Saturday, May 2, 2015

Greenville: 'Raid is the worst form of war'

Yankees camped May 2, 1865, around Furman's 'Old Main,' whose bell used to ring out the news of Confederate victories. When the university relocated in the 1950s, the iconic bell tower was duplicated on the new campus.
GREENVILLE, S.C.
     Throughout the four years of the Civil War, Greenville remained a safe haven.
     Three weeks after Lee's surrender, on May 1, 1865, a potential cavalry showdown was avoided when hundreds of unsurrendered rebels under Gen. Joseph Wheeler camped in the town while Stoneman's Union troops passed through the countryside a few miles to the south as they headed toward Anderson.
     But Greenville's troubles weren't over. Townfolk barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief before more Union troops under Stoneman's command came charging down Rutherford Road. This time, there would be suffering and bloodshed. 
Caroline Gilman
(portrait by John Wesley Jarvis)
     The scene on May 2 was described in a letter by Caroline Howard Gilman, 71, a noted poet who had moved from Charleston to Greenville following the death of her husband, who was a Unitarian minister for 40 years. Gilman's family was sitting down for a barbecue 150 years ago to celebrate the end of the war:
     A sense of calm, if not happiness, was shed over us by the thought that our friends were not in mortal combat and had full confidence that the flag of truce would be respected.
     It seems to me that a Raid is the worst form of war, for its professed object is to attack the defenseless, to pillage women and children, and destroy their homes. What was our horror then to hear a cry from the servants, “The Yankees are coming!’
     Presently, a negro man in a cart, whipping his horse to a full gallop, came tearing along to escape, but in vain. A dozen of the enemy’s cavalry came after him and fired. In an instant, almost, his horse was unharnessed and taken possession of.
     Clusters of horsemen passed and looked and rode on without a question, while in other houses they were searching for arms and horses.
     One man came on foot, while I was leaning over the porch rails, and demanded coffee. I said I had been without coffee for two months. "I hear you have coffee," he said, "and if I find it is so, I’ll be damned if I don’t burn your house down."
     The Raiders, about two hundred in number, went to Main Street and opened the Commissary stores, robbed the Bank, pillaged every article of clothing from the rooms of the Ladies' Association, and then proceeded to private houses and property. [The Ladies' Association cared for wounded soldiers.]
     Everything was rifled. Books, costly plates, wines, pictures, bed linens thrown into the street to be picked up by any passerby. All the afternoon we saw white and black laden with goods, passing by the house.
     The raiders in Greenville were part of Stoneman's rear guard who had tormented Boone, N.C., for 17 days and had been recently transferred to Asheville. Union Gen. Davis Tillson dispatched 150 cavalrymen under Major James Lawson to join the pursuit of Jefferson Davis and perhaps claim the $100,000 bounty on the fugitive Confederate president.
     Lawson's men quickly realized they had a better chance of cashing in from the unplundered homes and businesses of Greenville. In the basement of Hamlin Beattie's store on Main Street, they uncovered a hollow spot behind a brick wall and pulled out $30,000 in gold belonging to the Bank of Charleston.
     During the raid, according to Col. Alston Deas, Mrs. Gilman personally rescued a priceless set of portraits of the Rutledge and Pinckney families from Charleston. 
     Maj. Lawson's troops camped the night of May 2 on the original campus of Furman University, which had been closed because of the war. They plundered the home of Rev. James Petigru Boyce, the founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (which opened in 1859 at Furman University and reopened in 1877 in Louisville, Ky). They demanded his diamonds and silver, and he calmly defied them even when they held a pistol to his head.
     At least two Greenville men were killed during the raid, according to the historians. James M. Richardson wrote that a Capt. Choice of the Old Rock House on Buncombe Road was shot when he threatened to kill anyone who took his horse. Archie Vernon Huff noted that "a white resident wounded a raider and was shot instantly. A former slave was killed later." It is unclear if Huff and Richardson are referring to the same incident.
     Greenville authorities decided wisely not to make a stand against the Union cavalry. Richardson wrote:
Recognizing the futility of resistance, the residents of Greenville obeyed orders to give up their weapons and deliver provisions to the Union troops. Greenville’s compliance allowed the town to escape the destruction many other Southern towns endured; however, warehouses in the town were looted and many valuables were destroyed.
    The Arsenal Cadets from Columbia had been camped near Marietta (northwest of Greenville) but prudently retreated when they learned that two of Stoneman's brigades were headed that way on April 30. The next day at Shiloh Church near Williamston, they were involved in a skirmish with some of Stoneman's cavalry.
     Six weeks after Lee's surrender, Greenville had another brush with Stoneman's Raid, resulting in a long-forgotten incident that was the last Civil War skirmish east of the Mississippi. 

A near miss with Stoneman's captors

      The rebels in Greenville May 1 were from Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry—the same troops who captured Stoneman nine months earlier in Georgia, making him the highest ranking prisoner the Confederacy ever held. (Some of Stoneman's men repaid that debt on May 10 in Georgia, when they captured Wheeler not far from where Wheeler's troops had cornered Stoneman.)
      Wheeler's men had refused to surrender April 18 along with the rest of the Confederate forces in the Carolinas. Instead, they escorted President Jefferson Davis through North Carolina. On April 29 in Charlotte, Wheeler dismissed them to go home to Georgia and Tennessee, which is where they were headed from Greenville. His farewell words:
Gallant Comrades:
     You have fought your battles; your task is done. During a four-year struggle for liberty, you have exhibited courage, fortitude and devotion; you are the sole victors of more than two hundred severely contested fields; you have participated in more than a thousand successful conflicts of arms. You are heroes, veterans, patriots. The bones of your comrades mark battlefields upon the soil of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi; you have done all that human exertion could accomplish. In bidding you adieu, I desire to tender my thanks for your gallantry in battle, your fortitude under suffering, and your devotion at all times to the holy cause you have done so much to maintain. I desire also to express my gratitude for the kind feeling you have seen fit to extend toward myself, and to invoke upon you the blessings of our heavenly Father, to whom we must always look for support in the hour of distress. Brethren in the cause of freedom, comrades in arms, I bid you farewell.
J. WHEELER 


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