Carolyn Taylor (1833-1904), known as ‘Carrie’, was the daughter of Jonathan and Lydia Brown Taylor. I have no picture of Carrie Taylor, but hopefully someone will be able to share a picture of this remarkable woman. The letter she wrote of the Union army moving through Loudoun County burning mills, barns, and crops in late 1864 is an insightful and moving account about the controversial “Burning Raid.”
Carolyn’s father Jonathan Taylor (1797-1846) died at the age of 49. Lydia Brown Taylor (1804-1878), widowed at age 47, never remarried. Carolyn also had a sister, Susanna, who died in 1851 at age 26. Carolyn herself never married. The family is buried side by side in the Goose Creek Burial Grounds in Lincoln, their death dates on each simple headstone.
After Jonathan Taylor’s death, the family continued to farm on their property near Lincoln. Carrie’s “Burning Raid” letter mentions her siblings: Hannah is the older sister to whom the letter is addressed. Hannah was married to —- Stabler and lived in Maryland at the time this letter was sent to her. In relating events in the letter, Carrie mentions her sister ‘Alice’ (Lydia Alice) and brother ‘Will’ or ‘Wm’ as well as several of her uncles and neighbors.
In the 1860 Loudoun County census, Lydia Taylor is listed as the head of household with her occupation as ‘farmer.’ Her children at home are listed below her name, and also three ‘labour’ workers: Mary Humaner, Samuel Thomson, and James Fletcher. Samuel Thomson’s race is listed as Black, and James Fletcher listed as Mulatto.
The original Carolyn Taylor letter is in the Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. A transcription of Carrie Taylor’s handwritten letter is found below the scanned original.
Letter from Carrie Taylor to her sister, Hannah Stabler, written December 3, 1864
“Our Distressed Home 12th Mo. 3rd
My Dear Sister Hannah
We are beginning to realize more than ever before that we are in the land of rebeldom, we have passed through three of the most intensely exciting days, and are now waiting to see what is yet to come. We still have a roof over our heads, but we have been fearing every day we would not have much longer. Word came last third day evening that the Yankees were coming and were burning everything before them, we felt quite uneasy though could not believe the full extent of what they were doing, but the next morning we heard it again and directly saw the smoke rising all around us from our neighbors’ barns stockyards and corn fields it was too true they had come to burn up everything but the houses, and of course in a great many places they were in great danger. Uncle Bernard’s large barn was soon burned down, also Mrs Heaton’s, several haystacks in our neighbors fields, and then the smoke was pouring up all around showing what awful work was going on, we had the boys out watching all the time for their first appearance here, and, Alice and I went to work packing up, we felt sure the house would go if they burned the barn, it was hard to tell what to get first, but we packed up our clothes first ready to throw out, but they passed all around us that day and did not stop, we hoped they had gone, it was said they had gone onto to Washington, but we could not feel quite safe, and sure enough the next day, fifth day, about one o’clock, they came riding up to the house by the dozens, our feelings cannot be described, we went out to talk to them, they first wanted our horses, we begged them out of taking one we hid one besides our blind horse, and they rode away, others kept coming, one man took off our horse in spite of us, some more drove all of our cows and calves and sheep away, and told us the burning party would be along directly and our barn would go, a few minutes more and the smoke was rising from every shock of corn in the field, we soon spied a soldier riding around the barn taking a survey of it. We all went to him and began to beg him not to burn it, told him that an officer had just said they were not going to burn anymore, he said “I am an officer, and I have orders to burn.” William tried to beg him not to, but I think he felt so little faith in it doing any good he almost gave up, but Alice and I got around him, and begged as though we were begging for our lives, he asked to see it opened, he wanted to see what was in it. When the doors were opened and he saw the hay, he says “ladies it will have to go.” Those awful words gave us renewed energy and we plead and implored Alice with tears in her eyes, but I could not shed a tear, we told him the house would go to [sic] and I hardly know what we didn’t say, he looked very irresolute for sometime, looked as though he might have a heart, at last he says “I cannot burned [sic] it,” and rode slowly away from it, told his men to mount, and they all rode off, his men had been around the house and in the kitchen getting something to eat, and mother had to stay there to watch them, they took off William’s saddle, one he bought since the war commenced, but Oh we were so thankful they left the barn. The next day we had another fright, the Yankees were coming down the pike again and a strong wind was blowing directly from the barn to the house, and small force going down that were not doing mischief. Wm [William] was away from home at the time hunting his stock, but we had preparation made to leave the house, goods packed up, the parlor carpet loose ready to pull out, and were looking for them. They took from us 25 sheep, 4 cows and three calves, a horse, and I think nearly half of our field of corn was burned in the shock. The rest had been brought in, they took our oxen, all the butcher knife [sic] we have, the carriage whip & & & & and if they did leave the barn, we are broken up and as poor as poverty, but oh what destruction there is in the neighborhood, everything was burned up in Uncle B’s [Bernard] barn, wagon, all kinds of farming implements, sleighs, goods &, the house took fire and they carried most of the things out of it, but their girl stood up in the garret window threw water on the roof and put it out, they took all of his cows and cattle and sheep a colt his watch, and they were just stripped . Uncle Yardley’s barn is burned, also Richard Henry’s, Heath H Smiths, William Smith’s large barn, Tom Smith, Tom Browns, where Thomas Nichols lived, and nearly all of the barns in the part of the county, most all of the cattle and cows, and sheep driven off. A great many of the horses, a great quantity of the wheat , corn and hay burned. Asa Janney’s Mill is burned, also Watson’s the former had part of our wheat in it. Newlin Taylors mill is not burned yet, the union people have fared the worst, why that is so is yet to be explained. I have heard of sesech houses being burned by the fire from other buildings, none around here except Israel Janney’s.
Second day morning
This letter is so badly written. I am ashamed of it, but time is too scarce to write it over, and I might not do it any better, for the subject makes me so nervous I can hardly write, we have met with another loss since I commenced this, our good blind horse died seventh day night. Wm had been riding her for a day or two, and she died very suddenly, he thinks she had the colic, and now he has lost his last horse, poor man. I am so sorry for him, one little colt is all he has, one of our cows has just come home and William found another one yesterday, he has gone after it now, it is my cow, Alice’s pretty cow is gone, they have left hundreds of cows along the road towards the mountain, and people are picking the up and taking them off, and the rebels are claiming them. We have a few hogs and want to kill them tomorrow, but look for them to come after them next, as it is said they are not done with us yet (it makes me despise the rebels more than ever for they are the cause of it all, some weak minded people will perhaps be rather seceshy after this but all I can say is they never had any unionism about them.) I suppose it is Sheridan’s orders for them to do so, they were his men from Winchester, Alice says she would like to have a photograph of the man n his horse at our barn and she and I around him pleading, to send to you all, but I think our countenances would look rather distressed. Wm says ask Robert if there is an old blind horse about there that could be bought cheap. I do not feel like beginning business operations here again but if we go away we will be almost beggars, Uncle Henry’s barn is not burned. Uncle Aquilla’s is not, as it is so close to the house they left it, and Johan Hatchers is not. I believe he bought them off, and now I must stop, in a great hurry, how I wish I could see thee, Alice says she ha much to tell thee and would write some, but it too near crazy. Do write to us, Love to all, Sincerely thy Sister – Carrie Taylor”