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Girl leads family's escape from Civil War

Liberty lore

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POSTED: May 13, 2013 11:00 p.m.

There were many wealthy plantations in Liberty County in 1860. Rice was the main crop, and the plantations were mainly along the coastal regions. Many plantation owners joined the army for the Civil War, and that left the master’s wife in charge of managing the plantations.
In 1864, the Union army marched through Liberty County, raiding all the plantations. The plantation owners began to move their families to Thomasville to get them out of harm’s way.
There is a story written about a little girl who was brave in helping her sick mother make the trip from their plantation home near Riceboro to Thomasville (about 180 miles), where other relatives lived. The story was passed down from generation to generation and the author, Elizabeth Bowne, an ancestor of the Varnedoes, reconstructed the trip in the book “Louisa,” published in 1995. It is considered fictional, but the facts are real.
Louisa Varnedoe was the 12-year-old daughter of Captain Leander and Eliza Mallard Varnedoe.
They lived at Liberty Hall, a large plantation next to the LeConte Plantation in Riceboro. Leander, a member of the Liberty Mounted Rangers since 1861, was stationed at the Andersonville prison and was in charge of securing supplies and rationing out food supplies to hundreds of starving Union prisoners. Food was scarce.
The captain knew the Yankees were marching through Liberty County, and his sick wife Eliza, daughter Louisa and son Lewis Clinton, 14, were in danger. He got a few days off and headed for home to get his family to safety. When he arrived home, he found that the Yankees already had ransacked and stolen about everything the family owned. The cook had hidden some potatoes under the thorny rosebushes and dug out a few of them for their meals. Only Zeke, the old, blind mule, and a rundown wagon were left.
The captain explained to his family that they had to escape to Thomasville where his brother, Samuel, was staying. Louisa hid what pieces of money they had in a handkerchief tied around her waist under her skirt. They loaded a few things in some trunks and put them on the old wagon.
Dr. Raymond Harris came to see mother but had no medicine. He showed Louisa how to pick wild poppies, slice them in half, take the milk out and dry it. She was then to give mother a small speck of it for her pain.
When the wagon was packed and everything was ready, father told Louisa to go with him to the LeConte Plantation so they could cut some pear limbs to take with them to Thomasville.
Captain Leander cut several pear limbs and gave them to Louisa to put in a croaker sack and keep them wet and hidden from the Yankees.
The Varnedoe family tearfully left their beloved home. Only one little slave named Amos was allowed by the Yankees to go with them. Zeke had a hard time pulling the wagon, even though the captain’s horse was helping him.
They had a hard time crossing Jone Creek, as the wagon wheel got stuck on a cypress stump. The entire wagon had to be unloaded. They could not go by train, as all the railroad tracks had been torn up and burned.
One of the men who worked with Captain Leander caught up with them and told him that he was ordered to hurry back to Andersonville. He hated to leave his family, but duty called.
The family was terrified of the long journey they had to make without father. It fell upon Louisa to make all the decisions. She squared her little shoulders and, with a lot of prayers, took on the responsibility.
Once again, the Yankees came upon them and captured Clint. They wanted Amos to go with them, but he refused. They told him he was free and that he could do as he wished. He stayed with Louisa and her mother. Brokenhearted and scared, they had to go on without Clint.
One evening, they came upon a home and wished to spend the night inside. The lady inside told them that Louisa and her mother could stay inside, but not Amos. Louisa refused and drove off. However, a little girl ran to them and showed them a large magnolia tree that would shelter them for the night. After dark, she brought them a large basket filled with sausage and cornbread. Louisa gave her a book.
Later, two ragged Yankees came upon them and took everything of value on the wagon. They left the cook pot and the mattress. They did not find the pear cuttings. They beat Amos, tied him with a rope and took him away. Now, the two females — one young girl and a sick mother —were left alone.
“Never give up hope” were words that Louisa had to think over and over.
One evening, they saw a deserted church that reminded her of the Old Midway Church. There was a trough filled with water near it. They made camp. During the night, old Zeke became restless. He would not get up at all the next day. Louisa walked through the woods and found a nut tree. She picked up all she could find and carried them back to her mother. They cracked and ate nuts while Zeke was recuperating. The next day, Zeke decided to try and pull the wagon a few more miles.
Finally, they reached Uncle Samuel Varnedoe’s house in Thomasville. Louisa tied Zeke to the hitching post and — with her small bag of meal in one hand and the pear cuttings in the other and mother clinging to her arm — they slowly walked toward the house. She sighed deeply at the door at the smell of roasted turkey and sweet-potato pie. They heard singing of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
They had arrived on Christmas Day after leaving Riceboro the first week of December.
Amos managed to escape and reunite with the family and chose to remain with them all of his life. Clint was released in a prisoner exchange. Mother regained her health after a few months.
Louisa and Amos set out the pear cuttings. Captain Leander joined his family and later sold Liberty Hall Plantation. He used this money to expand his pear orchards in Thomasville. The LeConte pear became famous in Southwest Georgia.
The family is buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Thomasville.

 

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