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Chapter 13:

  • Classes in the Confederacy
  • -- Terror of a name -- insurrection -- Suppressing a religious meeting -- the safe ground -- a sad parting -- why prisoners' stories differ -- effect of Church Division -- the Darien road -- a wealthy planter.

During the day, I walked out into the pines that I might be alone with my thoughts; and there in the solitude I mused upon all the knowledge that I had gained from my host, and also from my previous experience. Oh! thought I, if our people at the North were permitted to look into the hearts of the better class in the South, there they would see nothing but opposition to the great sin of slavery. Could they but see the South as I have seen it, they would come to the same conclusions as myself, viz., that there are three distinct classes or castes. First, there are the clay-eaters, or common mass of the people, upon whom even the negroes look down with contempt. Second, there is the middle class, in which we find all those who sympathize with the North in this war. Lastly, we have the slave-owning aristocracy, haughty, supercilious and powerful. [171]

Our host belonged to the middle class, and on being questioned why that class held the peculiar position it did in regard to the rebellion, he replied:

We know that the very moment they-the aristocracy-succeed in forming a Confederacy, they will, of necessity, keep a large standing army. Into this army they will force the sons of the poorest class, or clay-eaters, while they themselves, having negroes to do all their labor, will have full control of affairs. Then assuming all the lucrative offices for themselves, they will force us in reality to support them.

You may ask why we do not educate the poor whites, and thus set at work a force that would destroy the power of the aristocracy. We would willingly do so, but for the fact that they are so stubborn, ignorant, and bigoted, that any attempt of such a nature would be termed abolition, and you might, with far more safety, call a man a thief or murderer than call him an abolitionist.

Should the Confederacy succeed, too, there will be another danger, which will require all the power of the government to combat, and that is the insurrection of the slaves. The latter are, almost to a unit, expecting their liberty by reason of this war, and are at present [172] quietly awaiting such a result. Should it unfortunately turn out, however, that the rebellion succeeds, then they will doubtless strike a blow for themselves; and may Heaven spare me from witnessing the terrible scenes which must follow.

Showing me his hand, which I noticed had been wounded at some former time, the speaker added:

That wound I received in the following manner. It will serve to show what harsh measures have already been resorted to for preventing any rise of the slaves. I used to allow my servants to hold prayer-meetings sometimes in the house; and on one occasion a patroller came to the house while one of their meetings was in progress, and summarily proceeded to break it up. I interfered, when, turning upon me, he struck me a fearful blow with his weapon, breaking my fingers as you see. I instantly shot him. Since then I have been obliged not to allow the meetings.

In my own mind, I could but compare this noble gentleman to many half-hearted Christians in the North, who would assist in perpetuating the curse of slavery on the ground of policy. Shame on such false Christians and hypocrites! They would call themselves democrats of the nineteenth century. They would say they were [173] on the side of Washington and Adams, and all the fathers. But they are not, for Washington was not in his heart a slaveholder, as the following extract from a letter written by him is sufficient to prove:

I hope,

writes he, “it will not be conceived from these observations that it is in my heart to hold the unhappy people, who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say, there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.”

Reader, you may, perhaps, complain or disapprove of my digressions from the subject of my own perils and adventures to that of slavery; but, so long as God blesses me with thoughts and words, so long will I continue to strike at the wicked, man-degrading institution, with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. Slavery is the baneful Upas that overshadows our glorious Republic, and its deadly exhalations must in time destroy us, unless we cut it down, tear it out by the roots, and completely annihilate it now and for ever. I, with the great founders of the Republic, hold these to be self-evident truths: “That all men are created free and equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; [174] that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the just consent of the governed,” &c.

But to return to my theme. When, after passing through innumerable hardships and perils, being imprisoned in Columbus, Mobile, Montgomery, and Macon, and spending twentyone weary days in the dismal swamps and pinewoods of Georgia, I reached the home of the sheriff, I, like Paul the apostle, thanked God and took courage.

As soon as practicable we set out for Macon, and while memory holds a place in my being, I can never forget the parting of ourselves and the kind family by whom we had been so befriended “Good-bye, gentlemen,” said the lady of the house, her eyes suffused with tears; “and should we never meet again on earth, we shall, perhaps, in that better land, where all is love and peace.”

There was such a sincerity in the fair speaker's tones, that I could not repress the tears that her words brought to my eyes. The servants, too, clustered around us, and in their intelligent countenances I could discern that they appreciated all that was going on. A final shaking of hands, an adieu, and we were off. [175] Our buggy bore us quickly out of sight of the house, and I must acknowledge, prisoner as I was, that there was a pang in my heart at the moment. And here a thought suggests itself. The reader has, doubtless, often thought, after reading the various and conflicting accounts of returned prisoners, how strange it was that they could so differ. Now, their treatment depended entirely upon their own conduct, and the class of people among whom the chances of war threw them. It was very rarely that any one expressing his opinions against the Southern system as boldly as I did, met, upon the whole, with such good fortune. Those who fared well were semi-secessionists. I will give a case in point:

At Columbus, Mississippi, there was a man from Illinois, who stated that he was a quartermaster in a cavalry regiment. He was an ardent pro-slavery man, and whenever the subject came up, he defended the right of the South to hold slaves, and became enraged if that right was assailed by any of his companions. This man took the trip with us through Mobile, Montgomery, and Macon, and was continually receiving favors that were denied to the rest. While in Macon, he was appointed prison quarter-master; was permitted to run at [176] large, and he used the privilege to post the secessionists in everything that was favorable to them. This man will be referred to again ere I close this narrative.

We were to go by land to Hockinsville, where we were to take the cars. We traveled slowly, in order, as the sheriff remarked, that we might really see the destitute condition of the country through which we passed. We stopped at a place where a deer had just been killed, and obtained some fresh venison. The man from whom we got the meat, was from Eastern Maryland, and, while conversing with him, I found that he had some knowledge of the disunion men of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was deeply opposed to the separation, but at the same time, candidly admitted that the North had sufficient cause therefor. Still he thought that it would have been far better to remain united, and endeavor to reform the proslavery portion.

“I and this gentleman,” said he, turning to the sheriff, “have stood up for our faith comparatively alone, until the outbreak of the war. Since that, we have been joined by several more, but we are crushed, and dare not speak what we think. If we did, we should be hung to the first tree that could hold us.” [177]

He persistently contended that it was a very unfortunate thing that the Church had divided, urging that it led to a division of the government. I held not much further argument with him on this subject, as anti-slavery men of his class were very unpopular in Ohio when I left there.

At evening we seated ourselves on the porch of this man's cottage, and began conversing with the family, the subject being changed of course.

The majority of the residents in this county held the same opinions as these two. I would like to give the names of these gentlemen, but as they might possibly get into some of those traitorous Northern papers which circulate in the South, and thereby bring them into trouble, I am constrained to suppress them.

We remained at this house all night, and bidding our new friends farewell, started the next morning on our way. We kept the Darien road, which I could recognize by the descriptions given of it by the negroes. Our next stopping-place was far from agreeable, for every one in it was a strong secessionist-so strong indeed, that, when they found out our characters, they utterly refused to give us anything to eat. They did not object to the sheriff having anything [178] he wanted, but not with us. The keeper of the house at which we were, cursed fearfully, swearing that the d-d Yankees shouldn't have a morsel of food. The sheriff, however, pacified him at last by telling him that I was from Virginia, and that, although I was in the Yankee army, still I was as pro-slavery a man as himself. This made matters a little better, and the surly host proceeded to question me. I baffled him, however, by saying:

What paper do you take?

“We don't take none,” said he, “fur I can't read. Have you ever been in a fight?” he quickly added to his reply. I answered in the affirmative.

“Have you ever seed a gunboat?”

“Yes,” I rejoined.

He then became much interested, and was not satisfied until I had given him a long description of a gunboat, its object, and its powers.

At this juncture five villanous-looking men entered the room, and calling to my listener, took him outside. When the sheriff saw this, he turned rather pale, fearing that some violence was threatened. When he was about to leave with us he asked the landlord what his bill was. [179]

“Oh, nothing! as you're taking them d-d Yankees to justice,” was the reply.

Though by no means complimentary, this expression took a heavy load off our minds, and we were comparatively light-hearted when we took our departure.

The sheriff resolved not to halt again until he reached a place where he was known, as he feared that otherwise we might be mobbed. By rapid driving he reached this point. Drawing up before the door of a tavern, we immediately dismounted, and were invited to enter by a house-servant, who led us to a small fire at which we might warm ourselves. As we sat there, a hard-looking female came in, and seeing my hand bound up, asked me what ailed it. I responded that I had caught cold in an old bruise which had assumed somewhat the character of a felon. She inquired if she could do anything for it. I thanked her, and told her that I had a poultice of sweet gum on it.

We were presently shown up to our chamber, and went to bed. My hand pained me so much, however, that I could not sleep; and getting up, I took a pan of water, and putting into it a lump of opium, which I obtained from my comrade, I laid my hand in it, and so passed the remainder of the night. [180]

We resumed our journey at an early hour, and pressed forward in order to reach the railroad, which was not quite finished to Hockinsville. On the road we were compelled to stop at the house of a man named Phillips. He was very wealthy, owning over two hundred and seventy-five slaves, and a fine plantation. He was a bitter and unrelenting secessionist, and therefore the sheriff thought it best not to mention what or who we were. Our horses were put up, and we entered the dwelling. Phillips came in almost immediately after, and opened a conversation about the war. The sheriff inquired of him if he had any late papers.

“I don't take no papers!” he rejoined; “I can't read. But,” added he, casting a glance at us “there was some men hunting round here the other day for them Yankees that got away at Macon, and I only wish they'd catch the thieves, and shoot them!”

This was not pleasant to our ears, and the disagreeable sensation was considerably increased, as Phillips, nodding his head towards us, asked the sheriff his errand to Macon with us.

Our friend hesitated a moment to reply, but finally stated his mission. Phillips instantly flew into a rage, and commenced to swear and threaten dreadfully. The sheriff told him that [181] I was a Virginian, and of like sentiments with himself, and so forth, but it did not effect much. Phillips spoke of the outrageous conduct of our men, and Butler's famous New Orleans Proclamation, and swore, with a horrid oath, that if he had his own way, he would shoot every Yankee that was caught. I rose, and walked outside, and was followed by Phillips, who seemed fearful of trusting me near the negroes who were hanging round the house, and in whose faces I could see an expression that showed they fully comprehended who we were.

Presently the sound of the approaching train came gratefully to our ears. When it arrived, however, we learned that it would make a stop of an hour, as a number of conscripts were to be put aboard. Fearing to remain longer in Phillips's house, we adjourned into the neighboring pines to avoid the mob. One after another, several wagons, loaded with conscripts, drove up. These conscripts and their friends had, by some means or other, heard of our arrest, but did not know that we were the men. They spoke favorably of us, however, and were heartily endorsed by some old ladies who had come hither with their sons, and who were decidedly opposed to the conscription.

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