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Return of the Bethel Heroes by Miss Alice Campbell


Return of the Bethel Heroes 
by 
Miss Alice Campbell

IN SEARCHING through the storehouse of memory, I find a few relics which may prove a pastime to those who care to puruse them. I scarcely know where to begin, as so many incidents crowd in upon me.

In the early part of '61 when the war clouds were hanging thick and dark about us, and the clarion notes "To Arms! To Arms!" were sounding throughout our dear Southland, every available man felt it his duty to protect his home and fireside, and made ready to leave business and loved ones, and cast his fortunes for weal or for woe, to fight for liberty and sacred honor. The women were brave and indefatigable in their efforts to do all that was possible to help in the cause that was so dear to their hearts. Mothers gave their sons, wives their husbands, sisters their dearly loved brothers, to say nothing of friends innumerable. Our Military Companies, the honored old "Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry" with their motto emblazoned on their flag, "He that hath no stomach to this fight let him depart," with ranks full of tried and true men, and the "LaFayette Light Infantry" in all their beautiful strength were busy getting all things in readiness to leave at a moment's notice, at the call of the Governor. The women, old and young, untrimmed their hats to use the black plumes to trim the soldiers' hats, which was a soft, broad-brimmed black hat, with a gilt band and two black plumes. Our companies volunteered for six months, expecting the war would close by that time. They were both engaged at the first battle of Bethel on June 10, '61, and in many others from that time until their return home in November, their enlistment expiring at that time. On their return home the ladies had been busy meeting and making long wreaths, designs, and covering hoops of our beautiful pine, with cedar and holly to decorate the Old Market House. The wreaths were festooned from the corner of the Market, to stores across the square, and the entire front on Person street was made beautiful with lovely decorations. A banner was placed across the entire front, with this inscription: "Welcome Heroes of Bethel" in jets of gas. We were more than two weeks, working day and night, getting everything in order. The Military Companies arrived by boat, just about nightfall. They found almost the entire population at the riverbank, anxiously waiting to receive them. They marched up from the river to the Old Market, where they had a grand ovation, speeches, music, etc., etc.—Oh ! the grand and happy hearts, and the tears of joy, that were shed over our dear Boys in Grey, who had returned in safety to their loved ones. This was of short duration, however, for every one of them went into the service again, as soon as arrangements could be made, most of them going into the Cavalry, Capt. James McNeill and Capt. James Strange raising the companies, quite a number of them receiving commissions as officers in other companies that were forming: Plow Boys, Scotch Tigers, Starr's Battery, etc. Then it was that the struggle commenced in earnest. We learned to spin, to weave, and knit. Thousands of pairs of socks and gloves were sent from here to the needy soldiers in the field. We cut up our carpets to make blankets for them; we wore homespun dresses and leather homemade shoes. I had a calico dress for State occasions, for which I paid ten dollars a yard, and shoes that cost one hundred dollars a pair. We paid ten dollars a pound for sugar, the same for tea, and later it was out of the question. We had various substitutes, such as parched rye, also okra seed. These things seem preposterous, but they are nevertheless true. The women were busy from early morn' till dewy eve, writing letters to the soldier boys—trying to supply their needs, preparing boxes of eatables of every kind for them, and striving to cheer and encourage them in their arduous work. There were many wives whose husbands had gone to dare and to die, who could not read or write, and that was our duty and pleasure to write their letters for them, also to read those that were received, and the little love messages and bits of poetry that was written in them would cause a smile many times, such as "Roses red, and violets blue, Pinks are pretty and so are you," and such like.

Our lives were not all spent in work and gloomy forebodings, for we had many pleasures,—"The bitter with the sweet," for frequently our boys would be sent home on various business errands, detached for fresh horses, or to regain their health, after severe sickness. They were always treated like heroes. We gave them all the pleasure and entertainment possible, which was most heartily appreciated. Many times were we called upon to mourn the loss of one of our dear friends, who had fallen with his face to the foe, causing a vacant chair in the home circle—as the years passed by so slowly and our forces were being diminished almost daily, our faith still firm that victory would at last be ours, nor did we cease to believe this, even when the enemy invaded our quiet peaceful homes.—Yes on the 11th of March, Sherman, with his hordes of depraved and lawless men, came upon us like swarms of bees, bringing sorrow and desolation in their pathway. I can never forget the terrible scene on that memorable morning. For days we had been expecting them, and our loved boys in grey had been passing through in squads, looking ragged and hungry, but yet so brave and grand. We gave them food and clothing, especially shoes and socks, for many of them were bare-footed. The enemy seemed to be pouring in by every road that led to our doomed little town. Our Cavalry were contending every step, fireing and falling back, covering the retreat of our gallant little band, Hardee's forces, with General Wade Hampton, Butler, and others— the scene in our town baffled description, all was consternation and dismay. In less time than I can write this, Sherman's army was in possession of our once peaceful, quiet homes. Every yard and every house was teeming with the bummers, who went into our homes—no place was sacred; they even went into our trunks and bureau drawers, stealing everything they could find; our entire premises were ransacked and plundered, so there was nothing left for us to eat, but perhaps a little meal and peas. Chickens, and in fact all poultry was shot down and taken off with all else. We all knew our silver, jewelry and all valuables would fall into their hands, so many women hid them in such places as they thought would never be found, but alas for their miscalculation! One of my friends had a hen setting, and she took her watch and other valued jewels and hid them in the nest, under the hen—they did not remain long concealed, for they soon found them and enjoyed the joke.

They went into homes that were beautiful, rolled elegant pianos into the yard with valuable furniture, china, cut glass, and everything that was dear to the heart, even old family portraits, and chopped them up with axes—rolled barrels of flour and molasses into the parlors, and poured out their contents on beautiful velvet carpets, in many cases set fire to lovely homes and burned them to the ground, and even took some of our old citizens and hanged them until life was nearly extinct, to force them to tell where their money was hidden; when alas! they had none to hide. They burned our factories, and we had a number of them, also many large warehouses, rilled with homespun, and dwellings, banks, stores and other buildings, so that the nights were made hideous with dense smoke and firelight in every direction. The crowning point to this terrible nightmare of destruction was the burning and battering down of our beautiful and grandly magnificent Arsenal, which was our pride, and the showplace of our town.

On our vacant lot behind our home on Dick street, were a number of Confederate prisoners who had been captured by Sherman's army, and placed there under guard. They numbered about one hundred, I think. They were hatless and shoeless and ragged. I asked Col. A. H. Hickenlooper, the officer who had quarters at our house, if I might go down to see them. He most kindly consented, and said he would go with me for protection. So myself and sister, with a few neighbors and friends, went down. As I was President of our Knitting Society at the time, and we had a large box of socks and gloves on hand, which we were just ready to send away, we took them with us; also all the hats and caps we could find, and distributed them to the prisoners. Notwithstanding our Yankee officer, with us as a protector, we urged our dear boys to be brave, and fight on, that we would win at last. Oh! what a delusion, as it proved. They took all of the horses in town that they could not take away with them and put them in an enclosure on Cool Spring street, and shot them; so they left hundreds of dead horses lying there, there being no way to get rid of them. They were burned, and you may try to imagine the odor, if you can.

They gave us their agreeable company from the 11th to the 14th, when they departed, terror stricken, lest Wheeler's Cavalry should fall upon them. After they left, our hospitals, which had not been very full, were filled to overflowing. They came in with various diseases, and wounds innumerable. Typhoid fever seemed to prevail. We had fine physicians in charge, and every lady in town, who could, gave up her time to nurse and care for the dear brave boys. We gave them medicine, prepared their food, and many times fed them. We took them flowers and wrote letters to their dear ones, who were far away from them, read to them, and did everything possible to cheer and help them. Oh ! how sad it was to see them suffer, and pass away so far from those they loved—and during their illness, how they watched and waited day after day, for letters from home that never came. I knew and talked with most of those who are buried in the old cemetery, near the Monument. I can see their sad faces whenever I think of them, some of them so young—mere boys—some mature men. Many times we were present when God took the poor weary soul to Paradise. There was one inmate there who taught us the sacredness of a promise. He was brought in with typhoid fever. He had passed the crisis, and needed a stimulant. The doctor in charge had prescribed a little whisky. This he declined to take, as he had promised his father, on leaving home, he would never taste a drop of liquor while in the army, and no persuasion from doctor or nurses could make that noble, brave fellow break his promise. Even though the doctor made me tell him he would certainly die, if he did not take the stimulant, he said: "Then I must die, for I cannot break my promise." So God took him to Paradise, to rest from his labors, and receive his reward. Years afterward, a near relative traced him to Fayetteville, and he was shown the place where loving hands had laid him, in a sweet quiet resting place, near the beautiful Cross Creek, where the plaintive moan of the dove is heard, and the rippling waters sing a sweet, sad requim to his soul.

There are many others who passed over the river to rest in the shade. They died without a kindred near them, but all that loving hands could do for them, was gladly and willingly done. There, 57 brave heroes, who sacrificed their lives for the cause, lie side by side, near the Monument, in the old cemetery, of which we are so proud, it being erected by the noble women of our town in the year 1867, the second one raised to their memory in the South, and the first one in North Carolina, and on the 10th of May, of each year since, we assemble to weave our Laurel Chaplets, to decorate the graves of our beloved heroes, the wearers of the Grey, and place over their green mounds the flag they loved so well, but alas! 'tis furled,— "Furl it, for the hands that grasped it, And the hearts that fondly clasped it, Cold and dead, are lying low."

War Days In Fayetteville, North Carolina: Reminiscences Of 1861 to 1865 (Fayetteville, N. C.: Judge Printing Company, 1910), 28-34.

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