by Harriet Cobb Lane
[Note: This was written by Mrs. Lane so that her children's children would
have some idea of their turmoil during the Civil War. This was found in
the attic of an old house near Bentonville, North Carolina, many, many
years ago. The gentleman who purchased the house gave it to me, J.C.
Knowles, Jr., May 1989]
A story giving some of the experiences of the War of 1861-1865 and of the
times when Sherman fought the last battle of the War at Bentonville, North
Carolina, and of the privations of those who lived along the line of its
march in Wayne County, North Carolina.
I am a daughter of Mr. William D. Cobb and wife, Ann Collier. My father
lived on his plantation nine miles from Goldsboro, Wayne County, on the
south side of the Neuse River. He was a stock farmer and did not raise
cotton until the war began in 1861. All southern farmers then raised
cotton to help clothe the Confederate soldiers. We did not approve of
seccession, but wanted to fight for States Rights under the flag which
our fathers had fought for.
I was born and reared on the plantation. Before the war, the planters
employed governesses for their children, while young. Then they were sent
to preparatory schools before entering college. My sister and I were sent
to the Misses Nash and Kellock's Preparatory School in Hillsborough,
Orange County, in 1860, and we were there when North Carolina seceded
from the Union, and we helped with some of the other school girls, to
raise the first Confederate Flag over the Court House. North Carolina
seceded May 20th, 1861,
My father gave four sons to the Confederate service. They were among
the first to volunteer when Governor Ellis called for volunteers to defend
the State. My brothers, Col. John P. Cobb, Capt. Bryan W. Cobb, and Dr.
William H.H. Cobb, all volunteered as privates, but were made officers in
the 2nd Regiment of North Carolina State Troops. My brother, Dr. William
H.H. Cobb graduated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania just in time to get home
and volunteer. At first he was in the 2nd Regiment, but was later
transferred to the 4th Regiment as Assistant Surgeon. My fourth brother,
Rev. Needham B. Cobb was Chaplain of the 4th Regiment; all were first sent
to Fort Steel for a few days, then to Virginia, and fought under Lee. My
brother Needham's health failed the latter part of the war, and he moved
with his family to Raleigh.
After the death of Colonel Charles Yen, (First Colonel of the 2nd
Regiment), my brother John was promoted for bravery on the battlefield, from
Captain of Company H to Colonel, and brother Bryan W. Cobb was then made
Captain. My brothers Dr. W.H.H. Cobb and Capt. Bryan W. Cobb fought through
the war and surrendered with Lee at Appomattox. My brother, Col. John Cobb
lost a leg in the Battle of Winchester, Virginia, September 19th, 1864, was
taken prisoner and confined in Fort McHenry until Lee surrendered.
New Bern fell into the hands of the Yankees, March 21, 1862. My father
soon moved his family to a farm four miles from Bentonville (where the last
battle of the war was fought 1865). Just after he moved, General Burnside
came from New Bern on a march for Goldsboro, passing our place, but our
forces had burned the bridge at Spring Bank on Neuse River, six miles from
Goldsboro; after being repulsed by our troops, with his army, returned to
After a short time my father moved back to his home, and left his
daughter, Mrs. Nathan B. Whitfield living there. My father and her husband
were members of the Home Guard. After the Battle of Bentonville, Sherman
marched to Goldsboro, passing, and resting one night on my father's
plantation. The day before Sherman reached our home, my father called his
slaves together and said to them, "in a few days you will be free; Sherman
will be here and destroy everything; the crop is already planted; he cannot
destroy that. We have lived together in peace, as you know; the land, seed,
and fertilizer are mine; if you stay and work the crop, you can gather it in
two portions; you then select a man and I will select one and these men
shall say which portion I am to have." Our negroes remained on the place and
finished the crop.
Sherman had given orders to his troops when he reached Fayetteville to
destroy all property, private and public, which would be of any use to the
enemy; that he was going to wind up the war. The order is recorded in the
Congressional Records of the United States in Washington, D.C. His army
carried out his instructions along his line of march. They destroyed our
household furniture, leaving the bed on which my sick mother lay, and a
large dining table and a few chairs, which were once the property of a
Colonial Governor of North Carolina (Governor Tryon) whose furniture was
confiscated and sold at auction in New Bern, after the Revolutionary War,
and the dining room suite was bought by my grandfather, John Cobb, of
Kinston, North Carolina.
This table and chairs were left for Sherman and his officers to use while
they rested on our plantation. His army destroyed literally every useful
thing, filling all the wells on the place with dead hogs, shooting the cows
and all other living things, leaving what they did not want lying on the
ground. They rolled all the barrels filled with the year's supply of molasses
into the front hall, burst in the heads, and let the molasses run on the
floor, after which they brought quantities of rice, oats, peas, meal, etc,
and poured all of this on the molasses; then went up stairs, cut the feather
beds and shook the feathers down on it, and then ran horses over it, through
the house. They broke out all the window panes, broke doors and window blinds,
cut up the carpets and made saddle blankets for their horses. They killed
every living thing on the place, except the rats and dogs and carried off all
the remaining years supply of food stuff.
My parents and the negroes lived a few days on the dead fowls. The Yankees
moved my mother's maid with her family into the room adjoining my mother's
bedroom thinking they would be humiliated living in the house with their
former slaves. These negroes proved a blessing; they cooked for the Yankees
and thus got food for my parents, as long as the army was passing. Of course
the dead fowls soon got beyond being useful for food. So after the main
army passed, the stragglers who followed put a rope around my father's neck
and were going to hang him, but did not, as the negro men interfered and
drove them off. My sister, with her two children, who were then living on
the farm near Bentonville, was left alone with her slaves, while her
husband was with the Home Guards. No one ever expected Sherman to reach
North Carolina by way of Bentonville, but were looking for the Yankees to
come from New Bern, Bentonville being the last battle of the war, Sherman
made a triumphant march to Orange County, and the last remnant of General
Johnson's army of Confederate Soldiers surrendered to him in April 1865.
Our Government had a gunboat stationed at Kinston and trees all along
the banks of the Neuse River below the town of New Bern had been cut and
thrown in the river, thus keeping the river free from Yankee boats which
might come if New Bern fell. That is why Burnside came by land instead of
by boats. Also General Schofield and his army rested on our place while on
their way to Goldsboro.
In 1864 my sister and I were day scholars at St. Mary's, Raleigh, but
after Richmond fell we quit school and went in the hospitals as nurses. All
the wounded from Richmond and Petersburg were brought to Raleigh, and later
from Bentonville. Every available place was filled with wounded soldiers:
school buildings, fair grounds and private houses. The ladies of Louisburg
had sent a car load of cooked provisions to my brother Rev. N.B. Cobb, to
be distributed to the retreating army of General Johnson.
My parents also had sent a quantity of cooked food before Sherman came to
our home, to be given to the wounded men in Raleigh. My brother called some
of the Raleigh ladies to help distribute the food. Negro servants were
stationed on the side walks along Fayetteville Street, who filled baskets
for the ladies who stood on each side of the retreating army. Poor, ragged
(bare-footed many of them), worn and weary Boys in Gray. The City Officials
went down to meet Sherman the day before and surrendered the City and asked
protection for the people and property.
Wheeler's Calvary of the Confederate Army passed through the City at night,
next morning, Sherman came marching triumphant up Fayetteville Street, at
the head of his army. Several of Wheeler's men had turned back, to fire the
depot in which was stored all the remaining ammunition of the Confederacy,
and food supplies were piled around the depot. One of the men rode down the
street and fired on Sherman, turning down another street, and through
several other streets before he was captured near St. Mary's school. Sherman
wanted to hang him in Capitol Square but the city officials prevailed on him
not to do so. He was killed near St. Mary's. When the bomb shells in the
burning depot began to burst, the citizens thought Sherman was waging war on
the City. One twelve year old white girl was killed by the bursting bombs.
Guards were placed at every man's door to prevent angry soldiers from
entering private homes.
As soon as a woman was permitted to ride the train, I went with my uncle,
Col. George Collier and his wife, back to my old home, and to my distressed
parents. After reaching Goldsboro my uncle had to take the oath of
allegiance to the U.S. Government before we were furnished a ragged topped
ambulance, and two old blind cast-off army horses and a negro driver.
We had to cross Neuse River on a pontoon bridge, the real bridge having been
burned by our soldiers on their retreat. This bridge was made of planks
placed cross-wise on two lines of small boats (or canoes).
A regiment of negro soldiers was stationed there, with white officers.
The Colonel placed a line of soldiers on each side of the bridge, and with
two more leading the horses, we got in and drove across the bounding bridge
in a pouring rain. He had told us to get out before starting across, as the
blind horse might turn off and plunge in the river. When we reached home,
I found my mother still sick in bed, with her faithful servants waiting on
her. My parents and the negroes were then drawing rations from the
Commissary in Goldsboro, the negroes walking nine miles bringing their
portions, and my parents also, in bags on their backs.
On the plantation was a large Mulberry orchard, planted for the hogs.
These berries were ripe when I came home. There was a negro regiment
stationed near the house and the white Colonel told my little brother if he
would gather and deliver the berries to his soldiers, they would pay him
$2 per gallon.
The Yankees had destroyed ail the vessels on the place and we picked up tin
cans (some large and some small) on the camp ground, which Sherman's army
had left, and he and the negroes gathered and delivered many gallons of
berries and came back with empty cans and pockets full of greenback money
and feeling happy over the prospect of buying better food from somewhere.
My brothers came home with only the clothes on their backs. We borrowed
beds etc. from neighbors who did not live along the line of march, and when my
brothers and father changed their underclothes, they went to bed and the negro
women took their clothes to the branch one-fourth mile from the house, where
we were all forced to get drinking water, bringing it that distance in cans.
After the Battle of Bentonville my sister was left without food or protection.
An officer in blue advised her to take her two children and the two negro women
with her, and leave, as he could not protect her, but not get separated from
the two negroes. She left with them, walking four miles in the woods, just far
enough from the marching Yankee army not to be lost of discovered by them; she
reached a neighbor, widow Cogdel, whose son, a Confederate soldier had been
wounded, and was lying delirious with fever. The Yankees had not been there,
and Mrs. Cogdel was having dinner cooked for sister and the children when a
squad of Yankees, on horses, rode up, taking her horses, and firing the house
in several places.
My sister, Mrs. Cogdel, her daughter and the servants carried her son out on
a bed, to a field near the house, and there saw the house burn down. Just after
sunset, an officer in blue rode up and asked what they were doing there. My
sister replied, "To starve and die." After a few minutes he said, "My God, I
have a wife and little ones at home," and dashing off soon returned with an
ambulance and took them six miles further to a Mr. McCullen's where the
Yankees had been, but had not burned the house. There they spent the night.
The next morning Mr. McCullen found a cart wheel, and a buggy wheel and an
axle which the Yankees failed to cut or burn with other things, and with a few
pieces of plank, fixed a conveyance for them to ride in. She then went ten
miles to her mother-in-law, Mrs. Sarah Whitfield.
The Yankees had not been there, but while she was giving her experiences
quite a lot of them came. She did not live on the line of march, but these
men were stragglers from Sherman's Army which had passed on their way to
Goldsboro the day before. The old grandmother, 84 years old, lived with her
daughter and grand-daughter whose sons were in Lee's Army. The deaf old woman
had fallen a month before and was in bed with a broken hip. The Yankees
ordered her to get up, which she could not do, then one took her by the feet
and one took her shoulders, and tossed her across the room, going out,
locking the door, bidding none to go out or to come in. It was cool spring
weather and a fire was burning; as night came the fire gave light as long as
it lasted. The lamps and candles had been taken out before the Yankees came,
to be trimmed and washed.
As the fire grew low, the old lady begged not to let the light go out.
There was a very large box of paper patterns, used to cut the darkies clothes,
in the closet, which my sisters and mother-in-law cut in strips, and
one by one was held burning by the old lady's bed. The paper lasted till
daybreak. The Yankees destroyed almost everything except what was in their
room and a small quantity of provisions. My sister and the two negroes
stayed a few days and then went to my parents. They were riding army horses,
bareback, the make-shift vehicle having been destroyed by the last group of
stragglers. These were horses which Sherman had deserted when he replenished
his army with the horses of the planters along the line.
When she reached home she found devastation and sickness everywhere and
the whole air was reeking with dead animals. My father died the following
October 20th. 1865 after the crop was gathered. My mother sold a farm in
Tennessee, which enabled us to live more comfortably.
Before the negro regiment stationed on our place was disbanded, one of the
officers found stored in a barn on the river about four miles from the house,
a small quantity of corn which the Yankees had not taken away. He had the
corn (a cart load of it) brought up to the house and stored in a bath room
at the end of the back hall, upstairs. He had no waterworks or big bath tubs,
but did have the nice shower bath closets. The back stairs ran up in this hall,
and the windows being broken there was no way to keep the hungry starving rats
out, and at night they went up the stairs by the hundreds.
We would arm ourselves with sticks and beat among them, some nights getting
about a peck, and a hand full of tails, and some nights after, we would get
the bob-tailed rats. The corn proved quite a help in the way of food. We would
boil it in lye made from oak ashes, until the husk would come off, then soak
it in clear water until all the lye was out of it; then we would cook it until
soft and fry it in some of the fat white meat we drew from the Government.
This varied our diet of hard tack, fat meat, brown sugar and bad coffee.
We did not drink coffee during the war. My father had an order for coffee
and sewing thread, on our blockade steamer whenever she went from Wilmington.
The coffee was sent to the boys in the army, and the thread was used on the
sewing machine to make their clothes. Our coffee was made of dried sweet
potatoes, rye wheat and barley, all parched brown and ground together, putting
some of it in a little bag, we would drop it in the coffee pot of hot water
and let it boil ten minutes.
We made all sorts of things during the war. Drugs were hard to get for the
hospitals and all kinds of herbs, barks and roots were dried and sent to the
hospitals. Large beds of lettuce were planted and let grow a tall stalk, and
early in the morning some one would go out with a needle and slit the stalks
in several places; the milk would run out and harden on the stalk, and at
sunset some one would go with a little knife and piece of paper and collect
the hardened drops. This was used as opium; also rose leaves were dried and
sent with drugs.
My mother died December 1867. After her death my brother Col. John P. Cobb
and his family lived at the old home until he was elected County Court Clerk
and moved with his family to Goldsboro and several years later went to
After my mother's death, her land was divided among her children and most
of it rented out. Later, after my brother moved to Goldsboro, none of us
wanted to live there, and so sold our portions of the land, most of it to
our white neighbors, and a small portion to some of our former slaves, who
paid for it in yearly installments of cotton until paid for. I lived with my
brother John at the old home, until I was married to Lieutenant William Penn
Lane, son of Rev. William K. Lane and wife Penelope Burford, who lived on
their plantation near Goldsboro, their house later being burned by Sherman.
My husband left the University of North Carolina and joined the 67th Regiment
of North Carolina Calvary. Col. John D. Whitford was colonel of the regiment.
He was in service in eastern North Carolina.
In the Battle of Cobb's Hill, April 1865, near Kinston, he was one of seven
men left of his Company; the others were killed or wounded. His picture, also
my brothers' pictures, are in "Clarks History of North Carolina State Troops
of the Confederacy". These pictures were taken and left with their parents,
when they marched away to fight for their liberty. This is true history.
An enterprising Yankee came south after the war and patented our home-made
War Coffee, and called it Postum, and later on reduced the same to a powder
and called it Instant Postum which requires no bag or boiling.
After passing through the horrors of war, we were subjected to the terrible
time of the Reconstruction days and bayonet rule of General Denby, of the
U.S.A. Government. At the first election after the war closed, the ignorant
negroes of the South were given the privilege of voting. There being so many
more negroes in the South than white men and they being instigated (by
Yankees, who remained in the South) to all kinds of lawlessness, no one's life
was safe, and a woman dared not leave her yard without a pistol for protection.
This was when the order of the Klu Klux Klan was organized and every decent
white man became a member. Oh! The horrors of Reconstruction Days!
Harriet Cobb Lane
Copyright. All rights reserved.
This file was contributed for use in the USGenWeb Archives by
John Hagler - email@example.com
Had the intent been to save the fraternal Union of the Founders and re-establish friendly ties between the people of the various States, looting, raping and pillaging the South made this quite impossible. Once the federal agent made war upon Americans, it was no longer a glorious Union and malice was directed against helpless old men, women and children.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Not Winning the Hearts and Minds of Tarheels:
“[T]he “corn-crib” and “fodder-stack” commandoes could look back upon a plentiful harvest between Fayetteville and Goldsboro. Meat and meal had been found in abundance. So skillfully had the “bummers” covered this region that the rooster no longer crowed in the morning because he no longer existed. Had the rooster escaped with his life, there would have been no fence rail for him to stand on.
[Northern General J.D. Morgan said] “I have some men in my command…who have mistaken the name and meaning of the term foragers, and have become under that name highwaymen, with all of their cruelty and ferocity and none of their courage; their victims are usually old men, women and children, and Negroes whom the rob and maltreat without mercy, firing dwelling and outhouses even when filled with grain…These men are a disgrace to the name of soldier and the country…”
Elizabeth Collier, an eighteen year-old girl of Everittsville, entered in her diary:
“On Monday morning, the 20th [March], the first foraging party made their appearance at Everittsville. They asked for flour and seeing we were disposed not to give it, made a rush in the house and took it himself---the cowardly creature even pointed his gun at us – helpless women. Looking out, we soon saw that poor little Everittsville was filled with Yankees and they were plundering the houses….everything outside was destroyed – all provisions taken – fences knocked down – horse, cows, carriages, and buggies stolen, and everything else the witches could lay their hands on – even to the servants clothes.”
(The Civil War in North Carolina, John G. Barrett, UNC Press, 1963, pp. 346-347)