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Chapter 13:

  • Return of the Vanquished.
  • -- Poverty of the Confederates

The return of our soldiers after the surrender, in their worn and ragged gray, as they tramped home by twos, threes, and sometimes in little squads of half a dozen or more, was pitiable in the extreme.

Some were entirely without shoes or hats; others had only an apology for shoes and hats. They were coming home with nothing; and we could almost say, coming home to nothing; for many verily found, when they reached the spot that had been to them a happy home, nothing save a heaped — up mass of ruins left to them. Often as I sit in the twilight and drift back into the past, it is not easy to restrain tears, as memory views those soldiers in their worn gray, marching home, sad and depressed, with the cause they had so warmly espoused, lost.

Though not coming rejoicing, as did the Athenians and Spartans from the battle of Plataea, they were just as dear to [165] the hearts of their kindred at their ruined homes, as if they had come marching in triumph, with olive — wreaths encircling their brows.

Need there be wonder if, for a few weeks, it seemed as though we were petrified,scarcely knowing which way to turn, to restore order out of such chaos! Another day of fasting and prayer was called in our adversity that our spirits might be tempered to bear the result. But our thoughts soon turned resolutely from the gloomy picture, the more readily when we remembered how the South had met emergencies during the war, until she was so environed and crippled by opposing forces that she had to yield. The same energy, perseverance, and economy, with the help of an overruling Providence, would yet make the South smile with peace and plenty.

Our returned soldiers lost no time in making themselves useful in every sphere of honorable work that then opened. Many of those who returned in April planted corn and cotton, late as it was, and made fair crops of both. There was great bother for awhile as to plow stock, for most of [166] our valuable animals had been carried off by the invading army.

Three brothers whom I knew, natives of Georgia, owned not one foot of land nor an animal of any kind, when the war closed. They reached home among the first of our returning soldiers. They rented a good piece of farming land, managed to get an ox and an old broken-down army mule, and set to work in earnest on their rented land. They “put in” every hour of the sun, and the greater part of the light of the moon. Neighboring farmers said that at whatever hour of the night you passed where the brothers farmed, if the moon shone you would hear them “gee-hawing,” plowing their crop at night, or the clashing of their hoes in their corn, cotton, or peas. They are now prosperous farmers, owning broad acres of land and fine stock. Hundreds of similar cases might be pointed out.

When our soldiers returned we were always deeply interested in hearing them recount, when we met them at social gatherings at some neighbor's house, the straits to which they were reduced toward the last days of the war, and on the home [167] march after the surrender. A brotherin-law of mine, who became bare as to pants, and had no way of getting any in his then distressed state, had recourse to his army blanket, and having no scissors with which to cut the blanket, he used his pocketknife for that purpose. He sharpened a stick with his knife to make holes in each half of the blanket, which he tied up separately with the raveling of the blanket: making each leg of the pants separately. They were tied around his waist with a string. He managed to get on for quite a while with his blanket pants, but met a comrade more fortunate than the rest of the soldiers of our cause, in that, beside having a passable pair of pants, he had rolled up under his arm a half worn osnaburg pair of pants, also. These my brother-in-law bought of him for four hundred dollars. He wore them home after the surrender, and that same half-worn, four-hundred-dollar pair of osnaburg pants did service for some time on the farm after the war.

When one of my brothers, who was taken prisoner at Appomattox during the last days of fighting in Virginia, and who [168] was sent to Point Lookout in Maryland, was paroled with many others, and sent by steamer to Savannah, Georgia, he and they had to “foot it” the greater part of the way to Columbus, Georgia, where most of them lived, inasmuch as the Federal army had torn up the railroads and burnt all the bridges. They were all more or less lacking as to clothing, but one of the comrade's clothing was in such bad plight that he could scarcely make a decent appearance on the road, much less appear in his own settlement. As they were nearing Columbus, they stopped and advised together as how to overcome the deficiency in their comrade's wardrobe. One of the soldiers happened to have a silver dime (a thing quite rare in those days), which he gave his needy comrade to buy a pair of pants with. They had the good luck to get a half worn pair of jeans pants at a small farm-house in the pineywoods, for the ten cents, and these the soldier wore home.

Five or six years after the war, these two comrades, the one who had given the silver dime and the one who had bought the pants with it, met in Columbus, Georgia. [169] They had been together in camp, in prison, and on that long walk home from Savannah to Columbus, through the grand stretches of piney-woods, covered with the green luxuriant wire-grass of southwestern Georgia, and they recognized each other immediately. One drew from his pocket a crisp five-dollar bill and handed it to the giver of the silver piece, saying, “Take this, old fellow, in grateful acknowledgment for that silver dime I bought those pants with; for I might almost say, ‘ I was naked and ye clothed me.’ ”

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