They ‘literally ate crow’: How Starving Confederate Troops Made It Home After the Civil War


Shortly after the Military of Northern Virginia laid down its arms on April 12, 1865, 1000’s of Accomplice veterans started heading again to their houses. All through the Carolinas and into Georgia and past, they clambered onto railroad automobiles. Railroad journey proved sporadic and unpredictable at greatest. Males may catch a freight practice in Greensboro or Salisbury solely to seek out that they have to disembark the place the tracks had been destroyed and hoof it to the following station. Even amongst those that rode the rails for a portion of the journey, a considerable period of time was spent strolling.

A major variety of troopers from the Deep South had first gone to Metropolis Level and Fort Monroe, Va., hoping to sail south. After touring by practice from Burkeville to Fort Monroe, 450 parolees from a number of Alabama and Georgia regiments climbed aboard the Admiral Dupont. The 200-foot side-wheel steamer had begun the battle as a Accomplice blockade runner, however now it sailed south to Savannah stuffed with prisoners of battle. On the night of April 19, the lads disembarked from the good iron ship earlier than marching to the Camp of Distribution close to the Central Railroad grounds to await the trains. A number of days later, a guard of twenty-two males from the third Pennsylvania Artillery accompanied greater than 500 paroled rebels aboard the steamer Kingfisher into Savannah’s harbor. However this homecoming was marked by a further sorrow. Throughout the journey, 22-year-old Non-public Richard Cribb of the tenth Georgia Battalion succumbed to sickness. So near his Dooley County dwelling, he died at sea, his comrades committing his physique to a watery grave.

Though the brigades and regiments splintered extra as they moved south, males continued to journey in small teams moderately than alone. Sergeant Main Lewis H. Andrews of the eighth Georgia had been among the many roughly 250 males of Anderson’s Brigade who had marched away from Appomattox. But inside a couple of days, Andrews and 5 others had struck out on their very own. Even with their smaller occasion, discovering meals remained nearly as difficult as securing transportation. At Salisbury, Andrews and his comrades waited hours at a Union publish for “eatables,” solely to be taught that none can be forthcoming. 

They left in disgust, marching one other 9 miles earlier than discovering a pile of straw through which to sleep. The practice that arrived the following morning proved equally packed, “on high and in all places else,” so the lads designated as foragers got down to discover one thing— something—to eat, however returned with solely two canteens of milk. After one other stressed evening within the straw, they started marching once more earlier than dawn.

Marching towards Charlotte, their luck improved when a civilian provided them with a lunch of bread, butter, pie, and milk. A couple of days later, nonetheless ravenous, two of the lads actually ate crow. Once they pronounced the meal “high-quality,” Andrews quipped he was keen to take their phrase for it.

But the homeward-bound journey might show perilous past the search for meals and transportation. Having made their method properly into North Carolina, Gus Dean and 14 of his comrades of the 2nd South Carolina Rifles rejoiced after they stumbled upon an unoccupied shed after an extended day’s march. However the success proved short-lived. Throughout a very heavy downpour, the shed collapsed on the sleeping males. Massive logs got here crashing down on William McClinton, crushing his head and chest, killing him immediately. A bit of scantling landed on Dean’s head and hip, pinning him below the particles for greater than an hour earlier than his companions managed to tug him out.

Others encountered sudden detentions by Union forces. Lewis Andrews and his touring companions arrived in Greensboro on April 19. However that night, as Joe Johnston and William T. Sherman awaited approval of their proposed give up phrases, Union troops compelled Andrews and his comrades right into a parole camp. In a city rife with rumors—that President Lincoln had been killed, that Secretary of State William Seward had been wounded, that Jefferson Davis had been captured, and that an armistice of 10 days was in impact—the parole camp provided the most secure respite for the evening.

In Montgomery, Ala., the Federal provost marshal assigned members of John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade to quarters close to town’s artesian properly. For every week, the lads bivouacked within the two-story constructing as extra of the brigade drifted into the city and their commanders, Captain W.T. Hill and Main W.H. “Howdy” Martin, tried to safe passage to Cell. As a reminder that they have been prisoners of battle passing by Union strains, the provost marshal ordered the lads to have their paroles countersigned earlier than boarding a steamer sure for Cell. Reaching New Orleans a number of days later, the Texans once more discovered themselves assigned to quarters in a big cotton shed—this time below guard—whereas they waited greater than 9 days to make the following leg of their journey.

Years of war had left a large portion of the former Confederacy’s infrastructure in ruins. Railroads had been particularly hard hit, as this image of an Orange & Alexandria Railroad section near Bristoe Station, Va., attests. (Library of Congress)

These nonetheless on the street sought out Accomplice-sympathizing civilians keen to supply meals and lodging. Most have been people or households, such because the Stileses close to Asheboro, N.C., who ready a “huge mess of hen for the gang” of troopers passing their dwelling on April 21. Indicative of what had modified as a lot as what had not, in numerous situations paroled males discovered themselves waited on by women and men who remained in bondage regardless of Lee’s give up. Every day, troopers stuffed the yard and kitchen of Eliza Andrews’ Georgia dwelling. To accommodate the a whole lot, maybe 1000’s, of males, her mom had saved two enslaved ladies “onerous at work, cooking for them.”

In different situations, whole communities labored to help the troopers, equivalent to the women of Augusta, Ga., who organized a meals and clothes drive for troopers passing by town, or the city of Edgefield, S.C., which held a “grand barbecue” of mutton, shoat, hams, turkeys, chickens, truffles, and custards to indicate their gratitude for the “toilsome and harmful service these courageous males have rendered.” Wanting extra just like the homecoming of a triumphant military moderately than a defeated one, the “grey coats and brass buttons and tinsel braidery…and courageous, manly, younger hearts have been in full drive.”

Whether opening up their houses to small teams of males or internet hosting the remnants of whole brigades on their lawns, lots of the civilians who aided the lads on their journey dwelling expressed a deep and persevering with devotion to the Confederacy—and its troopers.

Such sentiments allowed them to forgive some returning troopers for his or her transgressions. Eliza Andrews watched as troopers seized horses in broad daylight in a Georgia city. When one veteran caught her watching him as he led a mule away from its proprietor, the soldier referred to as out, “A person that’s going to Texas will need to have a mule to journey, don’t you suppose so, girl?” Though she provided no reply, Andrews conceded in her diary that the Texan had to this point to go that the temptation for him to take one other man’s mule was nice.

On Could 1, in a scene paying homage to people who had taken place at Danville, Va., and Greensboro, a mob of Accomplice troopers ransacked Augusta, looting authorities shops and pillaging a tobacco store. But town paper tried to rationalize their actions. Utilizing the identical logic as that utilized by Accomplice officers who believed the lads have been due authorities items as compensation for his or her service, the paper noticed that “the sacking of presidency shops would have been correct sufficient had there been something like equity within the plunder of the property.” As a substitute, it proved “an unequal distribution…and the events engaged have accomplished nice damage to their fellow troopers who haven’t but arrived.”

The paper declared the pillage of the tobacco store “essentially the most heinous a part of the affair” as a result of it affected non-public people. However, the editors insisted, “we don’t imagine that a lot of these implicated have been of Lee’s or Johnston’s armies, if that’s the case, they have been instigated by shameless events.”

Winslow Homer’s painting, Prisoners From the Front, was completed in 1866. The three Confederate prisoners represented a young yeoman, an aged man pressed into service, and a long-haired firebrand eager for the war. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Echoing Lee’s farewell deal with at Appomattox through which he had praised the loyalty, valor, and “unsurpassed braveness and fortitude” of “the courageous survivors of so many hard-fought battles,” newspapers and civilians alike reasoned that Accomplice troopers had fought valiantly and bravely solely to be overwhelmed by superior Northern assets. In fact, they need to not interact in looting and plundering. However many Accomplice sympathizers believed it may very well be forgiven as a part of the social contract that implied troopers, particularly those that had given their all, have been entitled to be fed.

Though the overwhelming majority of the White Southern inhabitants had supported the Accomplice battle effort, because the Military of Northern Virginia dispersed throughout the countryside, troopers encountered each devoted Unionists and folk who had grown weary of Accomplice impressment brokers and refused to offer any extra for a trigger that was actually misplaced. Close to Thomasville, N.C., a soaked and exhausted John Dooley and his comrades might discover no place to dry their garments or no morsel to eat. “The folks on this neighborhood appear moderately unfavorable in the direction of Accomplice troopers and are very distant and inhospitable,” he complained. “Most of them are of that persuasion name[ed] ‘Dunkers’ or ‘Associates’ who discover their faith very handy when battle arises.” 

A Accomplice soldier wore this pair of brogans, a sort imported from England. Most surrendered Confederates needed to stroll dwelling, a visit that for a lot of would take days. (©Don Troiani/Bridgeman Pictures)

Harry Townsend and his small band of Richmond Howitzers have been warned to watch out upon crossing the border from Virginia into Stokes County, N.C. “The individuals are Tories or Union males in sentiment and are a lot higher lovers of the Yankees than of the Confederates,” Townsend noticed. “They typically assault Accomplice troopers who could also be passing by this nation and strip them of their valuables.” However the Unionist menace didn’t materialize.

Within the pro-Union mountains of japanese Tennessee, Captain William More durable and his giant group of paroled males weren’t so lucky. Arriving in Sullivan County on April 23, the lads have been in determined straits, “all practically starved…bare and befuddled.” The locals refused to feed the Confederates, however they did supply a warning. “We have been instructed that each Accomplice that went by or tried to undergo japanese Tennessee have been killed and that we might meet the identical destiny,” More durable defined. Nonetheless, the lads pressed on to Greeneville, the house of President Andrew Johnson. With the U.S. troops both unwilling or unable to supply rations, the paroled males traded Accomplice scrip to Federals for crackers and meat.

But even in areas sympathetic to the Confederacy, the refusal or incapacity of civilians to supply meals led some troopers to resort to violence and plundering—simply as Union and Accomplice authorities had feared. Lieutenant David Champion, a Georgian, and his touring companions turned outraged when an older man within the Carolinas refused to just accept Accomplice cash for corn and bacon. “Seeing it was ineffective to attempt to commerce with him,” Champion defined, “I ordered the boys to go to his corn crib and smoke-house and get the corn and bacon we would have liked. We carried the corn to a mill close by on the creek and floor it and borrowed his washpot to cook dinner the meat in.” Not solely did they take sufficient to satiate themselves within the second, however they stuffed their haversacks earlier than departing.

When Lee’s males reached Charlotte—as in Danville and Greensboro—a mob of Accomplice troopers raided Accomplice warehouses. Frank Mixson and Jim Diamond, who had already loved their share of loot in Danville, encountered a big crowd of Lee’s paroled males taking no matter they may shove into their pockets and makeshift haversacks. “However as we had a lot to eat we didn’t take a lot hand in it,” Mixson maintained. The 2 did, nonetheless, abscond with “a bolt of actual good denims.”

As Charlotte erupted in chaos, John Dooley, a paroled prisoner from Johnson’s Island who had headed south together with a lot of Lee’s males vowing to proceed the struggle, now contemplated his choices. Charlotte was quickly filling with stragglers, officers, and authorities officers, together with Jefferson Davis and his Cupboard, all of whom remained decided to push into the Trans-Mississippi. Every hour, a whole lot extra arrived alongside the railroad from Salisbury. However with no assets and no place to remain, ought to Dooley return to Virginia?

Except for a picket, muskets against the tree, and the romantic air about the scene, Gilbert Gaul’s painting, Nearing the End, gives an idea of how Confederates broke into small groups to make their way home. (Birmingham Museum of Art)

Whereas he waited, others continued on their southward journeys into South Carolina. Crossing the border to the west of Charlotte, a surgeon of the sixteenth Georgia and his small mounted occasion discovered themselves in Union-controlled territory the place their parole passes proved helpful. On the Catawba River, they met troopers from the twelfth Ohio Cavalry who escorted them by the strains earlier than stopping in Yorkville (present-day York), the place they once more confirmed their passes to acquire U.S. rations. If the Yankees proved keen to help the paroled Confederates, locals didn’t. Near the Georgia border, the surgeon complained that the South Carolinians had proved particularly inhospitable, refusing them in any respect however two homes alongside the best way. “Would to match S.C. with both N.C. or Virginia t’can be odious,” he scribbled in his diary. “There isn’t a comparability each states being to this point forward of ‘little’ S.C. in generosity and hospitality.”

As they continued their trek, in scenes repeated from Virginia to Texas and each place in between, Lee’s males started to achieve their houses. The primary precedence for a lot of of those troopers hoping to renew their civilian lives was a shower or perhaps a haircut. For males who had endured filth portion of their soldiering careers, cleansing themselves up provided another step within the strategy of changing into a civilian.

After strolling greater than 200 miles, on April 20 Robert Crumpler and his comrades from the thirtieth North Carolina halted to clean and shave within the hopes of creating themselves “as presentable as attainable” earlier than venturing on to their Sampson County houses. Others had been unable to clean their clothes, shave, or bathe earlier than arriving dwelling and due to this fact divested themselves of their filthy, tattered uniforms and cleaned themselves as shortly upon arrival as they may. Surgeon Spencer Welch of the thirteenth South Carolina had spooned with 4 of his companions every evening and ridden astride his small mule for greater than three weeks.

Upon reaching his father’s dwelling in Newberry, Welch shed his soiled, vermin-infested rags for “clear, complete garments” and crawled into an actual mattress. These easy acts did greater than something to revive him. “I really feel tremendously refreshed,” he wrote his spouse. And although the teenage Frank Mixson was overjoyed to see his family members, his arrival dwelling prompted a direct journey to the outhouse, the place his household instructed him to clean and alter into recent clothes. His tattered and reeking Accomplice uniform, nonetheless, was to be buried.

Some Confederate troops headed home with dinged canteens and haversacks filled with Union rations like the piece of hardtack above. Others were not so lucky, and growling stomachs could cause “foraging” from locals or even riots at food warehouses. (Heritage Auctions, Dallas (2))

Whether settled again at their houses or nonetheless on the street, Confederates transferring throughout the South after Appomattox witnessed a world far faraway from the slaveholding society they’d pledged to defend in 1861. So did African Individuals. On farms and plantations, cities and cities, enslaved women and men bore witness to the change the battle had wrought. “I seen our ’Federates go off laughin’ an’ homosexual,” remembered an ex-slave from Alabama. They’d departed for battle singing “Dixie,” sure they have been going to win, however now they returned pores and skin and bones, their eyes hole and their garments ragged.

No less than some enslaved males who had been hooked up to Lee’s military returned alongside their former masters, anxious to be reunited with their very own free households. Edwin Bogan of North Carolina was one such man who traveled dwelling alongside along with his former proprietor to his spouse and younger son. However newly freed women and men additionally joined the Insurgent troopers on the roads crisscrossing the area, underscoring all that had been accomplished and undone throughout 4 years of battle.

Nowhere was the brand new order extra obvious than in Accomplice troopers’ encounters with U.S. Coloured Troops. On April 26, the Wilmington steamed into the Savannah port with 690 paroled Rebels, together with David L. Geer and different members of Finegan’s Florida Brigade, who claimed to have killed two USCT troopers again in Virginia.

In Georgia, their lethal retaliation continued. Whereas awaiting a ship to Jacksonville, a Black sentinel had reportedly stomped out the Floridians’ campfire. Enraged, they plotted his execution: Utilizing a surgeon’s knife, they slashed the Black soldier’s throat, then tossed him and all proof of the crime within the river. When White officers grew suspicious concerning the lacking sentinel and threatened to ship the Confederates to jail on the Dry Tortugas, Geer and 63 different Florida troopers nonetheless awaiting steamers fled in the course of the evening, touring overland moderately than threat additional inquiries. For a 3rd time since leaving Appomattox, they’d killed Black troopers—and gotten away with it.

After Generals Grant and Lee met near Appomattox a second time, the Federal commander ordered passes, below, produced to ensure safe passage for the surrendered Confederates. (Library of Congress; Heritage Auctions, Dallas)

Phrases of Settlement

On the April 9, 1865, give up of the Military of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court docket Home, Common Ulysses S. Grant’s phrases had promised that Common Robert E. Lee’s males can be allowed to return to their houses instantly. However Lee and Grant had failed to debate the specifics of this course of. After his assembly with Grant on April 9, Lee started to fret concerning the logistics of getting his males dwelling. Early on the morning of April 10, he drafted a letter to the Union general-in-chief asking for steerage. Earlier than departing for Washington, D.C., that morning, Grant determined that he ought to meet with Lee as soon as extra. Halting on a slope simply northeast of the courthouse, the 2 generals sat astride their horses for practically half an hour discussing a couple of extra particulars whereas their principal officers held again, out of earshot. Lee turned to the considerations that had plagued him the earlier night: In contrast to the give up at Vicksburg, the place Confederates headed again into their very own territory, his males now can be compelled to maneuver by Union strains to return dwelling. How might he make sure that their paroles can be honored and that they might not be arrested or handled as deserters? Calling Maj. Gen. John Gibbon to them, Grant defined that Lee was “desirous that his officers and males ought to have on their individuals some proof that they’re paroled prisoners.” Lee concurred, observing that he needed to do all in his energy to guard his males. Gibbon knowledgeable them his corps had a small printing press from which clean kinds may very well be struck off. After the passes had been stuffed out and signed by their officers, they may very well be distributed to every officer and man inside Lee’s military. Earlier than heading towards Burkeville Junction round midday, Grant provided the surrendering Confederates another provision. Particular Area Orders No. 73 said that “all officers and males of the Accomplice service paroled at Appomattox Court docket Home who to achieve their houses, are compelled to move by the strains of the Union armies, can be allowed to take action, and to move free on all Authorities transports and army railroads.” The order was as sensible because it was beneficiant. By sending the paroled prisoners to their houses as shortly and effectively as attainable, Grant hoped the battle’s finish would come extra swiftly. —C.E.J.

Different interactions with Black troopers proved much less lethal however no much less revealing of how a lot the social order had modified. At Selma, Ala., U.S. officers ordered members of Hood’s Texas Brigade to disembark from a practice so {that a} USCT regiment may journey to Cell. “We protested, in fact, and bitterly, towards what a few of our males denounced as a daily ‘Yankee trick,’” wrote Captain W.T. Hill of the fifth Texas, “however our protest was unheeded, and we needed to wait at Selma till the following day.”

A number of days later at New Orleans, the Texans discovered themselves guarded by a USCT firm—a slight that Hill believed to be deliberately demeaning. The presence of Black males in uniforms, maybe greater than the give up itself, represented the demise of the Confederacy and a brand new racial order.

But some Confederates remained unwilling to acquiesce to such a actuality. From Greensboro on April 25, Gordon McCabe wrote his future spouse, Jane. He had arrived within the metropolis on the seventeenth, and since then had acquired no phrase from Virginia. “Everyone right here requested eagerly, ‘What’s Virginia going to do?’” Battle, he instructed them. A handful of younger Virginians had made their option to the railroad city hoping to hitch Joe Johnston’s forces. Each Ham Chamberlayne and David McIntosh had continued southward towards South Carolina, he instructed her. However others remained in North Carolina weighing their choices. “There are a fantastic many Va. officers right here, who’re forming themselves right into a Battalion—a form of Corps d’Elite,” he defined. “The place we’re going, in fact, I have no idea; to Trans-Miss., I suppose, if we are able to elude Sherman.” However a thread of realism ran by him. “If God spares my life, and this Military ought to be surrendered,” he continued, “I suggest to return to Virginia earlier than going overseas, until France and the USA get to preventing, after we might most likely get one thing to do within the service of H.S.H. Napoleon III.” He would go to Mexico and struggle for the French. However he wouldn’t—couldn’t—reside below Yankee rule.

Over the last week of April, Harry Townsend and his fellow artillerists lastly reached their vacation spot of Lincolnton, N.C. Perched on a excessive bluff above the South Fork of the Catawba River, the city had been the rallying level for individuals who had escaped Appomattox and hoped to proceed the battle. Right here they discovered residents handing out provisions on the courthouse for each paroled and unparoled troopers in addition to providing beds in a number of native motels and residences. However they discovered little or no information. “We had anticipated to achieve some particular info at this level which might information our future course, however discovered no orders awaiting us, nor any officer in command,” Townsend recorded in his diary. As a substitute, they spoke with a paroled lieutenant who knowledgeable them that Secretary of Battle John Breckinridge had refused the service of officers and males from Lee’s military and had bid them to return to their houses, as no Accomplice authorities now existed east of the Mississippi River. Sympathetic to their goals, nonetheless, the lieutenant suggested them to go to Charlotte, the place they may be taught one thing extra definitive. Townsend and his comrades headed for the Queen Metropolis.

For McCabe, Pendleton, Townsend, and others who remained dedicated to the trigger, the Military of Northern Virginia had not but been completely vanquished. For Confederates decided to return dwelling to loyal Union states, the story would show a lot completely different.

Caroline E. Janney is the John L. Nau III professor within the Historical past of the American Civil Battle and Director of the John L. Nau III Middle for Civil Battle Historical past on the College of Virginia.

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