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Marie Boozer: A Southern Belle's Civil War Tale
Tintype of Mary 'Marie' Boozer
The Southern Belle Marie Boozer's Civil War Life in Columbia, S.C.
South Carolina's Southern Belle, Mary 'Marie' Boozer's involvement in the American Civil War and in particular a period in what's known as "Sherman's March", is largely unknown outside of buffs and historians. This spirited and extraordinarily beautiful young lass, was for a time the mistress of General Tecumseh Sherman's cavalry commander on the campaign.
Outside of her life in South Carolina and the subsequent battle often referred to in history books as "Kilpatrick's Shirt-tail Skedaddle", the documentation seems scarce. However, what is known would not be out of place in the playbook of that fictional Belle from Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara herself. And with that said, we now begin her tale.
Daily the warnings were coming in. The horrible war had only a few months left to go and, the "Vandal" Yankee hordes, which consisted of 60,000 battle-hardened men intent on capturing the capitol of South Carolina and thereby the first state government to secede from the Union, was close by. Surprisingly, life for some in the city continued on as if nothing were amiss or out of order.
This was embodied best by the horse-carriage known as the "Beauty Box", seen constantly on the streets and belonging to Columbia's queen Belle, nineteen-year-old Marie Boozer. Marie's beautiful mother, Amelia, married four times and currently estranged from her fourth husband, was thought to carry pro-unionist sympathies, but this didn't stop the admiring glances directed the ladies' way whenever they were out and about.
With gorgeous wheat-colored hair, rosy cheeks, large lustrous hazel eyes, and always delectably attired, Marie was considered the Venus supremo of South Carolina. To qoute one aged but handsome and venerable gentleman, the reigning local expert on the subject of womanly charms, "Marie Boozer was the most beautiful piece of flesh and blood my eyes ever beheld."
Although generally thought of as a good girl, there had been disturbing reports of her seen walking with Federal officers on parole from the city's jail. She was also suspected of frolicking with one of them in her home with the curtains closed. This was most shocking and inappropriate behavior for a well-bred lady of her day and time in the South, the North, Great Britain, and far too many countries to list here, but certainly none so much as the antebellum South.
The Capital In Ruins
Columbia Captured and Burned
The commanding general in Columbia, the fiery and talented Wade Hampton, spoke of defending the state's capital city to the last extremity. In reality, though, he had his hands completely tied by the small number of rebel cavalry troopers available to defend the place against the four invading corps of Sherman's army.
Nevertheless, Hampton stubbornly refused to allow the mayor to surrender the city on the morning of February 17th, 1865, when Federal shells began to fall and the massed ranks of weary but excited soldiers appeared on the Congaree riverside. But inevitably, as Hampton rode his stalwart men out at the last moment, the Unionists - like "a line of blue pouring steadily across a river" marched right in.
The capital of the first state to secede had fallen. Capitulation had been a foregone conclusion the moment Sherman sent his divisions' marching northward from Savannah, against negligible resistance, intent on taking the city despite a rebel cavalry stand at the Salkehatchie River. Sherman then split his army to feint westwards towards Augusta and eastwards towards Charleston to throw the rebels off any attempt to mass infantry in his front.
At this point, though unknown to Sherman, there were very few rebel infantry in the state to even try and do this with.( Charleston's garrison was on its way to N.C. to combine with other brave but meager forces converging there.) With the feints apparently successful, the Caesar-like Union commander pushed his dispersed corps forward in an all-out march on Columbia.
When it was all over three days later, nearly 1,400 homes, businesses, and government buildings lay in smoldering ruins. Later, after the war, Sherman and Hampton would argue over who was responsible for starting the conflagration.
Regardless, a good deal of Columbia had been all but obliterated.
The Ride North
Marie and her mother were one of around fifty families that went north with the Federal army, riding near the front of the civilian column in a stylish black carriage. The flirtations paid to them by the dashing union riders, eventually made it into the admiring prose of a South Carolina newspaper:
"Officers before the carriage, officers behind and at each window, were in one continual struggle to be near her, to catch the sound of her voice or even a fleeting smile." Their efforts were in vain, however, as Marie had become the special charge of cavalry commander General Judson Kilpatrick, who pushed aside all comers, while her mother Amelia looked on with silent approval.
The passage of Marie Boozer was noted in the town of Lancaster, S.C., as Kilpatrick made his headquarters in the home of a Mrs. Brown and daughters. One of them wrote that the officers had female company in their private quarters, "General Kilpatrick (disparagingly called "Kill-cavalry" by his own men), occupied a front room in the second story; a woman, handsome and tall, who wore fine clothes, occupied a room opposite his...."
.Another recorded later, "A very insignificant-looking man. He was small, with ugly reddish-looking hair...and a most irritable disposition...He always paid court to the woman who came with him...." Marie and the general must have been busy for she was only spotted once and that was in the sitting area. The stay lasted a week and Mrs. Brown was outraged at the taking of her blankets and carriage, where Kilpatrick bundled and placed his precious Marie.
It should also be noted at this time that apparently the General had more women traveling with him than just Marie. Perhaps we could call her the Queen, with a few mixed-race handmaidens along for the ride, a-waiting their turn for King Kilpatrick's embracing attentions.
After the week had passed, and the river's waters receded enough to pass, there came the rebels close on the heels of the departing carriage Marie and the general were in. Hampton's riders galloped into Lancaster, driving the Union cavalry rear guard before him, dispersing the bluecoats before they could torch the town.
For the first time since he'd left a burning Atlanta, the Confederate generals, though still uncertain of exactly where Sherman was headed, were beginning to concentrate their available forces in strength at Smithfield, N.C.; and from here on out, things would not always go "Old Crump" Sherman's way.
Hampton's cavalry attack at Monroe's Crossroads
Kilpatrick's Shirt-Tail Skedaddle
Once in North Carolina, Little Kil's troopers began to skirmish with the Charleston garrison's rear guard. The 5,400 man garrison was to even fight a savage battle at Averasboro on March the 16th to try and slow down Sherman's army for a bigger battle shortly to come.
Gen. Hardee's Charleston men then proceeded eastwards to join up with General Robert Hoke's excellent veteran division of Carolinians and Georgians, who again, and for the last time, was reluctantly sent back again to NC in Dec. of 1864 by Robert E. Lee from his hungry and besieged army around Petersburg and Richmond. In addition to these groups of soldiers, half of the remnants of the Army of Tennessee from the western front, were slowly trickling into the two Carolinas over the disrupted and often different gauged train tracks, in an effort - that was only partially successful - to unite with their eastern comrades in North Carolina.
Soon enough, this 20,000 man and boy cobbled together force, would ambush and confront the invaders near Bentonville, N.C. But once again, with a blunder-headed field order by Gen. Braxton Bragg ( who wasn't even on the scene) to Hoke and his division on the first day's surprise offensive, along with Sherman's eventual three-to-one advantage in soldiers and cannon, found the sanguinary three day contest proving decisive. The federalist army held the battlefield in victory, and, with the never to be lost again tactical and strategic intuitive.
General Joseph Johnston was left no choice but to pull back his out-numbered warriors and retreat in the direction of Raleigh after the four union corps combined and General Mower's powerful and aggressive Union division broke one of his thinly-manned flanks on the third day.
A week or so before that desperate struggle began, General Hampton learned the Union cavalry brigades were separated, and began to plan an attack on Kilpatrick's encampment near Monroe's Crossroads. (The site is now within a restricted area about Fort Bragg, prearranged visits only.) The Rebel leader had a primary objective of capturing Kilpatrick and dispersing his troopers that very nearly succeeded.
A chilly dawn arose that late winter's day of March the 10th, 1865. Fog covered the Federal camp and through the mist the first signs of activity could be seen. In front of the headquarters house where Little Kil and Marie slept, a Northern bugler prepared to sound reveille, but, at that same instant, the Johnnies own powerful-lunged bugler sounded the charge over the noise of a chilling rebel yell.
On hearing his foes familiar call of battle, Kilpatrick hopped from a featherbed and ran outside in his floppy nightshirt, leaving a frightened Marie behind. A Southern troop of horsemen then raced into camp, slashing and firing as they came. "It was the most formidable cavalry charge I ever saw," Kilpatrick was to later write in his memoirs, and Kilpatrick had seen many a daring cavalry charge in those war years.
A band of riders galloped up wearing dusty blue uniforms, "Where's General Kilpatrick's quarters?" they demanded. Little Kil recognized their ruse and replied and pointed, "Down the road about half a mile." One Southern officer riding by soon after caught a glimpse of Kilpatrick as he made a dash for a nearby swamp to hide in, "...a sorry-looking figure in shirt and drawers." Hence, the reason one of the names the battle came to be called was Kilpatrick's Shirt-tail Skedaddle.
Captain Pegues of the third Alabama cavalry regiment, one of the first to reach Marie's quarters through the swirl of combat, was surprised to see "a beautiful young Irishwoman, in scanty nightdress", who leaned out a window and asked him for help. "Get back!" Pegues shouted, "our people won't hurt you."
Marie went back into the room for a moment, but when minie balls and bullets started raining down on the roof with a terrifying clatter, she burst through the front door "in wild alarm" and ran towards her carriage intending to drive away, but stopped short when she realized there was no longer any horses to pull the stylish carriage with.
A gray-clad officer named Wells, then led her from the porch amid heavy firing and swiftly placed her in a ditch, where she crouched during the battle. Marie raised her head now and then to watch, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt, Wells thought, "...that female curiosity is stronger even than love of life." The General and his main paramour survived the battle and continued on their way.
What Became of Marie?
The Belle left Little Kil's embraces at Fayetteville, N.C., and boarded a small steamer ship going north. As she said good-bye to the Yankee army, Marie was on the verge of a remarkable and romantic life. She wound up marrying a rich Northerner, and after a melodramatic divorce case, traveled to Europe and supposedly wed a French count, reigning as a queen of international society.
The tragic end of her life is murky. One legend has her becoming the mistress of a Japanese prime minister, who eventually had her decapitated for some unknown indiscretion. Another story claims Marie was the concubine of a Chinese warlord, who had her Achilles Heels slit to prevent any escape, and then preceded to fatten the hobbled Marie with Sino-sweetmeats; all with the intention of turning her into his personal four hundred pound love doll.
There's even a legend that her body was brought back and buried in an unmarked church grave in Rock Hill, South Carolina, at some point after her passing. In any event, there can be no doubt that many of her fellow Southerners from those war years, would have considered any of these fates divine retribution from the good Lord above. Sadly for Marie, a thing of beauty wasn't a joy forever..*
*A recent post by a gentleman named Tom, avers that he has researched Marie's life for years and according to his info, Marie and her mother first went to New York where Marie married a businessman. Due to her husband's infidelity, Marie divorced him and moved to France where she eventually married an important diplomat. She then passed away in Italy in 1908. So perhaps Marie's supposed fate at the hands of the minister or warlord was just wishful hearsay on the part of the people she left behind in the old Palmetto State after all.
For more Southern and European history stories by Alastar Packer and some gracious guest writers, just google...ONCE UPON A HISTORY WEEBLY