Sunday, April 26, 2015

'Destroy Charlotte!' 'Will Asheville do?'


ASHEVILLE, N.C.
     Stoneman's Raid was all but over and the cavalry was headed homeward from Asheville when stunning new orders arrived from Gen. Stoneman in Knoxville: 
 
          "Destroy Charlotte, and then push north ...
          and if possible destroy Greensborough."
 
     There's more to the message than that, obviously, but let's set the scene first.
     On April 25, about 1,700 mounted Yankees and hundreds of liberated slaves paraded northward out of Asheville, population 1,100. On both sides, it was good-bye and good riddance.
     One of the eyewitnesses was a young widow named Sarah Jane Bailey Cain. She wrote: 
An agreement was entered into to provide General Gillem's troops with three days' rations in case they went through peaceable and did not molest the inhabitants. The next day [Tuesday, April 25] they rode through, quite an imposing array of Officers, privates, flags waving, beautiful horses curvetting—all the showy paraphernalia of War. Besides these, many wearied negroes were following their new masters. The procession was a long time in passing, and I watched it from our front window, the house being situated on a high hill and some distance from the main street. Every house in Asheville was closed. They went through peaceably, no straying from the ranks and no insolence.
     "No insolence," she said. These Yankees had looted Lenoir, Morganton, Rutherfordton, and the Carson House in the past week, but right now all they wanted to do was head home. At midnight on Sunday, April 23, they had heard the news (prematurely, it turned out) that Confederate Gen. Joe Johnston had surrendered to Gen. William Sherman. The surrender covered all rebels in the Carolinas and most of Georgia and Florida.
     About 15 miles north of Asheville, as they neared the Tennessee line, they encountered a courier dispatched April 24 from Knoxville with orders from Gen. Stoneman for Gen. Alvan Gillem, who had led the raid since Stoneman left a week earlier.
I have just received a telegram from Gen. Thomas informing me that the terms of surrender of Johnston to Sherman have been disapproved by the President, and Sherman is ordered to push his military advantages. The cavalry under your command will do all in its power to bring Johnston to better terms. For this purpose, the most strenuous efforts will be made to destroy his communications and all sources of supplies. Charlotte should be destroyed if possible. 
I am directed by Gen. Thomas to give you [Gillem] a leave of absence to go to Nashville to attend the session of the Legislature. When you go, you will please turn over the command of the cavalry division to Col. Palmer.
     In a followup message to Gen. Thomas, Stoneman elaborated that he had ordered his cavalry "to destroy Charlotte, and then push north, destroying everything in the shape of supplies for Johnston's army, and if possible destroy Greensborough, to act with the utmost vigor, and to co-operate with General Sherman in bringing Johnston to better terms."
     In his haste, Gen. Stoneman lit a series of powder-kegs:
  • This was the first time Stoneman had authorized destruction of a town. Until this point, he had generally restrained his troops from burning houses or other non-military targets. Now he had given them a license to loot, terrorize, and scorch the earth.
  • Stoneman created a leadership vacuum and a possible power struggle when he granted Gillem a leave to attend the legislature and put Col. William Palmer in command instead of Gen. Simeon Brown. Palmer was undoubtedly the best man for the job, but Brown had been ahead of him in the chain of command. Also, Palmer and the 1st Brigade were 60 miles away, so Brown would remain in command the 2nd and 3rd brigades until all three brigades were concentrated May 3 near Anderson, S.C.
  • Weary soldiers who had already ridden close to 800 miles in four weeks and had just celebrated the end of the war were now being ordered to turn their backs on home and put their lives on the line to achieve a political purpose. 
     Charlotte and Greensboro were fortunate that Stoneman's orders would change again before the cavalry could get there. Unfortunately, Asheville would pay the price of the soldiers' unbridled wrath. 
The so-called "Battle of Asheville" on April 6
paled in comparison to Stoneman's Raid April 26,
but the former was a Confederate victory, so
it was exalted on this N.C. historical marker on
Broadway. On the other hand, the Stoneman's
Raid marker out on Hendersonville Road says
only that his troops "occupied" Asheville.
     While Gen. Gillem headed to Nashville, Gen. Brown marched the 2nd and 3rd brigades back to Asheville.
     Three weeks earlier, Asheville had defended itself against 1,100 Union infantry in the so-called "Battle of Asheville." That was back when the rebels still had ample artillery and hope. But when Stoneman's cavalry returned at sunset on Wednesday, April 26, 2005, Asheville was defenseless, and the Union troops were ruthless. Soldiers outnumbered houses 6-to-1, so few families were spared. 
     All the officers and soldiers in town were quickly rounded up. When Gen. James Martin was released later that night, he found Union raiders plundering his home. Cornelia Phillips Spencer wrote in her history The Last 90 Days of the Civil War in North Carolina:
     On arriving at his house, he found the ladies of his family, with lighted candles, going over the house at the bidding of the marauders, lighting them while they broke open doors, trunks, drawers, and boxes, and helped themselves to what they chose. And this was the experience of every house in the place that night. Many were entered by three or four different gangs at once. They swarmed in at every avenue of entrance, generally by the back-door, having taken counsel with the negroes first. Mrs. Martin recovered some of her stolen goods by the assistance of a guard who was detailed after the house had been plundered. Not even the town of Fayetteville suffered more severely from pillage.
     Mrs. James W. Patton and her sister were both sick in bed. Their house was entered from front and back at the same time. The ladies' rooms were entered, they were dragged from their beds, their persons and the rooms searched, and their valuables taken. This was supposed to have been done upon the information of a servant, who had told that there were four watches in the house. Of these four watches, three were afterward recovered, through the agency of a Captain [W.J.] Patterson, Assistant Adjutant-General to General Gillem, who had been quartered at Mrs. Patton's, and who proved to be one of the few gentlemen in that division of the United States Army.
     Judge Bailey's family suffered as severely as any others, everything portable of value being carried off, even to the boots from the Judge's feet. The wedding-rings of his wife and daughter were forced from their hands. Other ladies were stopped in the street and their jewelry forced from them. Those who applied to General Brown, who had the honor to command this extraordinary expedition, received no redress whatever. Dr. [Robert H.] Chapman, a well-known and widely respected minister of the Presbyterian Church, was so entirely robbed of all his goods and valuables, that he had not a change of clothes left beside what he wore.
     The Tenth and Eleventh Michigan regiments certainly won for themselves in Asheville that night a reputation that should damn them to everlasting fame.
     On Thursday [April 27], parties scoured the country in all directions, carrying on the work of plunder and destruction. On Friday [April 28], they left, having destroyed all the arms and ammunition they could find and burned the armory. On Friday afternoon, they sent off the officers they had captured under a guard. The town being left thus without arms or protectors, the citizens, remembering Kirk's threats, begged General Brown to leave a small force as guard; but he refused, saying, "They might take care of themselves."
Gen. Simeon Brown
     Gen. Martin later said, "I have heard of no worse plundering anywhere than was permitted in and near Asheville by Gen. Brown. I believe no one escaped entirely."
     Judge Bailey (mentioned above) was the father of Mrs. Sarah Jane Bailey Cain (1828-1927). Here is additional detail from her letter, describing what happened at her father's house:
     Then night came and supper was dispatched. The servants made a bright fire in the room of their mistress, lighted the lamps and everything seemed quiet, comfortable, and apparently safe. We sat by the glowing fire, my father, mother, my eldest brother and myself, and were congratulating ourselves on the peaceful solution of difficulties and expressing our indebtedness to General Martin.
     Suddenly, there was the most dreadful noise, something like the trampling of a number of horses, the breaking of timber and the crushing of glass. I must explain that the house—a most charming one built for a summer home—had a wing used as a dining room with large glass doors opening upon a pretty piazza. I exclaimed, "Oh what is it? What can it be?" My brother replied, "It is the Yankees" They have returned."
     They were riding up on the piazza. Soon the glass doors were broken and they made their way through across the hall to the room where we were sitting. They had taken off their coats and each one had a flaming torch in his hand. This, together with the gleaming expression of the eye in that light, made them look like demons. There was unfortunately a gun in the room and my father, a very brave man, said, "Come another step and I will fire."
     The scene that ensued is impossible to describe. They were evidently practiced thieves, as they immediately commenced rifling the trunks and boxes, searching among the wood for gold, which they found. (On my brother's first exclamation, my father hurriedly gave me some gold he had, and this with my mother's and my wedding rings, I threw into the wood.) They gave my father a violent blow on the head, and my brother seeing the deadly peril he was in, sprang forward and said, "I'll surrender, I am a Confederate Officer. Take me a prisoner." Several of them left, taking my brother with them. When they crossed the stile, quite a distance from the house, they said, "Let us go back and kill that old man, for he threatened us." My brother implored them not to do anything so rash, saying, "Have I not acted honorably towards you? I have surrendered. I am your prisoner, Let my father alone." His arguments prevailed with some of them, but one or two came back and fired through the front door.
     My father had taken the precaution to put out the lights, and to that circumstance he probably owed his life. When they fired he said perfectly calmly, "They have come to kill me." At these dreadful words, my mother and I, who had been given unnatural composure and courage, felt in despair, but he managed to go over to Dr. James Hardy's, the adjoining place, where he was fortunate enough to secure a guard. Two soon came over, and under other circumstances I could have laughed at the celerity with which the thieves vanished. They had doubtless played the role so often that they were perfect in the part. They had taken our jewelry, my unusually beautiful wedding present from my husband, wedding rings, all valuable silver.
     As you may imagine we did not sleep at all that night, and the next morning all the servants that we were so fond of having deserted us, we prepared a very meager breakfast from a handful of flour and an infinitesimal piece of meat, which they had overlooked in the pantry.
     Several villainous-looking men came after breakfast and took all the bacon which my father had had packed away for his servants. I thought remonstrance was useless, but my mother reproached the leader of the party, and he left one shoulder of bacon.
     The next day we returned home to a desolate looking home, no fires, no welcoming servants, dust everywhere and a general air of discomfort in the extreme. Kind and more fortunate friends sent us flour and hams to commence housekeeping again. My father went to see the Federal General Brown, who expressed great indignation at the conduct of his troops, and said they would be severely punished, but he was so intoxicated that he entirely forgot his promises.

 
Fort Mill, SC: Jeff Davis slept here 150 years ago tonight.
Stoneman's cavalry would soon be on his trail.

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