Not because they were praising the Lord, but because they were prisoners of war—captured four days earlier in Salisbury.
Stoneman's troops had turned the yard of St. James Episcopal Church into a stockade, and the Yankee guards were on the wrong side of Jesus' parable of the sheep and goats, from the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’Union troops in Lenoir took no mercy on the prisoners nor the citizens. Captives from Salisbury were forced to march up to 65 miles in three days. Gen. Alvan Gillem called Lenoir "a rebellious little hole."
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Cornelia Phillips Spencer might have used a similar invective for Gen. Gillem. After interviewing eyewitnesses for her 1866 book, The Last 90 Days of the Civil War in North Carolina, she described him as "most supercillious, insulting, and unfeeling."
|Cornelia Phillips Spencer|
Stoneman is not mentioned in Spencer's account from Lenoir. He was probably sick and may have already turned over command of the raid to Gillem. (Spencer spelled his name Gillam.) On Monday, April 17, Stoneman and the prisoners and guards left the raid and crossed the mountains through Boone toward Tennessee.
Spencer's book can be read for free online. Here's an excerpt:
In Lenoir they [the prisoners] were confined in and about the Episcopal church, under a strong guard, with peremptory orders from General Gillam to shoot every man who attempted to escape. The gallant General added, that he "would rather have ten men shot than one escape."
It must be remembered that a number of them were over sixty years of age; some were permanently diseased; some were men who had not walked continuously five miles for years, or perhaps hardly in their whole lives; and that, when they reached Lenoir, they had all of them marched twenty-five and thirty miles in eight or ten hours. They had been double-quicked a good part of the way from Taylorsville to Lenoir, and arrived there on Saturday afternoon nearly exhausted with fatigue and hunger.
Notwithstanding their deplorable condition, they had nothing to eat after that march till Sunday at ten A.M., and then they were only partially supplied from the scanty stores of the plundered villagers; for Lenoir, having been pronounced a "rebellious little hole," was sentenced to receive its full share of punishment at the hands of General Gillam. It was not till the afternoon of Sunday that rations were issued. Whenever any of the towns-people carried anything to the prison, the scene was said to have been most piteous, so many men begging for just one morsel of dry bread. There seemed to be an especial spirit of bitterness toward the prisoners among the Federal soldiers generally, and in some instances among the officers. S. Hambright, Major and Provost-Marshal, with headquarters at the same place with General Gillam, was especially insulting to citizens, and cruel to the prisoners.
St. James became a prison on Easter 1865
Dr. Ballew, a citizen of Lenoir, enfeebled and emaciated with consumption, was arrested and carried to headquarters. Feeling exhausted with the effort to walk there, he sat down on the steps of the piazza, to await the Major's pleasure. It was determined to send him to prison, and he was ordered to get up and march, but, from his feebleness, not being able to move quickly enough to suit the chivalrous soldier, the Major, to help him rise, stepped behind and gave him "a rousing kick." The citizens were heartily cursed for taking food to them.
From Lenoir they were marched rapidly up to the top of the Blue Ridge; several gave out, several who started from Salisbury died. They were all urged forward with threats of death. A Lieutenant Shotwell attempted to escape, but being overtaken, surrendered. He was then shot down and left on the roadside unburied. A Mr. Wilfong, who had captured a straggler of Kirk's command, brought him into Lenoir, not knowing the Federals were there. The tables were of course turned, and he in his turn became a prisoner, and was given in charge to his former captive, who wreaked such cruel vengeance on him that he died before reaching Greenville, Tenn. All who reached Knoxville were sent to Camp Chase, Ohio.
General Gillam deserves especial notice at the hands of the historian. All concurrent testimony represents him as most supercilious, insulting, and unfeeling. His headquarters in Lenoir were at Mr. Albert Hagler's. The family were all crowded off into one room, while the gallant General and his staff appropriated all the rest of the premises, including kitchen and stables. To Miss Sarah Hagler, an accomplished young lady, he was especially impertinent, though she parried his attacks with the civility of a lady. On one occasion he said to her rudely, "I know you are a rebel from the way you move—aren't you a rebel?" She replied, "General Gillam, did you ever hear the story of the tailor's wife and the scissors?" "Yes." "Then I am a rebel as high as I can reach." [To understand what she meant, see the sidebar below.]
Coarseness, however, can not always be met playfully, and Mrs. Hagler incurred his anger to its fullest extent when, in reply to his violent denunciation of the Confederates for starving their prisoners, she ventured to suggest that the Federal authorities might have saved all this suffering had they agreed to exchange and take them North, where provisions were plenty. The General's reply to this was the giving his men tacit license to plunder and destroy the houses of Mrs. H.'s married daughter and niece, who lived very near her, and who, she had supposed, were to be protected, from his headquarters being at her house. No houses in the place suffered more severely than theirs. The house of her daughter, Mrs. Hartley, was pillaged from top to bottom. Barrels of sorghum were broken and poured over the wheat in the granary, and over the floors of the house. Furniture and crockery were smashed, and what was not broken up was defiled in a manner so disgusting as to be unfit for use. Mrs. Clark, the niece, was driven out of her house by the brutality of her plunderers.
Her husband, Dr. Boone Clark, was a captain in the Confederate service, had been wounded in the battle of Leesburg, early in the war—an admirable and most graphic account of which engagement he wrote for the Raleigh Standard soon after. In several subsequent battles he had received severe wounds, and though partially disabled by one of them at this time, he was endeavoring to raise a company of cavalry for home defense; as marauders, under the notorious Keith Blalock, were constantly threatening to pillage Lenoir. These facts were known to some of Gillam's men, and they evidently enjoyed the opportunity to plunder his house and insult his defenseless wife.
He himself was at home, sitting at the table, when the raiders dashed in town. Seizing his gun, he ran out and secreted himself behind some adjoining buildings, and though a colonel did him the honor to enter his house almost immediately, and with a squad made a thorough search for him, his retreat remained undiscovered, and at night he left for more secure quarters. The raiders swarmed through the house that evening and night, breaking open trunks, wardrobes, drawers; searching for arms and carrying off all the valuables, and destroying what they did not want. Finding a coat of the Captain's, they cut it to pieces. They destroyed all the provisions, all the furniture, crockery, and wearing apparel. They tore up fine silk dresses into ribbons for their hats, or cut large squares out and carefully wrapped up quids of tobacco in them and deposited them on the mantel-piece. The little daughter's hat and garments were placed on the floor, and loathsomely polluted. They even took the lady's thimble from her work-box, and carried off the likeness of her deceased mother, paying no regard to her entreaties. They constantly addressed her, as she sat weeping and motionless amid the wreck they were making, in the most profane and obscene and insulting language, repeatedly calling her a liar and other degrading names.
They compelled her and her little daughter to remain and witness the destruction; and, finally, when there was nothing more to break and steal, one of them approached her and thrust his fist in her face. As she raised her head to avoid it, he struck her forehead, seized her by the throat, cursing her furiously. She begged him not to kill her; he let her throat loose then; seizing the neck of her dress, tore it open, snatched her gold watch, which hung by a ribbon, tore it off and left her. Half dead with fright, she rushed to the door with the child, and amid curses and cries of "Stop her!" "Don't let her go!" got out of the house, ran down to her aunt's, and fell fainting on the threshold. After she was recovered, the ladies begged General Gillam to interfere, but he refused, saying, "There were bad men in all crowds."
Cutting a Yankee general down to sizeHave you heard the one about the tailor's wife and the scissors? Neither had I, until I saw it mentioned in Cornelia Phillips Spencer's account (above) of the encounter between Miss Sarah Hagler and Gen. Alvan Gillem.
So I googled it and found two stories that she might have meant.
One is about a nagging wife's never-say-die defiance, which I found in Alone, the first novel by Marion Harlond (Mary Virginia Terhune), published in Richmond in 1854.
The other is a bawdy tale of mutilation, as told on video by a Scottish storyteller named Richard Martin.
If the latter is what she meant when she said, "I'm a rebel as high as I can reach" ... my, my.