SUBMITTED BY: Linda Lancaster Harmon
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF WAR
By Mrs. Winnie Suggs
SOURCE: Wilson Daily Times 3 February 1914
I was a mere schoolgirl when Schofield’s army came through this part of the country at the close of the war, but I was well grown and I had almost lived out of doors since my brothers went to the army. I attended to having the crop planted and gathered as long as the negroes stayed with us. We had saved about three thousand pounds of meat beside lard and other things and when we heard that the Yankees were coming I had the negroes to help me hide it.
Our smokehouse floor was of brick and I had one of our men to remove the bricks and dig two large holes under the floor into which we lowered a barrel of lard and another of cured hams. Then we replaced the earth above the barrel, and the brick floor was relaid. Then we hid nearly all the meat that was left in more convenient places. An old man came by and told mother that the Yankees would not steal her things if they found that she had made no attempt to hide them. Then mother told me to put all the meat and lard back into the smokehouse but I did not have as much faith in the old man’s opinion as mother had, and I only replaced a part of the meat. I had concealed some of it so well that I knew it could not be found and I made that which I returned spread out and look as undisturbed as possible and I did not mention the reserve to mother.
I hid the portfollo containing my brother’s letters on top of a sill under the house. It had no value except as a keep sake, but I felt that I did not want the Yankees to handle it. Otherwise our house looked as usual. All the negroes had left us except one woman with a family of little children. We had sent the horses away off in the woods, hoping that they might escape, but the thieves followed the tracks and found them easily.
A group of Yankees rode up about breakfast time while we were preparing breakfast in the kitchen and asked for food. Mother, thinking to divert them from plundering, began to cook them some ham, but when she saw another group coming up with her horses she dashed the ham out of door and refused to give them breakfast. These rode away in a few hours – our yard was full of Yankee soldiers evidently bent on plunder. They demanded the smokehouse key, threatening to break open the door. I was afraid of them and politely handed them the key. They took all the meat and I saw one come in with all the meal we had in a sack. I told mother that they had taken all and left us without bread. She began to cry and when the man with the meal sack set it down on the floor, one of the Yankees told me to take it and sit on it. I did so, and for a while I kept the meal.
They came in squads all day, each squad leaving us poorer. I was afraid to leave mother a moment. At least a group of four brutal looking creatures came into the yard, partly drunk. A negro baby four years old, was toddling about the yard. A Yankee took it up in his arms calling it pet names, and asked where the white folks had hid things. The little negro tried to tell by point and saying “Dock”.
Dock, my little brother, was in the yard and in another enclosure was a place where all the meat on the farm was dressed. A kind of gallows on which the hogs were hung after they were killed had a rope and pulley to wing the hogs up. As I looked from the windows I saw those brutal Yankees hang my little brother and calling mother, I flew from the house like fury. I no longer knew what fear was. I seized the collar of the Yankee who was drawing the child up on the gallows and shook him until he released the rope.
By that time mother came, and helped me to unwind the boy, who was as white as a sheet and shaking with argue. Mother got him to bed and those Yankees left.When the next group came I re (torn) the brutal treatment of my little brother to an officer who said he would have the men punished if he could find them, which was a very big promise.
While the whole house was full of Yankees searching and (torn) everything my attention was called to something and I left the bag of meal on which I sat when they were present. When I turned back I saw one of them going away with the bag of meal. We had nothing at all of which we could make bread. I saw a Yankee come from under the house with my brother’s porfollo and letters. I met him on the porch and told him that they belonged to my brother who had been killed in battle. He replied that he wished the “d__rebel” was there, he would like to kill him again.
“But” he added, “you may take the rebel letters.” “Yes”, I replied, and I shall take the portfolio too, and I seized him by the collar with one hand, and took the porfolio with the other. I gave him a push and he went over, leaving the portfolio in my hand. His comrades laughed and seemed to enjoy his discomfiture. I believed from that time that it was bad policy to show fear of them.
Mother seemed to think that we had fared worse than anyone else. In the afternoon she took me over to our nearest neighbor’s, Mrs.(sic) MEWBORN, who was a widow with a large planation. When we arrived the same Yankees were looting her planation. I saw my bag of meal, and taking it into the house, I sat on it until mother was ready to go home. I took it home with me. Mrs. MEWBORN’s brother Mr. BEN HARDY was very sick and we went every day to inquire of her how he was, and to offer what help we could give. We found Mrs. MEWBORN greatly distressed one day because she was not allowed to go see her brother.
There were pickets on the road, and the army was camping (sic) at Mr. HARDY’s house. With the confidence of youth, I proposed to lead the way with another girl, while mother and Mrs. MEWBORN followed.
I had learned by that time a bold front was the best attitude toward Yankees. I slipped my arm around my companion’s waist and we went down the road huming (sic) a tune as though it were the most natural thing on earth. We passed the pickets, who looked us over without a challenge. On arriving at the house our mothers were invited into the sick man’s room, but we were given a seat on the porch, where the young lady of the house introduced us to two officers who were reading there.
After bowing distantly, I ignored these men altogether. I was boiling over with indignation at the treatment of our people and with the indiscretion of a child, I longed to express myself. Turning to my young neighbor I said, “Well NAN, how do you like all these blue jackets around you?” She replied that she thought they were real nice and her voice took on quite a “loyal” tone. I drew back from her, folding my ample home spun skirts about me as if fearing contamination.
“Oh!” I said, “Keep away. Don’t let any of your Yankee dust get on me.” “NAN,” I said “What if a gray jacket came and saw you here claiming such friendiness (sic) with the Yankees, how do you think they would feel about it? For my part, I shall not pretend that I am glad to have them here. I shall not pretend that I do not have everything they do, and I wish we could kill the last one of them. While I was speaking a soldier whom we had passed on the road came upon the porch. He was furious and roughly told me that if he had known I had such sentiments he never would have let me pass.
A gesture from the officer silenced the answer on his lips. There was a colonel and lieutenant on the porch. Lieutenant SWEET rose, took off his cap and bowing to me, said: “Lady Southern Lady, I want to tell you how much I honor you for your patriotism. I know well that you cannot be as glad to see a bluecoat as a gray one, and I admire you for showing how you feel about it.”
Mrs. MEWBORN came out and told the colonel that a chest of tools had been stolen from her smithy and she would like to recover them. He politely gave her permission to search for them and take them wherever she found them. Lieutenant SWEET offered to go with us, and remembering what I had said about “Yankee dust,” he walked a little in advance of us. He was undoubtedly the best bred Yankee I ever saw. A few feet away Cousin NANCY found one of her sledge hammers. I offered to carry the hammer, saying laughingly that I might need it to kill a Yankee.
All the corner of the fence was a huge U.S. flag, the handsomest one I ever saw. Lieutenant SWEET took the staff of it in his hands and said: “Ladies, let me wave the good old union flag over your heads once more.” Impulsively I raised the sledge hammer in a threatening manner and said, “Never! I’ll kill you if you attempt it!”
“Why” he said, “don’t you love the Stars and Stripes?””Yes,” I said, “the stars and stripes are not to blame, but the men that bear it and the cause it represents, and you’ll never wave it over me.” That flag stood in front of an encampment of 1,200 men and the young lieutenant and I were in full view. I was an impulsive earnest young girl and at the moment I was oblivious of the fact that I was among enemies. The army seemed to take in the situation, as he stood holding the flag and I with hammer raised defying him. A voice from the field said, “Kill Him!” and a cheer went up from the Yankee army. It seemed to me that every man in the 1,200 cheered me. He dropped the flag and raised his cap.
Mother hurriedly proposed to go home. As we started Lieutenant SWEET offered to let me ride his horse, Fanny, and he would send an orderly to bring her back. I told him if I rode a Yankee’s horse I should certainly not send it back as they had taken all my horses.
Mother and Cousin NANCY politely took leave of the officers but I called back that if I met LEE’s army I would come back and take them all prisoners. Mother began to cry and reprove me, saying I must learn to hold my tongue. She was afraid they would come and burn her home. But next morning the army had moved their camp.
When mother cried because she thought we had nothing to eat but the sack of meal, I confessed that I knew where to find some things that I had not taken back to the smokehouse. Our home was bare of everything that could be easily taken away. We shared what was left with the one slave who had remained, and her five little ones.
One day I was alone in the house. A Yankee and a Negro rode up on two beautiful horses. The Negro stopped at the gate, the white man dismounted and hitched his horse at the door. He had a rifle. “Ah!” he said, looking around, “the boys have done the work pretty well.” He called to the Negro to come in and help him burn what was left.
“No” I said stepping on the porch, “that Negro knows better than to come in. If he comes in I shall kill him.” I saw that the Negro did not offer to come, but the white man began to move the chairs into the center of the room and called to our cook to bring fire. She refused but he kept moving things and calling for fire. In order to move a table he placed his gun by the door. I saw my advantage, and reached it just as he realized what I was doing.
I did not have time to aim the gun but I raised it like a club and told him that I would use it if he came near me. The Negro on horseback rode off as soon as he saw me with the gun.”Hold up your hands,” I said to the Yankee, and his hands went up. Now I said, “Go get on your horse.” He did so, but he begged me to let him have his gun. He said he would have to tell what had become of it. The rifle contained fifteen loads. I looked at the Yankee and told him that I would return the gun if he would take an oath. He agreed. Raise your right hand, I said, and repeat the oath after me: “I swear before Almighty God that I will go home and never fire another gun at a Southerner.” He raised his hand and took that oath, and I handed him the loaded gun. Somehow I felt safe in doing so. He took off his cap and said: “You brave girl. No man could harm you after such a daring act, and I wish for you only what is good,” and he rode away.
The Yankees had done what they could to destroy everything, but we had our land. There was no horses, but back in the woods we still had a few cattle and we had to do something to get bread to eat. There was no one left to do the work except our one faithful slave, my little brother, and I. We caught a young ox that had never been broken. DOCK stood at his head and led him while our cook plowed the furrows, and I followed and planted the corn. While we were engaged in this primitive style of farming a squad of Yankees passed on fine horses.
“Take out your horned horse,” said one, “and I will hitch my horse in your plow. I see you are planting a crop ladies.” “Yes,” I replied, “you have stolen all we have and we must plant something.””What have you to eat now? Better go north where there is plenty.””No thank you,” I said, “We want none of your help and before I’d go north and live among Yankees I’d live on pine sap till my crop could grow.”
The army at that time was beginning to leave North Carolina, and the Carpet Baggers and Negroes had now begun their awful reign of terror. Some officers who were gentlemen, saw some shirts that mother had made. They called on her and asked her if she would make them some to take back home. Mother had only confederate money, and she wanted to buy a horse. I was weaving a new home-spun dress, checked with indigo blue and white. I cut the cloth from the loom and mother made three shirts, for which the officers paid her nine dollars. She bought a horse for that, and it proved to be a very fine one.
Some time I shall tell you how my lover came home from LEE’s army after the surrender and how we began our married life on the ruins of our old homes
Married John Henry Suggs in 1862
Born 1 Apr 1846 Greene, NC
Died 11 Oct 1918