Reading diaries written by people in Liberty County during the awful Civil War makes me thankful for the times we have now.
The Charles C. Jones family wrote letters almost every day to family members and friends. These were kept and put in book form in “The Children of Pride” by Robert Manson Myers, published in 1972. I often refer to these letters to see what was happening in Liberty County during a specific month between 1860-68.
Margaret Rebecca Norman Miller lived in Walthourville at the same time and kept a diary clearly describing the events of the war around them. John Stevens, 60, in December 1864 and paralyzed in one leg, resided on Palmyra Plantation established by his parents, John and Aramintha Munro Stevens, who died before the Civil War. After the war, he wrote an article for a Macon newspaper telling his eyewitness account of the war as it affected him.
According to all these people who witnessed the tragic events that took place in our county, there were scary, heartbreaking times for months on end. We cannot begin to imagine what people went through and how they kept from starving. The railroad and roads leading to Doctortown were busy as many local residents went to catch the train to Thomasville or Brooks County to escape the war.
I want to share a few of their accounts of what was happening as Sherman’s troops marched through and ravaged the county.
John Stevens wrote: “The federal troops came flocking in by the hundreds. I had one servant run to the corncrib with a key, but they had already broken down the door and taken all the corn, rice and potatoes. They ripped up my sister’s bedding and used the ticking to make bags. They smashed all my furniture, robbed my beehives and slaughtered all my hogs, cattle and poultry.”
The federal troops threatened to kill him if he did not give them his gold watch and other valuables, which Stevens had hidden in the woods. Every day, they came and threatened until Stevens could stand it no more. He left and started walking about the area and came across a large group of Liberty Countians who had been taken as prisoners, including Walthourville Presbyterian Church pastor the Rev. Robert Q. Mallard.
Also, five of his nephews were held prisoner by federal troops. John marched along with them to the Midway Church, where the troops were encamped. He interceded on their behalf and got them to release five men, but not the pastor.
One released was John Winn, 60, and so badly crippled with rheumatism that he had to walk with a cane. Stevens and Winn went to Winn’s home and remained there the rest of December 1864.
“Tony Stevens was an old preacher licensed by the Midway Church who had been sick and bedridden for a long time. The feds even took all his blankets off his sick body. He pleaded with them not to take his horse and wagon, but to no avail.”
John Stevens received a note from Mrs. Mary Jones, who had two sons serving in the Confederate Army, pleading with them to come and help protect the women in that house. The feds had threatened to burn her home if she didn’t give them her valuables. They also were going to dig up the body of her husband, Charles, from the Midway Cemetery and throw it into the woods. Stevens and Winn sent word to her that they both were crippled and could not walk to Riceboro.
As the two men were walking to Winn’s home, they passed at least 60 wagons loaded with provisions and protected by infantrymen. Mules loaded down with all kinds of poultry were in the rear. The raiders told the men that Liberty County had been the richest county they had struck on their march from the mountains. The two old, crippled men watched all this with stricken eyes as their precious county was ravaged.
Margaret Miller’s husband, David, was an invalid. They had three sons serving in the war while another son, Joseph, remained home in Walthourville and served as the depot agent and postmaster.
Their son, Elbert, already had died in a federal prison when Margaret wrote her diary entries. The other two sons came home after the war.
Margaret wrote: “The federal troops took my invalid husband’s gold and silver money and his gold watch. They ransacked the whole house and took everything they wanted. They killed all my poultry and hogs and took all our food. They took all our potatoes, but we went out and finally filled a small basket with seed potatoes. They carried off old Rone today, and I could not help but cry. They broke open our storehouse, smokehouse and corn house and took it all. Eight men in our village, including our beloved pastor, the Rev. Robert Quarterman Mallard, were captured in a surprise raid today. They also burned the depot and warehouses. They came in the house and even ate the food I had cooked right from the pots!
“A Yank was shot by one of his own men and carried to Mrs. Bacon’s house. I sent him a tumbler of milk. It is a Sabbath day and also Christmas. Oh, how as a people we have fallen. Our church and congregation are scattered. Our minister is in the hand of the enemy. Our church was robbed of its carpets and cushion by the country women. It is truly distressing to hear what is going on in the village. We are thankful that we can still find a little food. The Lord will provide.”
Mary S. Mallard, wife of the captured pastor and daughter of Charles and Mary Jones, wrote in her diary about the federal troops ransacking her mother’s home on the Montevideo Plantation in the Riceboro area: “One afternoon, about 40 or 50 men broke into Mama’s home and ripped open the safe with their swords and broke open the crockery cupboards. They found the roasted ducks and chickens Mama had cooked for us, and they grabbed them and started tearing the meat off like ravaging animals. They tore open one of Mama’s little treasure boxes, and finding nothing but locks of hair that her mother had cut from the heads of her angel children over 50 years before, they threw the hair on the floor and trampled it to pieces. They took all the knives, forks, spoons, tin cups, coffee pots and everything else they wanted. We were completely paralyzed by the fury of these ruffians.
“Mama had 12 bushels of meal hidden in the attic, which they found. Mama told them they she needed it to feed her family, so they poured a quart on the floor. They also left a little rice, which they did not want. They said they intended to starve us to death! They had all the oxen and carts pulled up and loaded all the chickens and turkeys they could find. They carried all the syrup from the smokehouse. They took our only small pig. They rolled out Mama’s fine carriage and filled it with a load of chickens. One soldier rode up on Audley King’s pet horse, which he had stolen.
“Mama called them ‘fiery flying serpents’ and they were all part of Kilpatrick’s Calvary. We all prayed a lot and trusted in God for our deliverance.”
The devastation that these Liberty Countians wrote about lasted for several years after the Civil War ended. If you like local history, read “The Children of Pride.”