Following the Battle of Averasboro, March fifteenth and sixteenth, 1865, eighteen-year-old Janie Smith (July 26, 1846 - August 15, 1882) penned on scraps of wallpaper a letter to her friend Janie Robeson in Bladen County. (Janie Wright Robeson married Edwin T. MacKethan, of Fayetteville, NC.) Janie, a daughter of Farquhard and Sarah Slocumb Grady Smith, lived at the family plantation house named "Lebanon." She had nine brothers and five sisters who lived to maturity. One sister died a decade before Gettysburg and one brother died in Texas in 1860. Eight of her brothers served with the Confederate forces.
Janie attended a 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 what is now Godwin, NC, at a place called Kyle's Landing. Both are buried in Old Bluff Cemetery.
This letter, which is featured here at the Averasboro Battlefield Museum provides a remarkable glimpse into Janie Smith's chaotic world in March and April, 1865. The original letter is in the Mrs. Thomas H. Webb Collection at the North Carolina State Department of Archives and History in Raleigh.
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.
After Sherman’s 65,000-man army entered North Carolina in early March, 1865, eighteen-year-old Janie Smith wrote friend Janie Robeson of nearby Bladen County and described the invasion of her home in Lebanon, North Carolina. This was near the battle of Averasboro, where Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s 10,000 man army former garrison troops stopped the battle-hardened veterans of Sherman’s left wing. All of Janie’s brothers were in Confederate service.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com The Great American Political Divide
The War Against North Carolina Civilians
“Where home used to be. April 12, 1865:
Your precious letter, my dear Janie, was received night before last, and the pleasure that it afforded me, and indeed the whole family, I leave for you to imagine, [and I am thankful] when I hear that my friends are left with the necessities of life, and unpolluted by the touch of Sherman’s Hell-hounds.
My experience since we parted has indeed been sad . . . Our own army came first and enjoyed the cream of the country and left but little for the enemy . . . [and] 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.
[At] about four o’clock the Yankees came charging, yelling and howling. 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 . . . The Negroes are bitterly prejudiced to his minions. They were treated, if possible, worse than the white people, 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 but the blacksmith shop was burned, but into the flames they threw every tool, plow, etc., that was on the place. The battlefield does not compare with [the Yankees] in point of stench.
I don’t believe they have been washed since the day they were born. I was too angry to eat or sleep . . . 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.
Sis Susan was sick in bed and they searched the very pillows that she was lying on, and keeping up 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 Yankee woman, I intend to whip her and take the clothes off her very back.”
(Janie Smith’s Letter (excerpts), Mrs. Thomas H. Webb Collection, NC Division of Archives & History)