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The army negro. [from the New Orleans Picayune, September 6, 1903.]

Captain George Baylor, in writing the story of ‘the Baylor Light horse,’ Pays the following tribute to ‘the army negro.’

When the witness is called to the box his entrance is usually solemnized with the oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Having undertaken to recall and record the actions and doings of the Baylor Light Horse, I feel that I would be guilty of dereliction of duty if I failed to chronicle the part played by our colored comrades.

When Company B (12th Virginia Cavalry) was first organized, the company wagon, a pair of mules and a trusted colored driver were furnished by the captain. Among the young negroes at my home were three boys—Carter Robinson, Phil Williams, and Tom Langford—near the ages of my brother Richard and myself, playmates in our boyhood, whose presence with us was deemed essential to our comfort and welfare.

These boys were eager to accompany us, and their wish was duly gratified. Uncle John Sorrell, an aged man, was the wagon-driver, Carter our mess cook, Phil and Tom our hostlers.

With such a retinue we felt thoroughly equipped for the war. It may surprise our opponents, but the Confederate officer had no orderly or the like, but officers and men ranked as social equals.

The Timberlakes also brought with them into camp as part and parcel of their contingent a negro boy by the name of Overton, who cooked for them and looked after their wants and necessities. The quartette formed a social group of their own, and seemed happy and contented.

They shared with us our hardships, and at times even our dangers, entered into our sports and jests, and never were more joyous than when taking part with us in our horse races.

Uncle John had rendered himself very obnoxious to the Yankees by taking an active part in tolling them over the Potomac river at Harper's Ferry and into a trap laid for them by a posse of our men, and ever after stood in great awe and dread of capture by them. [366]

In 1862, when General Ashby and his men were camped just south of Newton, on the valley turnpike, we were surprised one morning by a part of Bank's cavalry driving our pickets rapidly into camp.

There was much consternation and confusion. ‘Boots and saddles’ was speedily sounded, and each hurriedly prepared for the expected onset. Before our men had bridled and saddled, Uncle John was discovered driving out his team on the turnpike and heading towards Winchester. A portion of our men on barebacks, with no headgear on their horses but the halter, were ignominiously retreating to the rear. The captain, discovering Uncle John heading towards the foe, hastily overtook him, and in language not overpolite and refined, inquired why he was going in that direction. Uncle John quickly replied: ‘I seed them soldiers, sah, charging up dat way, and spose de Yankees must be comina down thar.’ Being apprised of the true situation he quickly wheeled about his mules and was soon at a safe distance from the enemy.

At the battle of Brandy Station, Tom and Overton, who had on the Banks retreat well supplied themselves with arms, joined in the company charges and succeeded in capturing a Yankee darky who had ventured too far in front of the Yankee column, and brought him safely into camp. They were highly delighted with their trophy, and retained him a prisoner for several months, compelling him to rub down their horses, bring water and wood and do other chores about camp. At night he was required to sleep with them, and threatened with instant death if he attempted to escape.

Sorrow was felt for the unfortunate prisoner, but his captors so much enjoyed his discomforture that we would not interfere with their pleasure. After several months' captivity, however, one night the poor wretch made a rush for liberty and safely escaped. Tom and Overton, not only good soldiers, but excellent foragers, also scoured the country adjacent to our camps and supplied their respective messes with the best the neighborhood could afford.

The mode and manner of their acquisitions was not always strictly ethical, but as few inquiries were made of them, their consciences were as well satisfied as our stomachs. I remember on one occasion being invited by several of the Timberlakes to accompany them a short distance from camp to the home of one of their lady acquaintances, and I'll here remark, by way of parenthesis, that Company B never camped anywhere in Virginia where the Timberlakes failed to have a cousin or dear friend close by. It is needless to mention [367] that the invitation was accepted, and I accompanied them. Provender in abundance was found for our horses; we supped at full board, and retired that night on downy couches and dreamed of Elysian fields. In the morning we arose refreshed, dressed, and whetted our appetites for buckwheat cakes and butter, of which we had been partially advised. But how great was our chagrin and disappointment when seated at the table our lady hostess informed us she was sorry she had no butter for our breakfast, as someone had robbed her spring-house during the past night and stolen all she had, adding very significantly that she did not mean to accuse us, but it was very strange it had never happened before.

Great was our indignation, and vengeance was determined on for the offender, should we be able to ferret him out.

The meal was eaten without relish, and we speedily repaired to the barn, when each man was put on oath and the guilty party not found. We returned to camp wounded and deeply mortified, and the matter was frequently the subject of conversation on the march and around the camp fire, when Overton revealed the secret, that he had followed us to our snug quarters that night, and while we were sleeping, had robbed the spring-house. Even at that late day our anger was not appeased, and Overton was severely upbraided, not for violation of the Biblical law so much as for not using more circumspection and discrimination than to violate the laws of hospitality.

All of our colored contingent survived the war and returned after the surrender to their old homes. In the late fall of 1864, while the company was scouting and raiding in the lower valley, Phil was sent with the company wagon and extra horses to a quiet retreat east of Harrisonburg, near th, Massanutton mountain, where he remained oblivious of our defeat, the cessation of hostilities and how it affected his fortunes, until some time in May, 1865, when I appeared at his quiet resting place and informed him he was now free and at liberty to go where he pleased.

In great solicitude he inquired if he could not live at his old home, and when assured he could, if he wished, a great burden seemed lifted from his heart, and he moved on cheerfully.

Shortly after we were under way, homeward-bound, he imparted the information that an old colored woman had told his fortune several days before, and she had seen him struggling in the waters.

I ridiculed the old woman's dream, but when Milford, in the Luray Valley, was reached, and my hors swam over a swollen branch of the Shenandoah river, Phil, in attempting to follow with wagon and [368] mules, had been left in the middle of the current with the body and hind axle of the wagon, the mules and front gear having made the opposite shore in safety, I realized the old woman's tale had at least a sprinkling of truth and warning in it.

Detaching the lines, however, from the mules, and succeeding in casting one end to Phil, I drew him and the floating wagon safely to shore.

On the remainder of the journey, however, I could not induce him to cross a swollen stream. Uncle John remained at the old home and was kindly cared for by the family until April, 1884, when death claimed him for his own, he having survived my father about one year.

Phil, after a long sickness, died on October 1, 1899, and is buried near-by the spot that witnessed his boyhood sports. Overton returned home with the Timberlakes and met death by an accident, while Tom married and moved West.

Carter, however, still lives in the vicinity. After the war he married at his home, but his wife died many years ago, and he has since lived a widower.

About two years ago he came to my office and informed me he was going to be married again, and wished me to accompany him to the clerk's office to get a license. I called with him, and while the clerk was preparing the license I returned to my office. Some ten days after he again called, and as I was about extending congratulations he informed me that the license was ‘no good,’ and the minister refused to tie the knot, and now the girl had gone back on him.

I examined the license and found the clerk had neglected to affix his signature or seal.

He wished to know if he could not recover damages of the clerk. I dissuaded him from such a couse, thinking there was about as much benefit accruing from the clerk's omission, and the matter was finally adjusted by the clerk returning the fee. Having concluded his settlement, he went on his way rejoicing more in the recovery of his fee than sorrowing at the loss of a wife.

Slavery had its evil and its good. The master and the slave ‘were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.’

The emancipation proclamation has been sounded. The carpetbagger-scalawag and Northern missionary has come, have done their worst and departed.

Above the wreck, ruin and desolation produced, the unity and [369] good feeling of the old slave habitation remains unbroken, a sacred relic of those times the ‘Northern fanatic is wont to term a barbarous age.’

While slavery in the abstract is repugnant to every conception of liberty and equality, and its restoration would meet the earnest opposition of its former advocates, I nevertheless feel there are bright spots in its past upon which the memory will ever love to linger with pride, pleasure and affection.

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