"Bummers"—not the kind you're thinking of—plagued Raleigh and Wake County at the close of the Civil War. Bummers were the foraging soldiers whose job was to sweep the countryside for food and other supplies needed to sustain Gen. William T. Sherman's Union troops as they stormed through North Carolina in the spring of 1865.
Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's retreating Confederate army had its bummers too. Both sides were living off the land, according to Sherman's March Through North Carolina: A Chronology, written by researchers Wilson Angley, Jerry Cross and Michael Hill for the N.C. Division of Archives and History.
With the Confederate cause collapsing, Johnston's ranks were riddled by deserters who headed for home, bumming food and horses from the locals whether they could spare it or not. Then came Johnston's order, on April 10, that his bummers should "impress" (seize) all livestock, goods and materiel that could be of use to Sherman's troops when they arrived. According to Sherman's March, this was the last straw to one Catherine Edmonston, who wrote in her journal:
"We have given & freely given all we could spare & were we asked to give more and live on vegetables, we would do it cheerfully and willingly for the sake of the Cause, but this forced patriotism is not the thing, is not the way to treat a free & generous people, & ere long hearts will be alienated away from the Government [that tramples on] our sacred honor."
The "Government," to Edmonston, was the Confederate States of America and its president, Jefferson Davis.
Coming out of Tennessee, Sherman's "march to the sea" had already taken his army through Georgia to Savannah and then through South Carolina. He'd burned Atlanta and Columbia to the ground. The destruction of Columbia was in revenge for South Carolina's 1861 secession, which triggered the war.
Entering North Carolina, however, Sherman issued orders to go easy, knowing the north state had opposed secession up until President Lincoln sent troops to put down the South Carolina rebellion. Sherman also sought to exploit whatever jealousies inhered to North Carolina's old reputation as a "vale of humility between two mountains of conceit," the two being Virginia (home of presidents; capital of the Confederacy) and vainglorious South Carolina.
"Deal as moderately and fairly by the North Carolinians as possible," Sherman wrote his commanders, "and fan the flame of discord already subsisting between them and their proud cousins of South Carolina."
"Moderately" and "fairly" were relative terms, however. Sherman arrived in Raleigh on April 13 with 60,000 troops plus a refugee caravan of some 25,000, most of them emancipated African-Americans (and most of them women and children, according to Sherman's March). All needed to be fed and clothed, and the wagons needed horses to pull them.
Sherman's bummers were "thorough and unsparing," according to one account given in an 1866 book about the last days of the war. The account was anonymous but is thought to be from Charles Manly, a former governor whose 1,060-acre Ingleside estate was located near the current Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters in Southeast Raleigh, Hill says.
Manly's plantation was stripped of its cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, vinegar, whiskey, wheat, peas, bacon, clothing, cotton and 12,000 pounds of hay, among other things. His 70 slaves, he complained, were left with absolutely nothing and had to come into Raleigh to buy food.
Sherman reached Raleigh four days after Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va. One day later, Lincoln would be assassinated, though the news didn't reach Raleigh for three more days.
Sherman's troops encamped all around the city, but the largest contingent took control of Dix Hill on the south side of Raleigh, where the psychiatric hospital founded by Dorothea Dix had been operating since 1856. On local maps, the hospital was referred to as the Lunatic Asylum. "It was filled with demented people who rejoiced to see us, thinking we would set them free," a soldier from New York wrote, as related in Sherman's March.
Another soldier from Iowa thought Raleigh was "an exceptionally attractive city, a city of homes, churches, situated in the midst of a rich agricultural section of the State, giving evidence of thrift and prosperity. ... The war had not been carried into this part of North Carolina, and on our advance the people did not flee ... the business of the city was not interrupted."
Not interrupted? That may be hard to believe, but it is true the foraging for supplies was most intense on farms outside of Raleigh. Inside the city, though, Gov. Zebulon Vance fled the Capitol to avoid capture. (Raleigh's formal surrender was handled by Mayor William H. Harrison.)
Johnston ordered the Raleigh railroad depot burned to the ground, lest Sherman be able to use it. State property (for example, 40,000 blankets and 10,000 pairs of shoes) was either carried off or destroyed; state records were hustled to undisclosed locations. Private citizens buried anything they cared about, knowing that Sherman's bummers would grab it—or if not them, the notorious Rebel bummers loosely known as "Wheeler's Cavalry," after one of Johnston's commanders, Joseph Wheeler.
The Governor's Palace, then located at the south end of Fayetteville Street where Memorial Auditorium is now, became Sherman's headquarters until his troops departed Raleigh for Richmond on April 29–30.
Sherman was in the process of negotiating the surrender of Johnston's troops, which took place near Durham at Bennett Place. A century and a half (and counting) before TTA brought regional rail service to the Triangle, Sherman would take a train from Raleigh to Durham's Station, near the present-day Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where he would disembark and travel the last few miles to the Bennett place on horseback.
At first, Sherman's terms were more lenient than Grant's had been at Appomattox. Thus, Grant made a surprise visit to Sherman's headquarters in Raleigh on April 24, departing April 27. Sherman's final terms were the same as Grant's, and were accepted by Johnston, effectively ending the war.
Little physical evidence of the war is extant in Raleigh today. On Vance's orders, slaves constructed defensive breastworks—semicircular earthen berms 5 feet high—all around the city. Each was designed to protect a pair of 32-pound cannons, according to Elizabeth Reid Murray's two-volume history, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina. The remnants of two can be seen today. One is 250 yards southeast of the intersection of New Bern Avenue and Tarboro Road in Southeast Raleigh. The other is three-fourths of a mile northeast of the Capitol, near Pilot's Mill.
Raleigh was the site of three training camps for Confederate soldiers, most of whom were sent to fight with Lee's army to the consternation of North Carolina leaders. Camp Mangum was located where the State Fairgrounds are now; Camp Crabtree was on a plantation owned by Kimbrough Jones near the current mall; Camp Holmes was northeast of Raleigh on the old Raleigh and Gaston Railroad line, according to Murray's history.
Murray also lists three Confederate hospitals that operated in Raleigh during the war.
The first was located at Camp Mangum (the fairgrounds) and opened in 1861. A year later, a second hospital was opened in the unfinished main building of Peace Institute (now Peace College). The third, called Pettigrew Hospital, was the largest and best equipped, able to handle 400 patients at a time. It was located on the southwest corner of New Bern Avenue and Tarboro Road. It opened in 1864, and shortly thereafter, a fourth hospital opened in Wake Forest at the college.
One other Raleigh war landmark is worth noting. As Johnston's soldiers retreated from the city on April 12, students at St. Mary's, an Episcopal college for women on the Hillsborough road that stayed open throughout the war, came to the front gate with dinner and water. One student, as recounted in Sherman's March, later recalled the scene of "that brave body of men, emaciated from lack of food," contrasting it with the arrival of Sherman's much larger "Yankee army, fat, sleek, with banners flying, drums beating, pass[ing] through our city, three days being required to accomplish it." Today St. Mary's is a top prep school for girls, located on the same site with its front gate on Hillsborough Street.
North Carolina lost some 40,000 soldiers during the Civil War, half from battle wounds and half from disease, according to North Carolina: The History of An American State by Thomas Parramore and Douglas Wilms. And some 350,000 African-Americans in North Carolina were emancipated.