SUBMITTED BY: Robert Barwick
Pitt County Genealogical Quarterly
PCGQ February 9, 2001
“Recites Heroic Incidents of the Civil War Days Daily Reflector, Jan. 4, 1941
An incident of the Civil war in which a Pitt county woman played the part of a heroine in an improvised hospital where smallpox stricken soldiers were quartered is related in an article prepared by Mrs. Charles MCARTHUR.
Amid the dark days of the Civil war when food ran short and everything seemed to point to defeat and desolation, as a crowning disaster that dread disease smallpox broke out in the army. A young soldier from North Carolina was placed at guard at the improvised hospital. One day while seated near the gate the guard was thinking of the diresome situation, the suffering and death the ones attending this abode of sorrow had to witness; the hard-pressed army in the field so ill prepared to spare these stricken ones from the rank,and wondering whether any of them would ever again be able to return to their homes and loved ones.
Looking around he saw approaching a strange form, a gigantic woman, or what seemed more likely a man in woman’s apparel. The coarse dress of homespun was nothing strange for the times, but the masculine appearance, the huge form awakened within the inexperienced guard a feeling of wonder, which was soon to be changed into something akin of fear as this strange- looking woman passed in front of him and asked in a deep voice: “Is Skilton DENNIS in there?” The guard replied, “Yes, he is in there.”
“Then open the gate.” “No, no,” replied the guard. “No one is allowed to pass here except certain ones detailed for hospital duty. I am here to see that no one goes in or comes out without a pass.” At this reply the visitor reached down into a pocket and drew therefrom a long, gleaming knife, saying “If Skilton DENNIS is in there I am going in if I have to wade through blood knee deep.”
With his hair rising and without another word, the guard opened the gate. Miss Ruthie DENNIS walked through. It was hard for one of this day to visualize the well-knigh hopeless situation that confronted this heroic woman, who had walked from her humble home in Pitt County to this army hospital in Virginia that she might help her brother and also help every poor soul in that fearsome place.
A fearsome place indeed, but she was not afraid and for many long days she stayed, a ministering angel, soothing the pain-wracked bodies, bathing the burning brow, anointing the loathsome disease encrusted limbs, shrouding the dead. With the poorest equipment, the scant supply of nourishment, she worked day in and day out until the terrible scourge ceased. Then, seemingly unaware that she had done anything more than her simple duty to her brother and friends, she departed for her home accompanied by the brother for whom she had nobly risked her life. Outwardly rough and unattractive, inwardly she was a soul of mercy. I have related this true story as it was told to my brother, Amos JOYNER, by Mr. IRVIN, who was the guard at the gate. Mr. IRVIN, who lived near Richlands, Onslow county, travelled for years for a nursery company, sometimes spending the night at the homes of his patrons. On one such occasion he told this touching incident. Miss Ruthie DENNIS lived near Ayden. Her brother Skilton DENNIS has descendants still living, perhaps near Ayden.
Eastern Reflector, Greenville, NC, Friday, Sept. 9, 1904.
Miss Rutha Dennis, a very old lady near town who is generally known throughout the county, is critically ill at home. In her young womanhood it is supposed she was the strongest woman in the county. She could easily lift a barrel of turpentine and put it in a cart. She is now about 75 or 80 years of age.”