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In Their Own Words

November 15, 1865

Eyewitness Account of Yankee Destruction

From DeKalb County, Martha A. Quillin wrote a poignant letter to her cousin, Sarah Quillan in Illinois, of the damage done by Sherman’s forces on this day in 1864 to her neighbors. Even though her home was spared, her contempt for Yankees was not:

“… Heaven grant I may never pass another such day. Could you have looked in upon us but for a moment, you would have thought it impossible for life and reason to survive the torture to which mind and body were that day subjected. But that day had an end, and in safety we welcomed the much needed repose that night along brought us. But the act of dating my letter brings forcibly to my mind the fact that day one year ago was the most miserable of all my life. Sherman’s troops were then passing us on their way to Savannah.

“Their orders were positive to burn and destroy everything on their march, and well they executed this most christian order of his most christian majority. All day and all night one continual stream of wagons and guards poured by. As darkness came on the work of burning commenced, from Atlanta to Rockbridge, a distance of twenty miles, we in the center. On every side, as far as the eye could reach, the lurid flames of burning buildings lit up the heavens and dissipated the darkness of night. I could stand out on the verandah, and for two or three miles watch them as they came on. I could mark when they reached the residence of each and every friend on the road. I could see the first building fired, and then the torch carried round and round until I knew that everything on the premises was wraped in flames; then hear the wild shout they raised, as torch in hand, they started for the next house. The night was cold, but I never once left my post. With my sister and others I stood from dark until daylight, and watched their onward progress. Calmly I calculated the distance they travelled in a given time; how long it took to fire such a number of buildings, and ascertained almost to the very minute when the torch would be set to our own house. As the flames rolled on I could hear, or fancy that I heard, above the oaths, the yells, the eternal gab of the Yankee army, the screams of the frightened neighbors as the fire swallowed up the labors of a life time. Thus the night rolled on. The Academy, the Church [Indian Creek], in two or three hundred yards of us, were laid in ashes. The torch was several times brought to fire our house, but each time it was extinguished. The sitting room was Headquarters and full of officers who must not be disturbed. Consequently an order had been given to burn nothing on the place. I knew nothing of it. I looked abroad upon the smoldering ruins, the smoke almost suffocated me. I knew it was not long until daylight – but had no reason to hope that we would have a change of clothing, a mouthful of bread or a roof to shelter us. If it was sin may Heaven forgive me if I prayed that might never see the destruction, the deep distress, the morn would reveal to me.

“That, too, has all passed and lives only in memory; but no one, I hope, will ever expect me to love Yankees. They tell us the war has ended, and some cry lustily, peace peace. I have peered into the deep gloom that surrounds us and can scarce see a glimmer of that welcome visitant. The shadow of a great sorrow has darkened our land. He, who a short time since, was the pride of our Confederacy, the pure statesman, the christian gentleman, the accomplished scholar, our beloved President Jefferson Davis, now ekes out a miserable existence in a Yankee bastile. In proportion as his sufferings increase, our sympathy for him and hatred of his oppressors increase also. One thing in the past few weeks has cheered us a little and that is the return to his home of A. H. Stephens from his long confinement in a Yankee prison. he comes back to us with his head as white as the eternal snows of winter, and we hope, before a great while, to know all that he suffered while there… .

“We are not sorry for anything we have done down here, are not repenting, are not whipped or subjugated, or anything of that kind. True, we were with numbers overpowered, but we battled upon our own soil, and for that soil we contended for every principle of honor and justice, and for the most sacred rights – for the sanctity of home, for self government, for the truths of God’s word. The North fought for no principle and no right – her sole aim was to subjugate the South.

“… This is now the poorest country in the world, and we are homeless wanderers through the desert. We had nothing left us and nothing to buy with, so I send you a scrap of our dresses we have been making. The cotton grew here and every thread of it was manufactured in the family. I wove it myself. We call it Dixie silk.”

Source: Franklin M. Garrett, Atlanta and Its Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969 reprint of original 1954 volume), pp. 694-695.