Sherman Passed Through Lancaster

Mrs. J. H. Foster.
Lancaster, S. C.

We awaited the coming of Sherman’s Army, in the spring of 1865, with the greatest apprehension, for the reports which preceded its approach of the destruction and burning of everything in its wake were calculated to arouse the alarm of any civilized community.

I was but a child then, just at an age to receive the most lasting impressions. I was standing in a high back porch, looking towards the old Methodist Church, when I saw one, two, then several, Yankees riding rapidly to Main street crossing; then I heard a gun fired, and a Negro girl ran through the hall and, in great excitement, said: “Lor’, they done killed old Mr. Jack Crockett.” He was an old citizen who was too old to go to the war, to which he gave his two sons. He was crossing the street just as the Yankees rode into town, and they fired, without hitting him.

This, the beginning of the rabble, was rapidly increasing in numbers. They were entering residences on every hand, and as I turned to enter the hall, numbers were rapidly entering our front door and, very unceremoniously walking into any bed or other rooms; they asked for food, proceeded to closets, the store room, dairy, smoke house. If the keys were not furnished, the butt end of a musket served to shiver the timbers, that they might gain access.

There were but few men in town. The white women and children, and their Negroes, were there to meet the emergency as best they could. As children, we looked with wonder at all those rude soldiers, going through closets, cupboards, drawers; desecrating, even by the touch of their hands, the very Lares and Penates of our household. We could see that our mother was very much exercised, for she thought best to unlock every door, drawer, or any place they might suspect her of hiding gold or silver, of which they seemed to think we had plenty.

The fall preceding, my father D. W. Brown had killed and cured 125 hogs, ground enough wheat to do him for one year, stored his potatoes filled the larder, in fact, with everything essential to the comfort of the inner man. My mother had blockade coffee and sugar, and molasses from the Southern cane, with an abundance of milk, butter, and eggs; the yard was stocked with chickens, which old Mammy Silvy had raised. These Yankees filled their knapsacks with whatever best pleased their fancy. The hams were tied to their saddles, or slung two across, and they ransacked every nook and cranny of the house. Everyone wanted Hour, and when they seemed somewhat satisfied, and the crowd began to look elsewhere for a time, my eldest sister Mrs. Cureton seeing that only a few hundred pounds of flour had been left in the dairy, had the house-girls bring two sacks full, and put them under an iron bed-stead, then took her seat on the bed; and it was well she did, for another crowd, who seemed worse than the first, came. Many of them seemed drunk, to me. They asked for whiskey, but my mother said she had none. They did not believe her, but went searching through everything for it. The first crowd did not seem to have plundered the smokehouse. It was still full of meat, salt, and soap. The second looked for flour, and came to the bedroom where Mrs. Cureton sat, and asked her for it. She pointed to the door, and said: “No; go on; you have it all.” And they turned away, not once suspecting her of having hidden it under the bed.

These men seemed to be in a hurry. Several of them took the house servants and searched them for the jewelry we might have hidden on them. Even old mammy was forced to the smokehouse by threats and the pistol, to give up anything she had concealed. Our Negroes were too indignant over this treatment ever to have any use for Yankees. They believed them to be the lowest types of “poor buckra,” One by the name of Steve seemed to exemplify this character in their sight. He looked to be a regular cracker so sallow, and rawboned; his voice had a whining drawl, peculiar to very common, lowborn people; and his whole mind seemed set upon finding treasure. When he was forced to go, he lingered until the officers were almost upon him before he got out.

As the main army came in, several staff officers entered the hall and informed my mother that they had selected our home for General Kilpatrick’s headquarters. They gave the first floor to our family, with the exception of the room opposite my mother’s room, which was occupied by Major Estes, the adjutant-general. (This was the largest, handsomest residence in the place, and located on Main Street.) The back yard seemed filled by magic, the small covered wagons, horses, mules, Irish servants, and common soldiers came so rapidly. They made hitching posts of the palings, trampled the beautiful flower-yard into a pig-sty, as it seemed. The palings and shrubbery soon lay broken and pulled to pieces. The basement was turned over to Irish cooks and servants.

The officers said that we should have “every protection,” and placed a guard in the hall. Here he paced hour after hour, until relieved by another, and so continued as long as the Yankees remained in the place.

General Kilpatrick occupied a front room in the second story; a woman, handsome and tall, who wore fine clothes, occupied the room opposite his; and his officers the other two.

General Kilpatrick and his staff came to our sitting-room at night and sat until bedtime.

I know the first night General Kilpatrick made particular inquiries of my mother about Gen. M. C. Butler’s troops, who had passed through Lancaster the night before. They wished to know how many there were; and then asked how long they were in passing. But they got no information from my mother.

My father hesitated about leaving home. He was so concerned about the welfare of his family. (He had been in the Fourth Battalion of cavalry, and in their practice of leaping a pole of considerable height, was thrown over his horse’s head, breaking his collar-bone. This not knitting promptly, disabled him for some time.) He had left us the day before, and we were satisfied to know that he was safe, and fleetly borne by his faithful thoroughbred, as my mother had insisted that he should leave us to our fate, and God’s providential care. The Yankees, however, knew of him; they had wantonly destroyed by torch and destruction his property on three large plantations en route from the village of Liberty Hill to Lancaster, carried off his horses and mules, killed his cattle, and burnt several hundred bales of cotton, his gin-houses, and two nice, but vacant, dwelling houses. They asked where he was, but of course it was not meant that we, nor they, should know. They knew of his having so recently left home, and inquired about it.

Just when there seemed to be a relief from the first part of the rabble preceding the main army, our old cook Mammy Silvy begged my mother to let her hide some of the nice hams in the smoke-house. My mother said “she might try it, but thought it would avail her nothing.” So mammy emptied a great tierce (which was once brought, full of rice, from Georgetown ) , which was then used for an ash-barrel, and packed it more than half full of nice hams, which she covered and filled up with ashes again. The house servants took out the nice china, and many articles which were easily broken, and buried them. After Kilpatrick’s headquarters were established, the common soldiers went over every part of the grounds, plunging long iron rods into the ground, seeking for buried treasure. So the servants went with my mother and took up everything they had buried, as the Yankees looked on, and brought them into the house. Major Estes was particularly kind and thoughtful in not allowing any one to disturb them.

The ash-barrel was seemingly doomed from the moment the army assumed possession of the premises. Old mammy saw that it was a favorite hitching-post for every passing soldier. She would stick her head out of the kitchen window, or run to the door, “Oh, please don’t hitch your horses to my ash-barrel; you’ll waste all my ashes, and I won’t have a thing to make soap out of.” Many of them regarded her distress, and fastened to the garden palings, or to the limbs of the cedar tree which grew nearby. Finally, there came a man who did not notice her cries, and kept watchful care over the animal, which continually shook and pulled the old staves. Finally, down the whole thing came, with the hams on display to the gaping crowds. The man ran out of the kitchen and looked. “Oh, yes; I thought the old aunty was mighty careful about her ashes, and now I see.” The Irish cooks took possession of the kitchen, and would have cooked for us as well. The staff officers insisted that we should take our meals with them; they had an abundance of provisions. My mother and married sister would never go; but they would come and take the children, insisting that we must come. I remember, my sister Mrs. Cureton who was very domestic, went to old mammy at the kitchen one day. She wanted something to eat. In looking around, she found the cook had nice pies in the oven, so, with mammy’s aid, she wrapped one in her apron, and carried it to my mother’s room. I heard my mother say, ”Now, Fannie, you had better be careful; you do not know what they might do to you.”

For miles around, these Yankees came to supply their camps with meat. They knocked out the back wall of the smokehouse, and would carry it away by the pole full (the meat was strung on poles, eight or ten feet long), each one resting an end of the pole on his shoulder. At last, my mother asked Major Estes if she would be allowed to put some of the hams in her room. He was perfectly willing, and saw that the servants were not molested when carrying in about twenty hams, which were piled behind the door, and our school cloaks, and the shawls, thrown over them.

When Kilpatrick and his staff came to the sitting-room after tea, they would talk until eleven o’clock. Some of the officers smoked good cigars. They often quizzed my mother about our condition in the South. There were some good musicians who came in to play for their entertainment, and on Sunday they played piano music all day long. These Yankees found out that Mrs. Lucius Northrop (nee Miss Rosine Legris), from Charleston, S. C, who was a refugee in Lancaster at that time, sang beautifully. Her sweet, full soprano had been thoroughly cultivated, and they were anxious for the general to hear her grand voice. He sent one of his trusted officers in the carriage to bring her to my father’s house. She came back with him, as I suppose she was afraid not to grant the request. And I do not think I ever saw her look so beautiful. The Yankees were carried away with enthusiasm over her voice. They seemed to appreciate her willingness to oblige them, and the same officer returned with her in the carriage. Every afternoon, the general was serenaded by a splendid band.

After a day or two, I saw several of our citizens brought in as prisoners Mr. Felix McLarnon, Joseph B. Boyd, Allison Chance, whom I knew, and there were some I have forgotten, and some whom I had never seen. In their eager search for gold, these soldiers had strung up Mr. Boyd and Mr. Chance to force them to confess where their treasure was hidden; but they had nothing and, failing in this object, they brought them to headquarters. Mr. McLarnon had no hat, was barefooted, and without a coat. Mr. Boyd had no hat. The very sight of these men touched the chord of sympathy, and aroused our fears for others. The prisoners could only speak to us, and were carried away.

We knew nothing of our neighbors. We were afraid to leave the house, though it was very confining to be kept there for a whole week. We were allowed the liberty of the first floor, and the piazzas. Whenever we sat anywhere outside of my mother’s bedroom, these Yankees seemed to think we must be entertained. Our baby was loved and nursed by several officers, who said they had children of their own; and Captain Brinks had a play with her every day.

General Kilpatrick was a very insignificant looking man. He was small, with ugly, reddish-looking hair; his nose like the hawk’s bill; pale, light-colored eyes, and a most irritable disposition. He seemed to have the will to carry out his designs. He always paid court to the woman who came with him; she roomed opposite his room, took her meals with him. Only on one occasion did she ever come to the sitting-room that was the night Mrs. Northrop sang. And the morning they left Lancaster, General Kilpatrick escorted her to the carriage. This woman was placed in our carriage, and my mother’s beautiful white blankets were piled on the front seat, almost to the shoulders of the driver; and behind them, my grandmother’s carriage, which also belonged to my father, was driven. Kilpatrick’s troops were run out of Lancaster by General Wheeler’s cavalry, who fired on them about. a mile from the courthouse. They set the courthouse and the jail on fire, and intended to burn the town, but were in such a hurry to get away they did not have time to do so.

We only saw a few of Wheeler’s men several rode up to have a few words with the ladies. We were rejoicing so over our deliverance from the enemy. My father’s family had fared well in comparison with many others. Some thought his being a Mason might have had its influence.

The families who lived in the country suffered dreadfully. Many of them had nothing left except corn, which they picked up where the Yankees had fed their horses; they lived on it for a week after the raid. Many were deprived of their clothing, and bed clothing, and in many instances their houses were burnt.

At Colonel Barnes’ old home, they talked very roughly to his daughter and, on account of his prominence as a senator, and having been a colonel in the Confederate army; they cut his oil portrait from the frame and trampled it in the mud, and would have burnt his house had it not been for the rain.

Miss Agnes Wade was reduced to great want, and lived on parched corn for a long while.

I heard Mrs. Riley Clanton say they had taken everything she had to eat except one small chicken, which she caught and prepared to cook for herself and her little children. She was just getting ready to take it from the oven when a rough soldier reached over and lifted it out; then walked off with it. She and her children then lived on the scattered corn they picked up for a week.

Nothing could equal the devotion of the slaves to their owners during that trying period. They never considered these misfortunes apart from their own lot, for our grievances were, in a great measure, their own; otherwise, they, like children, were as happy as the days were long.

My father had a great many slaves, and I can recall but one instance of treachery among them all. He went to his farms just ahead of this horde of vandals, and instructed his Negroes where to conceal the stock and cattle; on one place he had a new barn for storing corn, and it contain 4,000 bushels of corn; it was far down in the recesses of the farm, and would never have been found by persons unaccustomed to the place; here he instructed those whom he trusted to take his horses and mules; and they took with them a young boy, about fifteen years of age, called Emanuel, to help them take care of and feed the stock. Emanuel told the Yankees where they were hidden, and piloted them to the place. They carried off the stock and burnt the 4,000 bushels of corn. I do not think I ever saw my father so angry as when the older Negroes told him about Emanuel’s treachery. He sent some of them to the plantation for him; it took several grown ones to bring him. My father was very good to his Negroes, but if they deserved punishment he could punish them severely. He made Emanuel confess that he had taken the Yankees to this place where the mules and horses were hidden. Then he told him that he intended to hang him. With the aid of several old servants, he strung him to the beams of the wide shed in front of the kitchen, then cut him down before life was extinct. As soon as he recovered, my father told him to leave; that he never wished to see him again and we never did.


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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