Monday, January 3, 2011

Margaret Plyler Torry

(Charlotte) Daily Bulletin, March 2, 1865.
Found at

On April 11, 1865, the Charlotte Western Democrat ran two stories, which had previously been published in the Raleigh Progress and Raleigh Daily Conservative, concerning a female soldier. 

The Raleigh Progress stated that
A young soldier was arrested here yesterday on suspicion of being a female, and she admitted she was. She gave her name as Margaret Plyde, and says she is from Union County, in this state, and has been nine months in the army. We learn she was sent to a hospital for further examination.
The Daily Conservative story, the much more detailed of the two, reported that
Mrs. Margaret Torry, alias Charley Mills, of Company D, Jeff Davis Legion, Butler's Cavalry Division, came to this city on Wednesday last as one of the guard to some of the prisoners sent up. She is 20 years of age, has good features, bronzed skin, dark eyes and short hair. She states that ten months ago she married, and one month thereafter she joined the company of her husband, and has been on duty since that time, has been in all the fights, was never sick or absent from duty. Her husband was killed in the battle of Bentonsville [sic] and having no longer any inducement to remain in the army, she now made known her sex and wished to return to her home in Union County, N.C. Her maiden name was Plyler. She is a native of Lancaster, S.C.
A Margaret Plyler, born in South Carolina, is documented on the 1860 Union County, NC census. Born in 1846, she was living at the time in the household of her mother Rachel in the town of Walkersville. There is no marriage record, however for a woman by that name in 1862-1864 in Union County.

The newspaper stories did not give the name of her husband, only that her married name was Torry, and that her husband would have thus been a member of Company D, Jeff Davis Legion Cavalry, who was killed at Bentonville. Only one man by the name of Torry served in that unit. Private Richard S. Torry enlisted at age 19 in Montgomery, Alabama on August 10, 1861 in Stone's Company of Alabama volunteers, which subsequently became Company D, Jeff Davis Legion in the fall of 1861. He served without incident until March-April 1864, when his records note that he was on detached duty "as a scout." He had returned to duty in September 1864. There are no further extant muster rolls for the unit, and therefore there remains nothing to necessarily prove he was killed in action at Bentonville, however he never appeared on subsequent censuses.

No one named Charley Mills (her alias) is documented on any of the surviving company or regimental muster rolls from late 1864. Consequently that part of the story is either wrong on behalf of the newspaper or an error of identification.

However, another piece of evidence that supports her story appeared in the Fayetteville Observer on March 19, 1927. Governor Angus W. McLean offered a reminiscence passed on by his late father, a former artilleryman in Company B, 13th North Carolina Light Artillery Battalion, concerning the Battle of Bentonville. The elder McLean recalled that during the fighting:
We were intently watching our cavalry about 200 or 300 yards distant in an open pine forest in our front skirmishing on the brow of a small ridge when someone exclaimed, 'Hello, there's some one killed." Quickly a comrade was seen spurring to his side, and with some assistance, although under a continuous fire from sharpshooters, succeeded in raising his bleeding form across the front of his saddle, and with the most profound resoluteness rode by us to the rear, with his body dangling on either side of the horse's shoulders. Imagine our surprise when, a few days later, we heard that our faithful warrior was a woman, and none other than the wife of him whose remains she had so heroically borne from the field, having volunteered, it was said, disguised as a man, in an Alabama regiment at the beginning of the second year of the war. She had shared with her husband all of the privations and dangers incidental to a soldier's life for three years. Faithful to the end to the cause which required her husband's services, and even after death, to him from whom she would not be separated, not even by the horrors of warfare. She went to the proper authorities, made known her disguise, and was honorably discharged from military service."
McLean's battery was in a position to watch such skirmishing about mid-day on March 20, as Col. Robert Catterson's brigade of the Union XV Corps advanced on Confederate positions near the Flowers House. In fact, the volley that killed Margaret's husband likely was fired by the 100th Indiana Infantry. Sergeant Theodore Upson of the 100th Indiana recalled the moment that the "Johnny Cavelry [sic] came dashing into our rear." The Confederate horsemen almost captured several Union generals who were following the advance, but Upson's unit commander "faced the regiment towards them and the men fired a volley into them that scattered them." 

Despite the obvious contradictions concerning Margaret's length of service in McLean's account versus the Daily Conservative story, it seems certain that both stories are describing the same individual: Margaret Plyler Torry, Confederate cavalry trooper.

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