Following the Battle of Averasboro March 15th & 16th, 1865 eighteen year old Janie Smith
(pictured below - July 26, 1846 - August 15th, 1882)
penned on scraps of wallpaper a letter to her friend Janie Robeson in Bladen County. (Janie Robeson
married Edward McKeithan, Sr., of Fayetteville, NC.)
Janie, a daughter of Farquhard and Sarah Slocum Grady Smith lived at the family plantation
house named "Lebanon" with her eight brothers and two unmarried sisters. Her brothers
all served with the Confederate forces.
Jane attended Burwill Female Seminary at Charlotte, NC for a period of time,
and later became the second wife of Dr. R. R. Robeson, already her brother-in-law.
They lived near Godwin, NC. Both are buried in Old Bluff Cemetery.
This letter, which
is featured at the Averasboro Battlefield
Museum in Harnett County, NC. (Cumberland Co. until 1855),
provides a remarkable glimpse into Janie Smith's chaotic world in March & April 1865.
The original letter is in the Mrs. Thomas H. Webb Collection
at the North Carolina State Department of Archives & History in Raleigh.
Where Home Used to be.
Apr. 12th, 1865.
Your precious letter, My dear Janie, was received
night before last, and the pleasure it afforded me, and indeed the
whole family, I leave for you to imagine, for it baffles words to
express my thankfulness when I hear that my friends are left with
the necessities of life, and unpoluted (sic)by the touch of Sherman's
Hell-hounds. My experience since we parted has been indeed sad,
but I am so blessed when I think of the other friends in Smithville
that I forget my own troubles. Our own army came first and enjoyed
the cream of the country and left but little for the enemy. We had
a most delightful time while our troops were camped around. They
arrived here on the first of March and were camping around and passing
for nearly a week. Feeding the hungry and nursing the sick and looking
occupied the day, and at night company would come in and ait (sic) until
I found our officers gallant and gentlemanly and the privates no less so.
The former of course, we saw more of, but such an army of patriots fighting
for their hearthstones is not to be conquered by such fiends incarnate as fill
the ranks of Sherman's army. Our political sky does seem darkened with a fearful
cloud, but when compared with the situation of our fore-fathers, I can but take
courage. We had then a dissolute and disaffected soldiery to contend with, to say
nothing of the poverty of the Colonies during the glorious revolution of '76. Now
our resources increase every year and while I confess that the desertion in our
army is awful, I am sanguine as to the final issue to the war.
Gen. Wheeler took tea here about two o'clock during the night after the battle
closed, and about four o'clock the Yankees came charging, yelling and howling. I
stood on the piaza and saw the charge made, but as calm as I am now, though I was
all prepared for the rascals, our soldiers having given us a detailed account of
their habits. The pailing did not hinder them at all. They just knocked down all
such like mad cattle. Right into the house, breaking open bureau drawers of all
kinds faster than I could unlock. They cursed us for having hid everything and made
bold threats if certain things were not brought to light, but all to no effect.
They took Pa's hat and stuck him pretty badly with a bayonet to make him disclose
something, but you know they were fooling with the wrong man. One impudent dog came
into the dining room where Kate and I were and said "Good morning girls, why aren't
you up getting breakfast, it's late?" I told him that servants prepared Southern
Ladies breakfast. He went off muttering something about their not waiting on us
any more, but not one of the servants went from here, they remained faithful
through it all, with one exception, and Pa has driven him off to the Yankees.
Mr. Sherman, I think is pursuing the wrong policy to accomplish his designs.
The negros are bitterly prejudiced to his minions. They were treated, if possible,
worse than the white folks, all their provisions taken and their clothes destroyed
and some carried off.
They left no living thing in Smithville but the people. One old hen played sick and
thus saved her neck, but lost all of her children. The Yankees would run all over the
yard to catch the little things to squeeze to death.
Every nook and corner of the premises was searched and the things that they didn't
use were burned or torn into strings. No house except the blacksmith shop was burned,
but into the flames they threw every tool, plow etc., that was on the place. The
house was so crowded all day that we could scarcely move and of all the horrible
smelling things in the world the Yankees beat. The battle field does not compare
with them in point of
stench. I don't believe they have been washed since they were born. I was so sick
all the time that I could not have eaten had I had anything. All of Uncle John's
family were here and we lived for three days on four quarts of meal which Aunt
Eliza begged from a Yank. Didn't pretend to sift it, baked up in our room where
fifteen of us had to stay. When and how we slept, I don't know. I was too angry
to eat or sleep either and I let the scoundrels know it whenever one had the
impudence to speak to me. Gen. Slocum with two other hyenas of his rank, rode
up with his body-guard and introduced themselves with great pomp, but I never
noticed them at all. Whenever they would poke out their dirty paws to shake my
hand, I'd give the haughtiest nod I could put on and ask what they came for. I
had heard that the officers would protect ladies, but it is not so. Sis Susan
was sick in bed and they searched the very pillows that she was lying on, and
keeping such a noise, tearing up and breaking to pieces, that the Generals couldn't
hear themselves talk, but not a time did they try to prevent it. They got all of
my stockings and some of our collars and handkerchiefs. If I ever see a Yankeewoman,
I intend to whip her and take the clothes off of her very back. We would have been
better prepared for the thieves but had to spend the day before our troops left
in a ravine as the battle was fought so near the house, so we lost a whole days
hiding. I can't help laughing, though the recollection is so painful when I think
of that day. Imagine us all and Uncle John's family trudging through the rain and
mud down to a ravine near the river, each one with a shawl, blanket and basket of
provisions. The battle commenced on the 15th of March at Uncle John's. The family
were ordered from home, stayed in the trenches all day when late in the evening
they came to us, wet, muddy and hungry. Their house was penetrated by a great many
shells and balls, but was not burned and the Yankees used it for a hospital, they
spared it, but everything was taken and the furniture destroyed. The girls did not
have a change of clothing.
The Yankees drove us from two lines of fortifications that day, but with heavy loss,
while ours was light. That night we fell back to the cross roads, if you remember
where that is, about one sixth of a mile from here, there our men became desperate
and at day-light on the sixteenth the firing was terrific. The infirmary was here
and oh it makes me shudder when I think of the awful sights I witnessed that morning.
Ambulance after ambulance drove up with our wounded.
One half of the house was prepared for the soldiers, but owing to the close proximity
of the enemy they only sent in the sick, but every barn and out house was fill and
under every shed and tree the tables were carried for amputating the limbs. I just
felt like my heart would break when I would see our brave men rushing into the battle
and then coming back so mangled.
The scene beggars description, the blood lay in puddles in the grove, the groans
of the dying and the complaints of those undergoing amputation was horrible, the
painful impression has seared my very heart. I can never forget it. We were kept
busy making and rolling bandages and sending nourishment to the sick and wounded
until orders came to leave home. Then was my trial, leaving our poor suffering
soldiers when I could have been relieving them some. As we passed the wounded
going to the woods they would beseech us not to go."Ladies, don't leave your
home, we won't let the enemy fire upon you." But orders from headquarters must
be obeyed and to the woods we went. I never expected to see the dear old homestead
again, but thank heaven, I am living comfortably in it again.
It was about nine o'clock when the courrier [sic] came with orders. The firing
continued incessantly up and down the lines all day, when about five in the evening
the enemy flanked our right, where we were sent for protection, and the firing was
right over us. We could hear the commands and groans and shrieks of the wounded.
A line of battle was formed in front of us, and we knew that was certain death to us
should we be unsuccessful in repelling the charge. Lou and I started out to do the
same thing, when one of the vedetts [sic] saw my white flag (my hankerchief (sic) on a pole)
and came to us. I accosted him, "Are you one of our men or a Yankee?" "I am a Reb,
Mam." "Can't you go and report to the commanding officer and tell him that the
hillside is lined with women and children he sent here for protection, and the
line of battle over there will destroy us?" "I'll do all I can for you", was the
gallant reply and in a short time we were ordered home.
Well, Janie dear, I am really afraid of wearying you with my long epistle, but if
you feel as much interested in Smithville as I do in the welfare of Ashwood, I know
you won't complain. You inquired after Cam. I believe the excitement cured her. She
is better now than she has been for years.
Their house is ruined with the blood of the Yankee wounded. Only two rooms left,
Aunt Mary's and the little one joining, which the family occupied. The others she
can't pretend to use. Every piece of bed furniture, etc. is gone. The scamps left
our piano, used Aunt Mary's for an amputation table.
The Yanks left fifty of our wounded at Uncle John's whom we have been busy nursing.
All that were able have gone to their homes, and the others except four, are dead.
The poor things were left there suffering and hungry with only one doctor. I felt
my poverty keenly when I went down there and couldn't even give them a piece of bread.
But, however, Pa had the scattering corn picked up and ground, which we divided with
them, and as soon as the Country around learned their condition, delicacies [sic] of
all kinds were sent in. I can
dress amputated limbs now and do most anything in the way of nursing the
wounded soldiers. We have had nurses and surgeons from Raleigh for a week
or two. I am really attached to the patients of the hospital and feel so sad
and lonely now that so many have left and died. My favorite, a little black
eyed boy with the whitest brow and thick curls falling on it, died last Sunday,
but the Lord has taken him to a better land. He was the only son of his widowed
mother. I have his ring and a lock of his hair to send her as soon as I can get
an opportunity. It is so sad to receive the dying messages and tokens for the
loved ones at home. It grieves me to see them buried without coffins, but it is
impossible to get them now. I have two graves in my charge to keep fresh flowers
on, the little boy just mentioned and Lieutenant Laborde, the son of Dr. Laborde
of Columbia College. The latter had passed through the fight untouched, and
while sitting on the fence of our avenue resting and making friends with his
captain, whom he had challenged, a stray ball pierced his head. His with three
other Confederate graves are the only ones near the house. But the yard and garden
at Uncle John's, the cottage and Aunt Mary's are used for Yankee grave yards, and
they are buried so shallow that the places are extremely offensive. The Yankees
stayed here for only one day, a few for a day or two would come. "We had
time feeding the Confederate captain they brought here, hiding the bread from the
We had to walk about three miles going to the hospital at first to avoid the Yankee
pickets. Our soldiers were there suffering and we were determined to help them.
Cousin Rice came home yesterday wounded by a pistol shot in the fleshy part of his
shoulder. He looks well considering his long walk. We have no way of sending for
our wounded brothers now. Bros. Henry and Fark came about a week after the Yanks
left. I never was so glad to see folks in my life, but they are so saddened by the
dissolution in Smithville that they don't seem like the same boys. Cousin Walter is
also at home. Each one of the boys brought their rations and it looked so strange.
Cousin Rice was wounded on the 6th inst. at Petersburg. Tom's horse was lost. The
others were all safe at that time. It sickens me when I think of the bloody battles
they have been in since, and we can't hear from them. I think you ought to be
thankful that your brother is captured, though I know how you feel about him.
All things are for the best and I feel it is so. Your Uncle David spent the
night with us as he passed on a sad mission. I was so glad to see him and hope
that he will bring his wounded son here on his way back. I reckon he thought
there was no end to my questions. Sloke was in the battle of Bentonsville, but
escaped unhurt. He had to leave home in spit[e] of our entreaties, volunteered
for the emergency, says
he and his horse had a funny time dodging behind each other. This is the only
"critter" he saved, but our army got them. We plow old bags of bones the
Yanks would not trouble to kill, pick them up from the battle field. We
are getting on very well in the eating line. As you suppose, we had little
corn left at the plantation and a cow or two. I am not afraid of perishing
though the prospects for it are very bright. When our army invade the North,
I want them to carry the torch in one hand, the sword in the other. ...
I know you think this a very unbecoming sentiment, but I believe it is our
only policy now.
.... I will wait until tomorrow to finish my volume as Jess can't bear the
light in his eyes and it is too dark for me. Sloke is quite sick with measles,
took cold and I am staying with him while sister and Louise are out enjoying the
lovely spring evening. All nature is gay and beautiful, but every Southern breeze
is loaded with a terrible scent from the battle field, which renders my home very
disagreeable at times.
The Farquhard Smith's wartime home stands today still occupied by Smith descendants.
This house was a hospital during the battle, where mostly Confederate wounded were treated.
It is said that amputated arms and legs were piled outside after being
tossed out windows by surgeons, and blood covered the floor-boards. After the battle
Union general Henry Slocum made Lebanon his headquarters
The two other Smith plantation houses, "Oak Grove" and "The William T.
Smith House", also were used as field hospitals and still stand on the
battlefield. Chicora Civil War Cemetery located on the battlefield is the gravesite of
fifty-six Confederate casualties of the battle.
The Averasboro Battlefield, Museum and Cemetery are four miles to the west of Exit 71 off I-95
and on NC 82 Highway between Erwin and Godwin. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday
10 am to 5 pm; Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm; and closed on Monday and major holidays.
Go to Descendants of Farquhard Campbell
Go to Company K - Thirty-Eighth Regiment North Carolina State Troops 1861-1865
Civil War Amputees
Return to Letters of Cumberland County
Return to Civil War Index
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This page created November 4th, 1999 by Myrtle N. Bridges