Thursday, 19 October 2017 08:56

Confederate Gold in the Sandhills: Part I

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The term “Confederate gold” refers to hidden caches of gold lost after the American Civil War. Supposedly, millions of dollars of gold were lost or unaccounted for after the war.

Many historians and treasure hunters have researched old records or followed up on leads pertaining to the gold and where it might have been hidden or lost. Some has been found but most locations of the famed gold still remain a great mystery.

In 1864 and 1865, the Union Army was closing in on the Rebel troops in all directions. All-out war was declared on the southern states by the Union. The southern people were feeling the pinch from Union General Sherman’s 60,000-man army, along with their so-called “bummers” that ravaged southern cities, homes and farms.

As the war was winding down, shipments of southern gold were being moved from place to place to keep it out of the Yankees’ hands.

When southern folks learned General Sherman’s men were in their area, they would rush out and hide or bury what few treasures they might have. These often included a little gold, silverware or watches. In some cases, a lot of their treasure had already been donated to the southern cause.

A local story told in Richmond County discussing hidden treasure is about a family by the name of McKenzie. The McKenzie family was of good Scottish stock and lived in a two-story house, surrounded by their farm. The farm was located on a hill just south of the eastern fork of Cartledge Creek, not far from the present-day Highway 220.

When the McKenzie family learned that Sherman’s army had crossed the Pee Dee River, Mr. McKenzie hurriedly gathered up what little valuables the family had, put them in a canvas sack, and hid them in an inconspicuous hole under the creek bank. After leaving the creek, he returned from a different direction being careful not to be seen.

It wasn’t but a day or two later when Sherman’s bummers had fanned out over most of Richmond County. Even though Sherman had given an order for his troops to lighten up on North Carolina., his orders were strictly followed. Burning, looting and stealing were still on the minds of most Union soldiers, and they were good at it.

In fact, on a March day in 1865, five bummers were killed by the Richmond Home Guard for looting and stealing, and were buried on the Lassiter’s property west of Rockingham. It was ironic that Mr. Lassiter was at the time serving in the Confederate Army and when the war was over, he instructed his family to keep-up the five Union soldiers’’ graves, for they, too, were soldiers as he had been.

About the same day the five Yankee bummers were killed, four more showed up at the McKenzie farm. Mr. McKenzie was getting older and resisting the bummers might mean his death or even getting the family’s house burnt to the ground. The bummers gathered up the livestock which included horses, two pigs, a cow and several chickens. Looking for possible family treasure, the soldiers dug up several Confederate rose bushes which Mrs. McKenzie had planted around the house.

Then they proceeded into the house trying to find any of the family’s valuables. Not finding much, the bummers fell in on Mr. McKenzie asking about where the family’s valuables were hidden. By not saying a thing, Mr. McKenzie received some very rough physical treatment from the bummers. The only thing that saved his life was a Union soldier riding up and telling the bummers that a group of the local Home Guard was headed in their direction. The bummers mounted their horses and high-tailed back towards Rockingham to join the Union camp of Kilpatrick’s Calvary.

What little belongings and treasure the McKenzie’s had was safe for the time being. But that fall in, 1865, after the war was over, Mr. McKenzie succumbed to his beating from the Yankee bummers. He was buried alongside other members of his family in the old Scottish Cemetery which is located across the road from what is now Millstone 4-H Camp.

Around the end of March and the beginning of April 1865, Union General Grant’s Army was descending on Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. The Southern government’s gold and private bank holdings of gold and silver was hurriedly loaded and shipped by train and wagon to North Carolina to keep it out of Union hands.

Rumors and speculations aside, the truth is that the exact amount of gold and silver carried south by the fleeing Confederate government is not known. With all the destruction and disorder that accompanied the fall of the Confederacy, accurate records were never kept. Even when Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and his ragged band were finally captured in southern Georgia on May 10, 1865, they had only a few dollars in their possession. The fabled riches of the vast Confederate treasure were not to be found.

So, what happened to it? Did some leaders of the Confederacy steal it as some have alleged? Was it buried in some secret location? Was it seized by Union troops or did it suffer some other tragic fate?

In the next edition, I will talk about how a wagon, loaded with Confederate gold, may have made its way to what is now the little community of Windblow, in northeastern Richmond County.