TRANSCRIBED AND SUBMITTED BY: Steve Campbell Hagwood
[This is an eyewitness account by Charlotte Bennett[i], daughter of Lemuel D. Bennett, of the events in Anson County, NC on March 3-5, 1865. Charlotte would have been 15 at the time this occurred and this account was written by her in 1900, when she was 50 years old. She read this paper before the Anson Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, January 19, 1900.]
GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF THE SACKING OF THE HOME OF LEMUEL D. BENNETT – THE BRUTAL CONDUCT OF SHERMAN’S ARMY SUCH AS BELONGED TO THE DARK AGES
“I was startled when asked to write a description of the Yankee raid – at my father’s home and plantation, L. D. Bennett[ii], situated between the North and South prongs of Jones Creek – Anson County, NC. For a long time I had tried to lay it on the shelf of the past, but the very mention of it brought vividly back to my mind the horrors of that awful night of March 3, 1865.
We had been expecting the Yankees but had no idea at what time they would come. Dreadful accounts had reached us of their depredation and their treatment of the few old men who were left at home. We begged Father to leave home – He refused at first, saying “What, leave you here unprotected?” But what could he have done among so many brutes? He finally yielded to our entreaties and left that night, at 12 o’clock. We did not know where he went and I say he did not know himself which way to turn his face to safety.
At three o’clock the same night we were roused by the tramping of horses around the house and beating on the doors. My mother[iii] called to know who it was trying to enter her house at that hour. They said they were friends and to open the door. She refused at first. They used vile language and said they would break the door down and kill her if she did not. She opened it, and [they] demanded of her where her husband was. She told them she did not know. They said she lied and used dreadful language and said, “We will get him, yet.” They then demanded all the gold and silver that was in in the house. At daylight, Mother being so afraid Father would venture home, consented for my sister Mary[iv], a servant girl and myself to go to a neighbor’s about a mile from home, who she thought might know of his whereabouts.
My strength, through fear, utterly deserted me after going a short distance. Sister had me to go back to Mother – She was older and had the bravery of a man through all that trying time. She succeeded, after wading through all the creeks and swamps, for we were having a great deal of rain at that time, in getting word to Father not to come home. She returned safely, to Mother’s great relief.
All through the day they came in Squads, driving off the stock, searching everywhere for valuables – the yard and garden were perforated with their bayonets, seeking buried treasure. Many of them were drunk. That night the very scrapings of the earth came in, ordering the poor frightened negroes to do this and that for them – They, poor things, thought each Yankee was a savior for them – but they soon found different. They would come running to Mother, thinking she could protect them, as she had ever done. One poor old fellow said, “Uh, Miss Jane dey’ve took my Sunday breeches, tied up the bottom of the legs and filled ’em up wid corn en put em on de hosses en carried ’em away; if hell wuz raked wid an iron rake, dey couldn’t rake up [illegible]” and he was right.
The next day was Sunday, Emblem of eternal rest; but oh! the horrible memory of that day will cling to me as long as I have a memory!
They came by thousands. As far as the eye could reach t’was a sea of heads – drinking, cursing, dancing, riding their horses through the houses.
Some had been robbing bee hives and were awfully swollen from the stings and they had the most diabolical look human beings could have.
In the house were a piano, Melodian and a large dinner bell. They had them all going at once and every now and then would try and break the strings of the piano. My sister went to the door and said to the one who was trying to cut them – “Are you not ashamed of yourself?”; he quit and went away.
Our clean and orderly home was a mass of feathers, molasses, dirt, mud and all the filth they could bring in. After pouring the molasses out they stirred in feathers and “red precipitate”, carried out the bedding and spread it on the manure banks in the barnyard. They gave a big dinner that day in our dining room and a royal dinner it was, too, showing some of them had several of them had served as cooks. One said he was raised an hotel servant. Just to think, the bravest and purest of our own fair land had to soil their hands fighting cattle!
Several times, through that long, dreadful day, some one of them would come in and tell us they had caught our Father and say what they were going to do with “the Dam’ Rebel.” One impudent fellow asked Mother if she was for the Union. I can see her now as she drew herself up and said, “I have four sons in the Southern army, so you well know who I am for.” He said, “Well now I like that!”
The day grew worse and worse, till our home was sacked by negroes.
Then my Mother rose up with righteous indignation, and said, “Before I will see my house desecrated any further, I will stick the torch to it myself.” She told us to get some clothing and follow her out – she could stand it no longer. And when we were going out, one of them who claimed to be a gentleman, thought he would have to do something to prove it said this would not last much longer as the army would cross the river in a day or two – maybe next day. Then, floating rumor reached us of their having shot our uncle James Bennett, who lived only a mile from us – down, in his own doorway, which, also, proved true. He was 73 years old and his locks were white – he thought his age would protect him. But what did these ruffians care for age, or snowy hair – I can’t call them soldiers of a civilized country, for their conduct was such as belonged to the Dark Ages and they were allowed to do as they pleased by a “so called Christian General” – W. T. Sherman. At one time, during the day, a big negro came walking through the yard – wearing a new suit, that had been recently made to send our brother Frank, who, in the meantime, had been very seriously wounded in the Army, and we did not know whether he was living or dead. Can you imagine our indignation when we saw that negro with it on?
No, you cannot, only those who lived through those days, and had similar experiences, can.
Our hearts were breaking with the suspense. Sister Mary, who was then sitting by Mother with her head on her knees, for she was quite sick from all the exposure she had gone through – sprang up (for she was always equal to the occasion) in that room full of animals and said “If there is a gentleman in this room he will make that negro take off my brother’s coat.” A great big, ugly, red-headed fellow who you wouldn’t suppose knew the meaning of the word, jumped up and said – “Madam I am a gentleman and you shall have the coat.” He went out and snatched if off, and the negro had on a black broadcloth suit of my Father’s under it – but we only got the coat – and how well we guarded it – afterwards I wore it, part of the time. A great many were there all night. It was, truly, a place of desolation, after they left. Not a horse, cow or chicken left, except one old rooster (and we let him live until he died of old age) was left on the place. We found two little calves and on little lamb, after they left. They took the corn they could not carry away and strewed it on the ground to keep us from being able to eat it. Broke up the dishes, stole away every knife, fork, spoon, in fact every piece of silver except for the little Salt spoon they failed to find.
The slave we feared the most, was the most faithful. He brought us some boiled corn and when the yankees saw it, they laughed and said – “Oh, we’ve brought the Rebel women down to big hominy.”
Only those who lived in the years that followed can ever know the deprivation that our Parents lived through. ‘Twas bitter to the young but oh! how sorrowful to the Old. But the half has not been told. It would require a volume.”
— Charlotte Bennett Dunlap (wife of Joseph Ingram Dunlap)
[i] Charlotte Francisco Bennett Dunlap, 1850 – 1922
[ii] Lemuel Dunn Bennett, 1805 – 1878
[iii] Jane Steele Little Bennett, 1811 – 1873
[iv] Mary Jane Bennett Smith, 1842 – 1914. She would have been 23 years old when she told her younger sister Charlotte to return back to the house. Mary was the wife of Gen. William Alexander Smith, original owner of the Smith mansion in Ansonville.
Charlotte Bennett Dunlap, ca. 1900 (click picture to enlarge)
MURDER OF JAMES BENNETT, DEVOTED TO THE UNION – BUT LATER AN ARDENT & UNFAILING SECESSIONIST
After leaving L. D. Bennett’s plantation these wretched men occupied that of his brother, James Bennett, wealthy planter who lived a mile away – east – across the creek & in the direct line for the Pee Dee river. Visiting Lilesville (before they crossed the river) where they terrified Mrs. Ed. R. Liles (wife of Lt. Col. E. R. Liles, 31st NC Reg.), lovely wife & mother of young children, into premature childbirth – resulting in the death of mother & infant. She died – not knowing they had shot & killed her father in cold blood, as they rode away from his home, where he sat helpless, in his back porch. His slaves buried him that afternoon near the garden.