Interview background: Life on the Plantation
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The Effect of War: Ruin and Destruction
GVD: Was your plantation destroyed or damaged by the Union during the war?
NBD: It was a wise provision that father was spared the sight of the destruction of his house and property, and possibly personal violence from the hands of the Northern soldiers, for during the raid, my uncle, an old man who was reputed to be wealthy was asked by the soldiers where he had buried his gold; and twice was he hung by them and cut down when unconscious, because he would not confess its hiding place. He had no gold, his wealth lay in his land and negroes.
GVD: Do you remember the day the Union army arrived at your plantation?
NBD: Shortly after father and mother’s departure, one morning, early, the remaining negroes came running to the house in a state of wild excitement, and said that Sherman’s army was crossing the Savannah River at the next landing below my father’s.
GVD: Do you remember precisely what you were doing that day?
NBD: I was picking oranges when the news came. Green oranges, blossoms, and ripe fruit all hung together on the tree. It was a favorite tree grown to an unusual size by the care given it, as it was always protected in winter. I have only to close my eyes at any time and see plainly the beautiful tree in all its glory of fruit and flower. We had picked from it that day a thousand oranges, the most luscious fruit, but they were left for Sherman’s army to devour, for we were thrown into a panic by the news the negroes brought us, and hastily got into our carriages and fled.
GVD: what happened to your slaves?
NBD: The negroes followed us in wagons, and we left our lovely home as if we had gone for a drive.
Sherman’s march through the Carolinas
GVD: Did you avoid coming in contact with Sherman after fleeing?
NBD: It was a strange fate that Sherman followed us in our flight passing through Columbia and within ten miles of us. His scouts came in and stole all our horses, except a few which we had time to hide in the swamps.
GVD: And your slaves?
NBD: The soldiers ordered many of the negroes, choosing the best young men, to mount the horses and go with them. All of them returned to us that night; they had broken away from camp, but were on foot.
GVD: What happened to Columbia?
NBD: Sherman’s army burned Columbia. Sherman may not have given the order, but he was undoubtedly responsible for the plunder and destruction engaged in by those under his command.
GVD: And . . .
NBD: Officers as well as soldiers had gone into houses and taken all food that could be found and burned it in the yards of the various houses; leaving the women and children to starve.
The War comes to an End
GVD: Finally, in mid-April 1865, you finally heard the news, “The war is over, Lee has surrendered.” What did you think? How did you feel?
NBD: My feelings were tumultuous; joy and sorrow strove with each other. Joy in the hope of having my husband back and the brothers and friends who were left, return to me, but oh, such sorrow over our defeat!
GVD: Did you long to return home to your plantation on the Savannah River?
NBD: As one after another of the family came back to us, worn out and dispirited, our thoughts turned to the dear old home on the Savannah River, and we longed to go back. Before yielding to our desires, it was considered wise for the men of the family to go first and investigate.
GVD: What did they find when they returned?
NBD: They found only ashes and ruin everywhere in our neighborhood, and father’s place, except a few negro cabins, was burned to the ground. There were thirty buildings destroyed. The steam mill, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, barns, and house – nothing was left standing except chimney and brick walls to mark the place of our once prosperous, happy home. There was but one fence paling to indicate the site of our little village. The church, too, was burned, and now negro cabins are standing where it once graced the landscape. Our beautiful lawns were plowed up and planted in potatoes and corn by the negroes, who were told we would never return.
GVD: We’ve heard that even many years after the war was over, that people from the North sent personal items back that were stolen during the war by Northern soldiers. Things like pictures, jewelry, and Bibles too.
NBD: . . . . even family Bibles, which were taken from the old homes, have been returned to me. Looting was the order of the day during the Civil War, and wanton destruction followed.
GVD: The destruction and loss must have been very difficult to bear. Your final thoughts about the destruction you and your family experienced?
NBD: Sherman left a track of fire for three hundred miles through the State. When you hear the war song “Marching through Georgia,” which stirs the hearts of the Northerner, think of the scenes of desolation and heartbreak the song recalls to the Southerner.