Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sherman's March in March

General Sherman Marches through North Carolina (Credit: NCCivilWarCenter.Org)
The month of March holds great significance for those living in the South during the Civil War. While there are constant discussions regarding the hardships of soldiers fighting on both sides, we often forget what civilian life was like during these difficult years. While I'm a "Yankee" from Ohio, I now reside in North Carolina and metal detecting has opened my eyes to the rich and storied history of the South, particularly during the Civil War era.  With each new bullet, button, and relic I uncover I am tied intrinsically to the lives and stories revealed along with them.

The Carolinas were introduced to General Sherman and his army in March 1865 as he continued his march through the South. It is no secret that he and his troops laid waste to a lot of towns.  The strategy was to end the war quickly using "scorched earth tactics" to break the rebellion. Depleting supplies, destroying infrastructure, and undermining morale were key factors.  Further, as a means of "traveling light," foraging along the way for supplies was a necessary practice--In other words, the army took whatever they needed from local land owners and businesses.  According to General Order IV and V, "the army will forage liberally on the country during the march." Army corps commanders were "entrusted with the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins" and other businesses and to "enforce a devastation more or less relentless" in accordance with any hostility or resistance they encountered. As such, Sherman's foragers, known as "bummers", making up roughly 10% of his army, sacked farms, homes, and stores, and stole from any civilians encountered along the way.  Such was the case with James C. Bennett, a citizen who was relieved of his money, watch and other valuables by one group of bummers and then promptly shot by another group when they found he had nothing left to offer.1

Obviously, when word of the army's actions reached the people of North Carolina, they were prepared for the worst.  Fayetteville's citizens were bracing themselves for Sherman's arrival with great fear in their hearts and they happily welcomed Confederate General Hardee and his troops with much fanfare on March 8, 1865. Children threw daffodils at their feet and the women in town prepared meals for their "hometown heroes" in grey.2

Meanwhile, Confederate General Johnston, feeling that a stand against the Union forces would not meet with success, took his troops across the Cape Fear River on March 9th and burned the Clarendon Bridge.  This act essentially meant doom for the town of Fayetteville.  Sherman had previously sent word, should the Confederates spare the bridge (a thoroughfare that was needed to expedite the Union movement) he would be lenient in his treatment of the town.

Preparing for the arrival of the Federals, Confederate General Hampton remained in Fayetteville to organized a "welcome party" to surprise Union Captain William Duncan and the seventy eight infantry soldiers who were sent into Fayetteville as scouts.  Roughly 12 Federal soldiers and 6 Confederates were killed during this skirmish which took place through the main streets of town. It is told that fatally wounded horses were screaming in the streets as the dead and wounded soldiers were tended.  The horses were left to rot where they died.1

One of the Yankee scouts entering town came upon an elderly man, unaware or maybe unimpressed as he held a pistol to the head of Rev. William Hooper whose grandfather had signed the Declaration of Independence. The captain demanded his valuables and called him a "damned rebel".1 His social standing would not have helped him regardless, as prominent citizens and the wealthy were treated with more aggression as it was felt they were more outspoken for the Southern cause.

By around noon on March 11th, Union troops had taken the Fayetteville Arsenal where General Sherman set up his temporary headquarters.  The troops then moved down Haymont into the city center. Every house and yard was filled with bummers taking whatever they could get their hands on. By the early evening Mayor McLean surrendered the town and the 14th Corp took occupation of the city marching past the market house as the band played "Dixie," causing resident Josephine B. Worth and her brother to "burst into tears."2 The citizens of Fayetteville were also heart sick to see their beloved arsenal, which was the equivalent of their own Central Park, now in the hands of the Union Army.

If ever there was evidence of the Civil War pitting neighbors and friends against one another, there is no better example than on March 11th, when General Sherman was surveying Fayetteville and was approached by Edward Monagan, an employee of the Fayetteville Arsenal and local resident. Sherman's face displayed "a ray of pleasure" as he recognized his old friend from West Point, but that pleasure was immediately replaced with a cold glare.  Sherman had just seen his scouts and horses lying dead on the ground from the skirmish earlier that day.  "We were friends, weren't we?" he asked of Monagan.  "Oh yes. You shared my friendship and my bread too, didn't you?" Monagan replied happily.  "That I did." Sherman stated flatly.  "You have betrayed it all.  Betrayed me, betrayed the country that educated you for its defense.  And here you are--a traitor--asking me to be your friend once more, to protect your property.  To risk the lives of brave men who were fired on from houses here today.  Turn your back on me forever I won't punish you, only go your way.  There is room in this world even for traitors." It is said a great sadness overtook Sherman as his friend walked away.  He kept his word and didn't destroy the home which still stands in Fayetteville today.1

While Sherman initially ordered the commanders to "avoid wanton destruction," of the town, it was difficult to control an aggressive army who had been destroying virtually everything in its path to this point. Civilians were terrorized, their livestock and food taken and once Union troops realized Fayetteville was not loyal to them, they began beating up prominent citizens and taking their valuables. Further dooming Fayetteville was Sherman's displeasure over the burning of the Clarendon Bridge which he called an "offensively rebellious" act, and responded by issuing Field Order 28: "The Arsenal, all railroad property, all shops, factories and tanneries and all grist mills, save one, will be demolished." In addition, Sherman had a grudge against the local newspaper, The Fayetteville Observer, who were quite vocal in their support of the South, and he was bent on the paper's destruction. According to Union correspondent D.P. Conyngham, who said the newspaper was "one of the infernatest nests of treason ever created in North Carolina" and was "a lying, truculent sheet that well deserves it's fate." Sherman ordered Gen. Henry Slocum to destroy the building and according to James Hale, the son of The Observer's publisher, Sherman and Slocum "sat on the veranda of the hotel opposite, watching the progress of the flames while they hobnobbed over wines stolen from our cellar."2

Jane Evans Elliot described this a a time of "sorrow and confusion never to be forgotten." On Sunday morning at 9 o'clock, "a party of raiders rushed upon [her] peaceful home." She details how they "pillaged and plundered the whole day and quartered upon that night." They stayed until 5 o'clock Monday evening after at least three different parties occupied her property. "The house was rifled from garret to cellar," she said. They "threatened [my husband's] life repeatedly and one ruffian galloped up to the door and pulled out his matches to fire the house. Oh! It was terrible beyond description." "One night they strung fire all around us and we took up the children and dressed the and watched all night fearing the fire might consume our dwelling".2

Fayetteville and the town currently known as Hope Mills had several cotton and grist mills. The business owners were horrified to learn that they would be burnt and plead with Sherman to spare them. Sherman responded, "Gentlemen, (slaves) and cotton caused this war, and I wish them both in hell. On Wednesday, those mills will be blown up."

As promised, after taking Sunday off, Union forces tore down the Arsenal walls and burnt it. Explosions shook the city as fires were lit in ammunition bunkers. It was described by Anne Kyle, a Fayetteville resident, as follows: "I can compare this day to nothing but what I imagine Hades would be, were its awful doors thrown open."2

With the city taken and homes burnt the Union was now faced with approximately 25,000 refugees. Sherman could not abide the extra mouths to feed or the slowing of his troops, so he devised a way to send them down to Wilmington in wagons and boats or on foot for this 120 mile trek. One of the vessels sank and 400 individuals perished.

The refugee's now dispatched, caused a new problem for the Union Army.  They now had a large number of horses and mules they would no longer need.  The solution?  Add the able bodied animals to their cavalry and shoot the rest, leaving them to rot on the ground.  This was a common practice of the Union, as Sherman did not wish to leave animals behind that could be used by the Confederate Army.

After many stressful days Sherman and his troops continued marching northward. One woman's account of those days gives a clear picture of what it was like for the citizens of Fayetteville during the war: "Sherman has gone and terrible has been the storm that has swept over us with his coming and going. They deliberately shot two of our citizens-murdered them in cold blood-one of them a Mr. Murphy, a wounded soldier, Confederate States army. They hung up three others and one lady, merely letting them down just in time to save life, in order to make them tell where their valuables were concealed; and they whipped-stripped and cowhided-several good and well known citizens for the same purpose. There was no place, no chamber, trunk, drawer, desk, garret, closet or cellar that was private to their unholy eyes. Their rude hands spared nothing but our lives, and those they would have taken but they knew that therein they would accomplish the death of a few helpless women and children-they would not in the least degree break or bend the spirit of our people. Squad after squad unceasingly came and went and tramped through the halls and rooms of our house day and night during the entire stay of the army. At our house they killed every chicken, goose, turkey, cow, calf and every living thing, even to our pet dog. They carried off our wagons, carriage and horses, and broke up our buggy, wheelbarrow, garden implements, axes, hatchets, hammers, saws etc., and burned the fences. Our smokehouse and pantry, that a few days ago were well stored with bacon, lard, flour, dried fruit, meal, pickles, preserves, etc., now contain nothing whatever except a few pounds of meal and flour and five pounds of bacon. They took from old men, women and children alike, every garment of wearing apparel save what we had on, not even sparing the napkins of infants! Blankets, sheets, quilts, etc., such as it not suit them to take away they tore to pieces before our eyes."3

When Sherman's troops pulled out of the town on March 15th, there was but one grist mill, no railroad, no boats, no stock. Sally Hawthorne, a town resident, described the aftermath, "Soon a pall of black smoke hung over everything" as the soldiers lit rosin pits and cotton stores. The city had no way to survive and recovery seemed an impossibility.  Fayetteville did in fact rebuild, and I've had the pleasure of strolling down her cobblestone streets and sipping wine as I gaze upon the Market House. Sadly a highway now runs directly through the center of what remains of Fayetteville's coveted arsenal.  Much of the structures were demolished in the name of progress, but a small bit of its foundations, along with a monument, marks the location near the corner of Hay Street on Arsenal Avenue where the town's once treasured grounds now rests. A memorial to that time and the people who lived it.

1: 150 years ago, Sherman targeted 'offensively rebellious' Fayetteville,, March 8, 2015
2 Ten Days of Hell,
3: War is Marching Our Way-Fayetteville Captured, The Fayetteville Observer, March 11, 2015
4: When Sherman Came: Southern Women and the "Great March," Kathrine Jones ed., (Indianapolis Indiana: Bobb-Merrill, Inc., 1964), 284-286

xoxo Siren Kimmie (HDIC Girls Rock Metal Detecting)
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