Memoir of Thomas B. Sanders of Kinston
Written by Thomas B. Sanders (Submitted by James L. Gaddis) My parents’ farm was in Bentonville Township, Johnston County, N.C. A short distance from our home was the little village of Bentonville. It was in this area that the last major battle of the Civil War was fought, March 19-20, 1865.
General Sherman, with 60,000 Yankee troops, faced Confederate General Joe Johnston, with 21,000. After four days of fighting, Johnston retreated up a road called “Devil’s Race Track” toward Smithfield and Raleigh.
While moving up from Georgia, Sherman had sustained his army by sending out foraging parties to raid the areas they passed through. They took livestock and any food products found, and often burned the houses and barns of the families they raided.
My great-grandfather, John Fletcher Sanders, had a farm on Devil’s Race Track where he lived with his wife and nine children as well as about 100 slaves. During the Bentonville battle, a Yankee foraging party made up of troops from New York and led by a lieutenant came to the farm. Anticipating the raid, my great-grandfather had moved all the livestock to the Neuse River low grounds, which were several hundred yards across the road from the house. Unfortunately, a slave told the Yankees where the livestock was hidden. They took the livestock, the other food supplies, looted anything of value and burned all the property except the main house.
During the Battle of Bentonville, my great-grandmother had given birth to a daughter, Martha. At the time of the raid, mother and baby were still in bed. The lieutenant would not allow his troops to burn the main house.
Another incident that has remained with me involved the Fourth of July. I questioned my father about a few people who celebrated that day by setting off dynamite. His answer was, “Son, we are southerners, we do not celebrate the Fourth of July. Vicksburg fell on July 4th, 1863.” The loss of Vicksburg meant the loss of the Mississippi River and that meant the South could not possibly win the war.
When my father spoke of Robert E. Lee, he would often call him “Marse Robert,” which I am sure came from his family. All of this helped to develop interest in the war and hatred for those New York troops. My library has many books pertaining to that period of history and that interest still remains today.
I have often wondered how my great-grandfather managed to feed his wife and nine children and the many slaves who had not left the farm. You could see where 30-40 individuals, including former slaves, could have been on the farm, all of them seeking a place to sleep and food to eat. You have to remember that the foraging party took nearly everything and burned the rest. They had no horses, mules, wagons or buggies for transportation or work in the field. The only food would have been the chickens that the Yankees could not catch. Since this was the middle of March, there was nothing in the garden ready to harvest.
The hardships would have been overwhelming on anyone, and within two years my great-grandfather was dead at the age of 50. It did not get any easier for my great-grandmother, who at the age of 39 was left with nine children to raise.
The Civil War was an awful time for the South, which was defeated and left with over 300,000 dead. The suffering continued long after the end of the war for the Sanders family. My father talked about the poverty that existed in the area after the war. They had no money even for a cheap item such as salt. He described a caravan that a group of neighbors formed for a salt-making expedition. They loaded their wagons with food, wash pots and firewood for a trip to the nearest ocean, at Carolina Beach, a distance of about 100 miles. There they fired up the wash pots and boiled the seawater day and night to extract the salt. They spent several weeks there before returning home.
One final note about this era: Of all the slaves on the farm at the end of the war, one was a young girl who did not leave. She stayed with the family until her death and lived with my grandmother. When I was born, she helped my mother with me. She was still living on the farm when my grandmother died in 1925. I was never told when she died. The family called her Aunt Sophie and my father mentioned her often. You could tell there was a lot of love for their old former slave.
As I wrote before, my grandmother, Annie Snead Sanders, after the death of our grandfather (John Sanders) went with her children to live with her father, Thomas Snead. The Snead family was reported to have about 6,000 acres on what is now Hwy 701 in Johnston County. Thomas Snead had two brothers who were in the Confederate Army. Dr. Edward S. Snead was a Confederate surgeon and was attached to General Robert E. Lee’s Army. Nathan W. Snead entered UNC in 1860 and left to join the Army in 1862. He was killed on Sept. 17, 1862 at the Battle of Sharpsburg, Md., which was known as the bloodiest battle of the war, with 23,000 dead. During the fighting one of Nathan’s friends came to Dr. Snead’s medical tent and told him Nathan had been killed.
After the battle, the Confederate army retreated but Dr. Snead stayed behind and tried find Nathan’s body. He said the bodies were in such bad condition that he could not identify him. It was then that the Yankees captured Dr. Snead.
After the war, Dr. Snead with other family members went to Sharpsburg looking for a marker, but found nothing. Upon returning, Dr. Snead refused to practice medicine again, saying he had sawed off too many arms and legs.