May 2, 2011 4:43:00 AM
The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming! These words struck terror in the minds of Civil War Columbus women. Although the Yankees never quite made it to Columbus until after the war, having been turned back by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Gen. Gholson, they came very close. Aberdeen fell, and some of their refugees got to Columbus for a rather shaky safety.
In my last column I quoted from some of the Columbus women who lived then, as recorded in a little booklet, "War Memoirs," compiled by the Columbus Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and copyrighted by the Stephen D. Lee Chapter No.34, UDC, 1961.
I wrote about the beginnings of the War. Now let some of these ladies speak about their experiences when the fighting came close to their own doorsteps.
Georgia P. Young of Waverly wrote:
"One glorious sunlit crisp morning in October ... a servant rushed breathlessly to me, exclaiming as she came, 'Old Master says get ready, the Yankees are coming!' I confess without shame that the blood left my face, my heart sank and my limbs trembled as I glanced through the window in expectation of seeing the blue-coats on the hill beyond. But I loved my children too much to let them see, babies though they were, that mamma quailed at the approach of danger, and I was too proud to let the servants suspect that I could not face the hated Yankee undauntedly.
"I rallied my fast ebbing courage and with calmness assumed, not felt, gave orders to nurse and housemaid to quickly dress the children in two full suits of new clothing. This expedient was resorted to that my little ones should have a change of garments should our house be despoiled and burned as others had been, and we turned adrift without the necessities of life.
"Anxious as were the moments, I could not forbear laughing at the grotesque appearance of my little girls when they came to me dressed as I had directed. All their clothing was home-woven and new, and the stiff unyielding garments stood out from their persons making each a most comical little 'Mother Bunch.'
"While the children were being dressed, I busied myself in packing a trunk with silver, plate, and other valuables. This was my only hope of saving such things from the rapacious fingers of our expected visitors. ... The Federal raiding party never reached Waverly. We subsequently learned that it was in a half mile of us when they concluded that they had advanced far enough for their safety, and our anxiety for a time was relieved."
Moonlight and cannon
E. B. Waddell recalled: "All the men of our immediate family were at the front with S. D. Lee in Mississippi or Bragg in Tennessee: Only two ladies and one little boy remained.
"One cold evening in Feb.(1864) as the sun was giving place to a full orbed moon, two wagons came to our side gate. In one was my sister with two little girls and three servants, and the other an ox wagon full of trunks. They had fled south from Aberdeen during the morning as the Federals were approaching from the West.
"Gen. Gholson, with about 2,000 troops was behind, and passed through the frozen streets in the night, the artillery rattling in the rear. No one had slept, and the women, laden with valuables concealed in every part of their clothing, belts about their waists with gold and silver coin quilted in, trembled at what the morrow might bring. But the night passed, and the Holy Sabbath Day dawned clear and cold. Many attended the services of the different churches.
"My sister and I were listening to an excellent sermon from our minister, who, though a Northern man, was an earnest Southerner in love and sympathy, when the air was rent by the distant boom of cannon. Our good Rector proceeded with his sermon, but to almost empty pews, for the housekeepers ran to their homes to conceal provisions, after dividing with their servants and directing them how to behave when the enemy came.
"The distant mellow boom of cannon continued and seemed nearer every moment, but ceased during the morning. Afterwards we knew that the enemy was 17 miles from us, and were driven away by Gen. Forrest's Cavalry.
"Soon after, all the Army stores [Columbus was a quartermaster center then] were moved to Selma, Ala., which fell into the hands of the Federals. Columbus was never taken, but after the War drank the 'bitter cup' of persecutions and humiliation under a garrison of white and negro soldiers."
Some of the women were capable of great heroism. Cornelia Benoit wrote of Emma Sanson, "a plain North Alabama country girl," [who] sprang into fame and I might say fortune, at one leap; thoughts of such results did not enter the mind of this simple girl, but in its stead, unalloyed patriotism.
"The Federals were but a few miles ahead of Forrest and his troops, when they burnt a bridge over Black Creek, a deep and rapid stream, with banks so steep as to render fording almost impossible. ...
"As Forrest's command approached, Emma Sanson, accompanied by her mother, appeared in the middle of the road ... the girl said, 'I must speak with Gen. Forrest ... ' She told him of the burning of the bridges and the hidden battery on the opposite side, adding, 'I know a shallow ford one half mile downstream, that I am willing to show you.'
"The Gen. rode up to a log lying close by and helped her to mount behind him. The mother protested, 'Don't do it, Emma, you will be talked about,' but the girl, inspired by a high resolve to aid her country's defenders, heeded not the mother's warning ...
"The old ford was in a deep ravine and they approached it with bullets whistling around them. They both dismounted. Gen. Forrest placed her behind the upturned roots of a large tree, while he on hands and knees crept to examine the character of the ford.
"In making their retreat, they were exposed to a heavy fire, several shots passing through her skirts. Gen. Forrest asked if she were hurt. 'Only my crinoline has suffered,' she replied.
"On reaching the high ground, she turned and waved her sunbonnet defiantly at the sharp shooters and, to their credit, be it told the firing ceased. Forrest returned her to her mother ... pronouncing her the bravest woman ever known."
After the War, the Alabama legislature donated her a whole section of land. Forrest crossed the ford and captured Streight's entire command, more than double his own.
A. E. Franklin actually ran the blockade to Memphis to get provisions for her only daughter's wedding and a Confederate uniform for her son, who had just been released from Camp Douglas. It was a difficult trip. They ran out of food; Federal troops had sacked and burned everything in sight. There was much "red tape" at the border. It was difficult for her to exchange money, settling on one Federal dollar for 10 Confederate dollars. Detectives were at her side all the time.
She was traveling under a pseudonym, and her little son, Tom, nearly gave away her cover identity. She ran out of money. Someone stole her horse. She had to buy another one secretly, but it would not leave Memphis. A kind-hearted Yankee soldier helped her replace it and held the lines open past the deadline so she could pass through. She left Memphis at 4 a.m. She said, "I reached home at the end of a week, and after the lapse of nearly 36 years, I feel that to have been the happiest moment of my life."
Although the Yankees did not get to Columbus until after the fighting, at one point the State government did. It refugeed in Columbus at the time Gov. Charles Clarke was sworn in. The legislature met in the court house. The senate occupied the Christian Church on the other corner of the block.
The ladies who wrote this book were given, as the style of the times, to "fine writing," with flourishes of phrases and quotes of poetry. So let Georgia P. Young close this column, as well as her memoir, with the following verse, which she
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.