Sunday, April 19, 2015

Emma's War: 'Biggest burying I ever attended'

Second in a series of 5 episodes
(To read "Emma's War" from the start, click here.)

For four days April 19-22, 1865, residents of the Carson House near Marion, N.C., were terrorized by Union raiders and desperados who used the raid as a license to loot. Miss Emma Rankin told their story in The Charlotte Observer in 1895. 

Wednesday, April 19, 1865

Miss Emma Rankin
 About the middle of April, I went on Friday evening to spend Saturday with a friend, two miles off, across the river. Sunday morning before daylight I awoke to find one of the ladies of the family standing by my bed with a candle in one hand, and an open letter in the other. I shall never forget the ghostly picture—the tall figure with face as pallid as the night dress she wore, the dim blue light, and the whole foreshadowing of evil. The letter was sent by a special messenger from Statesville, and informed us that Stoneman's raiders, which had dashed in and out of the state some weeks before, had appeared at Salisbury, released their prisoners, captured our forces there, and were en route for Tennessee, probably via Asheville.
 It is impossible to realize now the dread terror with which we received these tidings. All the horrors, of which we had heard from others were about to burst upon us, and I was away from home. Oh, how I longed to be there. But to reach my home in Lenoir, I would have to go meeting the raiders, and no one would take me and run the risk of being captured, both man and horse. I could only be still and wait and trust.
 We went to church [Easter Sunday, April 16], and our blessed old pastor gave us all the hope and strength he could gather from the Bible, reminding us that there were lions in the way, but God could shut the lions' mouths. The scenes of the week brought up his words with great force.
 I went back to Col. Carson's from church, and in the morning a scene of active preparation commenced—the biggest burying I ever attended. Huge excavations were made—one I remember large enough to hold a piano box, which was filled with hams, and buried in an old house near where the sorghum had been made the fall before, and the cane litter was spread over it to hide the fresh earth. I blistered my hands burying a box of Confederate money. It was only a foot long and about half as wide and deep, but I thought I would never get the hole deep enough, and I chose a soft place too. It was Col. Carson's money.
 About this time I began to think I had more clothes than I knew what to do with, though my wardrobe would have been a show in these times. Large quantities of clothing, including my most valuable trunk, were sent to a cabin a mile or two off the road, so poor looking that we thought it would offer no temptation to search, and so it proved, for we saved everything that was there. To me it seemed idle to secrete when every servant on the plantation knew where everything was hid—in fact, did most of the hiding—but to their honor be it said, not a single disclosure was made to their friends and our foes. Tuesday morning the horses and mules and cows were driven off up the creek, and hid out in the bushes a few miles from the road and then we sat down in dreadful expectation to wait.
 About noon [Wednesday, April 19] a small squad of men passed, sent by Confederate Gen. Martin to reconnoiter. Gen. Martin commanded our forces in Asheville at that time, and had come over with his small force to the top of the Blue Ridge to offer what resistance he might. In a very short time, they came galloping back, saying that the Yankees were just across the river.
 The time had now come when all who had determined to abandon the post must leave. Mrs. Carson urged her husband to hide out in the mountains, as he could be no protection to his family, and it would be a relief to her to have him out of the way. So off he went, and most of the darkeys disappeared, leaving Mrs. Carson, her two little daughters and myself standing in the front door watching our skirmishers, who were stationed at the front gate and who told us they would fire at the Yankee videttes from that point. The approaching troops were now heard, but instead of coming up the direct road, they were on the road up the creek that passed the end of the house, and came into the main road at a right angle. As the house was in this angle we saw in a moment that we would be right in the line if there should be any firing, but just then our captain lifted his cap and called to us that he had concluded not to fire from that place lest the enemy should burn the house. As they wheeled and galloped off the Yankees caught sight of them and dashed after, firing on them, our men firing back. We were dreadfully afraid that they would capture our boys, but they did not, nor touch one of them. It was said that one of the raiders was killed, but I cannot vouch for the truth of this.
 It was stated afterwards in some newspapers that this was the last skirmish of the war. If so, it was a remarkable coincidence of dates for it was the 19th of April exactly four years from the day on which the first conflict occurred in the Confederate war and also the anniversary of the day on which the first blood was shed in the Revolutionary war. 
[The first shot of the Civil War was actually April 12, but who am I to argue with a teacher? By the way, Stoneman's troops captured the rebel who claimed to have loaded the Shot Heard Round the World.] 
 By the time this little skirmish was over the horrid blue-coats were swarming in and through and around the house. We stood in the front door, hoping to keep them out, but when we looked back, they were pouring in the back door, and every other door and window. They rushed past us and up the stairs and in every room. Every office and out house seemed to be full of them, and still they came.
     There seemed to us that there were about a million of them, but I suppose there were only a few hundred in the yard. An impudent lieutenant demanded of me where the horses were secreted. He hooted at my reply that the negroes had taken them off and hid them. He asserted that he was a Southerner, Kentuckian, and knew as much about negroes as I did, and that was a likely story which I was telling. I told him that if he was a Kentuckian he ought to be ashamed of being in that band of marauders. After some insolence he departed in search of the horses saying. "Be sure, Miss, we will find them—Yankees never fail in a search."
     In the meantime, Mrs. Carson and I took seats in the porch and waited an hour or two until the road and house began to thin out, and hoping that they had all passed, we began to reconnoiter. The pantry was as bare as old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. Most of the meat had been taken out of the smokehouse, and what was left was thrown down on the floor and a barrel of vinegar poured over it and then covered with dust and ashes. It was some consolation that the next set that came along took this same meat and ate it. The spring house was as bare as the pantry, and as far as we could see, nothing was left to eat. Some old turkeys which were setting had their heads cut off, but were still “a setting” in headless dignity on their nests.
     Another squad of regular plunderers now came into the yard, and we resumed our stand in the front porch. They demanded clothes, provisions, etc., and threatened, if not supplied, to sack the house. We told them to sack away; that their own people had been there, and they would not be apt to find much left. They started on their rounds, but soon returned for the keys. It was then discovered that the keys had been carried off by the first set. (A good many of them were found weeks afterwards scattered over a wheat field near the house). They pretended not to believe this, and declared with very rough language that they would open the doors any way. (A few of them had been left locked). We soon heard them splitting out the panels with an axe, but finding little or nothing, they soon rode on, cursing the house and its inmates as they went.
     Night was now drawing on, and to heighten its horrors, a dark thundercloud was rising in the west, and when we went to Mrs. Carson's room to try and arrange for the night, we found that we had no light. The candles were in the press with heavy oaken doors, the keys were gone, and we had not skill or strength to break the locks or split the doors. The very idea of being left in darkness, and those wretches so near us!
     Just then some of the negroes came peering around, and one of them told us that Col. Carson had been taken prisoner, but was paroled (he was over 60 years old) and had sent him down to see if Mrs. Carson was willing for him to come home, and stay that night. She was not willing, for she thought both he and we were safer if he was absent, so she sent him word to remain where he was. There was a large pile of new shingles at the back door with which to recover the house. We carried in enough of those to keep a light all night, built up a fire and sat down, after bolting and barricading the door as best we could. The room was a desolate confusion, the beds thrown on the floor, bureau drawers out and pulled to pieces and darkness and discomfort all around. We had no supper and wanted none. The children went to sleep, but Mrs. C. and I kept watch. We afterwards learned that there was a camp on each side of us, but the rain fell in torrents, and there was little passing and no stopping until the morning light, for which we were most truly thankful.

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