The day after capturing West Point, LaGrange moved on to the town of LaGrange, Georgia. Well aware of their desperate position, a ladies auxiliary orchestrated the peaceful and non-destructive surrender of the town. This auxiliary was known as the Nancy Harts. It is important to recognize their contribution to the war effort, as well as their ability to save their small town and possibly many lives.
During the days of the Confederacy and towards the close of the dreadful struggle between the States, the women of LaGrange, Troup County, Georgia, recognizing the defenseless condition of their city, banded together for mutual protection from the stragglers of both armies and predatory raids of the vicious.
They conceived the idea of forming a military company, and announced that they would hold a preliminary meeting in the old red school house in Ben Hill’s grove. The women of LaGrange responded nobly to the call, and soon the ranks were filled with the young matrons and buds of society. Thus was organized, I believe the only woman’s company for the military duty ever, commissioned on this continent.
That company was named for that extra loyal Georgia woman "Nancy Hart, who during the Revolutionary War, captured a squad of British officers, who having wringed her best turkey and compelled her to cook it for them, had stacked their guns and sat down to enjoy the repast, when looking up were surprised to find Nancy with one of their own rifles at her shoulder, standing between them and their weapons, coolly demanding not only their unconditional surrender, but forbidding them to touch the turkey. Owing to the distorted optics of Nancy, each chagrined and discomfitted officer supposed she had drawn bead directly on him. One foolhardy soldier bit the dust, while the balance were hanged as soon as assistance arrived. This being I am quite sure the only instance on record where cross eyes were found either useful or desirable. We so admired the loyalty and daring bravery of Nancy Hart that we enthusiastically adapted her name for our company. Women being naturally unfamiliar with fire arms and army tactics, we were obliged to seek beyond our sex for military instruction.
Outside of the very old and the very young, about the only available man left in La Grange, was Dr. H. C. Ware, a practicing physician, who owing to physical disability, was unable to do field duty.
Dr. Ware was a representative citizen, loyal to the Confederate cause and familiar with military requirements. He was consequently our instructor.
The officers of the Nancy Harts were Captain, Mrs. Brown Morgan, First Lieutenant Mrs. Peter Heard, Second Lieutenant Miss Alie Smith, Third Lieutenant Miss Andelia Bull, First Sergeant Miss Augusta Hill, Second Sergeant Miss Pack Beall, First Corporal Miss Leila C. Pullen (your narrator) Second Corporal Miss Sallie Bull, Third Corporal Mrs. Poythress Gay. The muster roll embraced nearly all of the young ladies of La Grange and rigid military discipline prevailed.
At first the Nancy Harts were not expert sharp-shooters, but were not only taught to load guns but to fire them. Our uniforms were certainly not uniforms. All the brass buttons and regulation gray cloth had been appropriated by our brother soldiers, but our hearts beat in unison to our captain’s command Hep! Hep! Hep! and we were unconscious and indifferent to the various and varied costumes worn at our drills. We boldly marched through the streets with guns on our shoulders and banners flying. Our rendezvous was Harris’ grove, where twice a week we drilled and practiced target shooting. I do not remember the exact size of our regulation target, but am quite positive it was smaller than a barn door and larger than a mustard seed.
To stimulate steady nerves and open eyes, prizes were offered for the best marks-woman. I was made happy by winning one of our Captain’s prizes, and whether you believe that I saw the bull’s eye with my eyes open or shut, certain it is I struck it.
As young girls largely predominated, the Nancy Harts were romantically patriotic, each one of us (except of course your narrator) had one or more sweethearts in gray at the front, and we deeply felt the inspiration of sympathy.
Many amusing incidents occurred during these drills, especially in target practice. It must be remembered it was extremely difficult to keep eyes front or eyes anywhere. The peculiar feminine propensity for shutting eyes when shooting was a great obstacle. Then too, the guns from "innoxious disuetude" had become rusty, and it was an open question whether the muzzle or the breech was the most dangerous. I have yet a feeling recollection of how my great grandfather’s flint lock fowling piece got in its vigorous kicks. At one of our early practices, an amusing incident occurred. At the command to fire, one of the timid Nancies, turned her head, shut her eyes and bang went the gun. The ball struck a grape vine and literally stirred up a hornets nest. The hornets responded to the attack. The Nancies were routed, but soon rallied and finished the drill. After weeks of diligent practice, we became brave and indifferent to the snap of the cap, the flash of powder, the kick of the gun, and we became expert marks-women.
The Nancy Harts were never called to active field service, but were ready for the fray if emergency demanded.
"The Confrontation" between Captain Nancy Morgan and Colonel Oscar LaGrange, April 17, 1865, an original watercolor by award-winning city artist Ken Hamilton
On one occasion, a squad of the Nancy Harts on one of their marches, halted in front of my house. We met a posse of Confederate cavalry; after military salutation, we entered into friendly chat. They were soldiers who had escaped from Sherman’s clutches. We saw coming a small body of gray coats. We hailed them: "Hellow Johnnies, where are the Yankees?" They replied: "There are no Yankees in fifteen miles of here." Our fears subsided, for we were apprehensive, having heard that Fort Tyler at West Point had been taken, that our gallant General Tyler had been killed, and that some of our Fathers, Brothers and sons had been slain and captured. These supposed "Johnnies" proved to be Yankees in disguise, having appropriated our soldier’s uniforms and had come upon us like a "thief in the night." They were the advanced guard of the Federal Army, and acted as spies. Soon we saw coming down College Hill a body of blue coats rushing upon our defenceless little city. Our cavalry seeing the fatal folly of resistance, put spurs to their horses and fled for their lives, not however before appealing to us, "Young ladies, go into your houses and bar your doors, we beseech you.” But the Nancies did not retreat, for we had made up our minds to dare or die. One of these Federal skirmishers was an Indian, who being on horseback, rushed after Lieutenant Perkins to head him, but our Lieutenant was too quick for him, suddenly turned and shot the Indian off his horse and thus escaped capture. As this body of blue coats advanced, we saw that it was a regiment of Federal cavalry, having in charge the Confederate soldiers captured at Fort Tyler. Seated on a horse riding beside the Colonel, I recognized my friend Maj. R. B. Parkham, the late General Tyler’s adjutant general. They halted before us. I approached Maj. Parkham and remarked: "Major, I regret to see you in this plight." Colonel La Grange inquired. "Miss is this your sweetheart?" I replied indignantly, "Yes, he is." He smilingly retorted: "Such honesty deserves reward, I will give him a parole and allow him to spend the evening with you." I thanked him kindly and asked the Major to return with me. Major Parkham then introduced us as follows: "Col. LaGrange, I have the pleasure of introducing you to a regularly commissioned officer of the "Nancy Harts." The colonel very pleasantly replied: "I should think the Nancy Harts might use their eyes with better effect upon the Federal soldiers than their rusty guns. After dismounting, Maj. Parkham whispered to me: "If it would meet with your mothers approval, I would like for you to invite these officers who have been so kind to me on the march." Believing it good policy to conciliate the enemy, I invited Col. La Grange and two other officers to tea. It will be noted that the name of the colonel of this invading regiment and that of our invaded city were identical. This fact no doubt happily influenced him in protecting our town, which he did in the kindest and most gentlemanly manner, putting guards around the famous Zerrell Gardens and some of our most beautiful homes. We fully realized that after all, "There is something in a name." It was a sad sight to see our friends marching on foot, guarded by Federal cavalry. This well equipped regiment, mounted on fine horses, clothed in comfortable uniforms with clanking swords and aggravating self-satisfaction, presented a striking contrast to our wearied, foot-sore, hungry men and boys who had fought three days and nights without food and were then prisoners.
Maj. Parkham and I went on our way rejoicing. When we reached home, to our great surprise, we found every servant had left to reap the harvest from the looting of the public stores by the Federal soldiers. All the public building and cotton warehouses had been fired and everything was in the greatest excitement and confusion. How to feed my invited guests I did not know. Maj. Parkham saw my dilemma, and being a soldier, and hence knowing the art of cookery, came to my assistance. We repaired to the kitchen, cooked the supper and were on time for the hungry Federal and Confederates, who did ample justice to the occasion.
While Col. La Grange was being pleasantly introduced to me, my next door neighbor Mrs. Frank Frost, had a much less pleasing experience. Her husband was a prisoner before her eyes, and doubtless to conciliate his captors, she ignored the proverbial gourd and gave the soldiers drink out of her solid silver dipper. All went well until a private rode up, took a drink, took the dipper, put it into his pocket, waived his hand to Mrs. Frost and said "Ta! Ta!" thereby adding insult to injury.
None of the La Grange women slept that sad but memorable night. Grandmothers, young women, girls little sisters cooked provisions all night long for the Yankee regiment and our own soldier prisoners were amply provided with all the substantials and delicacies to sustain and cheer them on their weary march of the morrow. The morning came too soon, the farewell said, the good bye kiss given, the regiment mounted, the prisoners fell in line, the command, "March!" The brave patriotic wives, mothers and sisters, with sorrowing souls and brimming eyes, watched the procession as it moved on. Distance and tears dimmed the view at last, and the weary prisoners wending their way, hoping against hope that all would be well. These were times that wrung the souls of men and crushed the hearts of women, yet the women of our city, our State and our Confederacy, responded to the courage of our brave men, by a devotion to the cause seldom found in history.
No day so drear, no cloud so dark, but what the sun still shines; no heart so heavy; no soul so sad, but what hope still lives. This dreary, dark, desolate day, when our fathers, brothers and sons, were so ruthlessly torn from us, where the brightest hope ended in damp dungeon, or prison cell; when life at best seemed not worth living was destined to have a glad to-morrow.
This regiment with its prisoners on arriving at Macon, Georgia, first learned that Lee had surrendered, before the battle at Fort Tyler and the prisoners were instantly released and returned to gladden the hearts and homes of their loved ones.
During the war many amusing incidents occurred to relieve the distress and monotony of the long siege . Our city, like many others, was really a large army hospital for wounded and disabled Confederates. The Nancy Harts were called on to minister to the sick and wounded. This hospital service to be effective had to be so systematized that every disabled soldier would receive proper attention. Each young woman had one or more of the sick and wounded to care for. This meant to prepare suitable food and delicacies; to see that the necessary clothing, bandages and lint were always in readiness; to write their letters; to console and comfort them by reading to them from the bible to divert and amuse them by reading light literature.
My mother, having charge of one of the hospital wards, and being rather far sighted, recognized that pity is akin to love, took good care that I should not have charge of any of the handsome and dashing officers. I was consequently assigned a private with freckled face, carroty hair, ungainly and awkward, who was wounded in both arms and suffered intensely. In spite of his unprepossessing appearance, I devoted myself to his relief and recovery, and am glad to state that he yet lives an honorable citizen of a sister State.
A friend of mine had in her charge a dashing young cavalry officer, who on recovering from his wounds and during his convalescence, sought to display his gratitude and probably a more tender feeling, by frequent visits to his erstwhile nurse. These visits at last became irksome to my friend, she instructed her small Negro hall-boy not to admit the officer, giving a most minute description of his appearance and accoutrement. On the officers next visit, Phil opened the door and viewing the man deliberately from head to foot, thus soliloquized: "yes, you got on a black slouch hat, got on belt round your waist, got pistol in your belt, got your pants in your boots. Yes, that’s just him," and promptly astonished the amused officer, by announcing: "No, sir, Miss Bee says she ain’t at home." The young officer retired quite chagrined, but the joke was so good that he could not refrain from telling it to his friends.
Worn out and disgusted with the hospital diet and surroundings, the convalescents were particularly grateful for a taste of home cooking and home life. In my mother’s ward was a young officer, to whom she had a on several occasions, carried waffles and other delicacies. The waffles were specially relished and dilated on. As soon as he was able he was invited to take ten at our house and doubtless anticipating his favorite dish, had his appetite whetted to the occasion. Our regular butler Charlie, had a younger brother Gus, who at times waited on the table. Plate after plate of smoking hot waffles followed each other in rapid succession; Captain Webb’s appetite was apparently insatiate. The waffles suddenly ceased to appear. My mother ordered more. Gus promptly replied: "Taint no more out dere Miss. Capt. Webb done eat ’em all up." Captain Webb was readily relieved the somewhat embarrassing situation by heartily laughing not only at the "bad break" of Gus, but at his own inordinate appetite.
Reverting to Colonel LaGrange: after he had discharged his prisoners and disbanded his regiment at Macon, Georgia, strange to relate Col. LaGrange was captured by one of Macon’s fairest daughters, and before the summer’s sun had set upon our Southland, he had borne to his far western home the fairest in our midst. And stranger still in 1866, there appeared in our midst a son of the North, who so ingratiated himself into the hearts of the people that soon after the era of the New South, he led to the alter an officer of the Nancy Harts.
Thus the blue and the gray have been so united, that the children of this southland will recognize no North and no South, out all will be forgotten for the glory of our country and one flag.
Ancient history awarded the Spartan women the honor of being the bravest and most patriotic in the world, urging on their husbands, fathers, and sons to battle and sacrificing them upon the alter of their country rather than suffer defeat.
But my friends, modern history has awarded to Southern women, not only the honor of sacrificing their brave men, sires and young boys, but given them the proud distinction of having the courage of defending their homes and firesides by armed resistance if necessary, and none more brave and unflinching, more loyal and self-sacrificing, than the Nancy Harts.
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