THE WAR YEARS
Hear ye not the sound of battle,
Sabres clash and muskets rattle?
Fight away, fight away, fight away in Dixie Land!
THE war came in spite of all efforts to prevent it.
In February, 1861, representatives from seven southern states met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a Southern Confederacy. Simultaneously, delegates from twenty-one other states gathered in Washington for a "peace conference."
North Carolina sent five delegates to the Washington "peace conference," one of whom was Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin of Haw River. The venerable old judge opposed secession, and urged that the North and South compromise, concede or conciliate their differences-any step which would prevent the approaching civil war. Both President James Buchanan and General Winfield Scott later admitted that had Judge Ruffin persisted in his effort the war might have been avoided.
After long discussion, however, the Judge gave in to younger and stronger voices, and the conference passed seven weak articles toward the settlement of North-South problems. North Carolina voted against six of them.
Regretfully, Judge Ruffin came home to his Haw River farm. The war drew closer and closer; it now seemed inevitable.
During the first week in March, more than a thousand Alamance County citizens met at the courthouse in Graham to vote on the question of state secession. Edwin M. Holt presided at the meeting, and Rufus Y. McAden, an ardent Union supporter, denounced as traitors those who wanted to join the Confederacy.
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALAMANCE COUNTY
When the vote was counted it was 1,116 to 284 against secession, and Giles Mebane was elected to take this decision to a State Secession Convention.
Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln became President, and early in April, 1861, he wired Governor John W. Ellis to send two regiments of North Carolina troops to the Federal Army. North Carolina had not yet seceded, but Governor Ellis, himself a Secessionist, refused the President's request and immediately sent several thousand volunteers and a large shipment of muskets to the Confederate Army.
An anxiously-awaited news item appeared on April 10 in the Hillsboro Recorder:
"We very much regret to announce today that hostilities have actually commenced between the Southern Confederacy and the Federal Government . . . "
When the news reached old Judge Ruffin, it is said that his whole body quivered with emotion. Though he had been against war, he was a Southerner, and now he raised his arms above his head and shouted, "I say fight! Fight! Fight!"
The State Legislature immediately called for 20,000 volunteers, and the Secession Convention, attended by Giles Mebane and Judge Ruffin, declared the independence of the State of North Carolina at Raleigh on May 20, 1861, and pledged the State's support to the Confederate States of America.
The war had come, and the people rose to meet the challenge.
TROOPS AND BATTLES
Eight days after the Legislature asked for troops, the hastily formed Hawfields Company climbed aboard the train at Mebane bound for the Charlotte training camp. A large crowd of friends and neighbors gathered to see them leave, and with tears in their eyes, the wives and mothers of the community presented the departing soldiers with a blue and scarlet flag.
At Company Shops, Charles F. Fisher, who was president of the North Carolina Railroad, put on the neat gray uniform of a Confederate Colonel and set about the business of organizing a regiment of troops. He established a training camp at Company
THE WAR YEARS
Shops, on the site now occupied by the Broad Street High School, and within two months had recruited the full regiment, two companies of which included men and boys from Alamance County.
On July 7, the State was saddened by news that Governor Ellis had passed away in Virginia after a long period of failing health. Colonel Fisher and part of his regiment left immediately to escort the Governor's body back to Raleigh. When this grim duty was finished, the regiment was ordered to return to Virginia and was assigned to General Bee's Confederate Brigade at Winchester.
The first important battle of the war occurred a few days later at Manassas. Bee's Brigade was part of 22,000 men who, under Confederate General Beauregard, were concentrated west of the Potomac River near Washington. General Beauregard received word that the Union Army planned to march on Richmond, the Confederate Capital, and he hoped to stop them at this point. The Union troops marched westward, however, and reached the Confederate lines at a place weakly guarded by a Colonel Evans. Bee's Brigade was nearby, and was immediately ordered to Evans' aid.
Colonel Fisher's Sixth Regiment had been separated from Bee's Brigade that morning, and did not arrive at Manassas until shortly after noon. The sounds of battle could be heard from a distance, and Colonel Fisher quickly marched his men toward the front. When they reached the scene, the battle was raging furiously, and the newly-arrived troops took up a position on the left end of the Confederate line.
Directly in front of Fisher's regiment was a Federal gun battery, and the Southern boys began to lay down a heavy fire on it. Within a short time, they forced the Union troops to retreat and moved forward to capture the gun emplacement.
Near exhaustion by this time, Fisher's men paused for a short rest. Hardly had they put down their muskets, however, when another gray-clad regiment appeared on their left and opened fire on them.
Believing the other regiment to be Confederate troops, Colonel Fisher ordered his own men not to fire and called out for
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALAMANCE COUNTY
the others to cease firing. A bullet struck him as he spoke and he fell, mortally wounded. The entire Sixth Regiment now opened fire on the nearby troops, and, after a short battle, the enemy force withdrew.
As Colonel Fisher lay dying, the Confederate Army pushed forward with renewed strength, and the Union troops fled the field, leaving behind them a vast amount of supplies and ammunition. Fifteen members of the Sixth Regiment lost their lives in the battle, and fifty-three others were wounded, but the victory which their sacrifices helped to win at Manassas brought badly-needed courage to the South.
During the months which followed, Alamance County gave twelve companies of troops to the Confederate Armies, more men at that time than the county had voters. Several members of the same family frequently enlisted. Mr. and Mrs. Lemuel Simpson of this county gave eleven sons to the service, and there were a number of other families who made almost an equal sacrifice.
There were many mothers like Mrs. Lettie Jones Long, a widow of this county, whose three eldest boys enlisted in the Confederate Army. All three of them were killed. Mrs. Long's youngest son, who was not old enough to volunteer for the Army when the war began, ran away from home and arrived at the headquarters of a Confederate regiment Just as the war ended.
THE WAR AT HOME
The people of Alamance County saw little of the war itself, until the last ninety days, when North Carolina was invaded by the "Yankees" and refugees began to cross this section ahead of the advancing enemy.
Conditions of the times were recorded in a school notebook of 1863:
"Last year at this time, no conscripts had been called into service. However, a great many had volunteered and gone into it. Others had been drafted, the most of whom put in substitutes, or went into it during the war. But since then there has been a great change. The conscripts between the ages of 18 and 40 have been called into Confederate service. Hence the laboring class
THE WAR YEARS
of men is scarce, and the farms, in a great measure, have to be cultivated by women and children."*
Army patrols occasionally rode through Alamance in search of deserters, and guards were posted at the important bridges to keep the vital lines of communication open.
"Desertion in the Confederate Army becomes alarming and the Militia are ordered to guard all the crossing places on Haw River . . . "*
The women of this county, like those throughout the South, endured the hardships of the war years with quiet courage. They formed soldiers' aid societies to knit socks and to sew for the men at the front, and to feed and care for the wounded and weary veterans who passed through the county aboard troop trains. A group of these women often met trains at the depot with food and clothing which they distributed to the grateful soldiers.
Sacrifices had to be made at home. Carpets, heavy curtains, and draperies were unravelled and woven into blankets for the army. Table and bed linen was sent to Confederate hospitals for bandages. The home folk wore crude homespun or patched clothing, and did without many former luxuries and necessities. Food soon grew scarce; sorghum replaced sugar, and rye or wheat was ground up and roasted to take the place of coffee.
Conditions at home in Alamance and at the front during the war years are well described in the following letter:
"North Carolina, June 24, 1862
Deare son I write you a few lines to let you know how we are getting a long we are all well but your mother and Daniel they are not well but they are on the mend . . . I receive letter dated the 6 of June and glad to receive it for we wass all out of harte for fear that we never should get a letter from you but thank be to God that you are in the land of the living . . . you heard that I expect Daniel home from Danville from Mr. Moser he told me that you wanted some money and I will sen you ten Dollars . . . we are just done Cutting our wheate and the oates is ripe now we got them to Cut and . . . the Corn to plow so we got no time to reste
* Quoted from Ferguson, Clyde V., Educational Growth in Alamance County, UNC Thesis 1933.
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALAMANCE COUNTY
at all . . . cropes . . . have been very good . . . whiskey is . . . a very good price now . . . is worth too Dollars & fifty Cents per gallon . . . I got over too hundred dollars . . . I have sold ten barles of flour at eight dollars & fifty Cents per barrel . . . I got all the horses yet . . .
"Eli Sharp" Conditions at the front were typical of those which Mr. Sharp's son describes in the letters which he wrote home:
"H'd Q'r 15" N. C. R. Cooke's Brigade
"Fredericksburg, Va., Dec 6" 62
"Dear Father . . . I found my Regiment about four miles from Fredericksburg . . . wee have some tents and have plenty wood and good water. We had snow last night 2 inches deep . . .
"Fredericksburg Dec the 17 1862
". . . Wee have had a fight and I came out Safe I got hit on my rite Shoulder with a Spent Ball but did not hurt much . . . I think wee gaind a grate victory . . .
"April 19 1863
"Wee have been looking for a big fight but it has not come . . . wee have verry good fare hear now . . . we get plenty of corn meal and one pound of beef is aloud to each man per day . . . wee get a plenty of salt and Sometimes wee draw rice and Sugar . . Wee have preaching every Sabbath and prayer on Wensday night . . . . I heard that the women had been preparing thread and cloth in Alamance from all the factorys . . .
"July 10, 1863
"I have not heard from Daniel Since I rote to you before . . . I hope that he is alive yet and that he well get back again . . . I saw Uncle Greens John and Henry . . .
"Your afectionate Son "M. H. Sharp"*
* These paragraphs are from original letters owned by Mrs. Arthur Williams, Graham.
THE WAR YEARS
While many businesses collapsed, the cotton mills and the railroads boomed. The Saxapahaw Mill, E. M. Holt's factory at Alamance and Ben Trollinger's mill on Haw River produced hundreds of yards of cotton cloth which were sent to Raleigh be made into Confederate uniforms.
Near the close of the war, though, cotton became extremely scarce and expensive in the South. One humorous story is told about the occasion when E. M. Holt "borrowed" several thousand bales of staple cotton from the Union Army. The cotton had been seized by General Sherman's men in South Carolina and shipped north through Alamance County. Because the train had difficulty getting through Confederate territory, the cotton was unloaded near Company Shops, and the train headed back to South Carolina. Late at night, Mr. Holt gathered his friends and neighbors and stole the abandoned cotton, and, with this aid from the "Yankees," was able to operate his mill for several months.
Paul C. Cameron took over Colonel Charles Fisher's place at the head of the North Carolina Railroad at the beginning of the war and offered every facility of the company to transport Confederate troops and supplies. The Army also took charge of the telegraph service at Company Shops.
CROSSING THE HAW
In the autumn before the war ended, the little neighborhood near what is now Swepsonville was agog with excitement, for the Western Artillery of the Confederate Army was going to pass that way en route to Virginia. Every family scraped together what food and clothing it could, and had it ready for the troops when they arrived.
Years later one aged woman remembered the endless stream of tired, hungry, half-naked men who shuffled along the road by her grandfather's home. Some of the more fortunate rode horses, but many walked barefoot and listlessly, without music and without flags. For thirty-six long hours, the troops filed across the narrow fording place on Haw River.
The young girl watched from the kitchen window, as she fried large slabs of meat and bushels of potatoes, and boiled pots of
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF ALAMANCE COUNTY
synthetic coffee for the hungry soldiers. Long into the night she kept her place over the stove, preparing food, while other members of the family passed it to the men on the road outside.
A company of French Zouaves, part of the Confederate force, was detailed to guard the house from damage by the troops, and as the long night passed, they kept up their spirits by singing "La Marseilles," the French National Anthem, and other strange and foreign songs.
When the food was finally gone and the day had come, the girl went with her grandfather to watch the long columns of men from a nearby ridge. There on the ridge they found a young soldier weeping. He told them that his horse was no longer able to carry him and that he was heartbroken at the thought of leaving the animal behind. The aged plantation owner led the soldier to his stables and gave him the last saddle horse on the farm, in exchange for the boy's own sorrowful colt. With a smile of grateful appreciation, the young soldier mounted the horse and rode away, as the Army continued to file slowly along the dusty road.
THE END COMES
General W. T. Sherman, leader of the infamous "march through Georgia" captured the city of Wilmington, North Carolina in February, 1865. The war now centered on North Carolina.
As Sherman's men moved westward, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston took up a position on the Neuse River to head the "Yankees" away from Raleigh. Meanwhile, a second Union Army under General Stoneman entered this state from Tennessee.
Stories of the depredations of the "Yankees" preceded their coming, and families hid their silver and other valuables, often burying them in nearby woods. What horses the Confederate Army had left them were also carried to the woods. Pillage and devastation was certain to come.
It is said that the Bank of New Bern shipped a large amount of gold coin to Company Shops at this time, and that the money was buried in the woods nearby. Some years later, the story adds, a negro farmer ploughed up some $3,000 in gold pieces near this same site.
THE WAR YEARS
On the night of April 10, General Johnston received a message from Confederate President Jefferson Davis that the South had been forced to evacuate Petersburg, Virginia. Johnston marched his troops to Raleigh, and the following afternoon received a dispatch saying President Davis was at Greensboro, and desired to see him. Johnston took the train to Greensboro early next morning. He found both General Beauregard and President Davis there, with headquarters set up in railroad cars.
General Stoneman's Union Army had captured a tremendous amount of Confederate supplies at Salisbury, and marching toward Greensboro on April 11, set fire to railroad bridges both north and south of the city. By a strange coincidence, they barely missed the opportunity to capture the train bearing the Confederate leaders. Jeff Davis still maintained hopes that day, but when his Secretary of War, General Breckinridge, arrived a short time later, he admitted that an effort should be made to end the war. Generals Johnston and Beauregard agreed with him. President Davis, himself, sat in his railroad car at Greensboro, and dictated a note to General Sherman, and General Johnston signed it.
Meanwhile, Sherman had entered the city of Raleigh, and the troops which Johnston had left there evacuated the capital to the Union Army. Sherman received Johnston's note and sent word that he would be glad to see the Confederate Commander at a place five miles west of Durham on April 17.
General Johnston assembled his tattered and war-fatigued men around him at Company Shops and with tears in his eyes, he told them goodbye.
"Be men," he said, "Be men–wherever you go!"
As quietly as the war had come to Company Shops, it also came to an end. The proud but defeated General walked to the depot, where a single car waited for him, and with Captain W. H. Turrentine of Company Shops at the throttle, the engine puffed out of the shop yards and headed for the historic meeting with General Sherman.