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Chapter 10:

  • Painful Realities of civil strife.
  • -- straitened condition of the South. -- Treatment of prisoners

Often have we sat on the colonnade of that lovely Alabama home, and wondered if any part of the world could be more beautiful We would number the stars at night as they peeped forth one by one, in the clear blue vault above, until they became innumerable, and then the full moon would deluge the whole scene with its shining flood of light. Or perhaps it would be in the deepening twilight, when the heavens were unrelieved by moon or star, that the soul would be touched, as the drowsy hum of nature's little wildwood insects came stealing gently on the ear. Not infrequently the mocking-birds would trill their varied notes, or we would hear the faint tinkle of bells as “the lowing” herds wound “slowly o'er the lea.” In the distance the negro plowmen were returning homeward chanting their “corn song.” Ah! but those old “corn songs” had melody then! They lent enchantment to all [126] the surroundings. Even yet they call from out the misty shadows of the past a host of memories, when they fall upon ears that were wont to listen to their quaint refrain in days gone by.

Often Uncle Ben, on the colonnade or in the hall, would while off on the violin that his master had given him pleasing plantation melodies, accompanying his performance with his rude singing. He would seem almost transported with ecstacy, as he used to stand with head thrown back, eyes shut, and foot vigorously keeping time; and often as he drew forth his artless strains a dozen or more negroes, old and young, would be dancing in the white, sandy yard, as merrily as “birds without barn or storehouse.”

Sometimes, in the solemn hush of the closing Sabbath eve in the country, sweet strains of song would float out upon the air from the negroes' quarter. Many large planters had preachers employed to teach and preach regularly to the slaves. One Sabbath night I yet remember above all the others. Our day of gloom was drawing on, we could no longer close our eyes to the fact that our cause was drooping; our soldiers [127] were meeting with reverses on all sides, hope was only faintly glimmering. Cast down and disquieted as we were that night, the services at the negro church made a deep impression upon our minds. They sang an old time song, the refrain of which we could just catch. When they began the first verse,--

Where, oh where is the good old Daniel?
Where, oh where is the good old Daniel?
Who was cast in the lion's den;
Safe now in the promised land.

When they would strike the refrain,--

By and by we'll go home to meet him,
By and by we'll go home to meet him,
Way over in the promised land,

we could almost imagine they were on wing for “the promised land,” as they seemed to throw all the passion of their souls into the refrain, and fancy would almost hear the rustle of wings, as the deep swelling anthem rolled forth. Again it would be,--

Where, oh where is the good Elijah?
Where, oh where is the good Elijah?
Who went up in a chariot of fire;
Safe now in the promised land.

And the chorus,--

By and by we'll go home to meet him,

[128] would peal forth again in loud-shouting strains. I hushed my breath to hear the mellow strains of that song, and seemed to see the mantle of our lost cause descending.

It was about this time that a letter came from my father, saying one of the soldier brothers was at home on a twenty-one days furlough. This was the first home-coming since the commencement of hostilities in 1861. My presence was again desired at home, to meet with the long-absent brother. But by some irregularity of the mail, it so happened that my letter had been delayed, and I saw by the postscript and date that my brother would be leaving for the front again before I could possibly reach my father's house. Yet a great yearning came over me, on reading his kindly letter, to see my father again. Soon I was homeward bound once more, disappointed and pained at not being in time to see my brother. I gave little heed to the landscape spread out as the train swept onward; but my heart gave a glad bound when the waters of the Chattahoochee river, sparkling in the bright sunlight, greeted my eyes, for now I should soon be at my father's house. [129]

Here and in all the surrounding neighborhood, as far as I could see, the same vigorous efforts were put forth to feed and clothe the soldiers of our Confederacy, as well as the home ones, that I had witnessed in southern Alabama. There was the same self-sacrifice, without a thought of murmuring for the luxuries enjoyed before the war. Yet with the nicest economy, and the most studied husbandry, --however generously the earth might yield of grain, fruits, and vegetables,--the South was awakening to the painful reality that the produce grown on our narrowing space of Confederate soil was inadequate for the sustenance of those at home, our soldiers, and the Northern soldiers whom we held as prisoners. We were not only encompassed by land and water, but the Confederacy was divided in twain by the gunboats of the Federals on the Mississippi River. With nearly all the soldiers from west of the Mississippi River in the eastern half of our Confederacy, we had no communication whatevever from beyond the great “Father of waters.” All aid and succor as regarded provisions and clothes for our army was at an end from beyond [130] the Mississippi. We were caged up like a besieged city. There was neither egress nor ingress for men or means. Our soldiers from the west had to share what little provisions were grown in our circumscribed limit. They also shared what clothing could be manufactured in the more and more straitened condition of the South.

If a soldier from the west drew a furlough he could not get to his home. Those who had relatives or friends east of the Mississippi River would spend their leave of absence with them. Sometimes the soldier from the west would give the furlough he drew to some friend he had made on this side; or perhaps it would be that the soldier of our side of the river would send his comrade of the west to his people and home with a letter of introduction.

I remember a good man and neighbor, who lived near my school, who had four grown sons in the army, one by one killed outright in battle, one at Fort Donelson, one at the battle of Franklin, in Tennessee, another near Chattanooga, the last and youngest at Chickamauga. A while before the last two were slain, one had drawn a furlough to come home, but there [131] being in his regiment a comrade from the State of Texas, to whom he was very much attached, and who was by no means well, though on duty, this son had the furlough he had drawn transferred to his Texas comrade, whom he sent to his father's with a letter of introduction, asking for his Texas friend the same welcome that would have greeted himself.

Mr. Saunders, the Texan, came, and was welcomed in Mr. Weaver's family as warmly as one of his own sons would have been, the more kindly by the family and all the neighborhood because he was debarred from visiting his own home. He spent three weeks in our settlement, and returned to camp much invigorated in health and spirits. In less than six months, both the sons were slain in battle, and a few weeks afterwards Mr. Saunders also fell and was buried in north Georgia.

My employer also had Texas relatives in our army, who came on their leave of absence to his home. They could not so much as hear from their own homes.

To make our situation worse, all the rice-growing lands of Georgia and South Carolina were overrun by Northern troops; [132] and all the negro laborers of the large rice plantations, as well as those lying contiguous to the rice-growing districts, had been decoyed off by Federal troops, which more and more crippled the eastern half of our Confederacy, which was then burdened with the whole Confederate army, as well as thousands of Northern prisoners, to say nothing of the Federal army camped on this same half of the South. Corn and what little wheat could then be grown, with rice and sorghum syrup, formed the base of our supplies. Of course fruits and vegetables were grown, but being perishable were worthless for our soldiers or prisoners, so limited were our means of transportation.

Northern journals often ask why it was that the South gave Northern prisoners nothing to eat; and I must say here, that there is a sorrow deep-felt at the knowledge that our soldiers and the Northern prisoners both suffered for the want of sufficient food to nourish; they suffered both as to quantity and quality. But I ask in all candor, how could it be otherwise, hemmed in as the South was? Not one tenth of the government tithes of grain [133] and meat, west of the Mississippi River, could reach us; the blockade was all around; the Federal army's tents were pitched on Southern soil; detachments of the Union army were invading the narrowing space of territory left to raise provisions on, and were decoying off the laborers and destroying and laying waste the country through which they marched; every means we had to feed either our army or the Northern prisoners was disabled.

My brothers wrote home (without murmur or discontent) that they were living the greater part of the time on parched corn, which they either bought or begged; that they were foraging around in the country, on the mountain sides, and in the valleys, for succulent roots, leaves, and berries to allay the pangs of hunger; sassafras bushes were stripped in a trice of leaves, twigs, and bark, and eaten ravenously. They wrote that sometimes for two or three months they never saw so much as a slice of bacon, and then perhaps for a week or two a rasher of bacon the size of a pocket-knife would be issued to each man of their regiment. One of my brothers once drew from his pocket, when asked [134] about his slice of bacon, the pocket-knife which he brought home after the war was over, and said: “It is a fact; the rasher of bacon was no longer, and about just as thick and wide as this knife.”

Such a slice they held over the fire with bread underneath to catch the drippings, so as to lose none. A brother-in-law of mine told me that he, as well as other soldiers of his division, lived on parched corn most of the time; sometimes they had roasting ears, either roasted in the ashes or eaten raw; that if they had money, they would buy the corn; if not, beg it; and at times they would be so crazed with hunger that if neither money nor begging would get it, they would steal it. At first the men were punished for stealing something to eat, but at last the sight of our hollow-eyed and ragged, emaciated soldiers appealed so to the sympathies of the officers that they could not find it in their hearts to punish their men for trying to keep soul and body together with pilfered corn. Times were almost as hard with citizens all over the South the last year of the war, as with our soldiers. Corn was twelve and thirteen dollars per bushel, and our government's [135] pay to its soldiers was only eleven dollars per month; so one whole month's wages would not quite buy a bushel of corn.

What could be grown of provisions, in the waning of our Confederacy, was shared equally and willingly between our soldiers and their Northern prisoners. I verily believe, in the pressing need of the times the prisoners had the greater share. That was little enough, to be sure, but in that narrow space that was left to us as the Northern army advanced, where we had to hold our prisoners, there was almost no food or forage to be had. When the great “book of remembrance” is opened to view, on its pages white and fair the North will surely see, not that the South would not, but that the South could not, better feed the Northern prisoners, with all the mighty pressure that was being brought to bear against us. And of this fact I am very sure that, had there been an exchange of prisoners between the North and South toward the last days of our Confederacy, such as there was at first, and such as the whole South from our chief executive down to the humblest citizen was begging and praying for, as much for the unfortunate [136] prisoners among us, as to have our soldiers in the ranks of our army again, there never would have been an Andersonville.

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