This week in Richmond history: Sherman marches north

 

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

History is full of ironies

On January 28, 1862, Francis Terry Leak, native of Richmond County and resident of Salem, Mississippi, wrote in his journal, “Received a letter from brother James P. Leak,” he said, “signifying a desire to purchase land in Arkansas, and enquiring whether lands could be purchased there on favorable terms at this time, and whether that country is more liable to be overrun by Lincoln’s minions than the South generally. If his questions should be satisfactorily answered, he might bring out the most of his negroes in time for a crop this year.”

A Library of Congress photo Union Cavalry Genreal Judson Kilpatrick. General William T. Sherman called Kilpatrick "a hell of a damned fool" but considered him "just that sort of man to common my cavalry" on his famous march. While in Rockingham, General Kilpatrick burned the Richmond Manufacturing Company. Matthew Brady made this photo about 13 weeks after the Richmond County invasion.

A Library of Congress photo
Union Cavalry Genreal Judson Kilpatrick. General William T. Sherman called Kilpatrick “a hell of a damned fool” but considered him “just that sort of man to common my cavalry” on his famous march. While in Rockingham, General Kilpatrick burned the Richmond Manufacturing Company. Matthew Brady made this photo about 13 weeks after the Richmond County invasion.

The next day, Francis Leak wrote his reply. “With regard to his second question, I replied that I thought we were as much out of the way as Lincoln’s Marauders in Arkansas as were the people of Rockingham.”

Ominously, Francis Leak wrote his brother Walter six months later, “giving him an account of the visit of the Yankee Cavalry to Salem, of the movement of our troops in this section, of the running away of my negroes, of the burning of our cotton …”

* * * 

By the beginning of 1865, General William T. Sherman was one of the most feared men in Southern America. He burned Atlanta in mid-November 1864. He next presented the city of Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift. He entered South Carolina in January, determined to “rake that bed of secessions with a fine-toothed comb.” “How shall I let you know where I am?” Cavalry General Judson Kilpatrick asked Sherman near the South Carolina state line. “Oh, just burn a barn or something,” Sherman replied. “Make smoke like the Indians do.” General Kilpatrick warmed to the idea. Rumors circulated that he spent $5,000 on matches before leaving Savannah, then vowed that charred chimneys in the desolate country would greet future travelers, which citizens would forever blame on “Kilpatrick’s cavalry.”

The whole of General Sherman’s army pressed on, burning Columbia in the middle of February. Richmond County citizens were growing nervous. “Sherman, if he marches directly from Columbia to Raleigh, as many suppose he will do, or attempt to do, will pass if not directly through — very near Rockingham,” Captain L.H. Webb wrote. “If he does I can hardly expect my home will escape his desolating and destructive vengeance.” At the end of February, after deducting much of South Carolina to smoldering rubble, Sherman collected his divided army together at Cheraw. There he received flaw intelligence from Major-General O. O. Howard, suggesting the entire Confederate army would pass through Rockingham:

Cheraw, S.C., March 5, 1865

Maj. Gen. W.T. Sherman, Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:

GENERAL: An escaped prisoner, belonging to the Fifteenth Corps, who came in last night, reports that he heard General Butler tell one of his officers who was going to take the order to a part of his command on this side of the river, that the whole army (rebel), trains and all, would pass through Rockingham.

Respectfully,

O.O. Howard, Major-General

“The Sun was the Color of Blood”
Sherman’s Army approaches

Military confusion aside, Richmond County civilians knew it was merely a matter of time before the Federal Army reached them. “For two or three days rumors were flying like dead leaves before an autumn breeze, from retreating Confederate soldiers, from refugeeing families from the low country of South Carolina,” Rockingham resident Francis Fredrick Covington recalled. “Many of these — friends of my mother, friends of friends of my mother and strangers, would stop long enough with us to get a hurried meal.” These refugees spilled “rumors of horrors, how the Yankees had hung up by the thumbs, or flogged or burned the soles of the feet of the owners of large estates, had burned or gutted houses of all valuables.”

A Library of Congress photo Retreating ahead of General Sherman's army, Confederate General Joseph Wheeler took the home of Unionist General Alfred Dockery as his headquarters. His men captured or killed 35 Federals in a skirmish on the outskirts of Rockingham.

A Library of Congress photo
Retreating ahead of General Sherman’s army, Confederate General Joseph Wheeler took the home of Unionist General Alfred Dockery as his headquarters. His men captured or killed 35 Federals in a skirmish on the outskirts of Rockingham.

The same day Sherman received Major-General Howard’s message he began moving his army north towards Richmond County. S.F. Fleharty (one of Sherman’s soldiers) wrote, “A dense, dark smoke, black as if sent from the heart of the bottomless pit, loomed up like a gathering storm-cloud away over in North Carolina. At length it hung like a pall between the earth and the sun, and the sun was the color of blood.”

Confederate soldier C.W. Hutson was already in Rockingham that day, retreating ahead of the Union army. “We marched today to Rockingham N.C, rather a pretty little town,” he wrote. “Had an abundance of capital Madeira today — But no food.”

Confederates

 Confederate troops under General Butler began passing through Rockingham on Friday, March 3; the last of them left Monday, March 6. From Tory Hill on the edge of Rockingham, Rebecca Jane Sanford Kelly watched the Confederate Army hobbling towards town. The first Confederate soldiers worked desperately on the road. They cut trees and put them across muddy places, filling holes so artillery and soldiers could pass quickly through. “I remember seeing the cannon going through,” Kelly recalled, “and the long line of men marching steadily, for Sherman’s army was following close behind them.”

Kelly’s friends and family fed as many of the Confederates as they could. Other citizens were less sympathetic. Unionist R.T. Long may have met with General Sherman in Cheraw a few days before, telling him of the Union sentiment and begging that he spare Richmond County. Long now complained, “If the Confederates stay here long they will take every thing we got.”

Gen. William T. Sherman

Gen. William T. Sherman

Confederates did put a strain on the county. They impressed every blacksmith’s shop in northwestern Richmond County to shoe lame cavalry horses. Confederates also requistioned tremendous amounts of food from citizens. From P.N. Stanback they demanded 700 pounds of bacon. Stanback loaded a four-mule wagon with one ton of bacon, and, in the dark of night, directed slaves drive it to the Confederate army. The slaves returned home, but the Confederates, much to Stanback’s disgust, kept the wagon and mules.

Meanwhile, Richmond County citizens scrambled to prepare for the Union invasion. They first hit valuables. Afterwards, many hid themselves. While Benjamin H. Covington carried his cotton crop deep in the woods, his wife spread her silverware thinly on the ground and covered it with wood shavings. Fearful that Federal soldiers would injure him, Covington left his Golden Springs plantation in a two-horse carriage, accompanied by his son and a young slave. He planned to elude Sherman’s army and check on Elmdale, his Marlboro County plantation. Twenty miles from Elzdale, Union soldiers intercepted him and stole his gold watch, horses and slave, leaving Covington and his son stranding by the road.

Down at Beausejour, Colonel Henry W. Harrington poured his money into a large bag. He loaded it onto a buggy and, with an old slave, drove down between his family graveyard and Diggs Chapel. Leaving the slave to hold his horse, Harrington went alone into the woods to bury the loot. Next, the old Colonel fled to the woods and directed slaves to scout for him and let him know when the Union army left. Allen McCaskill, another wealthy Wolf Pit planter and one of Harrington’s close friends, followed suit. Harrington emerged from the woods several days later. McCaskill did not ± his slaves mutinied and murdered him, for which five slaves were lynched.

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.

Twenty miles to the north, W.P. Stanback — who had become a strong Unionist — took his slaves and tools into the woods. Meanwhile, his neighbor, Presley N. Stanback, received an order from Confederate General Hardee. Anticipating that the Union army would cross the Pee Dee River between Richmond and Anson Counties, General Hardee directed Stanback to “destroy, cutup and burn all the river flats in the vicinity.” Rather than destroy the flats, Stanback scuttled and sunk several in the Pee Dee and Little Rivers.

Coming Friday: Clashes 

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: Cheraw, Education, Ellerbe/Norman, Featured News, Hamlet, Hoffman, Latest Headlines, Rockingham

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