The William Sawyer House at the South Mills Battlefield
The following information is from several discussions during 1976-1983 with John Halstead Wilkins Sawyer, son of Edmond M. Sawyer and his second wife, Josephine Wilkins (Forbes) Sawyer. The details were from many recitations to John H. W. Sawyer by his father and by John’s half-brother, Grandy D. Sawyer (my great-grandfather). The house where William Sawyer and his wife Ruth (“Ruthy”) Crookham Sawyer lived was located on the west side of the main road from South Mills to Camden, a short distance south of the current intersection of Nosay Road and State Highway 343. William Sawyer, one of the larger landowners in the battlefield area, was enumerated in the 1860 Federal Census of Camden County, N.C. By the time of the Battle of South Mills in April of 1862, William Sawyer had died but his widow, Ruthy, their son Edmond M. Sawyer, his first wife Adelia Brown Sawyer and their five small children were all living in the house. The Confederate battle plan evidently called for removing all obstacles to clear a field of fire in front of the Confederate positions. Consequently, soldiers from elements of two CSA companies were sent to evacuate the William Sawyer house and its outbuildings and destroy them to clear that part of the battlefield. Edmond M. Sawyer and Grandy D. Sawyer recalled that after their farm animals were rounded up and removed, all the family’s furniture, clothing and other possessions were able to be removed from the house except for a barrel of pork which was too large to go through the doorway. After the house was stripped of much of its planking it was burned to the ground with the barrel of pork still inside. Edmond M. and Grandy D. Sawyer had a most vivid memory of the soldiers who were sent to move them and burn their home. Part were from a Georgia unit who were as kind, considerate and helpful as the situation permitted. Those from the other Georgia company were described as “backwoods ruffians” who were crude and abusive while assisting in the evacuation of the house and premises. As a sidelight relating to William Sawyer (who married Ruth Crookham), Edmond M. Sawyer told his son John Wilkins Sawyer that William Sawyer freed all his slaves several years before the war between the states. He gave them the use of the part of his property called “Burnt Island.” This was located somewhat south and west of his primary holdings, on a piece of high land surrounded by low, swampy ground near the Pasquotank River.