SUBMITTED BY: Joel W. Rose
Written By E.M. Bullard (1880-1959)
Early in March of 1865 one division of Sherman’s Army, composed largely of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio troops, broke camp at Blockersville (now Stedman) and began their march through Sampson County. A troop of Confederate Cavalry under the command of General Joseph Wheeler had burned the bridge (Faircloth’s Bridge) that spanned South River just north of the present town of Autryville and had thrown up breast works on the edge of the sand ridge that borders South River at this point and gave battle to the oncoming army.
When the smoke from a short but intense battle had cleared away, it was learned that two or three had been killed on each side and several wounded. One of the first to fall, it was reported, was a Union captain who rode his horse up to the edge of the stream to see why the troop movement had stopped. It was then that the battle began, as the captain was immediately shot from his horse. Several were wounded while the Union troops were withdrawing to the high ground on the west side of the stream. The Union forces attacked with a battery of artillery and soon dislodged the Confederates.
It was thought that the Confederates might have escaped without casualties except for the work of one very adventurous Yankee who followed the run of the river beyond a bend to the east and climbed a tree where he could see some of the Rebs behind the breast works. After he had killed and wounded several, he was located and shot from his perch.
About the time the Union forces began to come across the stream on foot pontoons, Wheeler’s troops mounted their horses and rode away to destroy the bridge across Big Swamp where the Old Stage Road crossed the stream. (This bridge was located on present-day Highway 24, just west of where it intersects with Pleasant Union Church Road.)
A few shots were exchanged between the rear guard of Wheeler’s cavalry and the Union forces, but the size of the stream did not provide a suitable place for any determined stand. They continued eastward and established camp in and around the village of Owenville (on Dunn Road, between Roseboro and Salemburg), which was the only village in Sampson County west of Clinton at that time. It is reported that the Yankees maintained a camp at Owenville for several days. These statements are based on information acquired through talking with my parents, and grandparents and uncles, several of whom were Confederate soldiers, and several other Confederate soldiers who lived in this section of the county.
We have no desire to recount the hardships suffered or rehash the bitterness that was engendered as a result of the march of Sherman’s troops and the devastation they wrought. I would like, however, to relate a few incidents that occurred during this historic march.
During the artillery attack at South River a cannon ball cut down a large pine about one mile east of the river. Presumably, this ball careened off the pine and buried itself. This occurred about three miles southeast in the field of William Butler. R. L. Butler, the youngest son of William, plowed it up several years later, and it now rests deep in the mud of Cow Branch near the home of John Butler, a grandson of William Butler.
The weather boarding on the sides of Pleasant Union Baptist Church, located on the east side of Big Swamp, was stripped off by the Yankees. They placed it in the mud enabling Sherman’s troops to get their wagon train and artillery across the stream.
Most of the next two miles eastward of the Red Clay road (Pleasant Union Road) had been so softened by heavy and continuous rains that the Union army had to cut poles and lay across the road so they could get their rolling equipment through. Some sections of the poles remained until the late 1890s.
Perhaps the most tragic incident occurred at the home of Thomas Bullard who lived about one mile north of Pleasant Union Church. His spinster aunt, Miss Ester Bullard, lived with him. She owned a saddle horse, which she had ridden up to the time she was about 65 years old. A Yankee captain who had been in command of a foraging party that raided the barns on the Bullard farm decided that he wanted to trade his badly jaded horse for a better one, so he bridled Miss Ester’s horse. Miss Ester came out, grabbed hold of the horse and clung to the horse’s neck. Be it said in favor of this officer, he kindly deferred to her age and removed his bridle. He proceeded to bridle and saddle up his old horse and rode away. After seeing all other members of the raiding party disappear, he waited several minutes until Miss Ester had returned to the house, then dashed back and exchanged horses before she could come back out to the stable.
The captain rode away on Miss Esther’s horse, but after a few minutes has passed, the horse came trotting back alone, without the rider. Apparently, the horse had thrown the captain and injured him to the extent he later died at their camp at Owenville. He was buried near the crest of the hill of the Little Coharie just below the John T. Fisher Mill Dam.
About 88 years after this burial took place, or was supposed to have taken place, a few Cub Scouts went out to select a place for a night of “camping out.” They chose a nice high and dry ridge between a gravel pit and the Little Coharie Swamp. Then one of the boys looked around and saw a concrete marker that very much resembled the headstone of a grave. There is no other evidence of a grave near this spot, and no other marker has been seen in this section that even slightly resembles this one in workmanship, materials, or design. Is this the Yankee captain’s grave?
There is one other incident without which this narrative would be incomplete. At that time when near famine was riding the bleak winds of March 1865, there lived an attractive maiden on a sandy knoll about one mile southeast of Pleasant Union Church by the name of Eliza Lucas, the daughter of Sheridan Lucas. In Sherman’s army there was a stalwart lad, seasoned and developed by many battles and skirmishes in Sherman’s 800-mile march, named John Smith. His original home state was Indiana. While Sherman’s men were capturing the Lucas’ corn and meat, this fair lady was capturing the heart of John Smith. They married. He never returned to Indiana. Their descendants now reside on the same farm where the romance began.