Looking back and reading old diaries that were 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 back and forth 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 and published in 1972. I often refer to these letters to see what was happening in Liberty County during a specific month between 1860-1868.
Margaret Rebecca Norman Miller lived in Walthourville at the same time and she also kept a diary with details very clearly describing the events of the war around them.
John Stevens, age 60 in December of 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 eye witness account of the war as it affected him in Liberty County.
According to all three of these people who witnessed the tragic events that took place right here in our county, there were very scary and heartbreaking times for months on end.
We cannot even begin to imagine what the people went through and how they kept from starving. The railroad and roads leading to Doctortown were very busy as many local residents as could went to catch the train and go 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 writes: “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. They went to the Negro quarters and robbed them of their cooking utensils, blankets and everything they possessed.”
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 his home and started walking about the area. He came across a large group of Liberty Countians that had been taken prisoners including the pastor of the Walthourville Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Robert Q. Mallard.
Also five of his nephews were held prisoners by the federal troops. John marched along with them to the Midway Church where the troops were encamped. He interceded in their behalf and got them to release five men but not the pastor. One released was John Winn, 60, 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.
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 were also going to dig up her husband’s body from the Midway Cemetery and throw it into the woods. Charles Jones had died in 1863. Stevens and Winn sent word back to her that they were both crippled and could not walk the long distance 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. In the rear were mules loaded down with all kinds of poultry.
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 Liberty County was ravaged.
Margaret Miller’s husband David was an invalid in bed. They had three sons serving in the war and their son Joseph remained at home in Walthourville and served as the depot agent and postmaster. Their son Elbert had already died in a federal prison after he was captured when Margaret wrote her diary entries. The other two sons came home after the war.
Margaret writes: “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, 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 forty or fifty 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 fifty years before, they threw the hair on the floor and trampled it to pieces. They took all the knives, forks, spoons, tin cups, coffeepots and everything else they wanted. We were completely paralyzed by the fury of these ruffians. Mama had twelve 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 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.”