Miss Mary Ann Buie, The Soldier’s Friend

Miss Mary Ann Buie was one of the North Carolina troops’ most tireless supporters.  She energetically solicited donations of cash, clothing, medicine, and other goods from local citizens and businesses for support of the state’s soldiers.  Most of her donations went to military hospitals in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, but at times she would send money directly to regiments.  She also provided in-person comfort to the troops, visiting hospitals, and nursing the sick and wounded soldiers.  Her fame spread throughout the South, and by 1863, she had become known as “the Soldier’s Friend.”

Miss Buie originally hailed from Richmond County, North Carolina.  Eight years before the War Between the States, she moved to Augusta, Georgia and worked as a schoolteacher.  She later taught school in Edgefield District, South Carolina.  She was living in Aiken when the war broke out.

Mary’s support for the Southern cause began immediately.  Early in the war, she bought uniforms for a local infantry company.  Not long after that, she began travelling throughout the Carolinas, lending assistance to hospitals and soldier relief agencies.  She became so well known to the conductors on the regional railroads that she was never charged fare to ride the trains.

Miss Buie began visiting Wilmington regularly in 1863.  She published frequent fundraising notices in the Wilmington Journal.  She organized several charity benefits, one of which was held at the Wilmington Theater in August 1863.[1]

Mary Ann also aggressively sought “delicacies” for the troops.  She was issued a government permit that allowed her to collect goods directly from the blockade runners when they came into port.  Miss Buie tended to be very critical of any ship’s captain who refused to donate to her cause.

One brave soul who stubbornly refused Miss Buie was W. G. Crenshaw of Richmond.  Crenshaw owned several blockade runners, but Buie was never allowed to procure goods from any of Crenshaw’s ships.  Miss Buie became quite vexed with Mr. Crenshaw and publicly wished for one of his ships to be lost.  Ominously, the next of Crenshaw’s ships bound for Wilmington, the Hebe, was destroyed as it tried to slip through the blockade.

After the loss of the Hebe, Miss Buie again approached Crenshaw, and he again refused to contribute to her cause.  Mary publicly beseeched God to destroy another of Crenshaw’s ships.  Not only did God answer Buie’s prayer when the next ship, Venus, was sunk running the blockade, but the next two Crenshaw ships were also lost.[2]

In a letter to the Wilmington Journal, printed on July 30, 1863, Miss Buie lamented the suffering of the soldiers in Charleston’s hospitals and their lack of “refreshments and delicacies.”  Some of the sick soldiers told Buie that they were not receiving any fresh fruits and vegetables.  She conjectured that Wilmington’s fine citizens were not sending goodies to the soldiers because of the high freight rates charged by the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad.  She suggested, in her letter, that the railroad not charge freight for shipments to the Charleston hospitals.[3]  As a testament to the Soldier’s Friend’s influence, the railroad announced on August 18 that it would transport, free of charge, “all vegetables, apples, provisions or other articles” for the brave soldiers in Charleston.[4]

A month later, Miss Buie sent a long letter to the Journal.  In this letter, she expressed thanks to the many donors that responded to her pleas for the ailing soldiers in Wilmington and Charleston.  Captain J. Wilkerson, master of the steamer Robert E. Lee, had donated several thousand dollars’ worth of coffee and tea to the military hospitals.  In addition, Miss Buie had sent $1,500 to Reverend Shaw and Captain Lippitt of the 51st North Carolina for the soldiers in Charleston.[5]  She later sent $250 to Colonel McKethan for the boys of the 51st Regiment.[6]

During June and July of 1864, the Soldier’s Friend made donations to six different hospitals.  The donations included almost 300 pounds of coffee, 200 pounds of sugar, 60 bottles of brandy, 120 yards of cloth, and many other items to improve the care and comfort of sick and wounded soldiers.[7]

Miss Buie lived lavishly during the war years.  People conjectured that she had inherited money from her father.  Rumors also circulated that she had made $5,000 speculating on cotton.  Whatever the source of her wealth, she gave generously to the cause from her own pocket.  By the end of the war, she was nearly broke.[8]

Although Mary Ann Buie was famous throughout the South for her generosity, she also had her share of detractors.  She was considered by some to be arrogant and ruthless.  She was reportedly a homely person, and she spent much of her time and money pursuing younger men.  The young men gladly accepted her generosity but refused her affections.  Regardless of her flaws, Miss Buie was revered by the soldiers and the hospital staffs that cared for them.  One correspondent to the Wilmington Journal called her the “Nightingale of the South” and proclaimed that her memory would last forever and “unborn generations will lisp her name with praise.”

After the war, Mary Ann Buie moved back to South Carolina and started a girls’ school.  The school failed after a time.  She attempted, unsuccessfully, to get funding for an orphan’s school, a preparatory school, and a women’s university.  Unfortunately, the Soldier’s Friend’s fame and influence had faded, and Buie could not get the financial support she needed for the schools.  She eventually became a music teacher and lived in her students’ homes.

Miss Buie died in Aiken, South Carolina in late October 1878.  She was buried in the St. John’s Methodist Church cemetery.  In 1900, the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a grave marker for Miss Buie with the following inscription:





In 1963, the church relocated the cemetery to make room for a new sanctuary.  Mary Ann’s remains were reinterred in a common grave.  Her marker was not buried with her.  Somehow, John A. May, the chairman of the South Carolina Confederate Centennial Commission, wound up with the marker.  When May died, an Aiken businessman purchased the marker at an estate sale.  Its current whereabouts are unknown.[9]

[1] “A Friend to the Soldiers Who Knows No Shadow of Turning,” Wilmington Journal 13 Aug. 1863.

[2] Leora H. McEachern and Isabel M. Williams, “Miss Buie, The Soldier’s Friend.”  Lower Cape Fear Historical Society Bulletin 18.  1 (Oct., 1974) 2.

[3] “Appeal for the Soldiers,” Wilmington Journal 30 Jul. 1863.

[4] “Contributions for Our Soldiers,” Wilmington Journal 19 Aug. 1863.

[5] Wilmington Journal 27 Aug. 1863.

[6] Fayetteville Observer 12 Oct. 1863.

[7] McEachern and Williams, 3.

[8] McEachern and Williams, 3.

[9] “Mary Ann Buie Marker,” The Legionary Nov. 2016:  6.

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