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Letter from Janie Smith to Janie Robeson, April 12, 1865

Title

Letter from Janie Smith to Janie Robeson, April 12, 1865

Description

Janie Smith was 17-years-old and lived in the rural town of Smithville when the Battle of Averasboro took place. The battle took place between a portion of Union general William Sherman’s army, under the command of General Henry Slocum, and a portion of the Confederate Army under the command of General William Hardee on March 16, 1865. The account told of the atrocities of battle, leaving Smith to encounter many wounded after the fighting and the disrespect that Slocum’s men showed towards the women of the town. Ms. Smith firmly believed that, “Mr. Sherman . . . is pursuing the wrong policy to accomplish his designs.” The designs for Sherman were to break the will of the South to fight physically, emotionally and gain support of the blacks. However, according to Smith’s account, Sherman was unable to break Smith’s will. Smith’s hatred for the Yankees grew even more. Smith promised that if she ever saw a Yankee woman that she intended to whip her and take the clothes off her back. Smith knew that winning the war was unlikely but wanted to continue to fight, to bring desolation to the heart of the Yankees and make their widows and orphans suffer as Smith and others had. While Sherman hoped to break the will of the South to fight, in cases like Ms. Smith, he increased her will to fight and take the war to people in the North. It was particularly astounding, because unlike other women in the South during the march, they did not see a real battle like Smith did. Smith witnessed many amputations and saw body limbs discarded out of the windows, like trash. The main image is of Smith’s family plantation home, “Lebanon,” that was used as a hospital during battle.

Creator

Janie Smith

Source

Letter from Janie Smith to Janie Robeson, April 12, 1865, in North Carolina Civil War Documentary, John Barrett and W. Buck Yearns eds. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 329-332.

Date

1865-04-12

Type

Document

Coverage

Averasborough, North Carolina
Harnett County, North Carolina

Original Format

Correspondence

Text

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 unpolluted (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 wait until bed-time.

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. 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 piazza 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. . . .

Mr. Sherman, I think is pursuing the wrong policy to accomplish his designs. The Negroes 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. . . . . 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. . . . If I ever see a Yankee woman, 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 courier [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 handkerchief (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. . . .

Their house is ruined with the blood of the Yankee wounded. Only two rooms left, Aunt Mary's and the little one joining. . . . 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 hitest 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 a romantic time feeding the Confederate captain they brought here, hiding the bread from the rogues."
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. . . .

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 want desolation carried to the heart of their country, the widows and orphans left naked and starving just as ours were left. I know you think this a very unbecoming sentiment, but I believe it is our only policy now.

They took a special delight in burying the stinking carcasses at everybody’s door. . . . 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.

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Citation

Janie Smith, Letter from Janie Smith to Janie Robeson, April 12, 1865, Civil War Era NC, accessed October 21, 2017, https://cwnc.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/177.