Little Protection From Vandals


The following is excerpted from famous Tarheel Kemp Battle’s recollection of the last days of the War in Raleigh. His descriptions of the thievery of Sherman’s troops can be added to the long list already known, and he indicates that having a Northern guard assigned to one’s house for protection, many times was no protection at all. It may also explain why so many Southern-origin heirlooms and jewelry can be found in Northern families and shops.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

Little Protection Form Vandals:

"When I reached my destination, I saw one soldier emerging from the house with a jar of preserves and another with a bag of flour. I said to my (Northern guard accompanying me) soldier, "Make the men put down those things. " He replied coolly, "I wasn’t sent to make anyone put down what they have got but to keep them from getting things after I arrived." They used no insulting language to my sister-in-law but one was so urgent for a ring that Mr. Smedes satisfied him with one from his own finger, though he valued it highly on account of its having been the property of an ancestor.

My troubles were not over. A (Northern) brigadier general asked Mrs. Cox’s permission to pitch his tent in her front yard. She agreed as her guard belonged to his command. The next day he marched away and without explanation carried off the guard. As soon as he was out of sight, the robberies were resumed. I hurried to the Capitol, procured another guard and put a stop to the marauding. This time the chief offenders were ransacking the houses of the (black) servants and many thanks were showered on me for my timely arrival. One miscreant, an Irishman, was ripping planks from the stable for his campfire. He grumbled at my stopping him, claiming that the loyal soldiers were entitled to gain comfort from rebel property.

Prior to the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston there was much marauding by the Federal Troops. I took a ride into the country and heard many stories of the depredations. I was told with accents of horror how the soldiers stripped the house of old widow Lee. It was mentioned with especial indignation how one impious rascal took a pair of her drawers from her trunk, and tying the ends of the legs securely, filled them with flour and straddled his neck with the booty.

The air was full of stories of the finding of hidden treasures. The (Northern) soldiers, when they saw a clump of bushes or a thick bunch of weeds or other dark spot…reasoned that an owner of valuables might have selected it. And sometimes, though not often, the colored assistant proved to be treacherous. Doubtless in Georgia, South Carolina and parts of North Carolina robbery was winked at by the officers in order to terrorize the inhabitants and diabolical threats were made in order to force the surrender of valuables."

(Memories of an Old Time Tarheel, Kemp Plummer Battle, UNC Press, 1945, pp. 193,194, 196, 200)