How My Family Was Affected ByThe US Civil War: War and Collapse in American History – Chapter 3

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on FebruRY 1, 2017


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III. There will be no general train of supplies, but each corps will have its ammunition-train and provision-train, distributed habitually as follows: Behind each regiment should follow one wagon and one ambulance; behind each brigade should follow a due proportion of ammunition – wagons, provision-wagons, and ambulances. In case of danger, each corps commander should change this order of march, by having his advance and rear brigades unencumbered by wheels. The separate columns will start habitually at 7 a.m., and make about fifteen miles per day, unless otherwise fixed in orders.

IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is intrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or bridges. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodied and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms.

— William T. Sherman, Military Division of the Mississippi Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864[1]

If there is one Civil War campaign that really became etched into our American collective long term memories, it is what is commonly referred to as "Sherman's March to the Sea". 

Based on ideas formulated by Grant, and enthusiastically and successfully carried out by William Tecumseh Sherman, it was based on the concept that the only way to bring the war to a close was to destroy the economy and the morale of the Confederate states by targeting industry, government buildings, and especially infrastructure like railroads and bridges. And civilian targets.

At the start of the war the armies on both sides traveled with long supply lines stretched out behind them that brought up food and supplies over hundreds of miles. As the war dragged on for years, and the engagements took place over a war zone that encompassed thousands of miles, Grant and Sherman eventually tweaked and perfected a new style of warfare. A campaign would be initiated with only enough supplies to last the army for three weeks. After that, food and necessities were to be obtained by foraging on civilian farms and confiscating anything they could use from homes, stores, warehouses and factories in their path. Moreover, Sherman believed that the civilian population needed to be completely demoralized  and punished to the point that they would no longer support their military.

As I said, the fall of Atlanta was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. It allowed Lincoln, whose popularity was at a low ebb, to win the 1864 election. It also was the precursor and staging ground for Sherman's Savannah campaign, now remembered as the march to the sea.

The burning of Atlanta was carried out by a very capable engineer in Sherman's command named Orlando Metcalfe Poe. After the war he built a number of what would become historic lighthouses on the coast, and locks on the Great Lakes.  People of my generation will remember the burning of Atlanta from the dramatic fictional version made famous by the epic movie Gone With The Wind.

After Atlanta, Sherman regrouped…and then in one month, from mid-November  to just before Christmas of 1864, he cut a swathe across Georgia to Savannah, destroying everything in his path and leaving many of the already hurting southern civilians literally starving and homeless. This brutal and successful campaign is what finally broke the back of the Confederacy.

What most people don't know is what happened next, which is key to our little story.

After Sherman took Savannah, Grant wanted him to put his army on ships and sail to Virginia, where he had Lee under a long and grinding siege in Petersburg. Sherman argued that it would be better to travel to Virginia overland through South Carolina, carrying out the same kind of scorched earth attacks that he carried out in the Savannah campaign. He particularly wanted to punish SC, which had been the first state to secede from the Union.

Grant relented, and so Sherman marched his army all the way through the state, which was already only left with scattered and greatly reduced defensive forces. He deliberately avoided engaging those and used a proven of trick of his designed to confuse the other side, which was to march different parts of his army in different directions simultaneously to confuse the enemy forces and disguise his true targets.

Along the way he torched a lot of towns. Barnwell, Orangeberg, McPhersonville, Camden, and others. Written descriptions describe witness accounts of "a dozen cities burning at the same time." Civilian homes were not spared. Everything of value was taken or destroyed.

Modern scholars debate whether Sherman's South Carolina campaign, which culminated in the burning of Columbia, the state capitol (where our two young soldiers joined the Confederacy exactly four years before) should be considered a war crime. Without a doubt it was one of the most brutal and punishing parts of the war on a civilian population, and it left most people destitute, hungry, and without any organized government at all. One of Sherman's favorite things to do was to stable his horses in the biggest and finest local churches.

Lancaster and Kershaw counties, which is where my ancestors lived, were directly in Sherman's path as he marched toward his next big target, which was Charlotte, just across the border in North Carolina.

Most history books note Lee's surrender at Appomattox as the real end of the war. In reality, the last big battle, the one that finally spelled the finish for the Confederacy was the Battle of Bentonville, in North Carolina, in late March, 1865, a few weeks before  Lee surrendered.

Sherman was a very good general on the battlefield. Once again, he used his advantage in troop strength and his excellent understanding of tactics to successfully confuse and misdirect his opponents. As a result of the battle, the last large contingent of the Confederate army under General Joseph Johnston was forced to surrender on April 26th, 1865.

Of our two young soldiers who went to war together, It's hard to say which one suffered most. I don't know if it was my great great grandfather, who fell so early as the war was beginning, or whether it was my great great uncle, who had to endure three more years,  marching thousands of miles, fighting in dozens of battles, and then had to return to a home that had been completely devastated by four long years of hardship and Sherman's scorched earth warfare.

I have no real knowledge of what happened to my family in the immediate aftermath of the war. I can imagine that they probably nearly starved to death in 1865, as most of their crops were no doubt destroyed. My great grandfather, the son of the soldier who died at South Mountain, would had been due to celebrate his sixth birthday in February 1865 as Sherman passed through his area.

Being the son of a younger son, he had no inheritance to the family land. His mother, the young widow, never remarried. Perhaps not surprising since more than 90% of the local men in her age group died in the war. The son, my great grandfather, eventually married a woman from his mother's extended family, so I actually have more of the Major's family blood in my veins than that of the dead soldier's.

All I really know is that a few years later, toward the end of Reconstruction, in the 1870's, the whole family apparently boarded a train and took the newly rebuilt railroad to East Texas. The mother, the son, their families. They are all buried not too far from where I grew up.

The dead soldier's son, my great grandfather, lived until 1939, the year my mother graduated from high school. I think they were close. Her own father, my grandfather, died in 1930 in a hunting accident, and her mother never remarried ether. My mother knew her grandfather well, at least.

The only thing I ever remember my Mom telling me about him was that no matter how much they asked him, he would never talk about his past or his early life in South Carolina.

They had a family joke, she said. They always kidded each other that they suspected  he had killed a man up there, and had "gone to Texas", as they used to say in the movies. Knowing what I know now, I suspect the story was a little different. I suspect his childhood was pretty difficult.

Well, thanks for reading. That's the story….of how the US Civil War impacted one branch of my family and eventually resulted in their migration to Texas.

The Major came to Texas on the train too. I don't know for sure, but I suspect he came first, and then sent for the rest.  He lived until 1906, and was much loved, apparently. He is also buried in East Texas, about fifty miles away from the war widow and her descendants, who are my mother's family.  I have one photo of him and a copy of his obituary.

Lancaster News 17 March 1906
Maj. Miel Hilton Dead

The Gallant Old Veteran of Two Wars Passes Away at his Home in Texas, the
State of his Adoption.

His old war comrades and many friends in Lancaster county will be pained to
learn of the death of Major Miel Hilton, which occurred at his home in Texas,
in the Tennessee Colony, on the 22nd day of last month. He moved from Flat
Creek township, this county, to Texas about twenty years ago. It will be
recalled that he was back here on a visit a few years ago.

As is well known, Maj. Hilton was a vetran of two wars – the Mexican and the
Civil, in both of which he was distinguished for gallantry and fidelity to
duty. He accompanied Capt. Amos McManus and other Lancaster veterans to

Mexico in 1846, serving in the famous Palmetto regiment.

At the outbreak of the Civil war Maj. Hilton organized a company and carried
it to the front, his command becoming a part of the 22nd S.C. Regiment. He
was afterwards promoted from the rank of Captain to that of Major. He made a
brave and daring officer and was idolized by his men.

Maj. Hilton was a son of the late Zadock Hilton of Lancaster county and was 81
years old. He was the last of several sons, all of whom were prominent and
useful citizens. He has one sister living, Mrs. Mary Clyburn, of Rockingham,
N.C. His wife who was a Miss Sowell, died in Texas some years ago. He leaves
the following children: Mrs. Wm. B. Cook and Mrs. Lemuel Blackwell of this
county; W.A.J. Hilton and Kirby Hilton of Texas; and another son and daughter
in Texas whose names we have been unable to learn.

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