ONE ACCOUNT OF SHERMAN'S RAID
Alan M. Stubbs, Goldsboro, N. C. has generously
contributed the sadly intriguing account of Sherman's raid near Laurinburg in March 1865. "This is
an interesting newspaper artical written by a daughter of Col. Robert H. Cowan Jr. describing their
encounter with Sherman's army in Scotland County. The house that they were living is still standing
about 1/2 mile from Springfield on the Old Rockingham Road. The house is known as the Hargrave House
and the RR Walker House. It was built by Matthew McNair in the 1850's." Alan Stubbs
Myrtle Bridges December 03, 2003
My father, Robert H. Cowan, Colonel of the Eighteenth Regiment, North Carolina Troops, was
wounded in one of the battles around Richmond, 1862 and left for dead on the field. He was struck
on the chest by pieces of bombshell, which shattered his whole system, and the surgeons pronounced
him unfit for service, but after a short visit home he returned to his regiment and went with Jackson
into Maryland. On returning to Virginia his fast falling health compelled him to resign. As he passed
through Richmond on his way home he found a commission as Brigadier-General made out and ready to be
forwarded to him.
In the spring of 1863 he was made President of the Wilmington, Charlotte, and Rutherfordton Railroad
Company, and carried his family to Richmond, now Scotland County, to live. Our home was five miles from
Laurinburg, N.C. and twenty miles from Cheraw, S. C.
I shall never forget when Sherman's Army reached the latter town, during the first week of March 1865.
We sat and listened all day to the booming of the cannon, with aching hearts and fervent prayers that the
enemy might be driven back-the utter desolation when we knew that Johnson's Army had passed by and we were
left alone to face the dreaded foe! Late that afternoon I sat on the steps of our front porch at my father's
feet trying to comfort him and to receive comfort from him, for we were in the deepest distress, our whole
country devastated, our dear Southern boys retreating, but contesting every inch of ground, falling by the
wayside, gladly giving up their life-blood for the land they loved so well. The brave, noble remnant
struggling on, overpowered by numbers, yet full of faith and trust in their leaders, striving to reach Lee
and join forces. Then all would be well. Besides this the Angel of Death lowered over our house. My
youngest sister (now Mrs. Junius Davis) and brother had been ill for weeks with scarlet fever, and our
physician had that day given up all hope of saving them. The burden seemed greater than we could bear.
While we talked up rode a Confederate officer and asked where Johnson's Army was. My father answered,
"I do not know." He asked other questions, to which he received the same answer; then rode off.
"That is a Yankee," I said; my father answered, "Yes, they will soon be here." He
then got up and went in the house and made preparations for their coming, but our hearts were so full
of care and anxiety for the little lives that were gradually fading away, our little girl of five and
boy of three, the pets of the household, that everything else sank into insignificance. What a night
that was! Not an eye was closed. Every minute we expected our little ones to leave us and the Federal
troops to be upon us. Once we heard the tramping of horses and thought it was surely the enemy, but it
proved to be our own horses coming back from the swamp where they had been hidden, just in time to be
taken by the foe, for the day broke I looked out the window and from every direction the hated blue
uniforms were coming. They seemed to spring out of the ground and in a few seconds our house was full of
them. The first man to enter was the "Confederate" officer who had visited us the afternoon before.
They were everywhere, upstairs and downstairs, rummaging in closets, trunks, bureaus, wardrobes, anywhere,
until every piece of silver, jewelry, clothing and everything else, including food was gone. We spent
the whole day without one mouthful to eat. Our servants came crying and saying that they tried to bring
us something, but the men would snatch it from them. My mother had a spoon in which she was mixing medicine
for her sick children snatched from her, and she was obliged to mix it in her hand and put it into their
mouths with her finger. They pulled the rings from her fingers as she was holding one of the sick children
in her lap, and kicked the cradle in which the other was lying, with the remark, "That one is dead already."
One of the soldiers engaged in this indignity had meanwhile stood his loaded musket beside the chair in
which my mother sat. They were yelling, cursing, drinking, pitching trunks and boxes from the attic down
two flights of stairs to the first floor, breaking them open and putting all that could be carried in
that way about their persons, pilling up the rest and making bonfires of them. We had trunks of valuables
belonging to General Whiting, which he had sent to us for safe-keeping when the city of Wilmington had
fallen into the hands of the foe; also all that Bishop Watson, who was at that time the rector of Saint
James Church, Wilmington, had saved when the town of New Berne, N. C., fell. One of them rushed into the
room where we were all gathered together, dressed in the Confederate uniform of my uncle, Captain John Cowan,
and going up to my grandmother, slapped her face with Confederate money, which he had found somewhere about
the house, grabbed at her watch guard, which she thought she had hidden, and pulled it with the watch from
her neck. I was thankful my father was then out of the room, but he came in soon after with a Federal
soldier, who had promised him to protect us; though he really had no authority for doing so (this man
we found afterwards was a North Carolinian and a deserter from the Confederate Army). There were five
watches taken from us at that time. Another man came up to me, a girl of sixteen, and told me to give
him a ring, which I did not have. My younger sister (now Mrs. J. I. Matis ) said that if he would leave
me alone she would give him one, and as he took it, he threw his arm around her, saying he was a Philadelphia
boy and had just come out of the penitentiary, which we could well believe. My father sprang forward,
but the guard pulled him back, and then stepped up to the other fellow, saying, "I am put here to
protect this family; leave this room," which the man cursing refused to do and drew his pistol. The
guard also drew his, and my sister and I were in a corner and the men between us, I thought we would all
be killed, but Providence watched over us. The guard was cool and quiet, and, just then, something in the
hall attracted the other man's attention, and he ran out of the room. At one time my sister and I were
dragged to the head of the stairs, and they said that we must go down and play the piano for them, but
something happened that drew their attention from us and we slipped back into the room. I saw a man put
a pistol to my father's head and another knock it aside just as it went off. We had begged father the night
before to leave us and go into the woods with our brother and uncle, for we were afraid he would be killed,
but he would not go. He had been in the Convention of 1861, which had carried the State out of the Union,
and the soldiers had found one of his speeches and had fastened it up on the wall where it could be read
by all, and when our uncle, Dr. McRee, asked for a guard for our house and told the officers how outrageously
their men were behaving, they answered that they did not care what they did at our house, for they had heard of
Colonel Cowan all through South Carolina.
As night came on, the guard told my father he must take his family out of that house, for he had
to return to camp, and when the rest of the army came up that night he would not answer for the consequences,
so after dark we stole quietly through that camp to an old temperance hall about a quarter of a mile away.
It had been roughly fixed up as a dwelling for Dr. McRee's family, and in that old shanty we remained for
a week (while the Union Army was passing), with nothing to eat, nothing to wear, nothing to look forward
to but death. Sometimes our servants would steal a chicken or turkey from the soldiers and bring it to us,
and we would hold it with our hands over the fire until it was cooked enough for us to eat, and that would
be all we would have for a day or two.
At last one afternoon the Negro regiments were coming up and they surrounded the old hall yelling
that we had gold hid and they were going to have it. I certainly thought then, as I looked out on that
sea of black faces, that our time had come, and that death or worse was very near. We barred the doors
and windows, and my father got out and walked through those regiments until he found a general, who after
hearing him, ordered the Negroes away, and with his staff spent the night in the lower part of the old hall.
While they were enjoying a good supper, we upstairs had not tasted food all day, and when Dr. McRee
told the general there were little children in that house who had been at death's door, but now had passed
the crisis and were crying for bread, which we did not have to give them, he sent a few pieces of dry
baker's bread, which after giving to each of the little ones, we divided between our two poor boys, who
came in that evening starved, sick, worn out, almost dead. They had been captured and dragged about from
one camp to another without food, and then paroled. The next day the last of Sherman's Army left us, and
we started back to our home, which the troops had tried to burn down, but our servants had saved for us.
We had nothing but the clothes we had on and few articles of clothing for the children, and we came to
an empty house. The heavy furniture which could not be carried off was there, and Bibles, Prayer-books
and pictures, torn, broken and covered with mustard and molasses. We had no food but the corn their horses
had dropped while eating, which we picked up, washed and ground, and a few potato slips, nothing else.
When we found a room that was not full of feathers from the beds which had been torn open, we threw
ourselves down and rested, thanking God that we were alive and had a roof over our heads.
Our friends who had formerly come to see us in carriages drawn by beautiful horses, now came in
ox carts, or on foot, and brought us a little of their meal, flour, lard, eggs, chickens, or whatever
they had been able to save. From Charlotte and Raleigh came clothing, which was a long time reaching us,
for the country was in such an unsettled state. My father told his servants to try to get to Wilmington,
where they were known, and could make a living, for he did not know he would get meat and bread for his
own family and could not help them, though he would do what he could for those who remained with us.
Another of the Federal soldiers who befriended and protected us was a German from Boston, and my
mother gave him a silver cup, which she said would be taken from us, as eight had already been stolen.
A short time after the war we got a letter from that man asking what had become of us ("did the army
leave you alive?") for he never seen people worst treated, and he had been with Sherman from the
beginning to the end of his march through the South. In this letter he offered to return the cup if we
would give him our address, but my father told him to keep it. I regret that we cannot give the name of
this soldier and that we do not know whatever became of the letter.
Jane Dickinson DeRorset
Wilmington, N. C.
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