In his book "Confederates In the Attic:Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War", Tony Horwitz recaps his meeting with a few of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Salisbury, North Carolina, members of The Rowan Rifles. He quotes one of the members, First Lt. Commander Ed Lewis as saying, "You know what they call North Carolina?....A vale of humility between two mountains of conceit." , referring to South Carolina's claim of first succession and Virginia's heady claims of Civil War nobility. It is an undisputed fact that North Carolina gave up more of her sons than any other state, resulting in more widows and orphans. One in four men in the Confederate army died during the course of the war, most of them leaving wives and children, or widowed mothers, aunts, unmarried sisters, who depended upon them for support, aid, gentrification and survival.
All during my research, I am never failed to be saddened, disturbed and amazed at the long-lasting effects of the War Between the States on my ancestors and their neighbors. My due is not to argue the cause, the course, the details or the necessity of the war, but the balance of the lives of those who went on to become our ancestors afterwards. In effect, the war was like the falling of an asteroid upon the South that would waylay the course of life for any and all for decades to come.
Stanly County, North Carolina, sent six companies to war, during this era, with many more of its sons and fathers joining companies in neighboring towns and counties. Joseph Melton, son of John Melton of Stanly County, who would settle mainly across the river in Montgomery County, but still just a ferry across from what is now considered Norwood, NC, was released due to his age, (52), after first enlisting in Stanly County, just to travel to Wake County, to re-enlist, where he was readily welcomed.
Unlike Mother Anson to the South, most of Stanly County's fighting farmers were yeomen farmers. They neither used forced labor to tend their crops before the war and saw no difference in the way they farmed and fed their families after the war. There were a few plantations along the rivers, and these men were particularly vocal and sided with their Anson neighbors to the South, but they were but a small minority.
In contrast, her sister to the east, Montgomery, most rural and hilly, Stanly's conjoined twin, separated so recently in 1841, just two decades prior to the war, was consider part of the Central North Carolina Quaker belt, who had active Unionist dissenters among their population.
In her story about the Hulin family and their neighbors, who lived near the Lovejoy community in Montgomery County, author and blogger of "The Renegade South", Victoria Bynum, quoted a descendant of the Unionist Hulin's, Thoburn Freeman.
"During the war, most social activities, even hunting, were interrupted and came to a halt, except for some of the older men and young boys. All were afraid of the bands of Rebels that roamed the countryside. The church at Lovejoy was Wesleyan at the time, and their ministers preached against slavery. One preacher, Adam Crooks, was arrested in the pulpit. . . . Since most of the people in the area were opposed to slavery and not in sympathy with the Southern Cause, many men chose to hide out and were called “Outlyers” by the Rebels."
Later, the Hulin brothers, the main subject of Ms. Bynam's essay, were imprisoned in a barn in Uwharrie, and later executed on Buck Mountain in 1865, months before the end of the war. The community of Uwharrie is precariously close to Stanly County and many Stanly citizens had family, or origins across the river and made their way or resided back and forth there freely, over the course of their lifespans.
The Aldridge family of the Tyson community in 19th century Stanly County, North Carolina, is one from whom I have two lines of descent. Caleb Aldridge was the father of two known sons, Henry Garner, the elder, and Josiah "Sy" Aldridge, the younger. I descend from both sons and both sons set off to battle in the Civil War. Josiah, the younger brother returned. Henry Garner (sometimes seen as Garner Henry) did not.
The fate of the families of both brothers after the war and during reconstruction is a typical study of the difference between families whom had a father and those who did not.
The ability to 'latch onto' a man for a widow, orphan or otherwise after the war, when the male population was deft of viable, healthy, marriageable male candidates, could spell survival or not for a women. That is why it was not unusual to see young teenaged girls 14 to 17, marrying old widowers or bachelors as old as their grandfathers.
The Aldridges were yeomen farmers both before and after the war. They owned land, but not slaves. Garner had enlisted as a substitute, and died along with massive others, of one of the many communicable diseases that plowed over the troupes, like a cyclone, as fatally as any wale of gunfire.
Whiles Josiah's descendants led visually normal lives, quietly marrying, working and bearing children. Garner's children, however, fared a bit differently.
Caleb Hampton, the oldest son, had been a soldier himself, and survived. He was married and the father of one son, George Gilliam, by his first wife Sophia Floyd Aldridge. When his wife died, he soon found another in the form of his wifes widowed sister Bettie. Bettie Floyd had married John Calloway McSwain, another Civil War casualty, and was the mother of a young daughter, Martha Ella McSwain. Together, Hamp and Bettie would raise a large family.
His elder sister, Martha, became the third wife of Miller Woodson Easley, 32 years her senior. His brother, Josiah Walker Aldridge, had died in 1855, prior to the outbreak of war. Two sisters, Emaline and Margaret Jane, also married into the Floyd family. His two surviving brothers, William Henry and John Adam, married first cousins, from the Murray side of the family. W. H. married Rebecca Murray Hudson, daughter of his uncle, Ben Murray, and a Civil War widow, herself. John Adam married Glennie Wilmartha Whitaker, daughter of his mother's sister, Sophia Murray Whitaker.
As the older children quickly married before, during or soon after the war, the younger children of Garner Aldridge were siphoned out to relatives around the community. Elizabeth Rosetta would go to live with her Aunt and Uncle, Sophia Murray Whitaker and husband Nelson. John Adam would go to live with Garner's brother, Josiah. The twins, Julia and Julina, went to live with the family of Benjamin Lindsey Whitley and Julia would die as a child.
Julina would have a daughter Mollie Eliza, by Ephraim Whitley, son of B.L. Whitley, and also a married man by the time of Mollie's birth. Her second child, Jesse Filmore Aldridge, was also the son of a Whitley, although it's not certain which one. It could have been Ephraim, too. On the Permanent Voter records, he only names his qualifying ancestor as B. L Whitley. On other documents, like his marriage licenses and death certificate, his stepfather, H. H. Davis is listed as his father, or either no father at all. On one of them, Hawk Davis's name is changed to "Hawk Aldridge". I've been finding on some documents of children born out of the bounds of marriage, the first names of the fathers given are accurate, but the surname is changed to match their own.
These children, and their parents, the Confederate orphans themselves, remained victims of the war. Young girls had to connect themselves to a male to survive, whether it was marrying a crippled old man, like Julina finally did when she married my great-great grandfather, H. H. Davis, or becoming the mistress of a married man like she did when she was younger.
Even her mother Priscilla, or "Prussia" must have been shocked to discover that she was with child, five years after her husbands death and into her mid- to-late 40's.
Women, left alone during the early 1860's, had a lot on their plate. Daily survival was made ever more difficult by loss of manpower, as well as the fear of invading marauders. Not only did they have to contend with the possibilities of Northern invaders, but there seemed to be no difference between the force of the Yankees and the southern marauders who looted and pillaged and "subscribed" food and supplies from local farms for the benefit of the troupes. Add to that, the scattered bands of deserters, stealing for survival, or the danger of the Home Guard, who were known on occasion to aggravate and even resort to torture, any female relatives of men suspected of deserting, or evading conscription.
In fact, survival at all seemed at times to be a miracle. Who could deny the desperation of the women who took to raiding county caches of grain and food stuffs intended for the armies? Or the recalcitrance and delinquency of fatherless and sometimes, also motherless, children left to their own wiles for survival and existence?
In James Marten's book, "The Children's Civil War", he reports "In some parts of the South, teenaged bandits terrorized county roads. Richmond authorities contended with gangs of 'incipient blackguards, " who vandalized house and public buildings, as well as bands of "very mischievous urchins,' who made a practice of robbing younger children. A number of preadolescents in Mobile were thrown in jail for gambling, which small 'motherless boys, of both colors' had been caught carrying matches, kindling and combustibles around town."
Later in the book, he quoted a war era expert on juvenile delinquency as blaming "the absence of fathers and brothers" on "unleashing a tide of disobedience and incipient crime" among the younger sons and brothers of soldiers on both sides.
The following expert comes from:
Shortages, Substitutes, and Salt:
Food during the Civil War in North Carolina
By Thomas Vincentncpedia.org
In the town of Salisbury in March 1863, a group of fifty to seventy-five women armed with axes and hatchets descended on the railroad depot and several stores looking for flour. The women thought that the railroad agent and the storekeepers were hoarding flour, hiding it to sell later at a higher price. When faced with the angry mob, the storekeepers gave “presents” of flour, molasses, and salt to the women. According to the newspaper Carolina Watchman, the agent at the railroad depot insisted he had no flour. The women broke into the depot, took ten barrels of flour, and left the agent “sitting on a log blowing like a March wind.”
Scenes like the above played out all over the state, increasing in the second and third years of the war as the the desperation grew, including in Albemarle, NC, when a group of wives and widows of Confederate soldiers from the southern and western parts of the county, marched into Albemarle demanding food and relief.
While researching the Aldridges and the long-lasting effects of the war that shaped the circumstances and behavior of the family for generations to come, I also came across information on related families, like the Floyds, McSwains and Simpsons, who were very connected to and intermarried with the Aldridges, whose experiences mirrored those of the children and widow of Garner.
In "Confederates in the Attic", Tony Horwitz interviewed a lady from Salisbury, North Carolina, who was a member of The Daughters of the Confederacy. "I told her about the journey I had just begun, and asked why she thought Southerners still cared about the Civil War. 'War Between the States', she gently corrected me. 'The answer is family. We grow up knowing whose once removed and six times down. Northerners say "Forget the War. It's Over". But they don't have the family Bibles we do, filled with all these kinfolk who went off to war and died. We've lost so much.""
North Carolina supposedly sent 127,000 men into battle and of those 40,000 died. That's nearly one third. If that meant one third of the wives, children, widowed mothers, spinster aunts and unmarried sisters were left without rights of ownership or means of support, what measure of urgency and terror they must have felt.
Do not condemn them or be embarrassed by their actions. They survived, these great, great grandmothers of ours, so that we may exist. They worked the land, no longer acted like ladies or Southern Belles, because their worlds had been turned upside down. They did what they had to do, to survive.