Reading Matters

Sherman’s army in Durham in 1865: ‘The men came in waves’

Entrance to Fairntosh Plantation
Entrance to Fairntosh Plantation

In a new book from Harvard University Press, “A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland,” Duke professor emeritus of history Sydney Nathans includes a vivid account of the foraging by Sherman’s army of the Fairntosh Plantation, near Durham, in April, 1865, before the provisional surrender on April 18:

“The men came in waves, ten and twenty at a time. Each gang of soldiers broke ‘open locks of trunks & doors rifling them of whatever they please,’ reported (Paul) Cameron’s daughter Rebecca. ‘Some of them are drunk & they go from top to bottom of this house & have repeatedly threatened to burn it.’

“Rebecca Cameron Anderson, whose husband had died in battle the year before, asked one of the servants to hide a valise containing letters from her late husband. It was to no avail. The foragers raided the cabins of black workers as well as the big house, took the clothing, ransacked the suitcase, and burned the letters. The soldiers axed open the locked door to the meat house, confiscated the hams stored there, shared some with the freed people, and left with all the wagons, carts, and mules of the place. Only when the Cameron ladies appealed to the Union general in charge of maintaining order during the armistice did they get a guard – for one day – and relief from the foragers’ ‘depredations & indignities.’ ”