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Here Sherman's men are destroying railroads in Atalanta, but they practiced on Piney Woods Mississippi.

Here Sherman’s men are destroying railroads in Atalanta, but they practiced on Piney Woods Mississippi. Library of Congress. (LC-B811-3623A).

Many of the commemorations of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary rightly focus on battles and soldiers. But in the wake of the battles, it was often our ancestors’ families that were hurt.

Certainly that was the case for the Poore family and their neighbors when in February 1864 Major General William T. Sherman led 23,519 federal troops out of Vicksburg. The bluecoats struck eastward across the width of Mississippi toward the Piney Woods homeland of the Poore family.

The federals headed for the railroad town of Meridian, a major shipping point.

The Poore family was not in the direct path of the Yankee raiders. In late 1863, the family had moved a few

Sherman on horseback.

Sherman on horseback. Library of Congress. (LC-B811-3630A).

miles south of the route Sherman’s troops took. This move spared the family the worst of the destruction from Sherman’s raid. But they could not escape its effects.

Sherman waged hard war. Historian Margie Riddle Bearss observed that Sherman’s soldiers left Mississippi “more scourged and desolated than the area he covered in the March to the Sea” through Georgia a year later.

Each day, more than a thousand Yankees scoured the countryside looking for food. Where the blueclad soldiers passed a farm they broke into smokehouses, robbed the homes and then returned to their column loaded down with hams, shoulders, bacon, molasses other plunder.

Even if the Poore family didn’t see any of Sherman’s troopers, they probably couldn’t help but notice the columns of smoke rising from fires across the horizon to the north and east.

The Yankees burned nearly every house along their path as well as all cotton gins and public property. Sherman’s troops burned railroad trestles and warped rails into “Sherman neckties” over bonfires fed by crossties.

As night fell the Poore family and other farmers could have seen the foreboding glow from the fires on the horizon. Even if the Poore family escaped visits from Yankee foragers and kept their hams, bacon, chickens and other foodstuffs, Sherman’s raid surely made their lives harder.

The report Sherman filed after he returned to Vicksburg shows how seriously he wrecked the countryside. “We subsisted our army and animals chiefly on [Confederate] stores, brought away about 400 prisoners and full 5,000 Negroes, about 1,000 white refugees, about 3,000 animals (horses, mules, oxen), and any quantity of wagons and vehicles . . . ,” he wrote.

In his destructive path, Sherman left many of the Poore family’s neighbors homeless and hungry during a bitterly cold February. Women and children, whose sons, husbands and fathers were serving the Confederacy on distant battlefields, faced bleak days ahead.

Perhaps some of these neighbors and their slaves, at least those bondsmen who hadn’t fled to the federals, made their way to the fields and woodland of the Poore farm to escape danger or ask for help or a place on the ground to sleep.

Disorder and destruction didn’t always end when the Yankees left. Often slaves who couldn’t go off with the federals took advantage of the chaos created by a Union raid and the absence of white authorities. They looted farmsteads or paid back harsh masters by burning their houses or other buildings.

The state of affairs in the Piney Woods region became one of extreme disorder. The Poore family had to live on what it could produce in the coming growing season or on what it had been able to hide from the Yankee raiders.

Did your Civil War ancestor family have to fight its own battle for survival?

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