Jane Harris and the General

By Stephen Lee

May 26, 2014

(From the deposition of Jane Harris, 44, of Owenville, Sampson County, N.C., on Feb. 5, 1873, for the Southern Claims Commission. Spelling and punctuation have been modernized. The document was not in Jane’s hand but that of a recorder. The words are those she spoke. The questions she was asked, based on standing interrogatories, were not recorded, but most are readily apparent from her replies.)

“On Thursday, March 16, 1865, about 10 o’clock a.m., three men rode up to my house and asked if I had seen any Yankees. I told them yes, for they were Yankees.

They then demanded the keys of the outhouses. I gave the keys to them. They then went and opened all the doors and took some sausages out of the smokehouse. By this time the yard was full. They commenced catching chickens, killing hogs, took possession of my kitchen, took my flour out of the dwelling, meat out of the smokehouse and commenced cooking in the kitchen. They remained there till the next day near sunset.

The property was all taken and consumed between about 10 o’clock on Thursday a.m. and sunset the next day. I don’t think anything was carried off the plantation except some chickens. I saw them leave tied and on their horses.

They came in the dwelling, opened all the drawers and trunks. Those that were not opened for them, they would break open. They took wearing clothes belonging to Mr. Harris and myself and my father and mother.

General Blair was at the gate. I went to him for a guard. He rode up to the door and ordered them to leave, that they were not sent out to plunder private houses, but to forage for grub. He placed a guard to protect the dwelling house only.

All the men that was in the house when he rode up made their escape out at the back door except one. That one, he ordered his gun taken from him and him taken to headquarters, which was about one-fourth mile off at Mr. White’s.[James White Jr.]

That guard left Friday morning. He said that the regiment was about to leave. As soon as he left, the house was full again, plundering. I then went to some officers that was in the piazza and asked them for protection.

They said they would remain in the house and keep the men out but they had their breakfast to get. I told them if they would remain in the house that I would prepare breakfast for them, which they did.

While they were eating, I went to General Blair again. He was in the lane. He sent two of his staff officers to the house with me. They remained for one and a half to two hours. They then put a soldier on guard and left. He remained until the evening and left.

There was some officers present. I spoke to them, and a colonel — I don’t know his name — left his son in charge to keep the men out of the house. He remained until about one hour before sunset and went off with the rear guard that was passing.

Taken from my place in Owensville, Sampson County, N.C., on the 16 and 17 days of March 1865 by U.S. soldiers. I saw a great many soldiers engaged in the taking. I cannot tell how many. They said they had 20,000 fighting men along. They all passed my house, through the yard and field. They were engaged in the taking from 10 o’clock Thursday morning until Friday evening near sunset.

No person present except my small children and two colored girls, about 12 and 15 years old. The oldest is dead, and the other has moved away from my neighborhood.

There was a great many commissioned officers present. I did not learn any of their names except General Blair. He was pointed out to me by an officer. He said to the men in my presence that they must not plunder the house, that they were sent out to forage for grub.

They just took the property as they wanted it. I heard nothing particularly said about it except what General Blair said — that they were sent out to forage and get grub and not to plunder houses.

The property was consumed on the premises. I see nothing carried off except some chickens.

I see them cooking, eating and feeding horses and cattle with the property on the premises.

I believe the property was taken for the use of the army because I see them using it on the premises, and General Blair said they were sent to forage and get grub.

I complained to General Blair and other officers. They said their men and horses must have something to eat but not plunder private houses. No voucher or receipt given or asked for. I heard nothing said about any.

The property was all taken in the daytime at all hours. Nothing taken after night, I think — all taken openly, no attempt at concealment.

The army was encamped all over the plantation. It was General Blair’s command of General Sherman’s army. Came on the 16 and left on the 17 day of March 1865. There was some skirmishing the day before about eight miles distant. I did not know any quartermasters or any other officers except General Blair.

About 125 bushels corn taken. It was in the barn; 25 bushels shelled; the balance not shucked. It was all good sound corn and worth at the time $1.25 per bushel. About 800 pounds of bacon taken. It was in the smoke house, good, large fat meat well dried and hanging up and worth at that time 20 cents per pound. About 2,500 pounds of fodder taken. It was in stacks. Good black fodder and worth at that time $1.50 per 100 pounds.

Four cows taken. Three of them was about five years old and the other about six years, in tolerable good condition and worth I think at least $15 each. They were driven off with the cattle that they had along. Ten bushels peas taken. They were in the hull. Good sound peas and worth $1.25 per bushel. One heifer taken, about 3 years old, in tolerable good condition and worth $10. It was driven off also with the other cattle.

Five hogs taken, about 2 years old, in good order and worth $5 each. They were killed on the premises and carried off. About 75 pounds of flour taken and used on the premises. Good, and worth about 5 cents per pound. Thirty chickens taken. Good grown chickens and worth 20 cents each. About 125 pounds of lard taken. It was in tin stands in the dwelling house. It was good nice lard and worth 20 cents per pound. One saddle taken, a little worn, and worth $7 or $8.

Twenty bushels sweet potatoes taken. They were in a potato house in good condition and worth 75 cents per bushel. One axe taken, had been used some and worth about $1.50.

A large lot of fence rails taken. I cannot tell how many or the value. Used as firewood in the camps. Twenty-five bushels of corn measured. We had just bought it. It was the shelled corn. The amount I estimate by the number of loads put up. I don’t recollect the number of loads now, but I feel satisfied that there was 100 bushels in the barn when the army came and took it all.

The bacon was not weighed, I estimate the quantity by the amount of pork put up, which was about 1,500 pounds besides the offal. The fodder was not weighed. It was in four stacks. I think all together would make 2,500 pounds. The cows I saw driven off. The peas were measured as they were gathered, allowing eight bushels in the hull. The heifer I saw driven off. The hogs I saw killed and carried off. The flour was not weighed. I judged it to be 75 pounds by the amount in the barrel. I know they took at least 30 chickens. The lard was in stands that had been weighed before. I know there was as much as 125 pounds taken. The saddle I saw carried off by the soldiers. The sweet potatoes were not measured. I supposed them to be 20 and one-half bushels.

The axe I saw carried off. The rails I saw them burning in the camps about the yard and plantation.

I know that my husband has not received any pay in part or in full for any part of the property charged in his claim or for any other property taken at any time by the United States Army. I am very certain that all the property charged in my husband’s claim was taken by the United States Army and that no part of it was taken by the rebels.”

Post Script – by Stephen Lee

Jane Harris (1829-after 1900) gave the deposition in Fayetteville, N.C., testifying in support of her husband’s petition to the Southern Claims Commission. Though she and almost everyone else called the village Owensville, officially it was Owenville, its’ postal designation till 1907. It withered and vanished after Roseboro sprang up in the 1880’s at the depot of a new railroad.

Jane was the daughter of Owen Owen (1790- 1876) and the former Jane Fowler (1797-1863). In 1857, she married Jesse Richardson Harris (1829-1898), who had moved to Owenville from Guilford County, N.C., possibly to drive a stagecoach. The 1850 census, however, listed him as a distiller (probably of turpentine), age 22, living in a bachelor household with Lewis F. Carr, 28, a lawyer; Pascal Harris, 18, a clerk; and Joshua Vinson, 20, a cooper.

In the Civil War, Jesse R. Harris carried mail for the Confederacy. “I done that to keep out of the war,” he testified in his deposition for the Southern Claims Commission. He also swore that he had not supported the rebellion.

In December1864, Jesse Harris fed Union soldiers who had escaped the prison at Salisbury and passed his way. The authorities arrested him and threatened him with conscription, but freed him after an hour. He took to hiding in the swamp along Little Coharie Creek when rebel soldiers were around.

He was hiding on the morning of March 16, 1865, when the Fourth Division of the Union’s 17th Army Corps and the corps headquarters camped for the night in the village, virtually surrounding the Owen/Harris home. Another division camped near Pleasant Union Baptist Church and another at what is now Autryville.

The Southern Claims Commission, c r e a t e d after the Civil War to settle accounts with Southerners loyal to the Union, seemed deeply skeptical of claimants. Fewer than one in three had their claims approved.

The commission curtly rejected the claim of Jesse R. Harris for $556.25 in a one-paragraph ruling that seemed to fault him for not fighting for the Confederacy: “Mr. Harris lived in Sampson Co., N.C., during the war. He fed Union prisoners the latter part of 1864 and for that was arrested and kept [in] custody about an hour. It shows well for his humanity if not for his loyalty to the Union. He says he was loyal – and probably that was his original feeling, and perhaps it lasted through the war. But he carried the mail for the Confederate Authorities during the war, and the object in so doing was to keep out of the Army. Claim rejected.”

Owenville survives as the unofficial name of the community in the area of the old village. Its residents can say truthfully that General Blair slept there, and his entire 17th Army Corps marched through on March 16 and 17, 1865.

They left behind long memories and a few legends. One is that Jane Harris, furious that a Union soldier kept teaching her children profanity after she asked him to stop, knocked him off her porch with a chair. The soldier is said to have fixed bayonet and started to lunge at her, but was restrained by his superior. Jane Harris did not mention such an incident, but it rings true.

(Sources: Southern Claims Commission cases 18504, 4466, and 17209 ; Sampson County Heritage, Hunter Publishing, Winston-Salem, N.C. (1983); Report of Major General Frank P. Blair, Jr., U. S. Army, commanding 17th Army Corps, of operations Jan. 2- March 24, 1865; “Ten Days of Hell,” by Jerome D. Tew, an article available online at http://files.usgwarchives. org/nc/cumberland/military/shermn01.txt.)