columbia and strike the C. C. & A. R. R. at Blackstock, and cross the country to reach the home of your Grandfather Bouknight’s, which I had left not three months before as a bride. We took the train for Camden, and saw one of the most gorgeous sunsets on the way; once there, we found a small hotel that could barely feed the hungry people on the piazzas. We all sat around a table in the little parlor, with dimly lighted tallow candles on it, and asked each other what was best to do. When we went to our room, fatigue and anxiety struggled, until finally we fell asleep under difficulties, and awoke early in the morning to make hurried preparations for the day’s journey, not knowing where it would end. A two-horse wagon was secured (all other vehicles, carriages, buggies, and everything on wheels, had been driven out of town by people seeking places of safety), for the baggage my six trunks and a few others belonging to the men of the party, who were wounded soldiers on furlough, and trying to reach their families in the up-country.

Only one woman myself was the safeguard, for the men said wherever your father went they would go, and be safe; and their chance to go through Sherman’s army, or surround it, would be sure if they followed Mr. Poppenheim and his wife. Now, after thirty-five years, I can recall the names of five of the men, viz.: Dr. R. A. Kinloch, Dr. Aimar, Captain Atkinson, Mr. Wm. Steinmyer, and a Mr. King; one man servant Adam and one woman servant Rachel who stood faithfully by me under the most trying circumstances, in the midst of Sherman’s army.

The trunks were piled in the wagon, and I was seated on one of the trunks, and Rachel, the maid, near me. How queer I felt, riding through the streets of Camden, seated on a trunk in a wagon! We traveled all day, cheering each other as best we could, the men walking and taking turns to rest themselves in the wagon. At night, we came to a deserted plantation house, with comforts and conveniences enough to give us a good night’s rest. The family had hastily taken their flight, on hearing Sherman was burning Columbia. Here we made ourselves comfortable for the night. One of the party, a blockade runner, presented me with a five-pound package of green tea, which made a deep and lasting impression, as I had not tasted a cup of “bought tea” for a year. It was stored carefully away in one of my trunks, amongst my valuables, and a few days later was stolen by the Yankee who plundered my trunk and carried the tea off as valuable “booty.”

The baby’s empty carriage in that deserted home told its pathetic story.

As we approached the old plantation home, a grand and glorious sunset spread out before us, giving pleasure and a topic of conversation to the thoughts of many; to me it seemed a harbinger of joy and protection, a promise of safety; and I slept sweetly, dreaming the everlasting arms were still around us. The morning came, bright, balmy and beautiful. I was happy, full of hope, and confident all would be well. I mounted my seat in the wagon as if I were going on a drive with a gay party in a coach, with four-in-hand. I had my world, my joy, my protector, by my side; and there was no fear of danger, no dread of fatigue.

The above was written from memory, after thirty-five years; and today I find an old diary, from which I copy:

“February 16, 1865. Leave Mt. Holly an exile; everything left; nine o’clock at Florence; great excitement; everything in confusion. The question, must we go to Wilmington, then to Goldsboro, Charlotte and Winnsboro and then to Newberry, or go to Kingville and risk getting through Columbia, is being eagerly discussed when the glorious news reaches Florence that we have fought and defeated Sherman at Columbia and at Kingville; so we go the Kingville route. Leave Florence at half-past eleven o’clock at night, travel all night; arrive at Kingville at 5 a. m.

“Friday, February 17th. The prospect not cheering to go to Columbia. General Clayton is camped here; hundreds of soldiers and Negroes light the place with their campfires; couriers from Columbia bring very discouraging news; Sherman shelling the city, and every one leaving in confusion; much uncertainty which is safest, Wilmington or Camden; at Kingville, old Mr. DeSaussure, his daughter Miss Fanny the Misses Drayton, and their father, were in the party. At 2.30 p. m., we leave Kingville for Camden; a blind musician on board adds to the novelty and excitement as we ride through a beautiful country; and many on the cars are attracted to a most magnificent view of sunset. Arrive at Camden at 6.30 p. m.; the depot half-mile from the town; the party go in search of a conveyance, and I feel very lonely in this quiet depot, with a package of over one hundred thousand dollars on my lap. At Florence, Christie introduced me to’ Capt. I. A. Atkinson, who immediately joined us; and tonight Air. Charles Steinmyer also joins us, and all try to get one conveyance to carry us to Blackstock, on the Charlotte and Columbia Railroad; Christie in search of a conveyance; Messrs. Atkinson and Steinmyer attending to baggage; I am alone, with only Rachel, in the depot. Mr. Atkinson goes with me to the stage and gets our baggage, on the way to the hotel. The Draytons also stop at Robertson’s Hotel with us, and we have a quiet, pleasant time before retiring. Have a miserable, small, poorly ventilated room to stay in, so we are up early. Am trying to get off. At 10.15 a. m., we leave Camden, I having a most comfortable seat that Mr. Atkinson took great pains to prepare for me; take my first view of a beautiful country from a wagon. Camden is a lovely little town, with considerable wealth. The long, long road to Liberty Hill has few houses to relieve the monotony; but most beautiful scenery on both sides of the Wateree River. We wind along the bends of the river and in view of the water for many miles; at last we near Liberty Hill and, through the kindness of a Mr. Cureton, put up at his unoccupied house, well furnished and comfortable. There we find a train of refugees from Columbia, including Governor Adams’ daughter: and very unexpectedly I meet my old schoolmate and friend, Harriet Sophia Clarkson. Spend a pleasant night. Stopped there at 6 p. m. and leave next morning a t 5.45 o’clock: in a little while we reach Liberty Hill, and must stop awhile, admiring the grandest and most extensive view my eyes ever feasted on; told Christie I could spend one month on that spot and my eyes would never tire of the scene, little dreaming then how many days of fearful anxiety I would spend at this lovely place.

“Sunday morning, ride through the place and lose our way for two miles; but it surely gives us a splendid view of the Hill; return and cross at Peay’s ferry; a miserable road, a tiresome jolting in the wagon and excitement grows greater every mile. Stop a few minutes at Mr. James Caldwell’s. Dr. Kinloch kindly invites us in; his wife sends us out a hot lunch, and we conclude to go on as far as possible, though everyone is wild with excitement and hourly looking for the Yankees. Arrive at General Clayton’s headquarters at dark; have a beautiful view of campfires; all stop and doubt the safety of going on to Blackstock; Christie goes in to see General Clayton, who advises him not to go on, as the Yankees are very near, and Kilpatrick’s raiders all through the woods. All hopes are disappointed; with heavy hearts and tired limbs, we turn our course back to Liberty Hill as the only place of safety, there to remain until the Yankees pass through and we have a safe road. In the wagon until 10 p. m. Stop at a large brick house Dr. Hall’s and there we find two lunatics from the lunatic asylum in Columbia, placed there to preserve the house from destruction by the Yankees. It was a night of horrors; the crazy woman walked into my room, with a candle in her hand, after I was in bed, drew the curtains aside, and peered into my face to see if I was asleep, I suppose, which I did pretend to be. We left the place bright and early, and felt that our escape from danger had been very narrow. A long, tiresome day’s ride; recross Peay’s ferry; much excitement all the way; met many of Butler’s men, and do not feel safe until we cross the ferry; joy that we have crossed the river. Arrive at Liberty Hill at 4 p. m., put up at Mr. John Brown’s; very kind people; large house, and every appearance of abundant means; large grounds, and hundreds of poultry around.

“Tuesday, February 21st. The excitement has even reached here, and the place that we thought, of all others, safest, seems to fear the Yankees; so we calmly resign ourselves to our fate of meeting them.

“February 22d. Great anxiety; many of the citizens send off trunks and bury all their valuables. Mrs. Brown feeds a great many of our soldiers. Several scouts come in, and Christie wants to go to Columbia with one ‘Orchard,’ who lives in Columbia. At 4 p. m. several horsemen came dashing in ; we are eager for the news; I beg Christie to go and hear; he had not left me five minutes before I saw the bluecoats and realized I had sent him to meet the Yankees; I ran to the front door and down the steps; saw them halt him, then pass and seize a Negro boy, take his horse and made him lead them to the lot. In a few moments, a band of ruffians, a wild, savage looking set, dashed in the house, into the dining-room, and swept all the silver from the table, that was set for dinner; ran upstairs, broke open doors, locks and drawers, and the utmost confusion prevailed; the hammering sounded like one dozen carpenters were at work, and soon all the floors were covered with scattered papers, in their search for money and valuables. I go to the commanding officer and ask for assistance; he promises protection. Christie and myself go upstairs; my trunks broken open, and everything scattered in confusion over the floor. Oh! what a scene, impossible to describe! Money, jewelry and clothing of every description taken by these demons! Lieut. B. Ulrich gives us a guard, and stays himself in the house, to protect us; but little sleep for any of us this night.

“February 23d. Thousands of Yankees coming in; one command follows another in quick succession; all robbing and plundering; poor Mrs. Brown is robbed of provisions, silver, and almost everything; they go down in the cellar and pour kerosene oil, molasses and feathers all together, then stir them up with their bayonets. Mrs. Brown and myself go out to meet General Logan. What an awful feeling to come so close to hundreds of Yankees who are burning and destroying everything on the face of the land! Several staff officers tell us General Logan has just passed; but if we wait long enough, another corps will pass, and we can see General Wood. While waiting for the Yankees to pass, and looking on their fine horses, and hundreds of stolen cattle, the refugees from Columbia who followed Sherman’s army began to pass; among them, I recognized Mary Boozer and her mother in a carriage, she in a lively conversation with a gay looking officer riding by the carriage; the scene is so sickening, I beg Mrs. Brown to let’s return; waiting for the general won’t pay!

“Friday, February 24th. Today, Yankees throng the house, search and rob what others left. They ask Christie repeatedly how he keeps out of the army. Mrs. Brown and myself again go out and wait to see the general, but again he has just passed; the staff officers whom we meet look and speak as heartless as stones. Another sleepless night of suspense.

“Saturday, February 25th. Still they go through hundreds and thousands all gayety, with bands of music, and burning houses light their march; last night we could count twelve burning residences, and imagine the horror of those who dwelt in them. Mr. Brown’s large mill burnt.

“Sunday, February 26th. Anything but a quiet Sabbath; Yankees still plundering, and the Negroes following them. Mr. Brown’s large store burnt. A sleepless night of suspense, expecting every hour to have the torch set to the house we were in.

“Monday, February 27th. The wicked Yankees! How they torment the people! The brutal wretches ! How they insult helpless women! they take every morsel of food that is being cooked in the kitchen; every fowl and every living thing they have killed and destroyed but one lone goose hidden in the cellar by a faithful servant. We had no meat for three days, when this servant attempted to save and cook the goose for us by cooking it in the dining-room; the savory smell of roast goose was perceived by Mrs. Brown and myself, who go to the dining-room and find a horde of ruffians devouring the last remnants of the goose, and we only say, ‘The last morsel of meat gone!’ A foraging party, led by a lieutenant, and a squad, led by a captain, plunder every corner of the house that has not been already searched. Christie goes up in the garret to keep them from setting fire; they want to arrest and carry him off to camp; they say he is a captain in the Rebel army by his gray vest, with brass buttons; and they find an old sword up in the garret, which they swear is his. I fear he is up with them too long; I fear foul play, and tell Mrs. Brown I must go up and see what they are doing, although my knees tremble at every step, and I fear they will hear the bumps made by the sound of the money sewed up in the lining of my dress; I had over one hundred thousand dollars sewed up in this lining, to save it from the Yankees; they had taken four thousand dollars out of one of my trunks, and thought that was all. When I reached the top of the stairs, the sharp little captain had him, and Christie said, ‘Mary, this man thinks I am a captain in the Rebel army, and wants to take me prisoner to camp.’ I had to swear that he was not, and that we had been married a very short time, and now were on our way to my father’s plantation. Then I gave him the Masonic sign of distress (which my brother gave me before going to war); he looked down, shut his mouth tight, then said, ‘Go on.’ And we lost no time in going. When this party came downstairs they captured Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Steinmyer and took them off to camp. How we all pitied their fate!

“Tuesday, February 28th. Still harassed by the vile Yankees, and spend sleepless nights, seeing the skies lit by burning fires; at midnight, the academy is in flames, and we expect every moment to see the flames burst out from the house we are in; once a vile Yankee was caught with the torch applied; the flames were put out, and I appealed to an officer to give us a guard for the night.

‘Wednesday, March 1st. Dr. Robert Kinloch and Lieutenant Swinton Bissell come in quite early and tell us of their escape from the Yankees, after having marched several days through mud knee deep. The Yankees were pushing rapidly for Camden, to plunder and rob the peaceful, quiet little town. We are starving here; have nothing left to eat but sorghum molasses and black shorts bread. Sherman’s army has left no living thing on their route; nothing but blackened chimneys and smoking ruins mark his path from Columbia here; pillage, robbery, fire and ruin marked their footsteps here; a sigh of relief and a prayer of thankfulness that our lives were spared was breathed as we saw the last Yankee soldier disappear from the devastated little village.”


South Carolina Women in the Confederacy. Edited and Published By Mrs. Thomas Taylor, Chairman, Mrs. Smythe, Mrs. August Kohn, Miss Poppenheim, Miss Martha B. Washington, State Committee Daughters of the Confederacy. Columbia, South Carolina, The State Company, 1903.

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1 thought on “Personal Experiences with Sherman’s Army at Liberty Hill”

  1. Mr and Mrs Brown appear to be my great great Uncle and Aunt. John Brown is my great great grandfather’s brother. I would like to save this story in my family tree in

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