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II. plantation life (January 1-April 3, 1865)

explanatory note.-During the period embraced in this chapter the great black tide of destruction that had swept over Georgia turned its course northward from Savannah to break a few weeks later (Feb. 17) in a cataract of blood and fire on the city of Columbia. At the same time the great tragedy of Andersonville was going on under our eyes; and farther off, in Old Virginia, Lee and his immortals were struggling in the toils of the net that was drawing them on to the tragedy of Appomattox. To put forward a trivial narrative of everyday life at a time when mighty events like these were taking place would seem little less than an impertinence, did we not know that it is the ripple mark left on the sand that shows where the tide came in, and the simple undergrowth of the forest gives a character to the landscape without which the most carefully-drawn picture would be incomplete.

On the other hand, the mighty drama that was being enacted around us reflected itself in the minutest details of life, even our sports and amusements being colored by it, as the record of the diary will show. The present chapter opens with allusions to an expedition sent out by Sherman from Savannah under Gen. Kilpatrick, having for its object the destruction of the Stockade [58] at Andersonville, and release of the prisoners to wreak their vengeance on the people whom they believed to be responsible for their sufferings. The success of this movement was frustrated only by the incessant rains of that stormy winter, which flooded the intervening country so that it was impossible for even the best equipped cavalry to pass, and thus averted what might have been the greatest tragedy of the war.

It is not my purpose to dwell upon public events in these pages, nor to revive the dark memories of Andersonville, but a few words concerning it are necessary to a clear understanding of the allusions made to it in this part of the record, and to a just appreciation of the position of the Southern people in regard to that deplorable episode of the war. Owing to the policy of the Federal Government in refusing to exchange prisoners, and to the ruin and devastation of war, which made it impossible for the Confederate government to provide adequately for its own soldiers, even with the patriotic aid of our women, the condition of our prisons was anything but satisfactory, both from lack of supplies and from the unavoidable over-crowding caused by the failure of all efforts to effect an exchange. Mr. Tanner, ex-Commander of the G. A. R., who is the last person in the world whom one would think of citing as a witness for the South, bears this unconscious testimony to the force of circumstances that made it impossible for our government to remedy that unhappy situation:

It is true that more prisoners died in Northern prisons than Union prisoners died in Southern prisons. The explanation of this is extremely simple. The Southern prisoners came North worn and emaciated-half starved. They had reached this condition because of their scant rations. They came from a mild climate to a rigorous Northern climate, and, although we [59] gave them shelter and plenty to eat, they could not stand the change.

This argument, intended as a defense of the North, is a boomerang whose force as a weapon for the other side it is unnecessary to point out. Whether the conditions at Andersonville might have been ameliorated by the personal efforts of those in charge, I do not know. I never met Capt. Wirz, but I do know that had he been an angel from heaven, he could not have changed the pitiful tale of suffering from privation and hunger unless he had possessed the power to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I do know, too, that the sufferings of the prisoners were viewed with the deepest compassion by the people of the neighborhood, as the diary will show, and they would gladly have relieved them if they had been able. In the fall of 1864, when it was feared that Sherman would send a raid to free the prisoners and turn them loose upon the defenseless country, a band of several thousand were shipped round by rail to Camp Lawton, near Millen, to get them out of his way. Later, when he had passed on, after destroying the railroads, these men were marched back overland to Andersonville, and the planters who lived along the road had hampers filled with such provisions as could be hastily gotten together and placed before them. Among those who did this were my sister, Mrs. Troup Butler, and her neighbors, the Bacons, so frequently mentioned in this part of the diary. My sister says that she had every drop of milk and clabber in her dairy brought out and given to the poor fellows, and she begged the officer to let them wait till she could have what food she could spare cooked for them. This, however, being impossible, she had potatoes and turnips and whatever else could be eaten raw, hastily collected by the servants and strewn in [60] the road before them. I have before me, as I write, a very kind letter from an old Union soldier, in which he says that he was one of the men fed on this occasion, and he adds: “I still feel thankful for the help we got that day.” He gives his name as S. S. Andrews, Co. K, 64th Ohio Vols., and his present address as Tularosa, Mexico.

But it is hardly to be expected that men half-crazed by suffering and for the most part ignorant of their own government's responsibility in the matter, should discriminate very closely in apportioning the blame for their terrible condition. Accustomed to the bountiful provision made for its soldiers by the richest nation in the world, they naturally enough could not see the tragic humor of their belief, when suddenly reduced to Confederate army rations, that they were the victims of a deliberate plot to starve them to death!

Another difficulty with which the officers in charge of the stockade had to contend was the lack of a sufficient force to guard so large a body of prisoners. At one time there were over 35,000 of them at Andersonville alonea number exceeding Lee's entire force at the close of the siege of Petersburg. The men actually available for guarding this great army, were never more than 1,200 or 1,500, and these were drawn from the State Reserves, consisting of boys under eighteen and invalided or superannuated men unfit for active service. At almost any time during the year 1864-1865, if the prisoners had realized the weakness of their guard, they could, by a concerted assault, have overpowered them. At the time of Kilpatrick's projected raid, their numbers had been reduced to about 7,500, by distributing the excess to other points and by the humane action of the Confederate authorities in releasing, without equivalent, 15,000 sick and [61] wounded, and actually forcing them, as a free gift, upon the unwilling hospitality of their own government.

But even allowing for this diminution, the consequences of turning loose so large a body of men, naturally incensed and made desperate by suffering, to incite the negroes and ravage the country, while there were only women and children and old men left on the plantations to meet their fury, can hardly be imagined, even by those who have seen the invasion of an organized army. The consternation of my father, when he found that he had sent us into the jaws of this danger instead of the security and rest he had counted on, cannot be described. Happily, the danger was over before he knew of its existence, but communication was so slow and uncertain in those days that a long correspondence at cross purposes ensued before his mind was set at rest.

It may seem strange to the modern reader that in the midst of such tremendous happenings we could find it in our hearts to go about the common business of life; to laugh and dance and be merry in spite of the crumbling of the social fabric about us. But so it has always been; so it was “in the days of Noe,” and so, we are told, will it be “in the end of the world.” Youth will have its innings, and never was social life in the old South more full of charm than when tottering to its fall. Southwest Georgia, being the richest agricultural section of the State, and remote from the scene of military operations, was a favorite resort at that time for refugees from all parts of the seceded States, and the society of every little country town was as cosmopolitan as that of our largest cities had been before the war. The dearth of men available for social functions that was so conspicuous in other parts of the Confederacy remote from the seat of war, did not exist here, because the importance [62] of so rich an agricultural region as a source of food supply for our armies, and the quartering of such large bodies of prisoners at Andersonville and Millen, necessitated the presence of a large number of officers connected with the commissary and quartermaster's departments. These were, for the most part, men who, on account of age, or chronic infirmity, or injuries received in battle, were unfit for service in the field. There were large hospitals, too, in all the towns and villages to which disabled soldiers from the front were sent as fast as they were able to bear the transportation, in order to relieve the congestion in the neighborhood of the armies. Those whose wounds debarred them from further service, and whose homes were in possession of the enemy, were received into private houses and cared for by the women of the South till the end of the war.

My sister's white family at the time of our arrival consisted of herself and two little children, Tom and Julia, and Mr. Butler's invalid sister, Mrs. Julia Meals, a pious widow of ample means which it was her chief ambition in life to spend in doing good. The household was afterwards increased by the arrival of Mrs. Julia Butler (also called in the diary, Mrs. Green Butler) the widow of Mr. Greenlee Butler, who had died not long before in the army. He was the elder and only brother of my sister's husband. Col. Maxwell, of Gopher Hill, was an uncle of my brother-in-law, the owner of several large plantations, where he was fond of practicing the oldtime Southern hospitality. The “Cousin Bolling” so frequently mentioned, was Dr. Bolling A. Pope, a stepson of my mother's youngest sister, Mrs. Alexander Pope, of Washington, Ga., the “Aunt Cornelia” spoken of in a later chapter. He was in Berlin when the war began, where he had spent several years preparing himself as a [63] specialist in diseases of the eye and ear, but returned when hostilities began, and was assigned to duty as a surgeon. The Tallassee Plantation to which reference is made, was an estate owned by my father near Albany, Ga., where the family were in the habit of spending the winters, until he sold it and transferred his principal planting interests to the Yazoo Delta in Mississippi. Mt. Enon was a little log church where services were held by a refugee Baptist minister, and, being the only place of worship in the neighborhood, was attended by people of all denominations. The different homes and families mentioned were those of well-known planters in that section, or of refugee friends who had temporarily taken up their abode there.

Jan. 1st, 1865. Sunday. Pine Bluff

A beautiful clear day, but none of us went to church. Sister was afraid of the bad roads, Metta, Mrs. Meals, Julia and I all sick. I think I am taking measles.

Jan. 1 , Wednesday

I am just getting well of measles, and a rough time I had of it. Measles is no such small affair after all, especially when aggravated by perpetual alarms of Yankee raiders. For the last week we have lived in a state of incessant fear. All sorts of rumors come up the road and down it, and we never know what to believe. Mett and I have received repeated letters from home urging our immediate return, but of course it was impossible to travel while I was sick in bed, and even now I am not strong enough to undertake that terrible journey across the burnt country again. While I was ill, home was the one thought [64] that haunted my brain, and if I ever do get back, I hope I will have sense enough to stay there. I don't think 1 ever suffered so much before in all my life, and dread of the Yankees raised my fever to such a pitch that I got no rest by night or day. I used to feel very brave about Yankees, but since I have passed over Sherman's track and seen what devastation they make, I am so afraid of them that I believe I should drop down dead if one of the wretches should come into my presence. I would rather face them anywhere than here in South-West Georgia, for the horrors of the stockade have so enraged them that they will have no mercy on this country, though they have brought it all on themselves, the cruel monsters, by refusing to exchange prisoners. But it is horrible, and a blot on the fair name of our Confederacy.

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