After a time I indicated there was a possibility that our ancestors may have made an ‘acquaintance’… When the right wing of Sherman’s army,
the Army of Tennessee, commanded by Maine General Oliver Otis Howard (who hailed from Leeds, Maine), moved from Savannah into South Carolina, they burned and destroyed
everything my people owned while marching up the Old Pocotaligo Road. Of course, my folks were doing everything possible to resist this incursion,
but as history will relate, to no avail. By this phase of the war the South was fairly well spent of resources and manpower.
The Union Army of Tennessee was composed of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Army Corps and Sherman intended to move this force by way of Beaufort and Pocotaligo and on to Columbia. As we chatted, I told Fred how as a child I often visited my grandfather whose home sat near a crossroads. His house was built long after the war, but he pointed out to me that the road running alongside his property was where the Yankee army came and destroyed everything in its path. They burned every house, barn, chicken coup, outhouse, anything that the torch would ignite creating a swath of ruin in their path. Sherman’s name is not always thought of kindly in those parts I thought as we talked. Personally I had mixed feelings.
I informed Fred about the ‘Yankee House’, still standing in Brunson, Hampton County, South Carolina. This was the only antebellum home that survived near the vicinity of Sherman’s troops. Low Country folklore has several anecdotes as to why this home wasn’t burned. One story indicates that a high ranking officer of the 17th Corps used the residence as a resting place overnight. The lady of the house learned this officer was a member of the Masonic Order and appealed to him to save the home of a fellow Mason, her husband. Upon departure, this officer posted a guard that prevented various attempts by soldiers to set fire to the structure, the guard only leaving his post when the bulk of the troops had left the area. (1)
The march of the 17th Corps was slowed down slightly several miles up the road by an engagement at a place named Rivers Bridge. Three bridges crossed the Salkehatchie River in the area where Sherman’s troops intended to travel. From north to south they were Buford’s, Rivers and Broxton’s bridges. All quickly became a point of contention for both armies.
The Confederate troops were commanded by Georgian Lafayette McClaws, an 1842 graduate of West Point and former division commander of the famed Army of Northern Virginia.
The forces he commanded were composed of Georgia and South Carolina infantry, as well as cavalry from South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas.
This composite force numbering perhaps 800 to 1,000 men, attempted to block the advance of around 7,000 to 9,000 battle hardened Union veterans.
The battle lasted about two days with nearly equal casualties, sixteen killed and eighty-five wounded from the Union and eight killed, forty-four
wounded and forty-five captured of the defenders.(2)
This was the last organized resistance to Sherman’s advance in South Carolina. Very little was left to deter the cataclysmic march of the troops moving to Columbia. Sherman in his memoirs, writing of the Carolina campaign in comparison to the ‘March to the Sea’ stated, ‘were I to express my measure of the relative importance of the march to the sea and of that from Savannah northward, I would place the former at one and the latter at ten, or the maximum'. (3) Georgia may have ‘howled’ but South Carolina, my State of heritage, was devastated… “Yes’, I told Fred, ‘I know about William Tecumseh Sherman.’
Since that time, it has been my pleasure to correspond with Fred and we did run into one another from time to time. War Between the States events in our area drew us both to various functions. He had invited me to his home to view the family artifacts and documents on several occasions and this year I was determined that if asked, I was going to accept his kind offer and find time to stop. We attended a Massachusetts event in Uxbridge each year and this is near Fred's home so I decided to avail myself of the opportunity while in the area. Fred looked me up at the re-enactment and we made a plan to get together after the event...
Fred’s interpretation of a ‘few things’ of the General’s took me so completely by surprise that even as I write this account I remained somewhat in shock….
Assuredly, there is not a museum in the nation that would not wish to display his collection and would most likely strive by hook or crook to do so.
What I experienced this day was a trek into the past; we sat for hours completely fascinated by comments provided by Fred and Karen as we viewed
the artifacts and read the documents. I explained to Fred I had no idea of the extent of his family’s holdings. I have had the pleasure to view firsthand
many war related articles but most impressively, I held and read letters from some of the leading personalities of the day, and viewed signatures of
the likes of Phil Sheridan, U.S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, David D. Porter, Theodore Roosevelt and last but far from least, John Bell Hood, in an
autograph book that Ellen, one of Sherman’s daughters kept during their stay in Washington. It was fantastic! This autograph book was continued by
Ellen’s daughter Eleanor, so the entries continued after Sherman’s death into the early 1900’s.
As we discussed the war and the General’s involvement, I looked through his field glasses used when he took Atlanta and handled his formal dress studs neatly lined in a box. One was missing of the four, ‘lost to posterity’ Fred exclaimed, ‘but not by me!’ Fred read excerpts from a manuscript written by Sherman’s son, Philemon T. Sherman. Philemon indicated this document was written for use of the family and wasn’t to be published as it was a personal effort. Thusly, it never has been published, but Fed thinks it would make a great project to edit and publish during his lifetime. The accounts are of family members well beyond the reach of publicity or any breach of privacy. Philemon died a year after completing this journal in 1941. Fred also exhibited Sherman’s appointment book for the year 1891. His secretary had written in future appointments and the events in the dated document, a fine example of the beautiful handwriting of the period. Two other people appeared to have made entries. One was Sherman and the other is unknown, a point Fred will have to research further. This book was very interesting but rather short in content as the General died in February of that year.
A point that amazed me immensely was that Fred holds many volumes of Sherman’s personal library. Many of these are signed by the authors and most are inscribed to the General personally. We looked over the memoirs of U.S. Grant with the modest inscription to his old friend, as Fred explained about the signed insert leafs. As Grant was feeling his mortality and knew his time in this world was short, he took the time to write these leafs in advance of publication in the event of his death. As you are probably aware, this was a well founded precaution, as Grant did not survive through the publication, dying of throat cancer. It had taken the last efforts of his earthly life to complete his work and his memoirs were the only thing he had left to support his family upon his demise; he died virtually penniless. I realized you could spend a great deal of time reading and researching through these many volumes. It is a credit to Fred, Karen and the family that the any remembrances of the past remained in his family for so many years. These documents and artifacts are valuable to world at large and the temptation to turn a dollar must have been difficult to resist upon occasion. That is the kind of man Fred is I learned; he has held the family trust in good faith and I’m certain the General would have approved of this kind man.
As we sat around the table sipping our coffee and discussing the war period, Fred brought up several family issues. Sherman’s son Tom
had been ordained as a Jesuit priest, a fact that apparently did not please his father. It seems Tom had been groomed to become the
individual who was to take charge of the family affairs when the appropriate time arose. His entry into the church probably was viewed
by Sherman as a rebellion against his wishes not being active in matters of religion himself. Tom was well educated and had graduated
from Yale University with a degree in law.
We viewed a photograph of the ‘Sherman Necklace’… This exceptionally ornate diamond necklace had been sent to the General’s eldest daughter by the Khedive of Egypt on the occasion of her marriage. The General had traveled to Egypt to see a bit of the world and was asked about certain military matters. In the end result, he reorganized the armed forces of the Khedive who consequently waged a successful campaign in suppression of a rebellion. The grateful Khedive wished to reward Sherman for his advice. As the value of the piece was extreme, the family could not afford to pay the duty for the necklace to enter the United States. So, by special act of Congress, the duty was waived and Sherman brought the necklace into the family. Due to the value of the gift, the General could not allow just one daughter to receive such a gift and ended up dividing it among all his daughters, a point very upsetting to his eldest. Sherman made financial arrangements with her that took a long time to complete and the necklace was broken up into many smaller pieces that were spread throughout the family. One of the projects Fred and Karen will pursue as time permits is to locate and catalog the various pieces of this beautiful work.
Fred was asked about display of the Confederate battle flag and Confederate Symbols. He indicated these symbols were part of history and he has no issue
with their display is used in the proper context. Like all of us, he takes exception to groups using these symbols for the wrong reasons. ‘Fred’, I stated,
‘Do you wish to join our SCV Camp? You certainly have the correct approach and the right viewpoint in this regard’. I was informed that it is no secret
that General Sherman loved the South; his time there before the war was remembered with fondness both of the land and the people. Perhaps those of us
with long memories should research the life of this man further.
Out of curiosity, Fred was asked what he thought of the display of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina Statehouse. His reply was to the point, ‘this is a part of history of the State, why should it be changed now after all this time?’ Fred made several comments that indicated he takes exception to the politically correct approach so common today. These comments made me think that our groups are not that far apart in attitudes and thinking. I already thought highly of Fred and Karen, now he was earning my respect in other ways…
The time spent with the Cauldwell’s was most interesting. It was suspected that this visit would be unique and I was not disappointed by any measure. As Fred pulled out several albums of family photographs and documents of Sherman and his family, I realized that now is the time to concentrate even more on the history of events and the struggle for truth in interpretation of the facts of this terrible time in our nation’s history. Perhaps our goals are not so different in this regard, North or South. After great expenditure of blood and treasure, the Union was victorious in this bitter conflict. Many of the post war accounts did glorify the Northern effort at the expense of the defeated South and we have not forgotten; how we treat these interpretations today could still make a difference.
Karen stated that people of southern heritage should look more closely at Sherman and his goals. He wanted to end the war, to stop the killing. The ‘March to the Sea’ and the later Carolinas campaigns were to break the civilian will to continue the struggle. He should be viewed on more of a human level, which would indicate that although his troops burned the land and buildings, his goal was not to harm the people. Losing your possessions is one thing, losing your life is a totally different concept. Perhaps his measures did ultimately save lives by shortening the war and preventing a guerilla campaign.
As the visit concluded, I thanked the Cauldwell’s for their efforts and hospitality. It was time to return to the present where, work, family and other responsibilities awaited us. I left with many thoughts to consider, new and old. Driving home I realized that the General would be well satisfied with these people, descendants of his line. Like him, they wished to end the war...