This week in Richmond history: Wake of the attack

March 8, 1865:
Gen. W.T. Sherman finishes up in Rockingham and heads to Fayetteville

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

With the passage of the Civil War Amendments to the Constitution, Richmond County’s black citizens became voters — Republican voters, that is, as they flocked to the party of President Abraham Lincoln, the man who had freed them.

A Richmond County Historical Society photo The brick structure at the beginning of the Green Way on Hitchcock Creek, Steele Street, Rockingham, is the last structure remaining from the Pee Dee Mills which operated there.

A Richmond County Historical Society photo
The brick structure at the beginning of the Green Way on Hitchcock Creek, Steele Street, Rockingham, is the last structure remaining from the Pee Dee Mills which operated there.

Since there were so many black sin Richmond County, this immediately changed the face of local politics. In September 1868, Republicans complained that Democrats were “spouting white supremacy” in order to shore up white support. Democrats protested Republican barbecues hosted for black voters, aimed at wooing black support. At one political gathering, a white Republican shot a white Democrat. The Democrat responded by shooting a black Republican because the white Republican “ran like a dog.” This was but a hint of things to come.

A New Beginning

“The people of Rockingham … with the aid of the rail and their own iron nerves … will be prosperous and happy as of yore.”

— Wilmington Weekly Journal on June 25, 1869

Civil War scars remained a part of Richmond County’s landscape for many years. “To a stranger (Rockingham) gives said evidences of the former presence of Sherman and his bummers,” wrote an 1869 visitor. “The grim visage of war rears its front here and there from blackened ruins, and the broken and mutilated monuments of the dead which one may observe in rumbling through the family burying grounds.”

From there, the letter takes a surprising turn. “You must not infer from what is here said, that the people of Rockingham … (are) dead to the present and the future,” it continues, “content in dreaming and musing over the glories of the past! Not they! They are coming up from their ashes, and there is little doubt there ere long, with the aid of the rail and their own iron nerves, they will be prosperous and happy as of yore. Indeed, the spirit of enterprise is already pushing improvement. As we passed the beautiful cascade where the Richmond Manufacturing Company’s Cotton Factory once stood, we observed workmen, brick, stone and lumber … It (will) not be long before the hum of its thousand wheels and the merry songs of its working girls (will) again come up in unison with … the joyful water.”

The mill under construction would become Great Falls, whose alluring ruins remain today on Highway 74. It was the first of many cotton mills built in Richmond County after the Civil War.

Great Falls Partners

Within a year of the Civil War’s end, Confederal Colonel John W. Leak had a big parchment, with the great seal of the United States and the signature of President Andrew Johnson, granting him “full pardon and amnesty for all offenses, in participation, direct or implied, in the late rebellion.” “You can see I am out of the woods,” Colonel Leak wrotBe to relatives. At the same time, he had business offers from the North, men who wished him to superintend a large cotton plantation. Leak had little interest in the offers; he believed that Northerners had fought the Civil War to get slaves out of the way, so they could reap the profits of the Southern farmlands for themselves.

Besides, Colonel J.W. Leak had other ventures in mind. Since the winter of 1864-1865, he and his uncle, Colonel Walter Leak, had helped to build a cotton mmill on Hitchcok Creek. By the time General Sherman’s Army reached Rockingham, their slavs had molded 200,000 bricks by hand and built at least four operatives’ houses. That is where their progress stalled: the mill envisioned in 1864 would become Pee Dee Mill, built in 1873, its construction delayed nine years by the Union Army’s three-day visit.

Keep reading! Consider purchasing John Hutchinson’s “No Ordinary Lives” from the Richmond County Historical Society today.

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

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  • Jay Hudson

    I didn’t read all of John’s articles, so I don’t know if he mentioned the stories many years ago that said Gen. Sherman himself had camped on a site off Wire Grass Road, and tied his horse to a pine tree that is still there to this day. I have not heard any reports of that tree in about twenty-years, so I have no idea of the exact location.

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