CIVIL WAR LETTER
DESCRIBES EFFECT OF WAR ON NEW ALBANY CITIZENRY
(as printed in the New Albany Gazette, Thursday, August 1st, 1968)
(This is the first in a series of articles dealing with the early history
of New Albany and Union County compiled by the late Mrs. Jennie Bell Stephens
Smith, long-time librarian and local historian of New Albany. Edited by
The following letter was found recently in a scrapbook
of the late Mrs. Jennie Bell Stephens Smith, long-time librarian and local
historian. It was written on July 29, 1864, at New Albany by Mrs. Asa Beach,
whose maiden name was Elizabeth Jane Renfroe of Sandersville, Ga. The letter
affected the lives of the New
Albany citizenry during the Civil War.
Dear Father and Mother:
Martha wrote that you were having a great revival there. I am
very glad to hear it and would be glad to be there and be good
enough to join in with them all, but I am afraid if I am
aggravated much more as I have been lately that I will become
such a sinner that there will not be much chance for me to be
saved. I have the same old tale to write. The Yankees have been
here again for the first time since Febuary except for one company
that came down here with a flag of truce to see General Forrest on
business. They troubled no one of course. About three weeks ago they
came again to our sorrow. There were fifteen thousand of them, five
thousand calvary and ten thousand infantry. They went as far as
Tupelo, had a fight with Lee and Forrest and then went back. There
was a heavy loss on both sides.
I believe both sides claimed the victory. The Yanks had to go back
sooner than they intended. They wanted to go further down but they
were turned back. You have all no doubt seen an account of the raid
in the papers, and know all about the fight. We heard the cannonading
here very plain and thought they were fighting in Pontotoc. Had no
idea it was as far as it was. They camped here on the Tallahatchie
going and coming. It was a grand site to see them marching. They had
at least one hundred and fifty drums and fifes and a brass band. Had
music in the camp until very late, and marched off next morning with
all the drums beating and the band playing. I would have enjoyed the
music very much if it had been by our men, but it was anything else
but pleasant coming from the source it did.
You have no idea what a string of people and wagons it was. They
started here from camp at 4 o'clock in the morning, marching as
fast as they could go, and did not get by until 10. They were
commanded by Generals Smith and Greaerson. Smith's headquarters
were at Bonds and Greaerson's at Hill's. I can't begin to tell you
how they treated everybody. We heard they were coming before they
got here, so the men all got out, of course, with their stock. Asa
left Friday evening and they came in soon next morning, the front
of them; the last ones did not get in until evening, there were so
many. So you see we had them all day Saturday, all night until 10
My house, garden, yard, and orchard were thronged with them all the
time, toting off corn and fodder, chickens, vegetables, cooking
utensils, and everything they could find, searching my house over
and over. I had a great many nice young chickens, just large enough
to fry. They caught them as they all went down and when they came
back took all the old hens and roosters. I now have five old hens.
That is my amount of chickens. They took everything they could find
that we had to eat, such as chickens, vegetables, shotes, and milk,
but I had everything else hid even to my salt and lard and they did
not happen to find it.
I believe I have told you whre my hiding place is, over the plazza.
The planks are sawed out and placed in again, so it can't be
discovered by looking at it. I went up to Mr. Hill's in the evening
to see General Greaerson and asked him to place a guard at my house
and told him that his men were searching all over my house and
tearing up everything; told him that they had already got all I
had to eat; that I only asked protection that night for myself and
children. He said, certainly, he would send me a guard and if I would
treat him right he would protect me until they left. I treated him
very kindly; made him a good pallet in the passage and we were not
bothered with any other Yankees that night. They all left next
morning so I thought I had gotten off tolerably well.
I talked with Greaerson about half an hour. He treated me very
politely, but I don't think he has much feeling. You ought to
have seen how grand he and his staff looked. There were five of
them, he and his adjutant, surgeon and two others. They were
sitting in Mrs. Hill's passage, dressed into fits, with three
or four bottles of champagne and boxes of cigars setting around
them. They asked me a great many questions about my husband. I
told them the truth. Told them he had gone off to save his horse;
that we had lost four horses by then. He says, "Has he a fine
horse now?" I told him "yes" that he could not practice medicine
on a sorry one; that good horses were scarce in this country now
and he had got him a good one and went off to keep them from
getting him. "Oh", he says, "he had as well stayed at home. We
would not bother him nor his horse either." I told him that I
knew better than that, that he had been taken once and his horses
Well, after they were all gone Asa, Mr. Hill and all the runaways
came home. Asa, Dr. Cullins Mitchell and White went on down to the
battleground the day after the fight to help attend the wounded.
Asa came home the next Saturday evening just a week after the Yankees
were here, told us that the Yankees were on their way back. Camped at
Ellistown that night. We were very much rejoiced that they went that
way: had no idea that they would come back into this road. Thought
that they would go straight on by the way of Ripley. Well, next
morning Mr. Hill got on his horse, came down here and asked Asa
to to go up and see Luly. They concluded they would then ride up
towards Ellistown and see what the Yankees did up there the night
before. They rode up to Mr. Hill's, hitched their horses at the gate,
and went in to see the child. Asa put medicine in his pocket for her
and left his saddlebags on his horse, something he very seldom ever
does. They had not been there more than five minutes before the
Yankees came tearing down the land from the Langstons right up to the
Hill's house. Mr. Hill and Asa broke to run as hard as they could,
Mrs. Hill screamed at them to stop; they would shoot them. Mr. Hill
stopped they were so close by; but Asa put out and never looked back
until he was out of hearing. Says he forgot he ever had the rheumatism.
He went through the back yard and horse lot. The Yankees never saw him
at all. He did not pretend to go towards his horse, that would have
been going right to the Yankees. They were riding around the corner
before they knew they were within ten miles of them. They rode up and
took the horses first thing. The one that got Asa's horse says: "Well,
I have got a fine horse," rode off, saddle bags and all. Asa says he
would not mind loosing his saddle bags much had they had not had his
surgical instruments in them. They can't be replaced.
Mr. Hill went back in the house and stayed until they left. That was
not til next day. They did not bother him. They stayed here all that
day, camped in the same place that night, and left next day. But they
ruined us all before they left. I can't begin to tell you what they
did to other people, it would take so long, but will try and tell you
how they treated us. They came here thicker than they did before, if
possible, all day working like ants, all over the house, upstairs and
down, in every hole or corner, searching and peeping everywhere.
Carried off every Irish potato, beet, onion, bean, and even took time
to pick pans of beans. Took my pillow cases to put them in. Took
towels, one new table cloth, all my knives but three, some of my
dishes and every pan they could find. Took my shears, Asa's hatchet,
tore my house all to pieces.
It would take me a week to mess it up like they did; pulled all our
dirty clothes out of the closets and examined them; took all Asa's
clothes they could find. Worked here all day. I reckon about two
hundred had been upstairs, looked around and came down. I followed
after them until I was nearly broken down, scared nearly to death
for fear they would find my things that were hid, for I knew that
was my all. Provisions, clothes, bed clothes, blankets and
everything were in there. After awhile about a dozen of the infantry
came in and upstairs they went. Went to searching all about,
commenced looking under the floor. I had a few things hid under there.
They commenced pulling them our, pulled out medicine, tobacco, cards
and other little things, but they did not seem to want anything but
After awhile one rascal went up in the corner and in stooping to
put his hand under the floor put it against the planks and thye
slipped a little. He pulled them off and says: "By George, boys,
here is the place!" They just ripped the planks off and in they went.
One says "Run down and guard the door. Don't let another fellow come
up. We'll divide the things amongst us." I had in there meat, flour,
sugar, coffee, molasses, lard and salt, all of Asa's good clothes,
Sarah's, mine and the children's. We all had new clothes in there
that we had not worn, in a pillow case. They pulled them all out and
looked at them. I stood over them and as they would pull out the
shoes and clothes I would grab them and tell them they could not
have them. But every time they came to anything of Asa's they would
take it. Took his overcoat, a pair of new blue jeans pants, three
pairs of summer pants, all his drawers except the ones he had on,
one shirt, a new silk handkerchief. So you he is very near without
They did not take any of my clothes except pocket handkerchiefs.
They got them all and would have taken our dresses if we had not
fought over them soon as they pulled them out. I would take from
them and throw them to Sarah. She would sit down on them until she
had a large pile under her. She said she would fight over them a
long time before they got them. They took two of her dresses that
were left hanging in her room, and Melia's white embroidered dress.
It was hanging in one of Sara's. They were taken while we were
upstairs fighting over the others. Every room was full at once.
We don't know who took them. Could not watch them all. They were
old dresses of Sarah's. She hid all but her best ones, her pink
flounce and dark striped skirt. I hate their taking Melia's very
much because it came from where it did. I gave Sarah my purple
flounce muslin in the place of the one she lost. I have not had
it on in three summers. They took one of my best quilts and three
nice blankets, but I stole one of them from him after he got it.
He laid it down by him to divide the provisions. I slipped up
behind him and got it. There was such a confusion amongst them he
never discovered it.
They left me nothing to eat at all, took every solitary thing I had
except one jar of lard and my salt. There was not even a grain of
corn on the place to make hominy after they were gone and we had
enough of everything to last us until Christmas. I hated them taking
my chickens and groceries worse than anything else. I knew we could
get meat and bread as soon as they left but the other things cannot
be replaced without sending to Memphis, and we have no cotton. We
were living well but we will have to live on meat and bread after
this and we may not be able to get that all the time.
They killed all of Asa's hogs for next year's meat but we happened
to save our cows. They killed nearly everybody's cows and calves
around here but ours. We have two good cows with young calves.
They happened not to come up until very late. We turned them in
the yard and kept them there. My calves were in the orchard. They
started to shoot them several times but I ran after them and begged
them not to kill them, told them they had taken everything I had to
eat but if they would leave the calves that we could live on milk
Mr. Bond milked fifteen cows. They killed every cow and calve he
had. He now has no cows at all. They nearly ruined him, burned
forty bags of cotten and and killed all his stock, took everything
he had in the house to eat and every negro he had went with them.
Mrs. Bond has all her work to do. They treated Mr. Hill in the
same manner, took and killed nearly everything he had. They had a
little provision hid that they did not find.
The Yankees took a great deal from Mr. Flourney as well as everybody
else. Mr. Hill's negroes hitched up his oxen and cart and went off
in the day, right before their eyes. The Yankees were all there and
helped them off. The Yankees got three guns under our house. I
though we were gone up as the saying is when they hauled them out.
But they did not do any worse than they were doing before. One
fellow asked Kitsy for some fire, said he wanted to burn that
damned old house down. There was no fire on the place, had nothing
to cook and let the fires go out. There were a great many families
left as we were, without a mouthful to eat. They took bedclothes
and wearing clothes everywhere they went. Some ladies I have seen
say they did not leave them a rag of clothing except what they had
on. They treated Poss King mighty bad, took all she had to wear,
nearly all of her bed clothes, tore up the well, threw the windlass
and her wash pot and some other things into the well, carried off
the new quilt that belonged to Lizzie's little bed. One man commenced
to ripping open Mary's bed, but another stopped him. Poss has to tote
water from here in a wash bowl. They took all of her buckets and
cooking utensils. I expect she has written to Mary about it.
Well, I will quit writing about the Yankees. I know you are all tired
of it. I have not told you half that I could tell you. I must tell
you about their finding Mr. Bell's money. Mrs. Bell heard they were
coming and went and buried the money in a corner of a fence. Not a
living soul knew where she had put it. They went there and dug it
up. They had $25 in gold, $15 in greenbacks, and $100 confederate.
I must tell you of another thing, too, how bad we were scared after
the Yankees had been gone about five days. The news came here they
and sent all the negroes', wagons on to Memphis and they were coming
back, burning every house they passed, turning the people out of
doors. We heard one evening that they would be here next morning and
burn us out, heard it from several different sources. Everybody went
to work bundling up their clothes, to try to save some. We tied up a
bundled piece to carry off when they set the house on fire. Asa put
on his best clothes that were left, took his account books and left.
You would have laughed to see us next morning. Sarah, Mary Joines,
myself and Kitsy all had a string of clothes tied under our hoops.
Mr. Flournoy worked all night carrying things off into the woods.
They did not come back through. It was all false.
Mr. Pruitt is dead; died last week. His wife has gone to Mr.
Duncan's to live. He only left her a thousand dollars. She said
she had no interest here and would not stay. We have had company
here a week and will have all this week--two young men. They are
couriers. A company of scouts have gone up near Memphis and
established a line of couriers every ten miles back to Tupelo.
This is one of the posts. They carry dispatches from one post to
the other. These who are here are very nice young men. I tell Sarah
I think she has fallen in love with one of them. They are having a
very nice time.
You must all write to me as soon as you get this. I would have
written sooner but have not had enough energy to write a letter
since the Yankees left until now. They turned over my molasses,
upstairs, spilled it all over the house, upstairs and down, and I
did not have it scoured up in a week. So you see I did not care
much for anything. I have got over that now. We are all in good
spirits again. Asa rides one of Mr. Hill's mules. He has no use
for them now, his negroes are all gone. Asa has a good horse though,
when his foot gets well; one Sarah and I captured from the Yanks.
His foot was so sore he could not travel so, as soon as they left,
we went into their camps and got him. The pickets left him. They
camped right here on the side of the road. The horse is in good
order. He has two cartridge boxes fastened together for saddle bags.
This leaves us all well; children are getting along well and
growing fast. Clara's school is broken up, the teacher can't get
board. All send love to you.
Your affectionate daughter,
P.S. Sam Bell was badly wounded in the fight down here. Asa thinks
he will die.
This newspaper article was contributed by Joe
Mercer of Memphis, Tennessee.
Joe has made other contributions to other MsGenWeb sites and they are greatly
It's folks like him that keep us going. Thanks Joe! This is one of
the most fascinating items that I've read recently.
County MSGenWeb Coordinator
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