“‘They asked me who my master was,’ recounted Fanny Carr on her confrontation with the Yankee soldiers.  ‘I said I had no master, that I was a free colored woman.’  Fanny Carr, a resident of Alexandria, Louisiana, though born a slave had been free for more than twenty years.  The widow stayed in her own home on the outskirts of town with a grown daughter, Catherine.  Catherine, also free, worked as a domestic for a neighbor, Mrs. Thomas C. Manning.  The Carrs kept farm animals for their own use.  Their frame dwelling was proudly maintained and filled with prized household possessions.  Fanny cherished the watch left by her husband, and young Catherine took special pride in her bonnets and jewelry.  Mother and daughter were respected members of the community.  Thomas Manning, associate justice of the state supreme court, characterized them as ‘truthful and industrious people.’

“The blue-clad invaders arrived in Alexandria in mid-March 1864 and immediately began plundering the town.  ‘On seeing me they asked who I was,’ said Fanny.  When she tried to make them understand that she was free, they called her a liar.  When she said that the house belonged to her and to no one else, ‘they cursed me and called me a liar again, and said niggers could not own property in this State.’

“‘They commenced pillaging the house,’ said Fanny.  ‘I begged them to stop.’  It was no use.  Taken from the home were her silverware, plates, tablecloths, sheets, and mirrors, along with Catherine’s clothes.  Expensive woolens and linens were stolen, ‘and my husband’s gold watch,’ said Fanny, ‘which I minded more than the clothes.’  All their food supply disappeared, along with the poultry and a hog.  A store of lumber she had accumulated was chopped to pieces.  The vandals then proceeded to pull down the house itself, even taking bricks from the chimney.

“Fanny was literally left with nothing but the clothes on her back.  She later saw her stolen garments being given by the troops ‘to one of their colored women and a white woman who came off one of the gunboats in the river just in front of the town.’

“Catherine had been at work when the invaders came and did not get home until the next day.  Furious over the theft and destruction, she stormed to the headquarters of Brig. Gen. Joseph Mower.  ‘The Yankees said we should not have our things back; that they knew they were not ours, for colored people were not allowed to own so much property down here.  I told them they did belong to us,’ insisted Catherine.  She then asked Col. William T. Shaw for provisions since his soldiers had taken all that she and her mother had to live on.  ‘They wanted me to go away with them.’  When she refused, Shaw sarcastically replied ‘that if I wanted to stay down here I could get the Rebels to feed me.’  She told him the rebels would feed her, and she would not go off with the Yankees.

“In the spring of 1863 Federals marching up Bayou Teche stopped to plunder the mansion of the late Dubriel Olivier.  Olivier, a wealthy planter and slave owner, was reported to have raised and equipped at his own expense a Confederate company two years earlier.  Now his widow, Aimee, defiantly met the invading Yankees and ordered them away.  ‘Where is your master?’ laughed a soldier.  Assuming she was the maid, they insisted she have more respect for white people.  It finally dawned on the intruders that she was indeed mistress of the plantation, that Dubriel and Aimee Olivier were gens de couleur libre—‘free people of color.’

“One Connecticut officer expressed shock at seeing so many French-speaking, light-skinned blacks, individuals with the audacity to ‘call themselves Americans.’  ‘These are not the former slaves,’ he pointed out in a letter home, ‘but the former masters.’  St. Landry Parish’s free African-American population totaled 1,596 in 1858, and some of those individuals prospered as the owners of sugar plantations and the masters of slaves.  ‘Neither the color of their skin nor their special status mattered to the Yankees,’ wrote an historian.  ‘The cattle, horses and sugar of Alphonse and A.D. Meuillon, Alexandre Lemelle, Jules Frilot, Sosthene Auzenne and Zenon Rideau, all free men of color, were taken and consumed just as readily as the goods seized from [white neighbors].’

“It was not uncommon for even slaves to accumulate some savings in gold or silver coin, and these little hoards were targeted by invading Yankees.  A favorite trick in Louisiana was for a soldier to claim that ‘Old Abe’ or their commanding general had personally made him responsible for collecting valuables, that the owner would receive the money back once it and the liberated slave were transported beyond reach of the ‘rebels.’  One Louisiana slave named Jerry ‘deposited’ his five hundred dollars’ worth of savings into a safe aboard a Union ship.  ‘He was referred by the officer to some other officer who he said had the key,’ it was reported later, ‘and by him to some other officer who was the one that received it, and by him to some other, and so on in endless continuity.’  When the Federal army and supporting riverboats withdrew, Jerry went along in a futile hope of somehow reclaiming his savings.

“During the Federal invasions of western Louisiana in 1863 and 1864, thousands of slaves were encouraged to leave their homes and follow the troops.  ‘We use uneducated horses and mules taken from the enemy,’ Union commander Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks was overheard to say.  ‘Why not negroes?’  Former slaves might end up in the ranks of his army, laboring on confiscated plantations for wages, or employed as prostitutes.  All too often, women, children, and those too old or sick to work were simply abandoned by their liberators.  ‘They were afraid to return to their former masters,’ wrote one historian, ‘because many of them had participated in the destruction and plunder before leaving, and because of the wildly exaggerated stories circulated by Union soldiers that Confederate pickets were shooting down runaways on sight.’

“In late June 1863, after the Union army left Berwick’s Bay, a horrendous discovery was made.  On the banks of Bayou Ramos, some seven miles from Brashear, scores of dead and dying runaway slaves were found huddled in a thicket.  Decomposing bodies were all around, while survivors ‘were crouched to the earth with their heads sunk between their knees, or lying with upturned faces and gazing vacantly at the air,’ according to a witness.  Nearby was a building, part of a local sugar plantation belonging to a man named Sanders, that housed hundreds more.  Dr. George Hill, for forty years an Opelousas physician, described what he saw there: ‘The scene which then and there presented itself can never be effaced from my memory.  On the right hand female corpses in a state of nudity, and also in a far advanced decomposition.  Many others were lying all over the floor, many speechless and in a dying condition.

“‘All appeared to have died of the same disease: bloody flux.  The floor was slippery with blood, mucus and feces.  The dying, and all those unable to help themselves, were lying with their scanty garments rolled around their heads and breasts. . . . clouds of flies, such as I never saw before, would immediately rise and settle down again on all parts of the dying.  In passing through the house a cold chill shook my frame. . . .

“‘As I passed from the house I met with a Negro man of my own, who informed me that he had lost his wife and two children.  I asked him if his friends—the Yankees—had not furnished him with medicine.  He said, ‘No, and if they had, I would not have given it to my family as all who took their medicine died in twelve hours from the time of its being given.”

“Commissioners for the state of Louisiana took testimony and issued a report on the conduct of the invading troops.  Though black survivors were almost unanimous in their belief that Federals tried deliberately to poison them, the report concluded this not to be true.  Still, ‘we know the Negroes religiously believe what they state.’  A careful examination of the facts concluded that between May 21 and June 29, 1863, two thousand of those who ran away with the army had perished.

“The Federal Red River Campaign the following year made matters even worse.  Often crowded into ‘contraband camps,’ it was inevitable that disease and starvation would take a terrible toll.  Children were separated from parents.  Those who eventually returned ‘all concur in representing their misery and destitution as deplorable, and the mortality as frightful.’  In Rapides Parish alone it was estimated that between May 1863 and March 1864, eight thousand slaves left their homes to follow the Union army and that one-half died.

“In Mississippi, the conduct of the Federals toward the slaves was much the same as evidenced in Louisiana.  ‘They had taken all the money from every Negro on the plantation,’ wrote Susan Dabney Smedes of Hinds County, Mississippi, recounting a raid on her home by United States troops.  One crippled sixty-three-year-old slave was a preacher named Isaac.  ‘Uncle Isaac had buried eighty dollars in gold,—the savings of years,’ continued Mrs. Smedes.  ‘This he was made to unearth.  He had lately bought a new silver watch, for which he had paid forty dollars.  This was taken from him.’

“When Federals came through the neighborhoods of Guntown and Saltillo, Mississippi, they committed the usual theft and destruction of property.  But they were particularly zealous to take all the slaves they could, presumably needing their labor.  Rev. James Agnew wrote in his journal that ‘the Yankees shot two of [Thomas] Burris’s Negroes down in the yard because they would not go with them.’

“‘I won’t trust niggers to fight yet,’ wrote William T. Sherman in the spring of 1863, ‘but don’t object to the Government taking them from the enemy, & making such use of them as experience may suggest.’  In Union-occupied Tennessee the army impressed blacks and put them to work at hard labor or hired them out to private contractors who often literally starved them.  When the Federal army decided to build fortifications around Nashville, they made a surprise raid on blacks living there and ‘gathered them in from barber-shops, kitchens, and even churches,’ wrote one of their kidnappers.  ‘Many who traded Southern owners and overseers for Yankee bosses,’ observed an historian, ‘very quickly discarded any lingering notions about Northern benevolence.’  Those put to work  for the army were poorly fed, not properly sheltered, and paid little or nothing.  Death was common.  One Union army officer in Nashville admitted that ‘colored men here are treated like brutes.’  A Davidson County civilian saw blacks working in an army camp and thought them ‘the most miserable wretched looking creatures I ever saw’; those who became sick were treated as if ‘they were so many dogs.’

“Nashville’s blue-clad conquerors were feared by black civilians.  When Ohio soldiers were unable to find seats in a crowded theater one evening in September 1862, they invaded the ‘Negro gallery’ and began shoving patrons out of their way.  ‘In ten minutes,’ read a report, ‘every Negro had been badly beaten and ejected, some of them being thrown entirely down the stairs, from the top to the bottom.’  After the performance, troops went about the streets of the city attacking every African-American in sight.

“Robbery was common, as was sexual abuse of black women by Yankee soldiers.  A U.S. cavalry regiment recruited from among East Tennessee Unionists and described by one girl as ‘the meanest men I ever saw’ rode into Gallatin in May 1864 and began a reign of terror.  They torched two newly established schools for black children, murdered one freedman, and swore they would—as soon as they could—kill every black in town.

“Liberty County in rural southeast Georgia had in antebellum times an unusually large number of free blacks, and some had gradually and laboriously accumulated substantial property.  Many of those still in bondage had also managed to earn money with their skilled labor and purchased stock and grew crops of their own.  When Sherman’s troops came through in 1864 everything was stolen or destroyed, whether owned by planters or by hardworking slaves.  A white diarist recorded that black women were particularly threatened by the invaders.  ‘These men were so outrageous at the Negro houses, that the Negro men were obliged to slap at their horses [causing them to bolt] for the protection of their wives, and in some instances they rescued them from the hands of these infamous creatures.’  One historian concluded that in Liberty County, ‘indiscriminate confiscation of black property, and other anti-Negro acts committed by Sherman’s army, had a corrosive effect on the enthusiasm with which many had welcomed him.’

“In May 1864, Sherman began his invasion of northern Georgia.  A black nurse living on a plantation near Kingston found herself in the path of the army.  ‘They’ve took everything I had,’ she sobbed, telling her young mistress that her animals had been killed and her savings stolen by the soldiers.  ‘Honey, I never knowed a Yankee that wasn’t mean as dirt.  They would skin a flea for his hide an’ tallow.  Everybody say the Yankees goin’ to free us.  Like a fool I believe ’em, an’ now this is what they do.  I might a-knowed it.  What can you spec from a hog but a grunt.’

“Callie Elder, a young slave girl, told how Union soldiers stole money belonging to her master that had been entrusted to the care of her father.  The thieves then victimized the slaves.  ‘Grandma was a churnin’ away out on the back porch and she had a ten dollar gold piece what she didn’t want them soldiers to steal, so she dropped it in the churn,’ said Callie.  ‘Them Yankees poured that buttermilk out right there on the porch floor and got grandma’s money.’

“Camilla Jackson’s master, physician Peter Hoyle, took his slaves and fled the approach of Sherman’s army.  They returned to find that all the slave quarters had been leveled, but Dr. Hoyle’s home inexplicably was still standing.  The slaves stayed in the master’s house until their own homes could be rebuilt.

“Mrs. Dolly Burge, a native of Maine, was living with her family and their servants on the Madison road, nine miles east of Covington, Georgia, when Sherman’s army arrived.  A number of young black boys were forced by the soldiers ‘at the point of the bayonet’ to come with them.  Mrs. Burge recorded the kidnapping in her journal.  ‘One (Newton) jumped into the bed in his cabin & declared himself sick, another crawled under the floor, a lame boy he was, but they pulled him out & placed him on a horse & drove him off.  Mid, poor Mid, the last I saw of him, a man had him going round the garden looking as I thought for my sheep as he was my shepherd.  Jack came crying to me, the big tears coursing down his cheeks saying they were making him go.  I said: ‘Stay in my room,’ but a man followed in, cursing him & threatening to shoot him if he did not go.  Poor Jack had to yield.  James Arnold, in trying to escape from a back window, was captured & marched off.  Henry, too, was taken, I know not how or when, but probably when he & Bob went after the mules. . . . 

“‘My poor boys, my poor boys, what unknown trials are before you. . . . Their parents are with me now & how sadly they lament the loss of their boys.  Their cabins are rifled of every valuable, the soldiers swearing that their Sunday clothes were the white people’s. . . . Poor Frank’s chest was broken open, his money & tobacco taken.  He has always been a money-making & saving boy.  Not infrequently his crop brought him five hundred dollars & more.’

“Yankee soldiers robbed the home of Allie Travis in Covington.  She and a female servant were standing in the yard, watching as the blue-clad troops marched by.  Suddenly the slave girl ‘recognized some of her clothing in the hands of a soldier returning to the street.  She immediately investigated the matter, and found that they had broken open her house and were appropriating all that she prized.  She soon filled the yard with her shrieks and lamentations.’

“‘What’s the matter with that nigger?’ growled one of the troops.

“‘Your soldiers,’ replied Allie, ‘are carrying off everything she owns, and yet you pretend to be fighting for the Negro.’

“Nora M. Canning and her husband noticed one of their slaves ‘sitting on her door steps swaying her body back and forth, and making a mournful noise, a kind of moaning, a low sorrowful sound, occasionally wringing her hands and crying out.’

“‘Master,’ she said, raising her head, ‘What kind of folks these here Yankees?  They won’t even let the dead rest in the grave.’

“‘What do you mean?’ asked Judge Canning.

“‘You know my child what I bury last week?  They take him up and left him on top of the ground for the hog to root.  What you think of that, sir?’

“‘Her story was true,’ wrote Mrs. Canning.  ‘We found that the Vandals had gone to the graveyard and, seeing a new made grave, had dug down into it and taken up the little coffin containing a dead baby, no doubt supposing treasure had been buried there.  When they discovered their mistake, they left it above ground, as the poor mother expressed it, ‘for the hog to root.”

“Mrs. Alfred Proctor Aldrich of The Oaks plantation near Barnwell, South Carolina, hid her valuables herself.  Assuming that the servants knew the whereabouts of the silver, one Union soldier put a rope around the neck of a black man named Frank and threatened him with death if he did not reveal the hiding place.  Mrs. Aldrich only learned of his ordeal later.  ‘Each of the three times that this man suspended poor Frank in the air he would let him down and try to make him confess,’ she said.  ‘Not knowing anything, of course he could not give the coveted information.  Frank’s neck remains twisted to this day.’

“‘Daddy’ John Gardener, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, was similarly threatened by soldiers searching for loot.  ‘The Yankees put a pistol to his head,’ remembered a witness, ‘telling him he knew where his master had buried certain things they wished to get hold of.’  Though he was standing over the place where the hidden treasures were stashed, he told them, ‘Please God, boss, you’ll have to shoot.  I can’t tell you anything of my master’s affairs.’

“‘Where is all the white people’s gold and silver?’ soldiers demanded of slaves at another South Carolina home.  ‘My Ma said she didn’t know,’ remembered Adeline Grey, a young girl at the time.  ‘You do know!’ they said, and choked her till she couldn’t talk.’  When the soldiers left, they made Adeline’s mother come with them, forced to carry a sack of stolen meat.  Her children rejoiced to see her return later that night.  ‘She said she slipped behind, and slipped behind,’ said Adeline, ‘and when she came to a little pine thicket by the side of the road, she darted into it, dropped the sack of meat they had her carryin’, and started out for home.’

“Soldiers also kidnapped twelve-year-old slave Sam Rawls of Lexington County, South Carolina.  ‘I was in marse’s [John Hiller’s] yard.  They come up where the boss was standing . . . grabbed him and hit him.  They burned his house, stole his stock, and one Yankee stuck his sword to my breast and said for me to come with him or he would kill me.  O’ course I went long.  They took me as far as Broad River, on t’other side of Chapin; then turned me loose and told me to run fast or they would shoot me.  I went fast and found my way back home by watching the sun.’

“‘What did the Yankees do when they come?’ asked former slave Andy Marion.  ‘They tied me up by my two thumbs and try to make me tell where I hid the money and gold watch and silver, but I swore I didn’t know.  Did I hide it?  Yes, so good it was two years befo’ I could find it again.  I put everything in a keg, went into the woods, spaded the dirt by a pine stump, put the keg in, covered it up with leaves and left it.  Sometime after, we looked for it, but couldn’t find it.  Two years later, I had a mule and cart in the woods.  The mule’s foot sunk down into the old stump hole and there was the keg, the money, the silver and the watch.  Master was mighty glad that I was a faithful servant, and not a liar and a thief like he thought I was.’

“All too often, threatened slaves had to comply with the demands of the robbers.  Cureton Milling remembered that two Yankees rode up to the plantation kitchen, demanding that servants disclose where valuables were hidden.  ‘Tell us or we’ll beat you worse than you ever got from the lash of the patrollers,’ he quoted one soldier as saying.  ‘They was as good as their words,’ he continued, ‘they got down and grabbed us and made us tell all we knew.’

“‘They’d go through the house an’ take everything,’ said Daphney Wright, a young slave woman of Hardeeville, South Carolina.  ‘Take from the white, an’ take from the colored, too.  Take everything out of the house!  They take from my house . . . But I didn’t have anythin’ much . . . Had a little pork an’ a week’s supply of rations.’

“‘Mom’ Hester Hunter’s family was threatened and terribly frightened by the invaders.  ‘Oh, my God, them Yankees never bring nothin’ but trouble and destructiveness when they come here,’ she said.

“Penny Alsbrook may have felt fear, but certainly did not show it.  When Yankee soldiers demanded something to eat for themselves and water for their horses, ‘She coolly informed them,’ said a witness, that if they wanted anything, ‘they could get down and get it, she never had waited on no poor white trash and never intended to.’  She stood by in silence as soldiers invaded her kitchen, ‘got the bread tray for the horses to eat out of, broke up the dishes, knocked down the stove, broke out the window panes and did, as she expressed it, ‘everything devilish they could.”  The vandalism continued, but Penny ‘stood by and watched them without a word, until one of them started to pick the baby of the household up in his arms.  She tore at him like a tiger and clawed his face and hands and grabbed the baby and ran.’  

“‘First thing they look for was money,’ remembered bondsman Lewis Evans.  ‘They put a pistol right in my forehead and say, ‘I got to have your money, where is it?”  ‘There was a gal, Caroline, who had some money; they took it away from her.  They took the geese, the chickens and all that was worth takin’ off the place, stripped.  Took all the meat out of the smoke-house, corn out the crib, cattle out the pasture, burnt the gin-house and cotton.  When they left, they shot some cows and hogs and left them lyin’ right there.  There was a awful smell ’round there for weeks after.’

“Anna Hasell Thomas of Mount Hope plantation near Ridgeway, South Carolina, remembered of the blue-clad invaders: ‘[They] had treated the Negroes shamefully; stolen the little silver some had, killed, eaten or stolen their fowls, and they had some heads to prove how many had been killed.  One of the slave girls, they had dressed in their own regimentals and carried her off.  They had left the slaves nothing eatable except cow peas, which they had probably never seen before, and did not know that they were eatable.’

“A Federal officer confessed that soldiers would ‘plunder the houses of the blacks of the last mouthful of food and every valuable and take pleasure in insulting and molesting them when they meet them.’  That was the experience of slave girl Violet Guntharpe.  ‘The Yankees sho’ throwed us in the briar batch, but we weren’t bred and born there like the rabbit.’  Violet went on to describe her home built of logs.  Slaves had cows to give them milk, horses and mules to help them work the crops.  They had hogs ‘fattenin’ on hickory nuts, acorns, and shucked corn to give us meat and grease; the sheep with their wool, and the cotton in the gin house was there to give us clothes . . . but when them Yankees come and take all that away, all we had to thank them for was a hungry belly, and freedom.’  She remembered black babies ‘suckin’ their thumbs for want of sumpin’ to eat; mind you ’twas winter time too.  Lots of children died, as did old folks, while the rest of us scour the woods for hickory nuts, acorns, cane roots, and artichokes, and seine the river for fish.’  Violet could not help but note that ‘the worst’ of the liberated slaves left to follow the invading army—a decision most of them would soon come to regret.

“Sophie Sosnowski, headmistress of a school for girls near South Carolina’s capital city, was shocked when one party of Yankee soldiers decided to harangue them.  ‘One among them, made a regular stump speech, in which he endeavored to demonstrate that this country was destined only for the white man, and that the Indian, as well as the Negro had to be, or in the course of events would be, exterminated.’

“Madame Sosnowski was appalled, too, by the treatment black women received from the invading troops at the home she had taken refuge in during the Federal occupation of Columbia.  ‘The scenes enacted at that dwelling in connection with the Negro servants are not fit for female pen to dwell upon. . . . At last the [black men] themselves became thoroughly disgusted, and . . . vowed vengeance for the base treatment their women had been subjected to.’

“One black woman, a servant of Columbia minister Peter Shand, was raped by seven soldiers of the United States Army.  She then had her face forced down into a shallow ditch and was held there until she drowned.  William Gilmore Simms reported how ‘regiments, in successive relays,’ committed gang rape in Columbia on scores of slave women. 

“‘What does this mean, boys?’ asked Sherman, coming upon a young African-American man dead on a Columbia street.

“‘The damned black rascal gave us his impudence, and we shot him,’ calmly replied a soldier.

“‘Well, bury him at once!’ ordered Sherman.  ‘Get him out of sight!’

“When asked about the matter,  Sherman said that ‘we have no time for courts-martial and things of that sort!’

“One Union army officer described the train of black refugees that followed Sherman’s army in South Carolina.  ‘It was a curious sight to see some fifty vehicles of every description from the fancy carriage . . . to the heavy farm cart loaded with Negroes of every description, sex, age and hue, carrying with them household fixtures, etc., living by foraging as our army does, and having to take what is left after the army is served and of course suffering the most painful privation.  I have seen them dying on the road in wagons, carts, etc. . . . I am grieved to see many of our soldiery treat them with the greatest unkindness.’

“Mary Chesnut recorded in her diary the horrific news that the bodies of eighteen black women had been discovered on the Sumter District plantation of her niece Minnie Frierson and husband, James.  Each had been stabbed in the chest with a bayonet.  ‘The Yankees were done with them!’ wrote Mrs. Chesnut.  ‘These are not rumours but tales told me by the people who see it all.’

“North Carolina slaves suffered at the hands of the invaders as well.  ‘They came from ever’where but outen the ground and down outen the sky,’ remembered Martha Graham.  ‘They took all the corn outen the crib and the things we’d stored.  When they left, we didn’t have nothin’.’  Her mother was in the house straining milk when a Yankee barged in, helped himself to it, and just as quickly left.  Seconds later a shot rang out.  ‘They was killing our turkey,’ said Martha.  ‘Darn your black skin,’ a soldier shouted at another North Carolina home, ‘give me the watch in your pocket!’  A blind slave woman had her dress stolen.

“‘Them Yankees done a lot of mischief,’ said former slave and North Carolinian Tiney Shaw.  ‘I know because I was there.’  Besides their ‘robbin’, plunderin’, and burnin’ up everything,’ Tiney remembered that ‘a whole lot of darkies what ain’t never been whipped by the master got a whuppin’ from the Yankee soldiers.’

“North Carolina plantation mistress Cornelia Phillips Spencer remarked how ‘unfortunate Negroes were the severest sufferers, they being stripped of their all, and beginning a new life of freedom, began it without even the little savings and personal property accumulated in slavery.’

“Four-year-old Charles Dickens remembered that his mother had a shoulder of meat that she hid under a mattress in their slave cabin.  ‘When the Yankees left, she looked for it; they had stole the meat and gone.’

“Another small slave boy, Blount Baker, recounted that the Yankees ‘talked mean to us an’ one of them said that we niggers were the cause of the war.  ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘folks that are wanting a war can always find a cause.’  He kicked me in the seat of the pants for that, so I hushed.’

“The Yankees would regret their run-in with eight-year-old Ida Lee Adkins.  Ida lived on the plantation of her master, Frank Jeffries, and his wife, Mary Jane, near Louisburg, North Carolina.  Mr. Jeffries was too old to serve in the Confederate army but met the invading Yankees with characteristic defiance and as a result was tied up on his porch.

“‘I was scared near ’bout to death,’ said Ida, ‘but I ran to the kitchen an’ got a butcher knife, an’ when the Yankees wasn’t lookin’, I tried to cut the rope an’ set Marse Frank free.  But one of them blue devils seed me an’ come running.’

“‘What are you doin’, you black brat!’ shouted the Federal.  ‘You stinkin’ little alligator bait!’

“‘He snatched the knife from my hand,’ continued Ida, ‘an’ told me to stick out my tongue, that he was going to cut it off.  I let out a yell an’ run behind the house.’

“As the Yankees continued to pillage her master’s home, Ida had an idea.  ”Bout that time I seed the bee gums [hives] in the side yard. . . . I run an’ got me a long stick an’ turned over every one of them gums.  Then I stirred them bees up with that stick till they was so mad I could smell the poison.  An’ bees!  You ain’t never seed the like of bees.  They was swarmin’ all over the place.  They sailed into them Yankees like bullets, each one madder than the other.  They lit on them horses till they looked like they was alive with varmints.  The horses broke their bridles an’ tore down the palings an’ lit out down the road.  But that running was nothin’ to what them Yankees done.  They bust out cussin’, but what did a bee care about cuss words! . . . The Yankees forgot all about the meat an’ things they done stole; they took off down the road on a run, passin’ the horses.  The bees was right after them in a long line.’  

“With the invaders gone, Master Jeffries was quickly freed and most of the plunder recovered.  ‘Ida Lee,’ said Mrs. Jeffries, ‘We want to give you something you can keep so you’ll always remember this day, and how you run the Yankees away.’

“‘Then Miss Mary Jane took a plain gold ring off her finger an’ put it on mine,’ a seventy-eight-year-old Ida Lee Adkins told a newspaper reporter in 1936.  ‘An’ I been wearin’ it ever since.’

“By 1936, eighty-seven-year-old Henry D. Jenkins of Fairfield County, South Carolina, had become a substantial landowner and a respected citizen.  He grew up a slave on the Sumter District plantation of Joseph Howell.  He told an interviewer what he remembered of the Federal invasion.  ‘When the Yankees come, what they do?  They did things they ought not to have done and left undone the things they ought to have done.  Yes, that ’bout tells it.  One thing you might like to hear.  Mistress [Sara Howell, wife of plantation owner Joseph Howell] got all the money, the silver, the gold and the jewels, and got the well digger to hide them in the bottom of the well.  Them Yankees smart.  When they got there, they asked for the very things at the bottom of the well.  Mistress wouldn’t tell.  They held a ‘court of enquiry’ in the yard; called slaves up, one by one, good many.  Must have been a Judas ‘mongst us.  Soon a Yankee was let down in the well, and all that money, silver, gold, jewelry, watches, rings, brooches, knives and forks, butter-dishes, waiters, goblets, and cups was took and carried ‘way by an army that seemed more concerned ’bout stealin’, than they was ’bout the Holy War for the liberation of the poor African slave people.  They took off all the horses, sheep, cows, chickens, and geese; took the seine and the fishes they caught, corn in crib, meat in smoke-house, and everything.  Marse General Sherman said war was hell.  It sho’ was.  Maybe it was hell for some of them Yankees when they come to die and give account of the deeds they done in Sumter and Richland Counties.'”

Walter Brian Cisco

Chapter 24: Abuse of African-Americans




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