Chapter 14:

  • Repairing Damages.
  • -- a mother made happy. -- Conclusion

Just as soon as the railroads could be repaired and bridges builded anew, I made haste to get to my father's again to find how all had gone with them while our foes were marching through Georgia. I had tried for three months or more to get a letter or message of some sort to them, as they had to me, but all communication for the time being was completely broken up. I had spent many sad hours thinking of those at home, and was almost afraid to hear from them; but as soon as a train ran to Columbus, I ventured forth.

I had traveled over the same road time and again, on my way to and from home, but now as I beheld the ruins of grimvis-aged war, whichever way I cast my eyes, I must confess to a somewhat rebellious and bitter feeling. There are moments in the experience of every human being when the heart overflows like the great Egyptian river, and cannot be restrained. “O thou [171] great God of Israel!” I cried, “why hast thou permitted this dire calamity to befall us? Why is it that our homes are so despoiled?” And I marveled not at the captive Hebrews' mournful plaint, as by the rivers of Babylon they hung their harps on the willows.

As the train slowed up on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee River, I looked eagerly over to the opposite bank, where the home of my father was situated. For a few seconds my pulse must have ceased to throb, as I beheld the ruins of the city of Columbus. With others I took my seat in an omnibus and was driven to the river's edge, there to await the coming of the ferry-boat which had been built since all the bridges on the river had been burned by the hostile army. The scene seemed so unreal that like Abou Hassan, the caliph of fiction, I was thinking of biting my fingers to make sure I was really awake. Had I not had my coin in my hand to pay the ferryman, I should have imagined we were all shades, flitting about on the shore of the Styx!

In musing silence, I could but say, O swift-flowing Chattahoochee, is it thus I [172] behold thee? thou lowest in almost pristine loveliness. Where are your huge bridges, that linked the green hills of Alabama with the beautiful city of cottages and flowers? Where are the cotton mills and machine-shops that lined your banks, --mills which from early morn until the sun set sent forth an incessant hum? Is it thus that I behold thee, city of my fathers?

My reverie was broken when the ferryboat reached her landing; but things all still seemed so strange that I could scarcely believe I was not dreaming. I realized everything better when I saw soldiers in blue moving hither and thither. I had heard while on the train, how General Willson had ravaged, pillaged, and burnt, as he passed through Alabama. Here were his soldiers who had laid Columbus in ruins; here were they of whom I had been told that their route from Columbus to the city of Macon, one hundred miles, could be plainly traced by the curling smoke arising from burning dwellings, gin-houses, barns, bridges, and railroad ties.

I was not long in getting to my father's after I had left the city of Columbus. And there was a joyous surprise in every respect, [173] for nothing had been disturbed at his residence save some corn, fodder, and other food, which had been appropriated by raiding soldiers. I found both of my brothers home. The one who had been carried to Point Lookout had arrived only two days before. The one who had been taken prisoner about three months before the surrender managed to make his escape the night following the day he was captured. It was a dark, sleety night, my brother said, and he had found it quite easy to elude the sentinel. First he went, as he supposed, about a mile from the camp; then he lay down on the frozen ground with his army blanket, not daring to light a fire, for fear of recapture. When the sun rose he took his bearings, and began his long tramp for home. This journey had occupied many weeks, as all traveling had to be done at night, and often he was in imminent danger of being recaptured, as the whole country through which he was passing was filled with Federal cavalrymen. Creeks and rivers had to be waded or swum; deep and almost impenetrable swamps had to be passed. Once in the thick woods he had come near [174] running into what he supposed to be a deserters' camp, from the surroundings he descried by the pale glare of the pine-knot camp-fire, but what really was a camp of Northern soldiers. He subsisted on roots and leaves, sometimes calling at a house after dark to beg a few ears of corn, which he parched and ate; sometimes he enjoyed a rare dessert in the berries of the hawthorn bush.

One blustering March night, just as the clock had told the hour of two, the watchdog at my father's was heard baying furiously at the front gate. There was some one at the gate speaking to the dog, as if trying to quiet him. My father arose, opened the door, and when he could make his voice heard, he called out, “What's wanting?” “It's N--, ‘Drive’ (the dog's name) won't let me come in.” At the name “N--,” our mother sprang from the bed with a loud and joyful shout that he who had been mourned as dead was alive and home again. My sisters, who were sleeping up-stairs, were also aroused by the furious barking of the dog. They arose and raised the window-sash just in time to hear, “It's N-.” Their window [175] dropped like a flash of lightning, and then such a getting down-stairs as there was! One or two chairs were knocked over in the scramble for the head of the staircase, and one toppled the whole flight of steps, making a great racket, in the middle of the night, as it thumped the steps one by one. The candle, which some one had managed to light while the sash was being raised, was let fall when about in the middle of the flight of steps, and in the then utter darkness one of my sisters stumbled over the chair that had preceded her to the bottom of the stairs, and all came pellmell into the dark hall. My brother told me afterward that he could not move for some time, he was so tightly pinioned when finally taken to his mother's heart.

What a change from 1861 , when all were so buoyant and full of fiery patriotism, with never a thought of being overcome! Now ourcause was lost, all our homes more or less despoiled, the whole South seemingly almost hopelessly ruined, every little town and village garrisoned by the troops who had overcome us by great odds.

Yet after all our great and sore afflictions, [176] I found only cheerfulness and Christian resignation at the end of these troublous war times, and the hope that we might yet rise above our misfortunes.

In closing, I must say that I know that the people of the Southern States are now loyal to the Union; their reverence for the stars and stripes is strong and pure; and it pierces like a sword, our ever being taunted and distrusted. Accepting all the decisions of the war, we have built and planted anew amid the ruins left by the army who were the conquerors. We are still poor; but we believe firmly that in our new life, under God, we are destined to a brilliant career of prosperity and glory. Come, happy day!

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