Friday, May 1, 2015

Anderson: 'They wished to ruin us'

ANDERSON, S.C.
Among more than 160 historical markers
in Anderson County, this one in Williamston
is the only one that mentions Stoneman.
It used to be silver letters on a black

background (like the other markers below),
but the colors were recently reversed.
     Give my old hometown credit for playing possum.
     Anderson was the only stop in South Carolina for the worst elements of Stoneman's Raid, and the Yankees were looking for any excuse to burn down the town.
     One of the Home Yankees from Tennessee wrote, "We were now in the Palmetto State, the first to secede from the Union and fire the first shot at the old flag, and we did not at that time have many scruples about despoiling the country."
     For once, cooler heads prevailed in Anderson. Judge J.P. Reed understood that the war was already lost and convinced the townsfolk that fighting would only make things worse. "We would have been destroyed," his daughter Emmala Reed wrote in her journal. "We heard they hoped some defense would have been made here, for this was the hotbed of Secession and they wished to ruin us."
     By playing dead, Anderson almost avoided any deaths. Still, the next three days would be awful. "In the simple annals of our village life," the Anderson Intelligencer wrote a year later, "that day will occupy the most prominent niche of all other days. Its anniversary will ever be remembered."

     When Gen. George Thomas ordered Stoneman's scattered brigades to pursue Jefferson Davis, he suggested they meet up in Anderson.
     The cavalry converged from several directions, and there were skirmishes near Pendleton, Williamston, and Craytonville. 
     Anderson turned out to be much more of a target than just a rendezvous point:
  • In February, the Confederacy had relocated a branch of its treasury from Columbia to Anderson to avoid Sherman. Confederate dollars were being printed at University Hill on South Main Street.
  • The town was something of a Confederate resort. About 75 Charleston families had summer homes in Anderson to avoid heat, mosquitos, and Yankees. Many of the antebellum houses that remain in the vicinity of South McDuffie Street have roots in Charleston.
  • Anderson was abuzz with rumors that Jefferson Davis had hidden Confederate gold somewhere in town. The Yankees may have looted over a hundred homes searching for gold. 
  • The real buried treasure in town, as the Union troops would soon discover, was a mother lode of Madeira wine and rare liquors that Charlestonians had stowed in B.F. Crayton's basement for safekeeping.
Gen. Simeon Brown
     The first Yankees to reach Anderson 150 years ago were commanded by Gen. Simeon Brown, a 53-year-old motel proprietor from St. Clair, Mich., who had been appointed a major by the governor of Michigan and had risen to general in less than three years.
     When historian Thomas Bland Keys researched the events of May 1-3, 1865, in Anderson, he called it "Brown's Raid," since Stoneman had been absent for two weeks. The Intelligencer used the same label in its first-anniversary story in 1866. However, the veterans as well as many Andersonians still called it Stoneman's Raid. 
     Brown was an interim commander who would be replaced by Gen. William Palmer after he reached Anderson on the night of May 2. Brown's 1,900 cavalrymen (from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan) had a reputation for undisciplined looting, and he evidently did little to restrain or reform them.
Stoneman's troops raided Ashtabula Plantation
near Pendleton. This could have been 
cavalry
en route from Caesar's Head to Anderson May 1
 or outliers who pillaged the area May 5-6.
    As Brown's brigades marched toward Anderson from the north, both columns ran into skirmishes, one at LaFrance (on the road from Pendleton to Anderson) and the other at Shiloh Methodist Church (on the way to Williamston from Pickensville, which is now Easley).
    Shiloh is a biblical name that has come to be identified with an 1862 battle in Tennessee that was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War. South Carolina's Shiloh saw only one man shot on each side. The Yankee appeared to be mortally wounded and was left to die, but local women saved his life. 
     The Confederates in Williamston were Arsenal Cadets, teenagers from The Citadel's prep school in Columbia. Anderson historian Louise Ayer Vandiver said that the cadets prevented the Yankees from burning a railroad trestle that was a vital link between Greenville and Columbia. Other accounts say that Union troops had already burned the bridge (and possibly a passenger train) before the skirmish.
     Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania battalion riding from Spartanburg via Laurens came under rebel fire about 15 miles east of Anderson near the Craytonville crossroads. Two Union soldiers were shot from their horses, according to a memoir by Lt. John A. Conaway in the History of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. (I presume these were not fatalities, since the same book says that the last Pennsylvanian killed in action was Corp. George French April 18 in Lincolnton, N.C.) Confederate re-enactors have staged "the battle of Anderson" in a field nearby, but even they are uncertain of the exact historical location or the details. 
      If anything, these engagements only provoked the Yankees' wrath. Stoneman's Raid had already covered almost a thousand miles in seven weeks, and every day was taking the cavalry further from home.

     The Yankees struck Anderson almost without warning. News traveled slower than the cavalry, people had been "crying wolf" for months, and Andersonians had resolved to go on with life as usual. It was May Day, and a number of children were on chaperoned picnics in the dogwood-speckled countryside.
     Miss Caroline Ravenel described the Yankees' arrival in a letter to her friend back home in Charleston, Isabella Middleton Smith (included by Ina Van Noppen in her original history of Stoneman's Raid):
     On Monday afternoon, May 1, I was giving a music lesson, when I heard pistol shots. Knowing that several hundred of our men were expected from Cokesbury, I paid no attention to it, until Gussie and Maria came rushing in, saying a soldier had fired at them, and they knew there were Yankees here. I went to the window, and saw a country man driving as if for his life, then a soldier strike a negro with his sword and as he rode on, fire a pistol in Uncle Webb's yard.
     Oh! Belle, I cannot tell you the feeling that came over me when I recognized the blue uniform. ... I drew the front blinds, locked the door, and went to tell the others. 
     Yankees picked up a wild rumor that much of the Confederate gold and silver from Richmond had been stashed in Anderson. As a result, they ransacked homes looking for treasure and tortured residents for clues to where it might be hidden. Two of Anderson's original doctors, A.P. Cater and Henry Winthrop, were strung up by their thumbs in efforts to get them to confess.
Marker on South Main Street in Anderson.


     It's doubtful that Confederate gold was ever in Anderson, but it made a good story. When the 13th Tennessee Cavalry wrote their regimental history 30 years later, they told it as fact: "The specie was in kegs, and a wagon load of the kegs was carried out of town and buried, but the place was pointed out by an old negro. The Union soldiers got several hundred thousand dollars, a great deal of it in silver and gold." If they had really found the fortune, then why were the same troops stealing watches three days later in Athens? 
     Instead of treasure, Anderson had the Confederate treasury. Printing presses and plates had been moved to Anderson in February when Sherman's troops marched toward Columbia. Confederate money had quickly become worthless as the desperate government churned out cash to pay for the war. The graybacks even admitted they were worthless on their face. For example, read the fine print on the Confederate $5 bill:
The Confederate States of America
will pay the Bearer Five Dollars
TWO YEARS AFTER THE RATIFICATION OF A TREATY OF PEACE
BETWEEN THE CONFEDERATE STATES & THE UNITED STATES

     The presses were installed in the Johnson Female Seminary, a school on South Main Street that had been closed during the war. The second day of the raid, the Yankees wrecked the place and helped themselves to souvenirs. Col. John Miller, commander of the 3rd Brigade, took Confederate printing plates back to Tennessee, where they were displayed for decades in his Bristol home.
     Following the raid, schoolgirls scavenged the blank bills to use them as stationery, since paper was so scarce in the South during the war. 
     And then there was enough alcohol to get an army drunk. That deserves a story of its own. Click here to read all about it. 
    "For two days, they held high carnival," Louise Ayer Vandiver wrote in her 1928 centennial history of Anderson. "Suddenly, 'Boots and Saddles' was sounded, and they departed." That was late on Tuesday, May 2. A few dozen of Brown's rear guard remained in Anderson until Wednesday morning.
     On the heels of Brown's troops came another 2,000 Union cavalry under Gen. William Palmer (whom Vandiver mistakenly identified as Stoneman himself). "His troops passed through Anderson in the dead of night with a flag of truce," she wrote. "It was a moonlit night, and they rode so quietly it seemed they were phantom horsemen. The approach of Stoneman's men caused the hasty exit of the Brown crowd." Palmer was hot on the trail of Jefferson Davis, and his brigade barely paused at Anderson. [Vandiver also overstated the moon, which was a crescent that would have set well before midnight.]
     Yet another Union outfit under Stoneman's command would arrive in Anderson May 3. They were probably associated with Kirk's Raiders who had occupied Boone, N.C., in April, and they were likely responsible for the only fatality during the raid on Anderson, and quite possibly the next-to-last Confederate killed in action. We'll have that story on Sunday.

6 comments:

  1. You give no details of the skirmish, which took place at LaFrance. What happened? Was Jones' Company (also called Pendelton) Mounted Infantry SC State Troops involved in this engagement? Peter SCHIFFERS

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  3. Thanks for reading, Peter. What little I know comes from Thomas Bland Keys' 1975 article, "The Federal Pillage of Anderson: Brown's Raid." www.jstor.org/stable/27567307. This does mention the company you reference: "As Brown's flank guards crossed into Anderson District on Monday, May 1, two skirmishes were fought by South Carolina's home guards. Near the Thomas Moore home northwest of Piedmont, 17 miles northeast of Anderson, Colonel Thomas' Greenville Arsenal Cadet Company, joined by Lieutenant W.P. Price and a small band of militia, engaged in a brief fight when attacked by a platoon of blue cavalry, which quickly withdrew, leaving behind one wounded man. Also Caption Jones' Pendleton Home Guard Company of young boys had a brush with the enemy near Pendleton Factory (now La France) 10 miles northwest of Anderson." Elsewhere, I've seen reference that the Yankees approached via Autun Road.

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  4. Caption? Is there a photo? Is there a biography which makes reference to Louise Ayer Vandiver?

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  5. Louise Ayer Vandiver wrote a centennial history of Anderson County in 1928, entitled Traditions and History of Anderson County. Parts of it are available online, and the book should be available in SC libraries. I found a copy in the special collections at Appalachian State University.

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