The morning of Saturday, April 15, 1865, brought rain and a sense of despondency to prominent white citizens of Louisburg. They knew that William Tecumseh Sherman's army had defeated the forces of Joseph Eggleston Johnston at Bentonville and now occupied Raleigh. It was only a matter of time, they thought, before the Yankees would come to their town. Mayor William H. Pleasants, writing as authorized by the town commissioners, hastily penned a letter to Sherman. "I hereby formally surrender this place to the Authorities of the U States," he wrote, "and in behalf of our citizens, desire and request that you will be pleased to send us a guard under a proper officer to be stationed here, so as to preserve order and afford us that protection, which under existing circumstances we feel authorized to claim under the Constitution and laws of the United States."
Jones Fuller and Dr. Ellis Malone, both of whom lived in impressive two-story homes recently constructed on Main Street and the road running north of the town's original boundaries, accepted the dangerous task of carrying the note to General Sherman. They departed that morning and arrived in Raleigh later in the day. According to local legend, Sherman's initial response to the letter was abrupt: "Louisburg-hell-what and where is it?" Hopeful that General Johnston's army, which had retreated to Orange County, would soon surrender, the Union officer verbally assured the emissaries that they would be protected. In his formal reply to Mayor Pleasants, Sherman said that he had no plans to send troops to Louisburg and could not protect the town, given the threat of attack by Confederate cavalry commanded by Wade Hampton. He assured the mayor, however, that peace was at hand and that he would work with Governor Zebulon Baird Vance in maintaining order. Fuller and Malone returned to Louisburg the following day-Easter Sunday.
Neither they nor General Sherman knew that President Abraham Lincoln had been shot on Good Friday and died the next day. When Sherman learned of this news, he became concerned that rank-and-file soldiers in his army would react badly to it, placing Raleigh in danger. He maintained order, however, and when General Johnston surrendered near Durham's Station on April 26, Sherman turned his attention to moving most of his Army of the Tennessee-the 14th, 15th, 17th, and 20th Corps-to Washington, D.C.
Troops began the march on April 28. The paths they chose ran through Franklin County. Some soldiers marched west and east of Louisburg. A former slave, Mary Anderson, later recalled the scene when the Blue Coats reached the plantation of her master, Sam Brodie, located just off of Ferrell's Bridge Road, near Mapleville: "The mounted men dismounted. The footmen stacked their shining guns and began to build fires and cook. They called the slaves, saying, 'you are free.' Slaves were whooping and laughing and acting like they were crazy."
Although some troops arrived earlier, thousands of Union troops Commanded by Generals Oliver Otis Howard and John Alexander Logan entered Louisburg on May 1. They pitched their tents in the groves of Louisburg Female College and Louisburg Male Academy, as well as on the property of Dr. Richard Noble. Troops continued to pour into town the next day, marching northward to Warren County and beyond. Then, it was over, as only a few troops remained in town to maintain order.
Anna Long Fuller, wife of Jones Fuller, recorded in a diary her observations and fears during this momentous event. On Saturday, May 9, Mrs. Myrtle King, who in 1999 published Mrs. Fuller's diary, will give a reading from the journal while sitting on the front porch of the home in which it was written. The reading, which is sponsored by the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College, is part of the first "Second Saturday" walking tour of the Louisburg Historic District. Those wishing to take the tour and attend the reading should meet at 10 a.m. at the Franklin Male Academy building on the campus of Louisburg College. After a brief tour of the building, attendees will make their way to a Civil War Trails marker commemorating the events of April-May 1865 and then to the Fuller-Malone-Parham House to hear Mrs. King.
For more information, contact Maury York at (919) 497-3252.
Published in The Franklin Times on April 30, 2015.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wishes to acknowledge his use of information and quotations in the book edited by Wilson Angley, Jerry L. Cross, and Michael Hill, Sherman's March through North Carolina: A Chronology (Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1995).