This week in Richmond history: ‘I wuz not afraid of de Yankees’


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

Louisa Adams was an 8-year-old slave when the Union Army stormed through. She recalled the scene in the 1930s, as an interviewer jotted down her words in vernacular. “When the Yankees com through I did not know anything about ’em till they got there. Jist like they were poppin up out of de ground,” she said. “One of the slaves wuz at his master’s house you know, and he said, ‘The Yankees are in Cheraw, and the Yankees are in town.’ It didn’t sturb me at tall. I wuz not afraid of de Yankees.

A Richmond County Historical Society photo

A Richmond County Historical Society photo

“I ‘member dey went to Miss Emma’s house, and went in de smoke house and emptied very barrel of ‘lasses right in de floor and scattered the cracklings on de floor. I went here and got some of ’em. Miss Emma wuz my missus. Dey just killed de chickens, hogs too, and old Jeff the dog; they shot him through the throat. I ‘member how his mouth flew open when dey shot him. One of ’em went into de tater bank, and we chillun wanted to go out dere. Mother wouldn’t let us. She wuz afraid of ’em … De Yankees took everything dey could, but dey didn’t give us anything to eat. Dey give some of de ‘omen shoes.”

 A Young Boy

Nine-year-old Washington Long had heard what everyone else had — grab anything of any value and take off for the swamps with it. Most people, of course, valued jewelry, silver, cotton bales or livestock. Washington Long apparently valued something else. “Seems that, even at the tender age of 9,” Irving Long writes, “Washington Long enjoyed a good chaw. And it seems that he had stashed a good chaw in a corn shock.

“I don’t know who owned this field when Sherman came through, but, if the Longs did not own this field in 1865, they did own some land nearby. Anyway, when somebody told Washington they spotted Union soldiers coming down the Wire Grass Road, Washington Long headed for th corn shock and grabbed his chaw and made out for the swamp as fast as his two legs would carry him. The Union soldiers yelled at him to stop, as they didn’t know WHAT he had grabbed — could have been a map of great military significance, as far as they knew. The 9-year-old boy didn’t even slow down. The Union soldiers yelled at him again, commanding him to halt, but he didn’t even slow down. They warned him they would fire if he didn’t stop, but this only served to speed him up even more. He disappeared into the swamp as the men in Blue looked at each other and laughed. Apparently not even Sherman’s soldiers would shoot a 9-year-old boy who was determined to keep his chaw of tobacco away from Sherman’s looters.”

A Planter’s Perspective

“Sherman’s raid was so much like being in an active volcano to those who witnessed it, such as economic and social upheaval,” recalled F.F. Covington. “Sometime during the day there came into our home a rather pompous looking officer, if I remember rightly, a colonel. He and my mother got into a conversation which developed almost immediately into an argument on the question of the right of secession, the constitutionality of States Rights, etc. The argument got warm. I cannot say it was a real argument, for as mother was naturally in a condition of nervous excitement from what Sherman’s robbers were doing around her. She said some very bitter and cutting things to the pompous colonel, finally mother said to him: ‘Our cause is righteous and God will protect us.’ The Col. was angered for mother had got much the best of the argument — what argument there was. He said, ‘Well, madam, I came here to protect your home, but as you do not seem to appreciate it I will now leave you in the hands of the God you trust,’ he then walked out with his head up and spurs jangling. This was my mother’s imprudence.

“Twice that day mother sent me with brother David over to town with a note to General Kilpatrick, who was the commander of that division of the Yankee Army. We had to cross the bridge of the factory pond on our way. There a number of soldiers were shooting at a flock of geese on the water. Some of their balls would ricochet and come alarmingly near us — as we thought. But we went bravely on to the residence of Dr. Steele, where Kilpatrick had his headquarters. There we told our mission and were directed to a soldier. He was a dandy, well dressed little fellow, apparently about 20 years of age. The fellow said he was adjutant to General Kilpatrick and attended to that sort of business, and that certainly we should have a guard — if we needed it. ‘So, go home, young fellow, and tell your dear mother to rest in peace and she will not be disturbed,’ or words to that effect. I gathered from the expressions of the faces of those around that this was all a joke on his part, but we were helpless. No guard came.

“About dark Aunt Rosa came to mother and told her that they were preparing to burn our house. We rushed out and found that they had heaped a lot of trash and kindling around one of the brick pillars and had set it afire. Mother immediately ordered to pull it away and administered to those dirty brutes such a tongue lashing that they slunk away. This attempt to burn our house made us afraid to sleep lest we should be awakened at the roar of flames from our house on fire.” It was at that point that Lieutenant Pemberton, a Kentucky soldier with old Richmond County connections, came to the house and kept watch through the night.

Federal Flames

Though General Sherman had ordered his soldiers to be more lenient with North Carolinians “and fan the flame of discord already subsisting between them and their proud cousins of South Carolina,” General Kilpatrick intended to fan some flames of his own. While in Rockingham, he ordered his soldiers to burn the Richmond Manufacturing Company, the Richmond County Courthouse and the jail.

Richmond Manufacturing Company attracted the General’s interest because it had been an important source of Confederate fabric and because its owners were outspoken war men. Rather than conceal his plans to destroy the factory, he planned a show of it. Soldiers went door to door, encouraging locals to help themselves to everything in the company store before the fire began. Sandy Smith went and got four sides of meat and a wash-tub full of molasses and, Smith recalled, “went out on the farm and made a crop with only the meat and molasses for a start.” Other citizens were less willing to accept Federal generosity. When a soldier offered some of the mill’s cloth to Rebecca Sanford, she adamantly refused, insisting, “It is not ours to take.”

A crowd of curious spectators gathered to see the mill burn. In the earning evening of March 7, 1865, Union soldiers made torches by fastening thread and material to the end of long sticks, dipped them in tar, and lit them. When darkness fell, Federal soldiers playfully tossed their tar-tipped torches back and forth across Falling Creek, creating a fantastic light show. Next, they set fire to the mill and stood back to watch it burn. Somewhere else in the crowd, a Federal soldier tore a fiddle from the hands of a local citizen and sawed out his version of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Upon finishing, he threw the fiddle into the air, and it smashed to bits as it hit the ground.

At General Kilpatrick’s direction, Federal soldiers also crowded around the local courthouse, planning to burn it to the ground. Citizens gathered to see the show. Just as General Kilpatrick gave the orders to light the fire, a townsman dared to challenge him. Pointing to the home of Charley McKinnon, the old Scottish tailor, sitting dangerously near, he said that it would surely burn with the courthouse. Charley McKinnon and his old wife, Polly, would be left without a home. Appealing to whatever sense of fairness Kilpatrick might have, the citizen continued. “Polly McKinnon was as fine and caring a woman as ever lived,” he explained. “Wherever within her reach there was suffering, sorrow or distress, there she was found, ministering with angelic tenderness and sympathetic heart, to soothe, relieve and console; and many were the sick beds or dying pillows smoothed, or eyes glazing in death, closed by her gentle hand.

“Enemies as you are of her country and her people,” the man told General Kilpatrick, “if you were sick or suffering, she would minister to your wants as faithfully and as tenderly as to those of her own friends.” General Kilpatrick then withdrew his orders.

Near Richmond Manufacturing Company, Federal troops burned Colonel Charles Malloy’s home and took his livestock, cattle and mules. They shot or caught all the chickens at Golden Springs, except an old game hen which outran and dodged them. “We had two beautiful young pointer dogs. These they shot to death,” F.F. Covington said. “When I remonstrated they said they were ‘nigger dogs’ — bloodhounds.” Captain L.H. Webb complained, “They robbed us of everything to eat, and burnt up all the fence I  had, stole my horse and mule and left the family almost entirely destitute and dependant upon the charities of their neighbors.” Across the county, Federal Troops “burned everything at Laurinburg,” including the train depot and railroad shops. Near Laurel Hill, they burned Murdock Morrison’s gun shop and Dr. Archibald Patterson’s medicine shop. Just east of Hamlet — at station 104, the head of the railroad to Wilmington — soldiers destroyed three-quarters of a mile of track, which was “excellent, laid with T-rail of the best English make.” As well, they burned resin factories, one alone containing 2,000 barrels of resin.

Elijah Gibson was one of the very few Richmond Boy who miraculously survived the Battle of Gettysburg unscathed. Ironically, he was captured in his own home county and served four months as a prison of war. Cameron Smith and Connecticut native W.G. Webb were also captured. W.G. Webb, as a Federal prisoner of war, may have been the man who saved the Richmond County courthouse from destruction.

Half accurate reports of the Federal Army’s attack burned through the countryside. “Oh I hear aufull news from down there I fear the yankies will sugegate us yet it is aufull to (hear) of them being so near,” a Montgomery County woman wrote. “A sick soldier stayed hear monday night from Cheraw and said they where fighting there and our army over took him twice as he came on and said they were crossing at Stanbacks Ferry … we had news from yesterday by Griffen he had been … somewhere in Richmond and said they were at Rockingham and had burn the Factry we have just heard that they had blown up the jaile and the Court house …”

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.

Coming Sunday: Wake of the Attack

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.


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