Tales My Mother Told Me
- by Dan E. Bland
Annie (Rigdon) Bland (1853 - 1944) - Annie was the daughter of Mitchell (1830 - 1860) and Sally (Hendrix) Rigdon (1829 - 1906). Bulloch County Marriages Book 4A page 150 shows she married Michael Bland Jan. 12, 1876. They had a son; Daniel who authored the following article about Sherman's March Through Georgia. It appeared in the book, 'Life in Old Bulloch.
I have been asked to write down what I could remember of what I had heard my mother, Anne Rigdon Bland (1853) - 1944) and my father, Michael Bland (1848 - 1934), tell me of the Civil War days of 1861 - 1865, as they lived through them.
My mother's father, Mitchell Rigdon, lived on the farm which had belonged to his father, Daniel Rigdon, and his wife Mary (Polly) on Mill Creek, three miles north of Statesboro. Daniel Rigdon owned three thousand acres of land and built the old Rigdon Mill Pond, known later as Roberts Pond, then Boyd's leaving his wife, Sally Hendrix Rigdon (1829 - 1906), a widow with five small children, ages 10, 8, 5, 3, and 2 years old, and one old colored woman slave named Patience.
The first year of the Civil War (1861) Patience, Elizabeth, age 10, and Anne, age 8, had all the plowing to do to make a crop to live on, as corn, meat and potatoes. War had been declared and all able-bodied men and boys had been called into military service. Patience and Elizabeth and Anne did all the work. There was no one left to hire. Time went with no hopes of winning the war as the poor saw it. Fort Pulaski, below Savannah, had been captured by the Yankees. Savannah was blockaded or cut off from the rest of the world. No goods came in by boat. No one could buy a pound of coffee, no quinine from South America for malaria fever. Cloth could be had by going to Augusta for it. People got out the old spinning wheels and looms and made their own cloth. Coffee substitutes were parched corn and beans.
The third year of the war went on. The Confederates were losing. Times were very hard, no sale now for any cotton or wool, due to the blockaded port of Savannah. Neighbors were being killed, others sent home sick, many with malaria fever. No quinine could be bought. A close neighbor and first cousin of my mother named James Gould come back from the Army sick with this fever, too weak to walk. Grandmother Sally Rigdon had a remedy for it. She went into the low woods and gathered "Button-Bush," scraped the bark off the roots and made a tea from it. She had James drink it several times a day and at night. After taking a course of this medicine, he was able to go back into Army Service. Another fever plant she often used was "Maiden Blushes" but it was hard to find.
The war went on. It was now the middle of November of 1864. Things looked very bad for the South. Atlanta had fallen to the Yankees, and most of it had been burned. General W. T. Sherman was in command of the Northern forces. He left Atlanta with 60,000 men and 13,000 horses and mules, headed for Savanah. In South Georgia the Army split up into four columns. One column came down the Savannah River Road, one column on the Screven side of the Ogeechee River, one column on the River Road on the Bulloch side, and from Millen a column came down the Old Moore Road by way of Statesboro, where they camped Saturday and Sunday, leaving Monday to all converge on Savannah. The division that came by Statesboro was led by Major General Judson Kilpatrick. Sherman never set foot in Bulloch. Sherman gave orders to burn all cotton-gin houses, court houses or anything that might be of help to the south. Dwellings were to be spared in most cases. The army was to live off the land on the way to Savannah.
The Yankees had come down as far as Millen. We were panic-stricken, but could not help ourselves. Just waiting. Word had come down that the Yankees were locking up women and children in their houses and setting them on fire. We were scared but soon found out that this was all a lie. When the Yankees did come, we were treated with respect. They took our food, but did not harm anyone.
From Millen to Statesboro was a two-days march. We had to work fast to save our work stock (horses). We shelled corn and placed it in bags, enough for a one-day feed (two, if necessary) and dampened the corn fodder and tied it in three bundles. The day before the yankees came to Statesboro, Elizabeth and Annie bridled the three horses early before day and with the food carried them into Mill Creek Swamp, in what was known as Old Bay. Water was nearby. The horses were tied within sight of each other to keep them from neighing. For three days and nights we went in before day and fed and watered them. The Yankees never ventured into this thick swamp looking for them. We carried the horses into the swamp early Saturday A. M. Sunday we were afraid to go feed them, as the Yankees were everywhere. Monday was the same, but we fed the horses.
To get back to the coming of the Army. It was late Friday, P. M. in the middle of December that we first heard the drum beats far up the old Moore Road. The foot soldiers marched in formation, followed by mounted artillery and ammunition wagons. Most of them reached Statesboro by nightfall. At that time Statesboro consisted of one log courthouse, one saloon, and three or four dwelling houses, and the old Nevils cemetery where the Baptist Church now stands.
The Yankee foragers for the Army were everywhere on Saturday and Sunday. They loaded their wagons with anything they could find to eat for man or beast. Corn and cured hams and bacon were their choice. They shot all the chickens and killed all the fat hogs and steers they could find, often cutting off the hams and leaving the rest for the buzzards to eat.
According to Elizabeth and Anne, the foragers took all the cured hams and bacon, all the corn in the crib, all the sweet potatoes, killed all the chickens and what livestock they could find. but no attempt was made to molest any of the family. One Yankee soldier tried to make Grandmother tell what she had done with the horses, but to no avail. He took a large piece of burning wood from the fireplace and placed it on the bare floor. She told him she sent them far out of the path of the Yankees. He threw the burning wood back into the fireplace and went on. The Yankees dared not go into the thick bay to look for the horses. So far the horses had missed only one feeding and appeared to be safe. We kept feeding them in the hide-out until we were sure if would be safe to bring them back home.
At one time when Grandmother Sally Rigdon's yard was overrun with Yankee soldiers, gun fire was heard back towards the Old Moore Road. All mounted soldiers ran in the direction of the firing. Finally the woods in that direction become smoky with gunfire. Later we learned that the Confederate Calvary under Colonel Joe Wheeler had a brush with the Yankees. Wheeler only had a small handful of men so he had to strike and run to keep from being captured by a much greater force. He kept the foragers confined to a narrow strip of the country.
While shooting chickens in Grandmother Rigdon's yard, one Yankee accidentally shot another man in the neck. He yelled out, "Mind what in the hell you are doing." Grandmother lectured him on his vile language, helped bandage up his neck, and so he went on his way."
Later, hogs rooted up a dead Confederate soldier where the firing was heard. Neighbors covered him up again. Two Yankee soldiers (from an Ohio Regiment) were buried in the old Nevils Cemetery on North Main Street. Later the new church was built over their graves.
When they reached Statesboro, the Yankees burned down the old log court house, but the records were saved. In one building they found a Yankee prisoner.
Grandmother Sally Rigdon was not afraid of the Yankees. She walked two miles to their main camp in Statesboro and bought used coffee grounds from them so as to have some real coffee again.
So far we have had the Yankees to spend Saturday and Sunday with us. Early Monday morning the brass bands began beating. The Army was on the march to Savannah, following the Savannah Road by way of Brannen's Old Mill and Jencks Bridge across the Ogeechee River. I have been told that some of the heavy wagons and cannons crossed the river at the shallow crossing at Flat Ford near Stilson.
They captured Savannah without any effort on Christmas Day, 1864. Sherman made Lincoln a present of Savannah, together with 20,000 bales of Sea Island cotton, a much needed article for the North.
Joe Wheeler's Confederate Cavalry kept the Yankee foragers from spreading too far out for fear of being captured, so my grandfather, Daniel Bland's farm, west of Statesboro on the Watering-hole Branch, was not visited by them. To be on the safe side, Grandfather Bland loaded all his cured bacon on a cart and hauled it out into the piney woods and hid it under a large clay-root (a large tree blown down by a storm). He missed his little dog when he got home. Three days later, he went back for his bacon. There was the little dog sitting on top of the clay-root, guarding the meat and barking as loud as he could.
No doubt you have heard of the Battle of Statesboro, which was never fought. (Note: This has no reference to the skirmish that Joe Wheeler's Confederate Cavalry fought near the Old Moore Road north of Statesboro.) My uncle Son Fletcher, too young to enlist in the Army and a handful of crippled old men, too old to go into the Army, were the soldiers of this battle. No one dreamed that one half of Sherman's Army of 60,000 men and 13,000 horses would come through Bulloch, and 15,000 of them by Statesboro. The old River Road went through the richest part of the county, and only a few soldiers were expected to come by Statesboro, a place so small that a Union commanding officer rode up to Charnock Fletcher's saloon on Friday and asked the way to Statesboro. He was told that he was in the heart of town. By Saturday, Charnie had mobilized the old men and his son to wait for the few straggling soldiers they expected to come through Statesboro. Early Saturday morning while this small band waited on the opposite side of town from the road by which the Yankees had come, sixteen-year-old Son was sent to scout the enemy. To his surprise, when he rode into town he saw thousands of Yankees in blue uniforms. He retreated fast to his camp and told the men to run for their lives. The whole hill was blue with soldiers. No shots were fired, and it was several days before any of the defenders were seen in Statesboro.
I must tell you what I can remember about what mother told us of their old slave woman, Patience. She belonged to Polly Rigdon, mother's grandmother. Statesboro had no accomodations for the "Big Court" crowds that met here twice a year. Polly Rigdon and Patience served them dinner each court day. The visitors spent the night at the old rich homes on the Ofeechee River. Polly and Patience roasted large pieces of beef, baked sweet potatoes, pies and cornbread. At dinner time all this was placed on a large table under an oak tree near the court house, and for twenty-five cents anyone could eat all he wanted to. Polly died around 1860. Patience then belonged to Grandmother Sally and helped her to raise the family.
With the help of Patience, the Rigdon family managed to live. After "Freedom" in 1865 Patience stayed with Sally as one of the family. With her help and Elizabeth and Anne to do the plowing, they managed to pull through the four long years of war. Grandmother Sally did the house work and saw after the children. Patience did all the hoeing. Only a small patch of cotton was allowed to be grown for home use. Corn, sweet potatoes and a small patch of cane could be grown. A small portion of everything grown had to be divided with the Confederate government to feed the soldiers.
Grandmother Sally had gone through four long years of hard times due to the war and was in very poor spirits. But to make things worse, she sold ninety head of fat cows to her dead husband's brother-in-law and a well known Statesboro business man. These cattle were driven overland to Savannah and resold for good U. S. dollars, but they paid her in worthless Confederate bills, some said a guano sack full of them. This happened before General Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, making Confederate money legal tender for all debts. She, being a poor widow, had no recourse but to lose all. She worried herself into a state of unbalanced mind over the loss. Her mother, Elizabeth Beasley Hendrix, who lived about ten miles away, came down on horseback to see her. Grandmother made up her mind that she was going back home with her. That would never do, so Patience and Elizabeth and Anne locked her up in the old smokehouse until her mother could get away. Grandmother Sally had her own plans. When her mother got about a mile from Sally's home, she looked back and saw Sally coming in a fast run. She took her up on the saddle behind her and brought her back. She found out that Grandmother Sally had climbed up on the logs in one corner of the smokehouse and had pushed off enough boards to make a hole to climb through. Patience quieted her down and persuaded her to stay home.
The time was late spring. Crops were well on their way. The hoe had to follow the plow to get any weed or grass that the plow failed to cover up. Hoeing was Patience's job, while Elizabeth and Anne did the plowing. Patience also had the job of seeing after Grandmother Sally in her unbalanced condition. There was no hospital to put her in in those war times. Patience would take Grandma Sally to the field with her and place a hoe in her hands and put her on the row to be hoed with her. They would work together until time for Patience to cook dinner for all of them. Patience would let her do little odd jobs around the kitchen helping her to prepare dinner. She saw that Grandma ate well and had a rest period before going back to the field job. They would work until sunset, night's rest for her tired out body. Patience said the reason that she had Grandma to use the hoe was that no one could use their hands and feet without exercising their mind. After a few weeks under Patience's care, Grandma Sally was as good as ever and never had another breakdown.
Patience joined old Bethlehem Church, as a woman of color, July 30, 1850, and was living as late as December 19, 1874. No one knows where she was buried. Her husband, Handy belonged to the Youngs up on the Ogeechee.