This week in Richmond history: Clashes

 March 1865: Union General W.T. Sherman’s army marches to Rockingham

By John Hutchinson
“No Ordinary Lives”

Additional coverage
* March 8: Wake of the attack
* March 7: ‘This place belongs to everybody’
* March 7: ‘I wuz not afraid of de Yankees’
* March 6: The caring for 5 Union soldiers’ graves
* March 6: Clashes
* March 5: History is full of ironies
* March 4: Sherman on the march

Most of the Confederate army marched out as it had marched in. However, General Wheeler found himself trapped on the Anson County side of the Pee Dee. Hearing that Presley Stanback had sunk several river flats rather than destroy them and knowing the Union army was coming on in hot haste, he directed a few of his men to swim the Pee Dee and demand that Stanback raise the flats. Stanback’s war losses were already severe; two of his sons, George and William, died in the war, while a third, Thomas, escaped from the Fort Fisher Federal prison and swam part of the Cape Fear River until rescued by a boatman. Stanback did as requested. His flats floated Wheeler’s forces across the Pee Dee River. Returning to his home, Stanback found, as he himself described, “my yard and lots filled with soldiers sent to forage upon my land by Picayune Bill (W.P. Stanback that is, P.N. Stanback’s Unionist neighbor) and not a solitary soldier on his premises which they had passed.”

From "No Ordinary Lives" Great Falls Mill, built in 1869. Symbolic of Richmond County's refusal to lie still after the Civil War, it sat atop the ruins of the Richmond Manufacturing Company, which General Kilpatrick's soldiers burned to the ground in March 1865.

From “No Ordinary Lives”
Great Falls Mill, built in 1869. Symbolic of Richmond County’s refusal to lie still after the Civil War, it sat atop the ruins of the Richmond Manufacturing Company, which General Kilpatrick’s soldiers burned to the ground in March 1865.

At 9 p.m. Sunday, March 5, two miles south of the North Carolina State Line, the Union Army began crossing to the east side of the Pee Dee. Bvt. Maj. Gen. Kilpatrick’s cavalry took the lead. Their lines would continue crossing all night long. To keep ahead of the Federal Army, Confederate troops in Rockingham marched off at 3 o’cock Monday morning, leaving a small rear guard. “These early starts have deprived us of a great deal of sleep and we stagger along the road, nodding, very often,” C.W. Hutson wrote. That night he added, “Learn that the enemy are in Rockingham already.”

At Golden Springs plantation — later Shaw Woods, just south of Rockingham — Mary Ann Covington waited for the Federal invasion. Her son later told the story for future generations. “Was she frightened? Now listen, children. I want to tell you right here that the bravest woman I ever knew was your grandmother — brave even to imprudence. On a fine morning in March 1856, the fateful day arrived. We had just gotten through breakfast when servant announced to mother, ‘Dey’s some Yankees at de back do.’ Mother immediately arose and went into the back veranda. There near the back steps on horses sat two Union officers. They raised their hats and addressed the mother: ‘Good morning madam. Madam could you give us a glass of wine.’ Mother said to ‘Aunt’ Rosa, who was standing just behind her, ‘Rosa, go down into the cellar and bring a decanter and glasses.’ I heard ‘Aunt’ Rosa mumble, ‘I am not going to wait on them Yankees.’ Mother said, ‘Go Rosa.’ Mother had some conversation with those officers while ‘Aunt’ Rosa was gone but I don’t remember it. Pretty soon she returned with wine and filled two glasses and handed them to the officers. One of the officers said, holding out the glass, ‘Madam won’t you taste this before we drink it?’ ‘No,’ said my mother, ‘if you think I would poison it, just dash it on the ground. You have very little conception of the character of a Southern lady if you think she would poison a gift to an unsuspecting enemy. I would be glad to shoot you down in open warfare for my country’s good, but never poison you with a gift.’ ‘No madam,’ he said, ‘I don’t believe you would,’ and they drank their wine and with a lift of their hats they bowed and rode away.

From "No Ordinary Lives" Mary Ann Harlee Covington, who gave win to Union officers outside her door. wearing the wine was poisoned, one of the officers asked Mrs. Covington to drink first. She replied curtly, "I would be glad to shoot you down in open warfare for my country's good, but never poison you with a gift."

From “No Ordinary Lives”
Mary Ann Harlee Covington, who gave win to Union officers outside her door. wearing the wine was poisoned, one of the officers asked Mrs. Covington to drink first. She replied curtly, “I would be glad to shoot you down in open warfare for my country’s good, but never poison you with a gift.”

“Mother was very much elated over this event. I remember she said to us children: ‘There, children, that is the way to manage them if they are officers and gentlemen I can handle them; if they are these low down, dirty thieving bummers I shall meet them at the back door and order them not to come in or ask an officer to protect me.’ In about an hour with clatter and bang, with thundering hoofs and clash of saber and our backyard was half full of Sherman’s bummers.

“They tied their horses to railings and rushed for the house as though each one wanted to be first to get to the stealings. They rudely pushed mother aside, who was standing in the back piazza, with her children around her, and rushed in the house, upstairs and downstairs, in pantry, kitchen and cellar, jerking open wardrobes and bureaus, opening those with a bayonet, which they couldn’t open otherwise, ripping open mattresses and feather beds like blood hounds in their search for gold. It is no u se to narrate all of the vandalism they were guilty of, suffice it to say that if there was anything they didn’t do they overlooked it.”

* * *

 There were, about this same time, skirmishes going on in Rockingham. Confederate General Wheeler was still in the area and sent a few of his scouts to the edge of town. There his men “attacked and killed or captured 35 Federals,” most of them foragers. There was a second sharp skirmish raging in Rockingham proper. Kilpatrick’s advance guard of Federal soldiers had arrived in town where they engaged Butler’s cavalry, the rear guard of General Hardee’s troops. A hot cross-fire erupted in which Confederal General Aiken was killed. Of course, the Confederate rear guard had no intentions of entirely holding off the approaching Federals and, by 11:00 on March 7, all the Confederates had been driven from town.

From Rankin Museum of American Heritage A cooper turpentine still, on display at the Rankin Museum of American Heritage in Ellerbe. Though little is yet known of the turpentine industry, it was a significant part of the Richmond County economy for a very long time. Federal soldiers passing through the area commented on the turpentine farms - after burning the forests down.

From Rankin Museum of American Heritage
A cooper turpentine still, on display at the Rankin Museum of American Heritage in Ellerbe. Though little is yet known of the turpentine industry, it was a significant part of the Richmond County economy for a very long time. Federal soldiers passing through the area commented on the turpentine farms – after burning the forests down.

General Wheeler still still in the county March 8. He made a temporary headquarters at General Dockery’s house, at General Dockery’s invitation. General Wade Hampton, meanwhile, was also in the county, the last of his men having also crossed the Pee Dee at Wall’s Ferry with difficulty.

Federals

With the Confederates in retreat, General Kilpatrick became the town’s law and order late in the morning of Tuesday, March 7. Someone had described him as “absurdly theatrical,” and he was, in fact, an amateur actor. He had a rough face, heavy nose, and wiry sideburns which hung to his shoulders. The sum of his features led one officer to comment, “I could hardly look at Kilpatrick without laughing.”

General Sherman himself called Kilpatrick “a hell of a damned fool” but considered him “just the sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition.” He was also known as one of the most devoted skirt-chasers among Union officers.

Kilpatrick made Dr. Steele’s Fayetteville Road home his headquarters. He settled in with his new mistress, a 19-year-old South Carolinian named Marie Boozer, who, according to socialites, was that states’ most beautiful woman. At 11:00 a.m., just after the skirmish ended, General Kilpatrick wrote to Major L.M. Davidson of the Mississippi. “I have the honor to report that I have just occupied the place, driving out Butler’s cavalry, the rear guard of General Hardee’s forces,” he explained. “Hard made this place his headquarters Saturday evening. His troops commenced coming in Friday morning; the last came Saturday night and left Monday.”

At the time, General Sherman camped on the Fayetteville Road, several miles below Rockingham. He responded to Kilpatrick’s message, addressing it, “General Kilpatrick, Commanding Cavalry, Rockingham.”

“I am well pleased to learn that Hardee is making well north,” he said. “Now I will make for Fayetteville, and only ask you to keep up the seeming appearance of pushing after Hardee, but really keep your command well in hand, and the horses and men in the best possible order as to food and forage … In conversation with people evince a determination to maintain the Union, but treat all other matters as beneath a soldier’s notice. Give us a whole country with a Government and leave details to the lawyers. Deal as moderately and fairly by the North Carolinians as possible, and fan the flame of discord already subsisting between them and their proud cousins of South Carolina. There never was much love between them … Keep your horses in the best order for the day when we must have a big fight — not, however, on this turn.”

With that message, General Sherman turned his command to the east towards Fayetteville, traveling through lower Richmond County.

The bulk of the Union Army reached Richmond County. From the looks of things around them, it appeared that the countryside was aflame.

Accounts of the Invasion

A Union Soldier: “Have the Yankees set the world on fire?”

“In the dim light of the morning we crossed the Great Pedee,” wrote Union Soldier S.F. Fleharty, “a river that had ever been associated with glorious memories of the war of the Revolution by the daring deeds of Gen. Francis Marion. North of the Great Pedee we entered the turpentine region. It is a vast wilderness of pine trees, many of them clear of limbs for a hundred feet from the base, and straight as an arrow. Great quantities of rosin were stored up in the wilderness.” Fleharty had reached Richmond County.

Many of these rosin stores burned violently, creating, as Fleharty  noted, a “rushing, crackling, seething sounds, which mingled with the roar of the flames … The flames seemed to rise up from the surface of the ground,” he continued. “We drew nearer. The first (fire) was in the head of a small hollow. Before the brilliant flames which were spreading and shooting up great tongues of fire, a boiling liquid substance, like melted lava, ran down the ravine on the surface of a small stream. ‘Have the Yankees set the world on fire?’ thought we. Dismounting we procured some of the boiling liquid and found it was rosin. A great quantity was burning. Awe-stricken, we stood spell-bound for a time watching the magnificent column of black smoke — black as blackness can be — rising and rolling into a thousand beautiful shapes, which seemed crystallizing into substantial forms in the region of the clouds. Far upwards in the corner of the column the flames ascended, and their red light was occasionally brought to view by the evolutions of the smoke.

Rockingham resident and Richmond County  historian John Hutchinson wrote "No Ordinary Lives"with the help of the Richmond County Historical Society and a grant from the Cole Foundation.

Rockingham resident and Richmond County historian John Hutchinson wrote “No Ordinary Lives”with the help of the Richmond County Historical Society and a grant from the Cole Foundation.

“Weather very pleasant temperature. Sky hazy or smoke … Our (3rd) Division marched after crossing nearly 10 miles towards Rockingham and camped at dark in piny woods. I am on picket tonight. Camp tonight in N.C. 5 miles from Rockingham. Foragers of this command have varying results to day. Some got all they could bring in — others got none.”

.

Coming Saturday: ‘I wuz not afraid of de Yankees’

This article is republished here with permission from John Hutchinson’s “No Ordinary Lives: A History of Richmond County, North Carolina 1750-1900” in cooperation with the Richmond County Historical Society. Excerpts will be published each day through March 8.

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, Rockingham

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