Fear in the Heart of North Carolina “What an Awful and Grand Spectacle it is!” – March 1999 Civil War Times Feature
EDITED BY TED YEATMAN
In late March, 1865, a Federal cavalry division, under the command of Major General George Stoneman, left East Tennessee for a raid into South Western Virginia and the virtually untouched back country of North Carolina. The objective of the raid was the destruction of Confederate supplies and the liberation of several thousand Federal soldiers in the Confederate prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina.
The following account of Stoneman’s capture of Salisbury is believed to have been written by Mary Eliza Currey, 16-year-old daughter of the last post surgeon, Dr. Richard Owen Currey. In April 1864, Mary and her family received permission from Major General John M. Schofield to leave Knoxville and join Dr. Currey, then at Salisbury. On February 17, 1865, Surgeon Currey died of meningitis, contracted while treating Federal prisoners at the overcrowded Salisbury camp. On their own again, Mary and her family, having fled war torn East Tennessee a year earlier, were again faced with the grim spectre of destruction.
Tuesday, April 11th, 1865
What an eventful day this was one year ago. Then we were leaving home and many dear friends. About this time (10 o’clock A.M.) we were traveling in some dirty box cars, with the windows barred, to intimate I suppose that we were a kind of prisoners. When will we return to dear old Knoxville? Ah, no can answer. Soon perhaps we will see the bleak hills, once so green and emery that you loved to gaze upon them. It cleared off very nicely this morning, and I took a right-long walk soon after breakfast. How many blessings God still confers upon us, and how little we deserve them.
“12 o’clock P.M.”
First ? as I was retiring to rest, Mr. Wiley came in and told us some most alarming news. The raiders were reported to be 8 miles from here, and that reliable news had been received that the Yankees were at Mocksville 19 miles from here at 5 o’clock P.M., and had burnt that place. We were very much excited of course, and I forth with went to packing. I emptied the contents of four trunks in sheets, thinking that if the Yankees came they could be moved more easily than they could, were they in trunks. I do hope the Yankees will not burn and destroy as they have done at nearly all the towns they have been to.
Wednesday, 12th, 1865
Have just a few minutes ago finished (6 o’clock) dressing, and after having asked the protection of my heavenly Father, I sit down to write a little in my journal. Oh! Could I write all my thoughts I would soon have this volume full. Aunt Nellie came in about day light and said that they were fighting about two miles from here. By the time I got dressed the fireing had ceased. We ate breakfast and soon after our friend was ordered off. We were very sorry to see him go.
10 o’clock A.M.
The yankees have come! Alex Helper came around here about 9 o’clock and after standing in the front porch 1 _ hour, the yankees came dashing in shouting and firing. They came in all directions. As they came by our house they took Alex prisoner. I do not feel much frightened, though I am very much excited. I have not spoken to any of them yet.
11 o’clock A.M.
Mrs. Murphy has been over here. She is much distressed as she thinks that Mr. Andrew M. is captured. Aunt Nellie and Martha have been out in the street all morning, and came running in just now with an armful of goods, saying that the yankees were going to burn or blow up several stores on the front street. I dread that so much for when they begin they never know when to stop. A yankee has just been here. He asked us for something to eat and if there were any firearms about the house. I told him that we had just given the last we cooked to some soldiers and that we had nothing more prepared. He then rode off without dismounting.
12 o’clock A.M.
They are breaking open the commissary stores, and throwing them out in the street. It is not very far from here only one square, and if they blow it up, I am afraid that some of the pieces will fly over here. The negroes and the poor are gathering it up and carrying it off as fast as possible. I think they are right in doing so for it will be destroyed. I was frightened this morning. A very insolent yankee, the first that has been in this house, came walking in whistling and making as much noise as possible. He first went to the table in the passage, on which he sat the medicine chest, opened it and upturned it generally, but finding nothing in there to suit him, he came in Mother’s room. The first place he went to in there was the desk, out of which he took some Confederate money, which I neglected to take out, some maps, a pocket case of instruments, and other little articles. He then demanded all of the gold and silver and asked if we had a watch. We replied that we did have a watch, but as it was fathers we did not like to give it up. He replied that we had better give it to him at once, as he intended to search for it if we did not. We were very much afraid he would make us give it up. But as a kind providence would have it, Aunt Nellie succeeded in getting two soldiers who were in the street, to come and help us. They ordered him out, and I did not know what he or I would have gotten the men to make him give them up. The men were right good natured, and I wish we could have gotten them to stay as a guard. I hope no more of them will come.
I dreaded the approach of night so much and now when ever I hear a footstep or clashing of a sword, my heart beats as if it would jump out, and I get so excited. There has been another soldier here tonight, but Aunt Nellie got him off. We applied to Gen. Stoneman for a guard but he could not furnish us with one. His headquarters are at Mr. Davis. I expect Jenny Davis is very glad she is not here. We have just discovered a fire in the direction of the depot, and we suppose it is the building I have referred to, and the Arsenal as we hear frequent explosions, and occasionally a shell bursts. Mr. Wiley was captured this morning as he was leaving town, and has been in the Garrison all day, but this evening he was released. All of us, except Mother, intend sitting up tonight. We have been upstairs watching the fire. What an awful and grand spectacle it is! It reminds me of the seige of Knoxville, where every night several buildings were burned. I hope the yankees will not burn the town. Oh! How many Commissary stores will be destroyed. I expect there is enough clothing here to clothe Lee’s army.
Thursday, April 13th. 5 o’clock P.M.
I slept only about an hour last night and feel very badly this morning, on account of losing so much sleep. I never shall forget last night. We expected them to set the town on fire, and we constantly watched the flames to see if they were spreading. It was a very calm night or I think the fire would have progressed rapidly. The yankees are still destroying government property and some state stores that were here. They have been behaving very rudely to the negroes today, cutting at them with their swords, beating them and tormenting them generally. I am not sorry one bit for they loved the yankees so, and wanted them to come so much, that it is right good for them. The negroes have behaved very well, that is the greater portion of them, but I suppose they heard it was a raid, and I think if they had occupied the country the greater part of the negroes would have run away from their masters. We have not been troubled with the detestable yanks today, though some have inquired of the servants if we had any gold or silver or gold watches. We have been expecting them to come in and rob us. I hope they will leave soon, for I am heartily tired of them.
Friday, April 14th, 1865
What good news I have to write in my journal this morning: The yankees have left, are going in the direction of Charlotte and Statesville, and our soldiers are in pursuit of them. A great many of our soldiers belonging to Fergusons Brigade have come in town. We were so glad to see them, but we have heard some very bad news. Gen. Lee and all his army, excepting 10,000 that are stragling over the country, were surrounded by the enemy and capitulated last Sunday, upon condition that the officers and men could go home until exchanged.
Johnston’s army is passing on south, its destination being the Savannah river. Some say that Sherman is transporting his army by water to Charleston, and from there he will march upon Johnston, while others report that he is following our army in this direction. Poor Gen. Lee and his noble men, how much I feel for them. They have done all they could, fighting an army of 120,000 men while their number did not exceed 35,000.