(The Southern Star, Wednesday, April 12, 1899)
A WAR INCIDENT-----
THE BUSHWHACKERS IN
THEIR RAID ON NEWTON AND HOW
THEY WERE PUT TO FLIGHT—A
FEW BRAVE AND DETERMINED MEN ARE POWERFUL IN
ANY GOOD CAUSE
It was in the month of March 1865. The Southern Confederacy was bleeding at every pore. Hope, which is said, "to spring eternal in the human bosom," had well nigh given way to the gloom and depression of the times. That grand and glorious man, Robert E. Lee, with a few thousand men, was struggling against untold odds in his efforts to shield and defend successfully Richmond, the seat of Government, and Petersburg, the key to Richmond. Joseph E. Johnston, but little less renowned as a soldier, was striving to rally the broken and shattered forces of Hood, and to meet again in mortal combat the Federal forces, which were rapidly overrunning the entire South. The times were, indeed perilous, and yet there were many true sons, who believed that the star of the Confederacy had not gone down, and were willing still to strike for homes and firesides. For months previous to the time of which I write Southeast Alabama had been the theater for predatory excursions and acts of robbery and outlawry, perpetrated by what was called in those days, Bushwhackers. These were led in the main by certain Captain Joseph G. Sanders, who commanded a company in what was called the 1st Florida Federal cavalry. Sanders was a mechanic, and in the early commencement of the war had volunteered as a private in Captain Griffith's company, organized in Barbour county, and made up from Barbour, Henry and Dale counties. After the first year's service, upon the re-organization of the company, Sanders was elected Captain and though an uneducated man, was a good officer. The company was in the 31st Georgia regiment, and imagined they were not treated exactly right. However that may have been, I do not know. At any rate, in 1864 Sanders resigned and was about to be conscripted, and for that or some reason, not known, deserted the South, and became a Captain in the Federal Army, as already indicated.
He was known to be a brave man, and as a result, his incursions into the county, and they were frequent, were very much dreaded.
Newton, at that time the county site of Dale county, was headquarters for the conscript bureau, as well as for a company of cavalry, called home guards. The town was, therefore, very much hated by the Bushwhackers, and was frequently threatened with death and destruction. I had been home since 1863, leaving my good right arm in the valley of Virginia, as the result of a wound received at Sharpsburg, and was residing seven miles east of Newton, on the Choctawhatchee River.
Having some business in the north-western portion of the county near Rockey Head, and intending to spend the night at Mr. Noel Dowling's, I left home in the afternoon, and when I reached Newton, my father informed me that he had it from thoroughly reliable authority that Sanders and his raiders would be here that night. My father and family resided there, and I determined immediately to stay over and see the thing out.
No extra steps were taken to meet the enemy should they come and after an early supper, I went to the courthouse, where a number of men were, and inquired what they were going to do. To this some one replied that they were going to put a guard out around the square to protect the town. I told them that if that was all the protection the town was going to have, that Sanders, if he came, would butcher the men before day, and burn the town and I added "I am not going to risk any such arrangement, and if I can get one man to go with me, I will develop the enemy, if he is in this country, in time for you all to get ready to fight or to get away." John C. McEntyre, now residing near Daleville, a member of Company H, 15th Alabama Regiment, a splendid soldier, then carrying upon his person three wounds received in three several battles, having heard what I said at once, replied "my horse is across the river, but if you can get one, I will go with you. You and I have been together upon such missions before." We both belonged to the 15th Alabama. I think it was Mr. Jacob Snell who told him he could have his horse, and pretty soon we were driving right down towards the enemy's country. We rode leisurely along in the darkness, for it was a cloudy night, though I think the moon gave some light, until we came to where the roads forked, one leading to Marianna, Florida and the other to Columbia, Henry County. Here we paused nearly in front of where Mr. Burford's store now is, in the present town of Pinckard. We were then four miles out from town, and were at a loss to know exactly what step to take next, not knowing which road the enemy would come along, and there being but two of us, not desiring to separate. While we were waiting and watching, the enemy forty-four men strong came charging up the road towards us yelling and shouting at a great rate. They had stolen from Mr. Wm. York and Dr. Wm. Melton a number of horses and mules that night, and with what they already had and five more, which they stole from Mr. Jacob Snell, who resided within three hundred yards from the point where McEntyre and I were on picket, they were all mounted. We waited till they came pretty near, not close enough, however, to see us, dark as it was, and then we started back to town, notifying Mr. Snell's family and Mr. McClendon's family that the Bushwhackers were coming in full force, Mr. Snell was already in town, and Mr. McLendon, though an old man, shouldered his gun and with one of his little boys struck for town to aid in its defense.
McEntyre and I made pretty good time in getting back, and very soon aroused townspeople and got thirty-three men together, consisting of three old wounded soldiers, McEntyre, George Echols and myself, some old men, some boys and some of the home guards, and struck out for what was known as the Hughes Spring, a point nearly a mile east of town, where there was a large sand bed in the road, bordered by a thick growth of oak saplings. This, we thought, would give us a fine opportunity to ambush the enemy; and after getting the men arranged in line in this thicket, a dozen paces from the road, I told them to remain there, and that I would give them ample notice of the approach of the enemy and I then went out on picket alone and on foot, feeling well pleased with the plan of battle, as we had it arranged. Not a great while passed before a messenger came from our forces, stating that it was desired that I should return, as the men were going back to town. I hastened back, intending to prevent it if I could, but when I got there every man was gone, and I was so angry that I do not believe I would have gone back to town at all but for the fact that my mother and sisters and little brothers were in town.
When I got back everything was in confusion. Captain Breare, the commander of the home guard, would not permit his men to be controlled by any one but himself. So he located his men on the west side of the public square, while the enemy was approaching from the east side. I had about lost all hope of being able to do anything to save the town. Nevertheless, I got together three men besides myself, and we four agreed to fight the enemy at all hazards. The men with me were Mr. W.H. Kirksey, grandfather of J.H. Adams, editor of THE SOUTHERN STAR, an old gentleman, and a brave one, but now resting beyond the river, as we trust, "under the shade of the trees," and Samuel F. Fain, now of Texas, and my brother, Daniel Carmichael, then a boy. Six other men had made the same agreement, but being nearer the town than we were, we were not aware of it. They were the late Rev. P.M. Callaway of precious memory, Daniel Duke, and George Echols, and three others whose names I do not now remember.
My brother went out on picket, leaving the other two and myself at the corner of an old hotel. By and by he returned hurriedly with the information that he left the enemy near the Methodist church. Very soon they were in front of the hotel with a regular Yankee "Huzzah, Huzzah, here we are, here we are." We waited for them to pass the hotel, and get between us and the public square so then we were in their rear. I had to hold the three men back from firing, so anxious were they to open upon them. Mr. Kirksey rather stuttered a little and said something like: "Ne-ne-ne-never mind, you villains, we'll show you that there are others here besides you in less than a minute." When I thought the opportune moment had come, all four of us – some with double-barrel shotguns and others with muskets, charged with buck and ball, turned loose upon them as unexpectedly as if the last trumpet had sounded – we firing so squarely into their rear and at the very same moment, Mr. Calloway and his five men, who were secreted between some stores, fired into the head of the column. A more complete surprise was never perpetrated, and in a moment all was confusion, and the bushwhackers stampeded. Sanders the leader, tried to rally his men, but it was impossible to do so, although he swore like the army of Flanders. I believe that was the army, which swore so badly. They tried to return our fire, but very ineffectually as the caps would burst, but the guns frequently failed to go off.
All the women in town were very much frightened and were doubtless all praying all they could, and one good old lady – Aunt Lucy Thurmond was on her knees and telling about the fight afterwards, said: "I knew those caps popping were not on guns of our men for I was asking the Lord to take care of our men, and I knew their caps were not popping." In much less time than I have been telling about the fight after it began, the enemy was gone, leaving three men dead and dying upon the ground and carrying away five wounded, and not a drop of blood shed by any of our men. The victory was complete, the town was saved and the people filled with joy. The moral effect upon the country fine. Ten men, old, crippled and boys had met and vanquished Sanders, and his band of outlaws, and this inspired confidence in the breasts of the Confederates and terror in the minds of the outlaws, and so gave us a few days of comparative quiet before the final downfall of the Confederacy. Sanders, after the war was over, was in his house when George Echols and a number of others tried to arrest him. Doubtless underrating his courage. He told them he would kill any man who approached his house. George did so and was shot dead right near the house.
Sanders then took refuge in Decatur Co., Georgia, where he built a mill, and a short while afterwards was shot and killed, it was said at the time, by the late Judge Echols the father of George, the boy whom Sanders killed.
Some day perhaps, I will tell something about what another detachment of Sanders' company suffered at the hands of one old man alone, on the same night, and of the heroic conduct of a young Southern
(Thanks to Charles Zeigler for providing this