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The last raid. [compiled from a journal kept from 1859 to 1871.]

By Mrs. Clara D. Maclean.

In the dim dawn of April 12th, 1861, I was awakened by a low, resonant peal as of distant thunder. It was the first gun of the war. Defiant Sumter was besieged. On the 12th of April, 1865, I heard the echoes of the last.

Such a lovely season it was! We can all remember how the trees budded and the flowers bloomed that fateful spring. As regiment after regiment filed along the road, ‘under the boughs where early birds were singing,’ past our temporary home in Chatham county, North Carolina, my eyes grew dim, and my heart ached recalling those lines:

And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves,
Dewy with nature's tear-drops, as they pass;
Weeping, if aught inanimate e'er grieves,
Over the unreturning braves.

Scarcely two months before most of them had been transported southward, in box-cars or on flats in the cruelest weather, to reinforce Johnston, and keep back the advancing enemy—a puny dyke [467] against a rushing, overwhelming flood. Now they plodded wearily back, the foe following, to lay down their well-used arms at Hillsboro. Faithful, devoted souls! Who shall tell the story of your ‘high emprise’—of your sufferings and your glory?

Nothing was possible now but for us to show our sympathy and appreciation of their heroism.

Day after day we stood at the gates pouring out quarts of cool buttermilk for the exhausted men, which with cheering words was all we had now to offer. Frequently officers spent the night, while their commands encamped just beyond.

Once, a body of Federal prisoners passed (taken at Bentonville and elsewhere), and held out tempting greenbacks for bread. But bread, alas! was too scarce to be shared save with our own starving soldiers. So they went on to be exchanged soon, and feasted upon ‘the flesh-pots of Egypt.’

On several occasions men were left in our care, unable to go further on the terrible march. Two of these, members of the First South Carolina Cavalry (Colonel Black), remained seven weeks, one quite ill with typhoid fever, and were the ostensible objects of our first visit from what the negroes called ‘Mister Sherman's gentlemen.’ Previous to this, however, were long weeks of suspense. One day we would hear the enemy was within a few miles; the next, that they would not pass this way at all. Again, a neighbor would dash in, declaring with ashen lips: ‘The Yankees are burning L——'s mill;’ and we could actually hear and see them in every passing shadow for several days. Anon we grew careless, and, as the spring came on apace, thought only of life and love, realized only that earth was beautiful and danger impossible. A ‘figure in grey’ rode gallantly through waking dreams, but it was always to glory and victory. Defeat! Death! there was no thought of these.

The two young cavalrymen grew convalescent, and were eager to join their regiment; but such an undertaking was doubtless to run into the teeth of the enemy. So they lingered day after day. Meanwhile, we women busied ourselves in packing away silver, china, &c., &c., which was duly buried, and as duly taken up when the ‘scare’ seemed overpast. Once, when the rumors came thick and fast, the mules and stock and ‘men folk,’ including the two soldier boys, went into the swamps, and camped for several days. Scouts returned to reconnoiter; and after much wasted anxiety and amateur cooking, they came back hungrier, if not wiser men.

But the first of April arrived, and the boys decided at last to start [468] homeward. The war-steeds, two well-fed but somewhat superannuated animals, were brought round, heavily-laden knapsacks were donned, and we saw them set off with some sentiment and a few tears. Gallant young fellows as they were! not knowing if they would ever be allowed to reach home, or, indeed, if that home still existed, as it lay in Sherman's path. Later on we knew they found only a few charred ruins of what was once a well-known mansion of almost palatial size and splendor in the Longtown neighborhood of Fairfield District.

That afternoon we three girls walked down to the creek's edge and formally buried our silver cups, some jewelry and a watch or two. It was a difficult ceremony, and would have even been solemn and impressive, but for the fact that we had scarcely got out of sight before one suggested that we might forget the precise site of the interment. Forthwith we returned, pushed aside the old stump (left as a monument) and, gathering our few but inestimately precious chattels, went back to the house to devise some more original, and, therefore, safer method of preservation. None suggested itself, however, and we were reduced to the old, yet apparently reliable strategem of hiding them about our persons. Packages of cherished letters, pictures and lace were sewed in the hems of skirts, and I fashioned what seemed a very ‘Maid of Saragossa’ arrangement, by which the wide folds of a dress concealed an Italian stiletto. This exquisite little weapon had belonged to my father when a medical student with Dr. Dickson in Charleston, and had attached to it a strap of chamois leather with a very suggestive button-hole. I used to look at the mother-of-pearl handle, the fine steel, two-edged blade embossed with military emblems, and very sharp, and then at this button-hole, and wonder ‘What for?’ During the war, and especially towards the end, this question had come to haunt me. I wondered if it could do anything, and I lived to prove it—almost!

For several days I wore my dagger, and then losing interest in the tragic accoutrement, as the danger seemed delayed, I laid it on the dressing-table with watch, jewelry, etc. Thus one may sleep on the very crest of Vesuvius.

A few days after, about three o'clock in the afternoon, I was sitting quietly in my room reading; there came a tap at the door, and a girlish face appeared.

‘The Yankees are coming, Miss C.,’ she said.

Was ever aplomb carried further?

‘At last!’ 'Twas my rejoinder, imitating her in a fair degree. [469]

Going to the window, I looked out and saw a half-dozen horses fastened to the palings. As usual, these unwelcomed visitors had made themselves ‘at home,’ and entered by the back gate. I believe this was invariably the case. At least I never heard of their first approach ever being made by the front door. Is there a phsychological reason for this?

I had always determined to appear in my best dress before these guests. Southern women knew why. It was desirable to preserve one, and naturally that one would be the choicest when choice was so limited. But I found that the notification was too brief, and was obliged to content myself with putting on my cuffs (to save the buttons) cramming watch, ear-rings, broaches into my capacious pockets. We had reached the door in our downward career, when I remembered the role of the ‘Maid of Saragossa,’ which I had actually forgotten. Smiling sardonically to myself, I bade V. wait a moment, and returned, found the dagger under a lot of feminine small-wear and thrust it into the receptacle where the other valuables were reposing, not having on the dress arranged for it, and very deliberately we two advanced to the charge.

At the foot of the stairs a man was standing, as if uncertain where to proceed.

‘Who are you?’ I asked. ‘Do you belong to Johnston's command?’

‘Yes,’ he replied very promptly.

‘And this uniform.’

The fellow hesitated a moment and then burst out laughing.

“Well, we is what you call the Yankees,” he allowed.

‘Indeed! We had given you out, you were so long coming.’

A gun lay near, a sort of folding affair, it seemed to me, as it was bent double. I drew my skirts away as I passed it going to the rear of the house.

‘Oh! you needn't mind that,’ he cried, much amused; ‘it won't hurt anything now. It's broke.’

Then I recognized Mr. DeG.'s honest, old-fashioned rifle that was accustomed to lie on a rack just overhead, and had never ‘hurt’ anything but birds or squirrels. They had halved it at one blow.

Mrs. DeG. now appeared, bathed in tears and wringing her hands pitifully. ‘Oh! Miss C., what shall we do? Isn't it awful?’

‘Yes, it is; but don't let these creatures see that you are frightened, or it may be the worse for us. Bear up and be brave. They can't kill us.’ [470]

But my exhortations were useless. She continued to moan and wring her hands and weep as if over the grave of her best-beloved. Her mother-in-law, an elderly lady—and an invalid—was lying in a small bed when the invaders arrived. They had forced her to rise, suspecting some ruse to protect valuables in or under the bedding. Then thrusting in their sabres they literally disembowelled the mattress and feather-bed, the debris of which was now strewn far and wide. The poor old lady was deeply distressed at the indignity of their treatment, but she opened not her lips, and surveyed the ruins with Roman fortitude. I spoke a few encouraging words to her, gave a glance at the side-board with doors broken off their hinges, and empty decanters and a sugar bowl lying about; then hastened back to watch, and, if possible, prevent the work of destruction. V., still entirely self-possessed, remained, trying to quiet her distracted mother.

Sounds of discordant music issued from the parlor, and thither I went. One of the blue-coats was seated at the piano, strumming away quite complaisantly, while another, in some seeming embarrassment at my sudden appearance, dropped a plated water-pitcher which had attracted his artist eye. At this moment my little sister rushed up from some unexpected quarter, crying wildly: ‘Oh, where is mamma's picture? They will get mamma's picture?’

‘Hush!’ I whispered, grasping her arms. ‘Or they will get it just to provoke you.’

But she would not hush, and was not to be intimidated.

‘Horrid old things!’ She went on crying angrily. ‘Called me “Sis!” They shan't call me “Sis!” Oh, where is mamma's picture?’

The silver connoisseur, relieved by the diversion, made a hasty exit from the parlor, and dashed by me up-stairs. My heart was with my Lares and Penates (two trunks!) and I as hastily followed, M. at my heels. When or why she turned back I never could exactly discover, nor did I miss her for some minutes. She was still in pursuit, however, of ‘mamma's picture,’ which she now recollected had been given, with others, into the safekeeping of Aunt Pony, the household factotum and V.'s former nurse.

The investigating Federal proceeded to open drawers and wardrobes upon reaching my room; and, after watching him a few moments, I asked quietly what he wished. (I had heard that these conscientious creatures never stole anything right under one's nose! Hence my persistent presence.)

‘We have come to look for arms,’ was his somewhat sullen reply. [471] Then in a tone of abrupt harshness, he added, ‘Open these trunks!’ indicating one by a kick of his foot.

I felt the better policy was to obey. So, taking out my keys, and drawing up a chair, I deliberately sat down, unlocked the trunk, and began taking out one little dainty after another, shaking each carefully. ‘You can perceive,’ I said, inviting scrutiny of each bit of ribbon and lace, ‘that there is no mounted cavalryman or loaded cannon in here.’

He turned off with a horrid oath, and drawing an immense navy revolver from his boot—there was one in each Hessian-top—he presented it to my head.

‘Be in a hurry!’ was his order, evidently warming to his work.

I was just excited enough to be utterly reckless of consequences. ‘I am not used to such commands,’ I said, and therewith folded my hands.

He advanced to the other trunk, and was about to break it open when I left off my dignity and came forward with the keys. The first object that met his eye—well trained in such service—was a tiny morocco purse. ‘Ha! what's that?’

I took it up and unclasped it tenderly. There lay one poor little silver sixpence, my only remaining bit of specie, which I had kept ‘for luck.’ There also nestled a miniature Confederate flag that had been wont to adorn my toilette as a breast-knot in happier days, and was endeared by a thousand sweet memories.

‘This is all the money I have in the world,’ I said, holding up the sixpence, ‘but you can have it if you wish.’

He threw it aside with an impatient gesture and another oath and walked off. Before I was aware of his intention, he had locked the door. I rose and walked toward it. ‘Come,’ I said, ‘and I will show you the trunks in the other room, as there is nothing here, you see, in the way of arms.’

But he had stationed himself in front of the door, his back toward it. For a moment, nay, a long minute—centuries it seemed to me—we stood thus. There he was, a stalwart blonde of perhaps twenty-three or four, over six feet in height; his breath hot with the peach brandy they had unearthed on this raid; his eyes blood-shot, a reckless demon looking out of their grey-green depths, ready for any atrocity. I measured him from cap to boots, then fixed my eyes steadily on his, not fearful in the least, calm to petrifaction almost, only as I pressed my left hand against my side I felt there a strange, wild fluttering, as of an imprisoned bird. With the other I slowly [472] and stealthily unloosed the stiletto from its sheath, for it stuck tightly in the silver scabbard, and still gazed at him with unflinching nerves and tense muscles.

Whether he saw and divined the movement, or whether he heard his companions galloping away, I know not; or if, indeed, any ‘means’ were necessary in this wonderful intervention of a protecting Providence; I only spoke these words very low, and my own voice was strange to me in its vibrating intensity: ‘What do you mean, sir? Open that door!’

One moment more his eye retained its fiendish brightness, then drooped. He turned, unlocked the door, and went down, I following.

Down stairs all was quiet. ‘They had gone to find Mr. DeG.,’ somebody told me. As the ‘big blonde’ threw himself into his saddle I remarked in a stage-aside to V., ‘I think I see some of Wheeler's men coming down the lane.’ This dashing corps had been lingering in our vicinity for several weeks, and were in some sort ‘household troops’ for us.

‘Who's afraid of Wheeler's men?’ he cried, adding an oath that made one's blood curdle. Then he sped after his comrades.

A brief season of grace was left us to collect our scattered senses and pacify, if possible, the still distracted wife and mother. The negroes came flying in from the fields, ashen and trembling. They had never seen the ‘Yankees’ before, and to their excited imaginations, visitors from the lower world could not be more appalling; though one little chap, a spoilt and petted page about the house, exclaimed to me in a relieved tone after they left: ‘Why, they is folk! I thought they was animals.’

We soothed the terrified darkies with the only available panacea, peach brandy, which is indigenous to this country, and was probably one of the main objects of the raid. Several demijohns of it were emptied upon the ground, the amber, oily, penetrating liquid bubbling out in the evening sunlight with a dozen regretful black faces bent above. Scarcely was this done when the clattering of hoofs was heard. Back dashed the blue-coats, more desperate and intent upon destruction than ever, having been baffled in their search for gold, which they had heard Mr. DeG. carried about with him in rouleaux. When they came upon him, superintending the hands at work in the field, they had rifled his pockets, finding only a roll of Confederate notes, which they tore up before his eyes in intense disgust and disappointment; then informed him that one of those ‘d—d [473] Rebel women’ at the house had tried to frighten them about Wheeler's men, and they intended to burn the house to avenge the insult.

I was sitting in the back porch when they returned; V. with me and my little sister (still pouting over the indignity of having been called ‘Sis’), a half-dozen small dark pickaninnies nestled under and around our skirts in abject terror, silent, but staring with the curious animal gaze of their kind at the creatures which could cause such excitement and alarm in this hitherto placid abode.

The first soldier to dismount and enter was one I had not observed before, a dark, wiry, middle-aged man, with a brigandish face and air, a sort of American ‘Devilshoof.’ ‘Say, old woman,’ he began, addressing Mrs. DeG., ‘where is that watch I told you to hide when I was here two or three weeks ago?’

In vain the poor lady protested she had no watch, did not recollect ever having had a watch, and would not have hidden it if she had ever had a watch! The fellow laughed at her incoherency and iteration with demoniacal sarcasm.

‘You wouldn't, hey? Well, let's see if your memory is better than mine,’ and deliberately putting his hand into her pocket he drew forth a small tin box of snuff, stick-brush, a knife, and-awatch! Without a word, but with a gesture of infinite mockery, and a leer I have never before or since seen on a human face, he transferred the two latter articles to his own pocket, and then addressed the elder Mrs. DeG. in a similar manner.

At this moment, my attention was distracted by the striking of matches in the inner room, and I saw only with divided mind the next outrage—the same man tearing open the dress-neck of the dignified old mother, and drawing thence a silk handkerchief in which was wrapped sixteen golden dollars. My blood boiled at the sight, but I dared not speak. The consciousness of my own heavy-laden pocket weighed upon me and fastened me to my seat. No attempt, however, was made to search either V. or me, and the little poniard rested quietly in its hiding-place.

Meanwhile, a very inoffensive looking youth in sergeant's uniform, sat upon his horse in front of us as if keeping guard. The attitude and expression of the colored children huddled around us seemed to interest and amuse him.

‘They haven't recognized their deliverers yet,’ I said, as he remarked how frightened they were.

The animal he rode was so beautiful that I could not repress my [474] admiration, a dark bay mare I think, glossy as satin, and graceful as a young antelope. Seeing my eyes fixed upon her, he informed us she had belonged to Colonel Rhett, of South Carolina, whom they had captured a few days before.

‘I don't believe you,’ I said, ‘though it is handsome enough to have belonged even to Colonel Rhett.’

‘You South Carolina women are the very devil to whip,’ he remarked, not so irrelevantly as it seemed. ‘You ain't scared a bit.’

Scornful silence met this observation, but he meandered on, his comrades doing the indoor work the while, which, I presume, they ‘pooled’ afterwards.

‘You hadn't ought to kept them two Rebs here so long,’ (alluding to our cavalry friends who had so luckily departed). ‘We came after them.’

‘And after watches,’ I could not help adding, but he smiled serenely.

‘Oh, well! We must make the thing pay somehow.’

Poor fellow! how little he dreamed that the ‘pay’ for this little diversion would be his life.

The sun was setting when the horrible comedy ended, and the order to mount was given. Somehow the matches had gone out which were thrown on beds and into closets. But they imagined and hoped that a dozen incipient fires had been left burning which would effectually destroy what could not be carried off. So mounting in hot haste, as they had come, the dreaded enemy fled away through the falling twilight to death and destruction.

A few miles off they were intercepted by a half-dozen home-guards led by a disabled Confederate officer. A skirmish ensued, and the ‘big blonde’ dragoon was wounded-John Miller, of the One Hundred and First Ohio cavalry. He and a comrade made their way across the river to a farm-house, and there stopped, unable to proceed. Captain C. kept them in view, while the others were followed and dispatched by his men. Only one escaped to tell the tale, the young sergeant. About the same hour that he had talked with us, so careless and free, the next evening, he was shot by general orders at the headquarters of Kilpatrick's command, stationed in Chapel Hill. They had violated the truce of ten days which was in force previous to Johnston's surrender, and thus was the punishment of the only survivor.

Captain C. traced his two men to their lurking place. In the dim [475] moonlight he saw that one stood sentry at the front door. Following their example, he made a detour, and entered from the rear.

‘Surrender!’ he cried. But before the poor wretch had time to speak, he was ushered into eternity:

‘Unshrived, unhouseled, unannalled.’

Passing swiftly to the inner room, the Confederate officer found John Miller in bed, the woman of the house bending over him with a bottle of camphor, or spirits of some kind, in her hand. He had heard the report and was struggling violently to rise. But it was too late. In another moment his soul had sped to join those of his companions in evil-doing, and an untold list of atrocities and cruelties was at last avenged.

Within two hours, I held in my hand the little morocco purse, which I had not even missed. The tiny flag was still there; the silver sixpence gone! The sides of the purse had been burst open as if too tightly packed. Some of old Mrs. DeG.'s gold had no doubt filled it; but it, too, had disappeared.

The gallant Captain offered me the huge revolvers, one of which had presented its cold muzzle to my head. Shudderingly, I refused. They were stained with human blood—associated with nameless crimes.

When I went to my room that night it was not to sleep. In the flickering fire-light, which did duty as lamps and candles in those make-shift days, I lived again, over and over a hundred times, the fearful experiences of that brief afternoon. Not until then, in the silence and loneliness of midnight, did I realize the unutterable peril with which I had been threatened. As the ghostly shadows danced over the wall, I seemed to see the athletic frame looming up out of the darkness, the fierce fair face, pallid, yet lit up with a baleful glare, staring at me till I was turned to stone. For weeks and months this fearful vision filled my waking hours as it did my dreams; and not even the distance of twenty years has dimmed a memory so fraught with horror. No wonder that under the pressure of scenes like these many lost reason and some life itself.

The excitement and fright of this time speedily brought a fatal termination to the disease of poor old Mrs. DeGe. She had long been threatened with a heart trouble; and a few days later fell from her chair unconscious, and died within twenty-four hours.

For weeks Captain C. was compelled to keep himself perdu. The neighborhood was filled with Kilpatrick's men, seeking to take revenge [476] for the death of a man who was at once the terror and the admiration of the corps. Nothing was too desperate for him to dare, we heard; and one of his comrades remarked: ‘In liquor, old Belzebub himself couldn't head John Miller.’ But the gallant man who rid the world of such a wretch, lives still, for aught I know, in prosperous security, and John Miller's ghost was never laid. It lingers yet in the cold shadows of that ruined house on Haw river.

C. D. M.

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