A Civil War Story

I’ve been reading John Bailey Adger’s My Life and Times, and autobiographical account of one of the lesser-known nineteenth century Southern Presbyterian pastors and theologians. It is a fascinating account of one who lived through much turmoil and transition – his life spanned from 1810 to 1899.

During the War Between the States he lived in Pendleton, South Carolina, with his family. He relates this moving story of soldiers who were in his region pursuing President Jefferson Davis:

While this body of soldiers were at Rivoli, my brother’s place, seven or eight of them came over to Boscobel, where I lived. I was lame at that time, and obliged to use a crutch. When they came up, I was out at some distance from the house, but they saw me, and one came over to me. He said, “Are you the owner of this place?” I said, “Yes, are you Yankees?” He said, “Yes, we are. Where are your horses?” I told him I had sent them away. “You sent them away, did you?” said he. “Yes,” said I, “I sent them away, that you might not get hold of them.” “Well,” he said, “you come up to the house, and we’ll take care of you.” We went up to the house together, where there were two or three more men, and my escort said to them, “He has sent away his horses, so that we might not find them.” Just as he was speaking, I saw that some of his comrades had gone into the house. So I immediately turned from the men who were talking to me and went in. One of the party, who had first gone into the house, demanded my watch. I gave it to him, but said, “Does your government send you all through this country just to rob private citizens?” Said he, “Do you suppose I would go riding all about here and not take anything home to my family?” I was quite tired with my little walk, so I said to him, “Sit down, I want to talk to you.” “No,” said he, “I haven’t got time, “and he started upstairs. The fact was, he did not enjoy my fingering his conscience. Several ladies of my family were near, and he said to them, “Don’t be afraid, ladies, we’ve seen ladies before. We only want to get pistols and gold watches.” But they took whatever jewelry and articles of value they found. I followed this man about as well as I could with my crutch, and pretty soon found myself walking with him through one side of my wide piazza, and down the back steps, where his horse was standing hitched. The man started to mount. As he did so, my back was turned towards him, and I heard his gun go off. Startled at the sound, I turned to look, and saw the man I had been talking to falling head foremost from his saddle, with the blood pouring in a stream from a wound in his throat. The sound of his gun made several of the others rush to the scene, and two of them raised their guns, and were about to shoot.

My daughter, Mrs. Mullaly, was in the piazza, the only witness to what had happened. She cried out to them, “He shot himself.” I had not had one particle of fear of them from the beginning, and I took command, calling out, “Don’t you see this man is bleeding to death? Come here, some of you, and lift him up.” Three of them obeyed. As soon as they raised him, it was plainly to be seen that, as he mounted his horse, his gun was discharged, the bullet entering his throat, and coming out at the top of his head. Instantly, they dropped his head, and all three began promptly to empty his numerous pockets, which were full of plunder. I was standing at his head, and they were busy at my feet. All kinds of things came out of those pockets. I clapped my hands over their heads, and said, “The hand of God is on you, men. Give me back my watch.” They seemed to be impressed, and looked from one to the other to see who had taken the watch. It was quietly given back to me. My daughter cried out, “Father, they’ve got my watch, too!” I clapped my hands again over their heads, and said, “Give back that lady her watch.” It, too, was surrendered, and they departed, taking with them their comrade’s horse, and all his other belongings, but showing no feeling or concern for him. The man was still living, though unconscious. I told them, as they left, that I would bury him when dead, and this seemed to convert me into a friend. They they paused and told me the dying man was from Hillsdale, Mich., that his name was Alanson Chapman, and that he had a brother out on the road with the rest of the battalion, who could now be seen not very far off. As my visitors were riding off through the gates, two young colts in the yard seemed disposed to follow their horses. I called after the men, telling them not to let those colts out, though I thought it more than likely they would shoot the colts and ride off. But they quietly drove them back, and also shut the gate.

Two or three weeks after this, the alarm was given at my house that four Yankees were coming up the avenue. I left the breakfast table and went out to meet them. Two I recognized as of the previous party. One of the other two had dismounted, and was standing on the ground. Addressing him, I asked, “What do you want?” He said, “We have come to see about that man who was hurt! What did you do with him?” A look into his eyes showed me that he was the brother of the dead man. I said to him, “Your brother died that night; would you like to see his grave?” At that moment a servant came up with my buggy and a horse I had borrowed from my brother, mine having been found in their hiding place in the woods, and carried off by some of their company. I got into the buggy, and we all rode down to a beautiful little pine thicket, which was used as a burial place by the negroes of my plantation.

I must say, first, that when the raider died, my old negro man Charles, the manager of my affairs, seemed to foresee, asI did not, that we should have this second visit. I had told him to prepare a decent coffin and grave, and to gather all the people together in the afternoon, that I might go with them down to the grave for religious services – all of which we did. But the old man had also made a nice pine head-board and foot-mark; brought them to me, and asked me to put the dead man’s name on the head-board. I made objections, but he prevailed, and I carved and inked – ALANSON CHAPMAN, HILLSDALE, MICHIGAN, DIED MAY 5TH, 1865.

So we had marked the grave. When the brother looked at the inscription, I saw the water come into his eyes, and turning to me, he said, “Sir, you have done all you could for my poor brother,” and then expressed his hearty thanks. I told him I could do no less for any man who died at my door. He then informed me that our President had been captured by other pursuers, and said that he would come back, after awhile, and take away his brother’s body. As we all came back together, the thought would come into my mind that my brother was certainly going to lose his horse; but not so. They left me with bows, and went straight to Colonel Sloan’s stable, where they found no horses. They next went to old Mrs. North’s place; met her carriage coming right out of her gate, and, taking her horses, left the carriage right in the gateway, and started back to their camp, which was on the other side of the river.

Immediately after their departure, I gladly took the horse and buggy, and, with my wife, whose nerves had been a good deal shaken, went for a good long drive to make some pastoral visits, which occupied me the greater part of the day. Returning from my circuit of visitations in the afternoon, what should I behold but the four soldiers, now convicted thieves and prisoners. Old Captain John Maxwell they had threatened to murder the day before, but he had leaped on his blooded mare, old man as he was, clearing the fence, where she stood ready saddled, and escaped. On that occasion, there were other soldiers with them, and a major in command. this major, pursuing old Captain John and his blooded mare, which he must have coveted much, drew his pistol and fired, but at that moment, his own horse, throwing up its head, received the shot from his rider’s pistol and fell. Next day, Captain John, Major Ben Sloan, his nephew, and another nephew, met these four men, captured them, sent back Mrs. North’s horses, and brought the prisoners, and delivered them to the citizens of Pendleton. Some young counsellors would have dealt with them in a very summary way. Older heads, however, prevailed. The prisoners were sent back that night, under guard of three armed men, to be delivered up to their general as horse thieves. On the return of these guards, they said their prisoners had knelt and begged for their lives in every dark place on the road, where the moonlight did not reach, and that they had at last set them loose before they reached the camp. It was feared that they had otherwise disposed of them, but my man certainly reached his home in safety, for I got a letter from his old father, thanking me, and saying he would come for his son’s body very soon. I advised him that it would not be healthy for him to visit us just then. Six months after this a squad of soldiers was sent from Anderson for the remains of the dead raider.

SDG,
The Farmer

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