SUBMITTED BY: Joel W. Rose
Penny Alderman was a young farm wife in antebellum North Carolina. Her husband, Reverend Amariah B. Alderman, was a Baptist minister who served many churches from the south end of Sampson county. Written in 1854, her diary records Penny’s daily activities, detailing not only her own life, but those of her husband, neighbors, family, and friends.
In 1855, Rev. Alderman sold the home and moved the family to a place near Salemburg where they lived for a year. He was soon called to be the minister at Spring Branch Baptist Church in the Mingo community of northern Sampson. They bought a place near the church and made it their home. Though Rev. Alderman served the Lord on Sunday, farming was his primary occupation and their way of life. Times were good and the family continued to grow. By 1860, they were even making plans to build a new home. But the winds of change were sweeping across the country, and a dark cloud appeared on the horizon, as the bitter conflict over slavery and states’ rights came to a head. Little did the Alderman family know of the pain and suffering that awaited them.
The family’s oldest son, John T. Alderman, was born in 1853 and was too young to serve in the Confederate Army. But by 1865 he was old enough to understand the nature of the war and had even witnessed some of the events as they unfolded. Years later, John wrote a book about his father and the family’s trying times during the war. Entitled “Amariah Biggs Alderman (1819-1889), Reminiscences and Civil War Experiences”, this limited-edition booklet is currently housed and preserved by the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh.
On March 15, 1865, having occupied Fayetteville and destroyed its arsenal, General William T. Sherman and his army broke from their encampment on the east side of the Cape Fear River, with Goldsboro as their target destination. The Alderman home was located just north of the Goldsboro Road and south of Averasboro, smack-dab in the middle of Sherman’s advancing left wing, exposed and defenseless in the face of the Yankee invaders.
In his booklet, John T. Alderman tells his family’s story of the war:
“Father had always been a faithful adherent to the United States government. In 1860 when the agitation was great for North Carolina to secede from the Union, father voted against the measure. Soon matters assumed a more formidable attitude, as Lincoln called on NC for a quota of soldiers to fight the South. In a few months the question of Secession was put to a popular vote. To his public and in his prayers father had pled for a united people. But the die had been cast; it was either with our people or against them, so with a misgiving heart he favored our withdrawing from the Union. As a minister of the Gospel and pastor of churches, he was exempt from military duties. But as the state had gone into the Confederacy, he was faithful to the end in his support.
During the war it was almost impossible to get many of the supplies to which we had become accustomed. We resorted to many devices to find substitutes. For coffee we used parched corn, parched peanuts, beans and rye and other similar items. You have read that the government in Washington had southern ports blockaded so that no supplies could be brought in. Occasionally a swift southern vessel would dash by the blockade and bring useful things. Father once succeeded in getting a quantity of real coffee that was brought by one of the blockade runners, but Union soldiers carried off the last of it.
By 1862 prices of all commodities had become very high. I saw father pay $300 for a barrel of flour. Sugar could hardly be had at any price. As a substitute many people used home-made syrup, made from sorghum. To feed the army it became necessary to tithe the people on incomes and farm products. I remember well going with father to carry the tithes of corn, meat, etc., out to Hawley’s Store where Mr. Daniel Ray was the tithing agent; he was an old man who kept the store there and was also the postmaster. Our mail came once a week. One day father sent me to Hawley’s Store to get mail, and while I was waiting about twenty common-looking women marched into the store; they were the wives of deserters and bushwhackers who camped on the upper Black River. They went into the tithe storage and helped themselves. They took hams, shoulders, corn, just as much as they could carry. I remember well the picture of them as they went down the road with the loot; Mr. Ray was entirely helpless. No threat or command would stop them. Father had just carried those same hams to be sent to the soldiers.
Reports of cruelty and devastation made by the Yankee soldiers came ahead of their advance. There was terror and great excitement among the people. Only old men, women, and little children were left in their doomed homes with the Negroes, most of whom, be it said to their
everlasting credit remained true to their white people. As the enemy approached there was great effort to hide away all valuables and try to save some necessities if it might be possible.
Father had hidden his horses in a large, dense swamp near our home. No one would have ever imagined that the Yankees would ever try and go through it, but they did. There was an area near the branch there which had just been cleared leaving piles of trash for burning. Father felt sure that anything buried would be safe, so he raked the trash aside and buried a flour barrel filled with hams. Then he carefully put the trash back and tried to leave the place as near as possible like he found it. But his efforts were in vain.
In early March of 1865 we nervously learned that the Yankees had reached and burned Fayetteville and were crossing the Cape Fear River. News came about the awful ravages and atrocities committed by the federal troops. There was a general consternation, and all, especially the children, were scared almost to death. On Thursday morning (March 16th) the suspense was awful. Sometime around noon, several hundred Yankees surrounded our house and plunged into every nook and corner of our home, breaking open trunks and boxes and tearing out everything. They abused my father, jerked his watch out of his pocket, took his hat off his head, and did other things of like character. They tried to make father tell where his horses were hid. He could not tell them for he did not know, so they put a rope around his neck and were stretching him to the limb of a pear tree. Mother was there, too, and she quickly put her hand between the rope and father’s neck. Had he been drawn up to the limb then she would have gone up, too, as she was determined not to turn loose. Suddenly, other soldiers came up with the horses, so they let him down. It is impossible to describe the pillaging and plundering; not a garment was left except what we had on, not a sheet or a pillow case, no bed covering. Mother had a number of fine quilts that she had woven; all of them were folded as saddle blankets and put upon the sore-backed mules and horses. To us it was like tearing heart strings from our mother. None of her dresses, jewelry, or other keepsakes were saved. They took special pleasure in riding their horses through mother’s flower beds. Everything which had been prepared for the well-being and comfort of our parents was either carried off or destroyed. Even furniture was broken, as they were determined to leave nothing in shape so it could be used. The day the Yankees came on Thursday we had provisions for more than a year; when they left on Sunday morning there was not even enough for a simple meal.
Father suffered greatly from arthritis, but that did not matter to them. They made him, at the point of bayonets, shoulder a great wagon wheel and carry it three hundred yards and put it on another wagon. I walked along by his side but I could not help him. Great army wagons were backed up to the doors of the barns and loaded with corn, peas, potatoes, and whatever could be found. A large smoke house full of bacon: gone; plenty of home-made syrup: gone. Whatever they could not carry off, they destroyed. Father had a fine collection of tools. They broke open his tool chests and carried off most of his expensive tools. What use had they for his tools? The Yankees killed every chicken on the place except one old hen which escaped under a fodder barn. They killed some of the cattle near his house and left the dead bodies to decay in stench. Father had given me a beautiful little Bible. I hope the man who took it read it. When the Yankees hung father to the limb of the pear tree on Thursday, it was in full white bloom. The next day its blooms were all dead and that tree never bloomed again. We never knew why.
It was distressing to see the agony on the faces of our parents as they saw everything they owned being taken away or destroyed. All this was hard to bear but there was no help. It was all done under the eyes of uniformed and epauletted Union officers who encouraged the pillagers in their deeds of destruction. The Yankee soldiers used awfully ugly language in the presence of my mother and sister. They built a fire under the corner of the house to set it on fire. Mother went to the place and raked out the fire while they cursed her. Every kind of pillaging and destroying was continued from Thursday noon til Sunday morning. They came early Sunday morning but not as many, stirring through our house as usual. Sunday was the dreariest day I ever saw. The air was filled with smoke, the sun was trying to shine through the heavy red air; a death-like sensation was everywhere. We were hungry and cold in a desolate home with nothing to eat. In the distance, we could hear the army band playing “Yankee Doodle” as the Yankees marched up the road towards Goldsboro. I have never liked “Yankee Doodle” ever since.
About ten o’clock that morning we heard the booming of cannons in the distance. The Yankees who were rummaging through the house stopped instantly and rushed out into the yard. I heard an officer say ‘There’s trouble ahead.’ He formed his cavalry unit and they marched off
at a rapid pace. Suddenly they were gone and we were all alone. All day we expected others to come but they did not. The booming of the cannons we heard were the opening guns of the famous battle of Bentonville, about twenty miles away. Just imagine if you can the horrors of that Sunday night: hungry, no bed clothes, chilly March weather. Monday morning, mother, – heaven knows how she did it – gathered up and parched some corn for our breakfast.”
Just as quickly as they had arrived, the Yankees were gone, and the smoke of battle had passed. The Alderman family had survived the terrors of Sherman’s army and the arduous years of war. It was time to heal and rebuild, to resume life’s duties, however difficult. But the harsh war had taken its toll and the spirits of Amariah and Penny Alderman were forever broken. Though they lived on, their lives ceased to flourish. For them, life was never quite the same.