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Posts Tagged ‘phebe crook’

Note from Moderator: Phebe Crook belonged to the same North Carolina community of Unionist women that I’ve been researching and writing about for 25 years as did Martha Sheets and Caroline, Sarah, and Clarinda Hulin.  Thanks to exhaustive research by historians in local, state, and federal records, we now know that women were active participants in the American Civil War. Particularly in southern regions that displayed strong Unionist sentiment, ordinary farm women like Phebe engaged in inner civil wars that centered around protesting Confederate policies that claimed the lives of their fathers, sons, and husbands, and which threatened them with impoverishment and even starvation.


Phebe Crook and the Inner Civil War in North Carolina

By Vikki Bynum


On September 15, 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, a young unmarried woman of the Randolph/Montgomery County area of North Carolina, wrote an unusually detailed and articulate letter of protest to Governor Zebulon Vance. Phebe Crook began her letter with a polite salutation:

Mr. Vance, Dear Sir,  I imbrace this opertunity of writing you a few lines in order to inform you of the conduct of our oficers and leading men of this county as you are appointed govenor of the state and [because] I Beleave that you are willing to Do all that you can in trying to protect the civil laws and writs of our county.

Then Phebe got down to business, providing the governor with her eye-witness account of Confederate militia sent to her community to enforce conscript laws and arrest deserters:

Whearas I believe you are a Man of high feelings and one that is willing to Do your duty in every respect, I will now inform you of some of the conduct of our Militia officers and Magistrats of this county. Thir imployment is hunting Deserters, they say, and the way they Manage to find them is taking up poore old grey headed fathers who has fought in the old War.

Seizing fathers and grandfathers was one means by which Confederate soldiers sought to learn the whereabouts of men who evaded or deserted Confederate service. But according to Phebe,

Some of them [men who evaded service] has done thir Duty in trying to support both the army and thir family, [but] these men [home guard and militia] that has remained at home ever since the War commenced are taking them up and keeping them under gard without a mouthful to eat for severl days.

Militia and home guard also tortured deserters’ wives, claimed Phebe, by

taking up the women and keeping them under gard and Boxing thir jaws and nocking them about as if they were bruts and keeping them from thir little children that they hav almost wore our thir lifes in trying to make surport for them. And some of thes women is in no fix to leav homes and others have little suckling infants not more than 2 months old.

Nor were children exempt from torture. According to Phebe, Confederate militia were

taking up little children and Hanging them until they turn black in the face trying to make them tell whear thir fathers is When the little children knows nothing atall about thir fathers. Thir plea is they hav orders from the Govenner to do this and they also say that they hav orders from the govner to Burn up thir Barns and houses.

It seemed to Phebe that the mission of the Confederacy was to

Destroy all that [families] hav got to live on Because they hav a poor wore out son or husband that has served in the army, some of them for 2 or 3 years and is almost wore out and starved to Death and has come home to try to take a little rest. [Deserters are] Doing no body any harm and are eating thir own Rations, [whereas the home guard] has Remained at home ever since the Ware commenced, [and] take thir guns and go in the woods and shoot them down without Halting them as if they war Bruts or murderers.  [They] also pilfer and plunder and steal on thir creadits.

Phebe Crook ended her letter by asserting her own credentials:

As for my self, I am a young Lady that has Neither Husband nor father no Brother in the woods, But I always like to [see] peple hav jestis and I think if thes Most powerfull fighting men that has always remained at home would go out and fight the enemy and let thes poore wor out soldiers Remain at [home] a little while and take a little rest that we would have Better times. But they [Confederate militia and home guard] say that if they are called they will Lie in the Woods until they Rot Before they will go to the war. And now why should thes men have the power to punish men for a crime [when] they would Be guilty of the same?

Although she began and ended her letter with a tone of politeness, Phebe now demanded that Governor Vance respond to her description of the desperate situation faced by the ordinary war-weary people of the North Carolina Piedmont:

So I will close By requesting you to answer this note if you pleas, and answer it imediately.

Yours Truly,

Phebe Crook

Direct to Phebe Crook, Salem Church, Randolph County, N.C.

NOTE: If there are descendants or kinfolk of Phebe Crook among readers of Renegade South, I would love to hear from you. I have not been able to trace Phebe’s whereabouts after the war. I do know that she was the daughter of William and Rachel Crook and the sister of Clarinda Crook Hulin. After the war, Clarinda and her husband, Nelson Hulin, moved to Kentucky.

Vikki Bynum

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Unionist communities existed throughout the Confederate South during the Civil War. “The Free State of Jones” is an exciting story with its own unique characteristics, but it was only one of many inner civil wars between Unionists and Confederates across the South. 

The following excerpt from “Occupied At Home: Women Confront Confederate Forces in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt,” chapter two of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, features the Hulin family of Montgomery County, NC. The Hulins were among the best known Wesleyan Methodist Unionists of the North Carolina Piedmont, which, significantly, was the birthplace of many ancestors of the Free State of Jones uprising.  

Because Unionist women in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt abetted men’s avoidance of Confederate service, many Confederate supporters viewed torture and deprivation of deserters’ wives as the product of simple necessity. Torturing the wife of guerrilla leader Bill Owens, after all, had resulted in his capture and imprisonment. In some counties, pro-secessionist millers also denied deserters’ wives government grain even though there was no official Confederate policy to that effect.

Women who sheltered male kin in the nearby woods eagerly told their side of the story. In separate letters to Governor Vance, Phebe Crook and Clarinda Crook Hulin, daughters of a Montgomery County Methodist schoolteacher and kin to numerous deserters, blasted their Confederate occupiers. Clarinda, who had three “outlier” brothers-in-law (she did not mention this in her letter), implored Governor Vance to consider the plight of farm women. “I hav three little children to werk for and I have werk[ed] for ever thing that I have to eat and ware,” she wrote. But military men sent to the region to restore order were “destroying every thing they can lay hans up on.” Troops had taken her “last hog,” and poured her molasses all over her floor. “It ant only Me they air takeing from . . . ,” she added, “they take the women’[s] horses out of the plows,” she explained, for their own use.

Ten more months of armed warfare between militia and deserters brought a more detailed letter from Clarinda’s sister, Phebe. As a single woman, Phebe Crook could not anchor her protest in the time-honored trope of the soldier’s wife or mother. She seemed eager, however, to describe herself as “a young lady that has Neather Husband, son, father, no[r] Brother in the woods” (although she did have male kin hiding in the woods). Invoking the moral authority of republicanism rather than motherhood, Crook informed Governor Vance of the “true” conditions of her community. Calling on him to “protect the civil laws and writs of our country,” she denounced the militia and magistrates of her county for arresting “poore old grey-headed fathers who has fought in the old War and has done thir duty . . . .”

Enraged by home guard who, Crook insisted, had no intention themselves of fighting in the war, she condemned their physical abuse of women and children and their burning of barns, houses, and crops, all done in the name of fulfilling the governor’s directive to force deserters in from the woods. Following such orders was merely an excuse, she wrote, for pro-Confederate men to “take their guns and go out in the woods and shoot them down Without Halting them as if they war Bruts or Murder[er]s.” Once again, Crook emphasized rights of citizenship rather than victimhood by assuring the governor that her motive for writing was that “I always like to [see] people hav jestis.”

Despite the sisters’ separate appeals to Governor Vance, they could not prevent the killing of their three brothers-in-law on January 28, 1865. Jesse, John, and William Hulin were executed along with James Atkins, who had been identified as a draft evader by Sheriff Aaron Sanders during the previous fall court term. Both the Crooks and Hulin families belonged to the county’s network of Wesleyan Methodist families who opposed slavery and refused to fight for the Confederacy.

NOTE: In addition to Long Shadow of the Civil War, this essay will appear in the anthology, Occupied Women, edited by LeeAnn Whites and Alecia Long, forthcoming from LSU Press. Readers who would like to know more about the Unionist Hulin family of Montgomery County, NC, should consult my 1992 book Unruly Women.

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