AUTHORS: Joel Warrick Rose
On June 19, 1879, General William T. Sherman gave an address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy in which he used the often-quoted phrase “war is hell.” It is probably the most memorable statement that was ever attributed to Sherman, who, fourteen years earlier, led nearly 60,000 Union troops on a path of destruction that stretched from Atlanta to Savannah and then up through the Carolinas. During that campaign, Sherman had two objectives: (1) to unite with General Grant’s army in Virginia; and (2) to make civilians suffer and turn against the war. He was successful on both counts, and yes, it was hell, as the pain and misery of war was often inflicted on local civilians.
If your ancestors lived in Sampson County during the war, then chances are that you’ve probably heard a “Sherman story” or two, one of those family nuggets relating to those days when Sherman’s army came through this area in March of 1865. We’ve all got them, first-hand stories of what the Yankee soldiers did or the damages they inflicted. Some accounts are humorous, most are not.
For the James Kenan Morisey family of eastern Sampson County, the months of March and April were sadly unforgettable. They lived on a large plantation of about 2,000 acres just north of Turkey, on what is now Hudson Road. James Kenan Morisey (1830-1882) was a farmer who also served as the county Clerk of Court. His grandfather, George Morisey, came from Cork County, Ireland and settled in Sampson County in the late 1700s. In 1859, James Kenan Morisey married Mary Emma Gibbs, and by 1865, they had three children. Emma, as she was known, later wrote of her family’s experiences during those dark days of 1865. The following narrative was reprinted in the Sampson Independent newspaper in February of 1960:
“The old Morisey homestead near Turkey, where we all lived and where two generations had lived before, was the oldest house with the first brick chimney that was ever in the county. It was the property of the late Col. Thomas Kenan Morisey, and his widow and sons owned it. I lived there for many years.
It was there that the yankees came by the hundreds and destroyed everything we possessed, every living thing. After they had taken everything out of the house- our clothes, shoes, hats, and even my children’s clothes- my husband was made to take off his boots, which a yankee tried on.
The shoes would not fit, so the soldier cut them to pieces. They even destroyed the medicine we had. They took away in a wagon our brandied peaches, cherries and wine, which they rejoiced over.
In the cellar, they took six barrels of lard, honey, and preserves, and what they did not want, they let the negroes come in and take. They took nice meat from two smokehouses. At first they took all of our hams, but I’m not sure if they really wanted them. I don’t think they ever heard or tasted a southern ham, as they called them afterwards. But they took every piece, not leaving one pound.
After they had taken all out of the house and yard, they then began their destruction on the hogs, cattle, and horses. They took sixteen horses, one mule, all of the oxen, every cow, every plough, even the hoes, and four wagons.
The soldiers filled them with meat and pulled them to camp, which was not far from our home. They would kill the hogs in the fields, cut them in half with the hair on. Not a turkey, duck, or chicken was left.
They took every cooking utensil-, only left us a piece of broken pot which I would hitch up on our parlor fire and cook for six in the family. Our negroes, they would not allow them to come in and help us, as they threatened to kill them if they did.
My brothers had built a log barn in a section of very thick woods, and had it full of corn, which the yankees did not find until they set fire to the woods and burned it. The hogs might have eaten it, but there were none left.
It was too burnt for us- all the bread that we had was the corn that was picked up, which they wasted. The boys would pound it with stones to make meal.
The only piece of meat we had was a piece that was given me by a yankee who I made a shirt for in the dark room- my light was a piece of candle on my knee.
I found out afterwards that it was on Sunday- for we had no communication with the outside world for the five weeks they camped at our dooryard. We saw no one during that time and no one could ever leave the place.
Owen B. Morisey, the younger brother, had been wounded three times, and had been brought home walking on crutches. We were all so anxious for fear that they would kill him, but they only abused him.
My mother in law, (Mrs. Thomas Kenan Morisey, who was Penelope Clinton Bunting Morisey, a granddaughter to Richard Clinton.) was very old and frail and in bed. They went in her bedroom and cursed her. They took all our books and threw them in the woods. I had my silver and jewelry buried in the swamp for two months
When they heard of Lincoln’s death, they were furious, and we thought they would revenge themselves. We did not know what would come next; they were so excited.
After they had stayed with us for five weeks and some days, they left, and we thought all were gone. We thought we would have a nice, quiet breakfast of a hoecake of cornbread, a little fried bacon, and rye coffee sweetened with sorghum, when two yankees walked in the back way through the fields.
They asked if they could get breakfast- we were just ready to be seated. My husband told them to sit down and have some, as that was all we had. They seemed to enjoy it and left nothing there. Then they offered him $10 in greenbacks, the first we had seen, but he refused to take it. They gave it to my son, five years of age, Robert Gibbs Morisey, and from that $10, we started life again.
We sent to camp at Faison Depot and bought an old horse that we cleaned up, fed and dosed, but which died after a week’s care. Then the boys went again and bought an ox. They made something like a plough, which they used to finish the crop with. Our knives were pieces of hoop iron sharpened, and our forks were made of cane, but it was enough for the little that we had to eat.
Our house was five miles from Warsaw and nine miles from Clinton in Sampson County.
All of what I have written was the last year and month of the sad, sad war (March & April of 1865). It is as fresh in my memory and all of its horrors as if it were just a few weeks ago. It will never be erased from my memory as long as life shall last.
I do not and cannot with truth say I have forgotten or that I have forgiven them. We had been married many years and had begun to build. They destroyed what they could of the new house and took every key and put them in the turpentine boxes.
One amusing incident was that we thought we would have a feast- one good dinner. We killed the old grandmother peafowl and had it cooking in the parlor. My old cook came as we thought all the yankees had gone. When it was done, we could not have cut it with an ax, if we had had one.
Such a disappointment cannot be imagined. My children would cry for bread, but there was none. A yankee took a piece out of his bag and bit it, and said: “If you had behaved yourselves, this would have not have happened.”
I could write pages of the privations and suffering, and horrors were endured those five weeks, but this is enough now about the dear old home with its first happy memories, then awful associations.”