When Gen. William T. Sherman's federal troops burned Columbia and headed northward in late February 1865, the towns along his path had no defense other than that offered by old men and young boys. Able-bodied men, almost to a man, were in Confederate service, miles away from their families.
Yorkville had a company made up of men over the age of 40 ready to put up resistance, but Union troops did not go in that direction. Chesterville, the juncture point of 3 railroads, feared that they would be struck but the federal forces veered to the east and Chester District was spared.
Lancaster District was not so fortunate. Kilpatrick's cavalry entered Lancasterville and attempted to burn both the courthouse and the jail, but before they could accomplish that mission, Wheeler's Confederates drove them away. Still, many courthouse papers (notably the wills and estate records) were lost and in the countryside, many plantation homes were burned or ransacked.
At the time, Lancaster District had a home guard which had been organized as Company I, 3rd Regt. State Troops, headed by Capt. James D. Caskey and four lieutenants. The officers were all older men but the company was known as "A Company of 16 Year Old Boys." There were more than 150 privates in Company I when it was ordered to rendezvous in early 1864 at Hamburg, SC (next to present-day North Augusta, on the Savannah River).
In 1912, Samuel E. Belk, then living in Monroe, NC, but who had been one of the 16-year-olds of Company I, wrote an account of an adventure he called "Scrimmage in Lancaster" for the Confederate Veteran, a popular magazine of the day.
Belk said that at the time that Kilpatrick's Cavalry came through he was out on patrol with other 16-year-olds so did not witness the particular event but that it occurred at his home, which he described as a "humble log cabin home." The Federal troops rifled the Belk smokehouse and hung the captured smoked hams on their saddles. [While Belk described the marauders as Federal troops, they may actually have been undisciplined Union deserters or others, either Federal or Confederate, who masqueraded as soldiers and terrorized civilians in order to steal any valuables they could find.] Just as the Federals were ready to leave, Wheeler's Cavalry came in pursuit. The "robbers cut the meat loose and tried to escape with Wheeler's men close behind." One of the Union men, a soldier named Leroy Vanconey, was killed. He was identified by letters from Ohio he had in his pockets.
Smith and Williams, two other Union men, were wounded and captured by the Confederates. Wheeler's men went to the Belk log cabin and asked Mrs. Belk and her daughter to take care of the wounded men, and see that they were brought to the home so that they could be picked up later.
The two women dressed the wounds. They found that Williams could walk. Mrs. Belk and the daughter got a sheet which they used to carry Smith to their cabin. The next day Federal officers sent an ambulance for the two wounded men. The creek was high and they couldn't cross, so they used a footlog to take the men to the ambulance. Smith died that night.
Belk wrote that 21-year-old Leroy Vanconey was buried on his homeplace.
Hannah Jane Belk had an adventure about the same time as the scrimmage at the Belk smokehouse. As the Union soldiers came up the road toward her home, her uncle, Sam Belk, "handed her a long black stocking full of gold coins and told her to hide them; but the Yankees were already approaching the picket fence where she was standing, so she dropped it down beside the fence post and it remained there for the two weeks that the soldiers camped in their yard."
Another Belk from Lancaster District, Abel Nelson Washington Belk, lost his life when he was captured by some Federals who believed that he had a store of hidden gold. In an effort to get Belk to talk, they submerged him in the waters of Gill's Creek. Belk drowned. He was the father of William Henry and John Montgomery Belk, the foundres of the large chain of Belk department stores.