Marching Through South Carolina
Chapter 66 (February 11, 1865 – February 27, 1865)
Saturday, February 11th, we left camp at Blackville, crossed the Edisto river, and encamped, marched 9 miles.
February 12th, Sunday. As soon as we left our camp this morning we met quite a large body of the enemy. A lively skirmish commenced and kept up all day and night, when the rebels retreated, marched 13 miles and encamped.
On the 13th, still driving the rebels before us, we marched five miles. On the 14th we marched eight miles and encamped.
February 15th we were still driving the enemy’s skirmishers, encamped near Lexington, traveled 10 miles.
Thursday, 17th, left camp, marched six miles and encamped near the Santee river. Here a lively skirmish was had with the Johnnies but they were soon defeated. The city of Columbia, State capitol of South Carolina, was destroyed by fire. We did not get into the city but passed on to the left of it. We were only a few miles away. Much property was destroyed.
Saturday, February 18th, we crossed the Saluda river, marched 10 miles.
Sunday, February 19th, broke camp, marched only five miles. It may seem strange to the reader why such a short distance was traveled some days. The reason was at nearly every swamp and river the rebels had barricaded the crossings and we had often to march several miles around to get into their rear. And the building of corduroy roads and the laying of pontoon bridges consumed much time. The enemy hung close to our front and rear, and foraging had become very dangerous. Six of our men had been caught and hanged on trees. This was supposed to have been the work of Rebel General Wheeler’s Cavalry. In marching, the rear of our columns were closely followed by the Johnnies even up to our going into camp. A heavy guard and several pieces of artillery always brought up the rear.
Monday, February 20th, left camp, crossed the Congaree river, and the branch railroad running to Spartansburg, traveled eight miles and bivouacked.
February 21st, marched thru Winnsboro and encamped, traveled 12 miles. After going to camp at this place the writer, Jere App, and several other members of Company G were sent out by order of General Slocum to guard a planter’s place. When we arrived we found a 15th corps man, who had captured a horse, and the horse was loaded down with turkeys which he had killed. We made him drop all and leave, which he did very reluctantly. This planter had a large and beautiful plantation and a large number of slaves.
We looked out for ourselves first, then for the slaves, not caring much for the planter. The darkey women roasted the turkeys that night and if ever we had our fill of turkey it was then and there. The day before we reached Winnsboro Joseph S. Ulsh, of Company G, had been out foraging and when quite near our camp, some 15th corps boys overtook him, made him get off the mule and they took everything he had, and when he protested, they threatened to give him a first-rate trouncing if he did not leave. Poor Joe came to camp very much disheartened and the rest of his mates, the writer being one, had nothing to eat for supper, and that’s why the fellow of the 15th had to drop the turkeys, although no doubt innocent of taking anything from Ulsh.
The crossing of the river by the whole army took about two days, and we were brought into town to await our turn in crossing. We stacked our arms in one of the streets, there quietly waiting to hear the command to cross the river. While in this position a fire threatened the destruction of the whole town.
Our colonel ordered us to do what we could to prevent the flames from spreading. The writer and a number of Company G boys at this time were trying to save a house near where our guns were stacked. The house was occupied by two women, and, when we were working on the shed roof over the kitchen, one of them came out of the house, carrying a few things, when one said: “The Yankees set the town on fire, but, thank God, if we die we die in a good cause.” This remark raised the Dutch blood of Company G, and we threw our bucket down into the garden and told them if they wished to die in their good cause they were at liberty to do so. We left, and their house was destroyed.
When nearing the regiment word came that Sergeant Major Isaac D. Whitmer had been shot. He had always been a favorite with all the boys of Company G, and only an hour or two before the shooting we had gathered in a little group and were talking about the closing of the war and of going home to our loved ones. All seemed so happy. When suddenly the sad news reached us of his being dead. This cast a heavy gloom upon Company G. We knew him to be a good jovial fellow, and a first class and brave soldier, who was beloved by all.
Only a few days before good water was scarce, but near General Geary’s headquarters there was a beautiful spring, where all could have quenched their thirst but a guard was placed over it and none was allowed to get water. Now came our time. One of Geary’s headquarter guards got about half a bag of sweet potatoes. When I saw him I said to him: “Drop those potatoes!” He said they were for General Geary. As we had been placed on guard by General Slocum, we told him it mattered not who they were for, he should drop them. He refused to do it. The guard was ordered to prime and when he saw this, he said: “Don’t shoot, I will leave them.” and he did. This was another squaring of an account.
We had long talks with the darkey women at night in their huts, while they prepared our turkeys. One of the women was not as black as most of them. She told us how their masters and mistresses would abuse them. She showed us her arms, where her master had beaten her with a rod, and there were large welts on her body. This poor slave was about 30 years of age. When she finished telling us of the cruelty of her master, her mother, who was sitting by, said: “Ole Massa and Mistress, dey go into de house, dey get down on their knees and pray to the good Lord, den dey come out and lick de niggers. Da’ll all go to hell, sure.”
Oh, how glad they were to hear of their freedom! They would sing and they would pray and cheer for “de Lincums.” The guard after hearing the above story and many more, cared very little as to how it went with the masters and their plantations.
Feb. 22-Marched only six miles, rain drenching us from head to foot.
Feb. 23-Struck tents, crossed the Cataba River, marched 14 miles. But the rain continued, and we were all soaking wet. Feb. 24-Broke camp, marched five miles.
Feb. 25-Did not move, owing to high streams from the heavy rains.
Sunday, 26-We marched seven miles.
Monday, 27-Traveled three miles and encamped.