Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Emma's War: 'You will not dare touch me'

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

This photo from 1900-1912 shows the Carson House 
looking very much like it does today.

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

Saturday, April 22, 1865

Miss Emma Rankin
     Sometime after midnight, we heard a halt. In breathless terror, we listened to the sound of spur and sabre and heavy tramp up the walk, through the passage, down the long porch where was our room, and straight to our door, where the sound stopped, with a heavy kick on the door. Not a word could we utter.
     A rough voice cried "Open the door. We want a light to go to the barn." No answer.
     "Open the door, or we'll break it down" was howled, with an oath, from the outside.
     Mrs. Carson then spoke, "I have but one piece of candle" (she had found this in one of the rooms) "and I cannot give it to you."
     "Give us a piece of it," they cried.
     "I have no knife to cut it," said she.
     "Open the door, and we'll give you one."
     She hesitated. After a moment she said, "If you'll promise not to come in, I'll open the door wide enough to get the knife, and give you a piece of candle." They promised. I did not trust to "honor among thieves" and expected them to push in. But she opened a crack in the door, got the knife, gave them the candle, and off they went.
     Just after daylight, the same rough voice was heard at the door. "Open this door, I tell you, or I'll break it open," and heavy kicks followed under which the door threatened to give way every moment.
     We now concluded to open the door. A man rather old, with the most frightful countenance I think I ever saw, pushed in. I think I should know that face after all these years. He came pretty near where I was standing, and immediately spied an insignificant breastpin which I wore habitually, and had not thought of concealing.
     "Give me that pin," he insolently demanded.
     "No, you cannot have it," I said.
     "If you don't take it off, I'll take it off for you," he replied.
     "No, you will not dare touch me," I said. I moved back toward the fireplace, where there was a large iron shovel, keeping my eye fixed steadily upon him as he slowly moved after me. I determined if he attempted to touch me to seize the shovel, and do the best I could with it. I never took my eye off him, but did not allow him to shorten the distance between us, as he moved toward me I moved back till we had gone half way around the room. I persistently refused to let him have the pin, and to all his horrid threats told him he dared not touch me.
     "Dare not," he said, "I fear not God or man."
     "I fear God," said I, "and you cannot harm me."
     After many minutes, as it seemed to me, he moved off, leaving me weak-kneed and ready enough to drop into the nearest seat. A few days before a lady near by my home in Lenoir had been knocked down and robbed of her watch by one of this same gang of marauders, and I know of no earthly reason why this wretch should have desisted, but just at this hour, as I afterwards learned, my dear father was on his knees, imploring the protection of God upon his absent child, amid the dangers by which she was surrounded.

     The day passed in comparative quiet, only a few stragglers, and they employing themselves in digging around for hurried valuables, but not one thing did they get. It was found that they had dug within six inches of the box of hams, and still failed to find it. The horses had been found on the second day, and the children's pony was paraded up and down at the front door before their tearful eyes, before they carried them off.
     Toward evening, quiet settled upon us. No raider had passed for hours, and we were beginning to breathe freely, as we sat in the soft April sunlight, which seemed to be the only thing that vile man could not mar. Down the road from Morganton at last rode two men. They might be friends, but for fear they might be foes, we retired to the back of the house, and shut the door. In a little while, we heard a knock at the front entrance.
     "O, Mrs. Carson," I cried, "That's no Yankees! They come in with a kick, and never with a knock." I flew to the door, and there stood a major in the lovely Confederate uniform. It seemed to me months since I had seen a friend, and I thought he was the handsomest man I had ever seen.
     He introduced himself as Major Herndon* from Asheville (I learned later a brother-in-law of Governor Vance), and I seized the hand which he offered with both of mine, and came near kissing him. Mrs. Carson now came forward, recognized him, and begged him to stay all night. He said he wanted to stop, but his servant at the gate was in charge of two fine horses which he was anxious to get home without encountering any Yankees. We told him none had passed since noon, and we thought the horses could be sent to a place of safety.
     We walked to the gate with him, and while we were consulting about the best disposition to make of the horses, one of the negroes came running round the corner crying, "Run, Massa, run, for God's sake, run! They's a coming from the still house, just as drunk as they can be!" One leap to his horse's back, and with "Good bye, ladies, I am sorry to leave you," he was gone.
     Back we ran to Mrs. Carson's room, and shut the door, but from the window we could see and hear the drunken crowd whooping and cursing. In a moment they rushed in, and were standing before us with pistols presented, crying "Meat, give us meat, or we will shoot you."
     Mrs. Carson told them they might have all they could find, but there was none there. Finding we were not to be intimidated by pistols and oaths, they left us, and after a fruitless search in the smoke house, they rode off. If I remember aright, I these were the last of the raiders that we saw, but it was days before we felt secure.
     Time and space fail me to relate the result of the inventory taken soon after, but I will only say that old Aunt Lucindy's shroud was one of the things that this noble army took away with them. She was an old African—a "King's daughter," of course, in her native land. She was said to be over a hundred years old, and had her shroud laid up in her ''chist'' for many years. A rapacious blue-coat dragged it out, put it on, danced around in it, to the infinite horror of the negroes, and, in spite of their entreaties, carried it away.

* Major Edmund W. Herndon (1839-1883) married Hanna Moore Vance (1842-1921), the younger sister of Gov. Zebulon Baird Vance (1830-1894). Vance served two terms as North Carolina's governor (1862-1865 and 1877-1879) and also is well-known for defending Tom Dula in the murder trial that inspired the ballad, Tom Dooley.

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