Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Yankees Are Coming

Major General George Stoneman
Cavalry Commander Major General George Stoneman was well known by the people of Salem and Winston as the Civil War was drawing to a close. He was known as “The Merchant of Terror" during Sherman's recent march from Atlanta to the sea. Sherman called on him to burn Georgia towns. Among the cities he destroyed were Marietta and Atlanta. His Cavalry had now begun a raid into the heart of the mostly undefended Tar Heel State from Virginia. By April 1865, they were reported north of Salem in Germanton. The residents were preparing for the worst possible outcome the total destruction of their towns.

William J. Palmer
Stoneman, confident that the Rebels would offer little resistance to his forces, divided his column and dispatched a brigade with orders to destroy the large cloth factories around Salem and the rail lines around Greensboro. Unbeknownst to the Moravians of Salem, many of whom were from or had family and friends in Pennsylvania, the brigade dispatched were the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry under Colonel William J. Palmer. The 15th was known as one of the most disciplined and effective regiments in Stoneman’s entire command. The Moravian's God may have arranged in advance a favorable response to their many prayers for safety and deliverance.

Carolyn Fries Shaffner wrote: “immediately commenced packing as we were certain that they would burn the factories and we feared the house would go also.” News of the fall of Richmond and Petersburg added to the stress. Residents were somewhat relived after a small party of Confederate cavalrymen arrived and set up a line of couriers to Greensboro. When Colonel James Wheeler’s Tennessee cavalry regiment came later, “the hills below town were soon bright with their camp fires.” Although Wheeler’s men stayed only overnight, squads of Confederate cavalry visited the town regularly in the uncertain days prior to the raid. The residents waited in expectation that the raiders would appear at any moment. There were reports that the raiders had disappeared over the mountains into Virginia, and the would-be-defenders dissipated. Then came fresh horror of news that raiders were headed toward Salem. All across Salem, citizens made fresh preparations hiding everything of value they could. It is reported that one citizen, attempting to hide valuables inside of the church, fell through the church ceiling. Southern boys at home on sick leave made themselves scarce. Some left town to hide on neighboring farms. Pennsylvanian Fred Antes had been in the saddle since seven in the morning. There was no prospect of a halt until the men reached Salem. “Marched hard all day,” he wrote.

The Mayor of Salem had consulted with some of the largest property holders of the town and it was the general opinion that the principal inducement for the enemies visit would be the destruction of the factories. They came to the unanimous conclusion that it would be advisable to make a formal surrender of the towns. Joshua Boner, Mayor of Salem, Rev. Robert de Schweinitz, Principal of Salem Female Academy and H. Thomas, Mayor of Winston, were appointed as a committee to prevail on the troops, if the factories are to be destroyed, to do it by some other means than fire.

About two dozen leading citizens of Salem marched north to meet the Yankees waving white handkerchiefs. They were not well received because a hot-headed Confederate picket fired at Palmer’s advance guard a little farther down the road. Consequently, despite their white handkerchiefs, the good burghers of Salem were nearly trampled by a squad of irate Yankee horseman.

Corporal Smith D. Cousins, a Philadelphian with Palmer’s twelve man advance guard was enjoying the ride wearing his rubber coat against the dreary wet weather. They topped a hill observing the church spires of Salem in the distance and a rebel picket post of five or six men. They were fired on and returned the fire on the outskirts of Salem. As the advance guard neared town, bugles sounded as the rest of the column responded to the sound of gunfire. Cousin’s diary that day reads in part “…We were getting close to the town, when I discovered, right in front of us, as party of twenty or thirty men, drawn up across the road, holding up their hands and hats as if hailing us to stop. I saw that they were not armed, but our blood was up, and we went through them with a shout, scattering them like chaff. (It is reported that they captured Mayor of Salem Joshua Boner's top hat as they rushed past.) On into town we went, the people flying in all directions, and in a few moments we were in the center of the place, right in front of the post office.”

According to local legend, troopers grabbed the reins of Salem Female Academy Principle de Schweinitz’s horse, and Palmer pulled a pistol. When the principal defiantly called out, “I am de Schweinitz,” Palmer suddenly recognized him. Holstering his pistol, he said, “I had a teacher of that name when I was in school in Lititz.” Such tales were typical and rampant following the event. The truth of the matter is that Palmer was not present when this exchange occurred, and he did not attend school in Lititz. Palmer, his staff, and other Federals arrived a few minutes later and defused the situation. Introductions were made and Palmer politely asked several questions. The federals learned that Salem was undefended and assured the citizens that both they and their private property would be protected.

Interestingly the incident about de Schweinitz probably came from the experience of Nathaniel Sample one of the twelve members of the advance guard. Sample says that on pursing the rebels toward Salem that the town reminded him of Lititz and Bethlehem, Moravian communities in Pennsylvanian he was familiar with. He meet the principal of the academy de Schweinitz and wrote this: “In following them (the Confederates) through town (it was raining), I noticed a man come out of a house, hoist an umbrella with a white handkerchief on top and advance to the sidewalk. I rode up to him and asked to what command the party that fired on us belonged; he protested they were boys that belonged to the home guard. He was very nervous and seemed much interested in my appearance and finally asked me what the letters 15th P.V.C. on my hat meant. I explained it stood for the 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry; his countenance changed at once and he said, “Why, I am from Pennsylvania!” I asked him what part; he said Lancaster County, - that he was principal of the girls’ school here and had been detained in Salem by the war. I recognized him then as the principal of the girls’ school at Litiz when I was attending the boy’s school there. He asked me to protect his school, which I did by placing a safeguard about the buildings in which there was said to be 300 young girls from all over the South. We were the first Federal troops that Salem had ever seen, and when the people discovered we did not have horns or hoofs or forked tails and that some of us were from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and knew the Lititz people, they became very friendly and treated us to the best they had.”

Union Cavalry Flag
Captain Wend’s diary entry states: “…at 6PM...Here we met with a most cordial reception, very different from the greetings we usually received. The ladies cheered us, brought out bread, pies and cakes. The towns were settled by Moravians, from Bethlehem, Pa. The people showed much enthusiasm at the sight of the flag we carried, and many were the touching remarks made about it. Old men wept like children and prominent citizens took off their hats and bowed to it. Some women got on their knees, while we heard such expressions as “Look at the old flag!” “Let me kiss this flag!” …there are plenty of stores here, and in the center of town one of the finest seminaries we have seen in the South. It was a charming place and they are good Union people, but we had no more time just then to do more than acknowledge it.”

Salem was now teeming with Federal cavalrymen. “Before we could realize it,” a Moravian church official wrote, “soldiers were seen at every corner of the streets, had taken possession of the post office, and secured our whole town.” The Moravian Archives records show: “In very great comparative silence about 3,000 cavalry passed through our town, pitched their tents on the high ground beyond the creek (The area of Happy Hill Plantation). Had it not been for the noise their horses and swords made, it would have been hardly noticed that so large a number of troops were passing through our streets. The strictest discipline was enforced, guards rode up and down every street and very few…were the violations of proper and becoming conduct on the part of the soldiers. Fears were entertained by some, whether there good behavior would continue to last, and no doubt many a prayer ascended to the throne of a prayer hearing and answering God; and not in vain, for no outrages except the pressing of horses…were committed and even the cotton manufacture was spared by the Federals…”

As well behaved as these Yankees were, the local citizens hedged their bets hiding everything from horses to ham hocks until the bluecoats left town.

The war would end shortly with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Virginia and additional surrender at Durham Station North Carolina. The fact that the mills were not burned in Salem, while those in Mocksville and Jamestown were put to the torch, was to give Salem a head start on rebuilding as Reconstruction began. A gift from God, or a gift from the Moravian’s ongoing Pennsylvania connections?

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