On March 9, 1865, a portion of William Tecumseh Sherman’s massive Yankee army had crossed into North Carolina on its way north from its famous March to the Sea. Its goal was to reach Goldsboro for supplies but, before that, it was engaged in two of the last battles this state would endure during the Civil War — the first in Averasboro and the second in Bentonville.
Before those battles, however, that portion of Sherman’s army arrived in Lumberton.
To describe what happened next, I’ll let Burke Davis’ words from his book, “Sherman’s March,” tell the story:
“In the town of Lumberton ... Washington S. Chaffin, a Methodist minister, was making his diary entry for March 9: ‘The Yankees are said to be in two different places near here. I am incredulous …’ He was interrupted by shouts: ‘The Yankees are coming!’ Chaffin saw the streets filled with bluecoats, two of whom fired at one of his neighbors as he fled. A cavalryman burst in, robbed Chaffin and his wife’s watch and took his fine mare, Kate, from the stable. Smoke drifted over the town as troopers burned the depot and boxcars and a railroad bridge over the Lumber River. The troops had hardly left town when the methodical minister returned to his diary, little concerned for his ‘greatly excited’ wife, but distraught over the loss of Kate, who had been his favorite for ‘five years, 11 months, 17 days — she had never been sick — I have traveled with her on horseback, etc., 17,102 miles.’”
This kind of thing probably happened in every town that got in the way of the Civil War’s progression, but it still seems to be noteworthy in some way to each town’s history.
Aside from Davis’ book, however, there is only one other mention of this event that I know of. That would be on the Web site www.mycivilwar.com/battles/1865. There you will find a listing of battles from that year, and one of them is listed as “March 9, 1865, in Lumberton, North Carolina,” where it says: “On March 9, the Union force entered the town of Lumberton. Once there, they proceeded to destroy the wagon and railroad bridges over the Lumber River, the rail depot, six boxcars and one mile of railroad track.”
Perhaps most interesting about the fact that the county’s history museum is lacking any mention of this event is that the train depot and railroad bridge destroyed by the Yankees that day were located within a stone’s throw of where the museum now stands at the southern end of Elm Street.
But Lumberton is not alone when it comes to forgotten Civil War history in Robeson County.
At the intersection of Red Hill Road and N.C. 71 near the town of Maxton stands Floral College. Before the Civil War, this school was a popular institution for women throughout the area.
During the Civil War, however, the school’s principal had closed the doors and offered the school as a place for wealthy families displaced by the war or who wanted to escape the rumors of sickness to relocate. The principal advertised Floral College as “proverbially healthy; and in these troubled times as safe a retreat as can anywhere be found.”
That, in and of itself, is historically noteworthy. But even more so is the fact that one of the families that took refuge at Floral College for most of the war was the John D. Bellamy family from Wilmington. The Bellamy mansion is now a popular tourist site on Market Street and the story of the Bellamy’s retreat to Floral College can be found in the book “Back With The Tide,” written by Dr. Bellamy’s daughter, Ellen.
There is history here in Robeson County that few know of. Historical buildings are being razed and stories about what took place here before, during and after the Civil War are being lost right along with those buildings.
I can think of no bigger shame.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 272-6148 or by e-mail at email@example.com.