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The Farmer's Daughter1
WHEN the battle of Bull Run was fought back in 1861 my people lived hyar where I do now in this same little of farmhouse. Well, it's funny, I live hyar by myself, and this is a very retired place, but every now and then some stranger walks in on me. So you're from way up in Yankee land. Do you see that old white gobbler out there on the woodpile in the yard? He's my watchdog, and he warned me some one was comin' befo' you got to the gate.
What wet weather we're havin'! My stove always smokes such days. I wish somebody would stick their hat up in that hole in the sky where the water comes from so the rain would stop and give me a chance to work in my garden. I reckon this rain has played the mischief with a heap of people. My brother was tellin' me he drove through the ford down hyar at the battlefield, and the water come right up into his buggy. That stream is only a common little old branch, too.
Sunday, July 21st, was the date of the battle. The Henry farm, where there was the hottest fightin' is about two miles from hyar. The Yankees had marched out from Washington a few days earlier, and our men had been gettin' ready for 'em; so we knew the battle was comin' off. The railroad passed along the edge of our farm, and the trains were runnin' all Saturday night bringin' Southern troops. The rumblin' of the wheels and the whistle for the crossin' hyar would wake us up every few minutes.
Sunday came, and we did our mornin' work as usual. I was eighteen then, and I had four brothers, the youngest only three years old. We kept our horses and cattle out in the pasture, and the little boys would drive the cows up the first thing every mornin', and we'd milk 'em and let 'em go. Another thing we did befo' breakfast was feeding the fowls and the calves. I do that yet. All the animals have got to be fed befo' I'm fed.
The mornin' was one of the prettiest I ever see in my life, and for a while everything was very still, but about six o'clock, just as breakfast was ready, a Yankee cannon that we called Ol' Tom let loose. Paw had the boys go and get the colt from the pasture and put the saddle on him, and as soon as Paw was through eating he got on the colt and went down to the Henry house. If he hadn’t been too old and his health too bad he'd have been in the army. Anyway, he did what he could to help, and he never went to camp that he didn’t carry something to the soldiers. This time he took along a tall black bottle of wine and a little glass to drink from. That glass belonged to me. Grandmother gave it to me when I was a little bit of a tot. I have it yet, and I'm goin' to hang on to it as long as I live. The wine was blackberry wine. Maw made a lot of that every year.
Paw got in with some Southern soldiers, and they went half a mile west along the pike. Then a battery at the Henry house mistook 'em for Yankees and fired a six pound cannon at 'em. The soldiers thought they'd better go back to where that battery was at. So Paw got out his wine and gave 'em each a drink, and away they went.
After Paw had put the glass and bottle in the saddle-pockets he mounted his horse and came over in this direction through a wheatfield. The wheat had been cut and stood there in shocks. As he was a-goin' along in the stubble he was close enough to the Union lines to hear the officers givin' commands, but they didn’t seem to notice him. Paw was a man of mighty cool nerve and he didn’t get frightened.
On this side of the wheatfield was the Widow Dogan's pasture with a great, big, right-new worm fence around it. The colt wouldn’t jump the fence, and Paw took off the top rail. But the colt balked just the same, and he had to take a whole panel down except two rails. The widow's cows were in the pasture, and Paw thought it wouldn’t do to leave the fence down, because the cattle would get into the wheat. So he put up every bit of the fence as he found it and came on up to Groveton. The ground is high there, and the people from the scattered farmhouses were out on the hills watchin.' Ol' Mrs. Dogan was there with all her children, and other women with their children, and lots of darkies were lookin', too.
Some of the Yankees came across there later, and they picked up Mrs. Dogan's overseer. He had all the house-keys, and I don't know what she'd have done if they hadn’t let him go so he got home in time for supper.
All through the early mornin' there was an artillery shot every now and then, and about nine o'clock firin' commenced with small arms. The first round had the funniest sound — just like throwin' a whole lot of lumber down. From that on the battle was hot.
I was hyar with the children and Maw, and I was sittin' on the stake and rider fence out in front of the house when that first volley was fired. We had a tremendous wheat rick, and a great long ladder was leanin' against it. The children and I climbed up and stood on the top of the stack. But the trees down below hyar shut off all sight of the battlefield, and we could only see the bombs exploding. They were n't very near, though, and I don't remember hearin' a bomb whiz.
The trains were still comin' on the railroad, but by and by a Union scout stopped one of 'em hyar at the crossin'. He'd slipped around from Sudley, and the rascal stayed two or three days in the woods near by. He told the officers on the train some story that he thought would keep their troops from gettin' to the battlefield, but he failed to accomplish his purpose. The soldiers left the train and some of 'em came right down the road that passes our house and stopped to ask where they could fill their canteens.
I directed 'em to our spring at the foot of the hill. I always was spokesman when Paw was away, and there were a few times I had to be spokesman when he was at home and 'fraid to open his mouth. A woman somehow has her wits about her and can get around an enemy the way a man can't. Often, during the war, if Paw was goin' somewhere on his horse, he'd take me up behind him rather than go unprotected alone.
Those soldiers who spoke to me that July morning were so anxious to get in the fight that they double-quicked it to the spring, and they went on from there at a gallop down as far as I could see. They were Jackson's foot cavalry, and Jackson's men always did double-quick. There was an officer among 'em who rode the prettiest dapple-gray I ever see, and the men on foot were running in front of him and pulling the fences down.
Another train full of troops was stopped by a man who lived two miles back hyar at Gainesville. He got on his horse and rode clear up to Thoroughfare Gap, six or seven miles, and told the officers on the train that our men were whipped. The man was just actin' the traitor, for he knew better. Well, he was always mean from the time he was little. The South Car'linians found out his trickery later in the day, and they was huntin' for him, but he was hid. They'd 'a' swung him up there in Gainesville in front of his mother's house. They wouldn’t 'a' cared. You know they're hotheaded people, anyhow.
WATCHING THE BURSTING BOMBS
While the fightin' was goin' on that mornin' the children and I rambled all over the place hyar, and then I did something I guess nobody else on earth would do — I went upstairs and lay down and had a good sleep. When I get tired I want a nap. The battle wasn’t a-botherin' me. Early in the day, when it was first startin', the thought came into my head —"Oh my God, if the Yankees should whip us!"
But I said to myself, "They're not a-goin' to do it"; and I was just as easy the rest of the day as if there was nothin' goin' on. I was confident they wasn’t goin' to whip us noway.
We had our dinner at the usual time, and we sat hyar watchin' the bombs explode. They exploded mighty high in the sky. I thought they wasn’t doin' much damage. Father was still away, but we set there laughin' and talkin', and Mother never let on that she was anxious. He got home about two, and said the Yankees had driven our men more 'n a mile till they came to Jackson's brigade. That was where Jackson earned his nickname. His men stood like a stone wall.
'Bout the time Paw finished eatin' dinner, hyar comes a Southern soldier to the house for water. He'd been carryin' the wounded, and the front of his pants was all bloody where one of the wounded men had fallen against him.
After he'd gone my two oldest brothers hitched up our ol' Jim horse; and he was a mighty good ol' horse, too, and he wasn’t so old either. They hitched him to the spring wagon, and they helped Paw put in a keg and a ten gallon lard can and fill 'em with water. Besides, they put in a basket with some victuals in it. There was a ham we'd cooked, and a whole lot of light bread—that's bread made with yeast.
Paw took all those things in his wagon and drove around a back way and got two citizens to go along with him. They were nearly down to Wheeler's house when they saw some cavalry around there, and they didn’t know whether the cavalrymen were Southerners or Northerners. One of the citizens rolled out of the wagon in a hurry to get away. He was 'fraid the Yankees was goin' to ketch him. Paw was left in the road with the other man. They concluded it was safe to proceed, and they kept on toward the battlefield. Pretty soon they saw a wounded Yankee lyin' in a fence corner, and he was beggin' for water. They gave him a drink and fixed him as comfortable as they could and went on. After that it was wounded and wounded all along.
By that time the fightin' was over. The Union troops had kept chargin' up the hill at the Henry farm, but our side was constantly receivin' reinforcements, and finally our men charged. The Yankees fell back, and presently they got panic-stricken. They thought the Confederates were chasing 'em, and they hurried on till late in the night, and some never stopped short of Washington, which is thirty miles from the battlefield.
In the afternoon we were settin' around the house till it was time to do the evenin' work, and we could see the black smoke and the red dust on the Sudley road where our men had got the Yankees runnin' — and if 't wasn’t the biggest dust ever kicked up!
Paw never come home till just befo' day, and he found us all asleep. We knew he knew how to take care of himself. He'd been haulin' wounded off the field in his wagon. Lots of people's teams was doin' the same. Every house in all that country was a hospital, and they had field hospitals, too.
Monday morning, after Paw had slept a while, he went back to the battlefield. My oldest brother wanted to go with him, but Paw said the sights were too horrid for a boy of sixteen. All the wounded had been picked up when Paw got there except some of the Yankees. They'd crawled everywhere they were so afraid the Rebels were goin' to murder 'em. If they'd stayed where they were at when they were shot they'd have been cared for. Some crawled to the wheat shocks and pulled the bundles down over 'em. They hid in all sorts of places. More than twenty years afterward a couple of men out huntin' found a Yankee, way in a thick clump of pines, fallen between two trees. It looked like he'd been settin' leanin' against one of the trees till his strength failed him; and there were his bones and shoes and some scraps of clothing.
Soon after the battle ended one of our officers noticed something in the hand of a Yankee who was lyin' on the ground apparently dead. The officer got down and opened the man's hand, and in it was a white kid glove. The man happened to still have a little life left, and he opened his eyes. Then the officer put the glove back, and the fingers closed over it again. I suppose the man had married just befo' he left home.
A second battle was fought hyar the next summer. Some of the fightin' was done right around our place and I had a chance to hear the Rebel yell. It sounded like a whole lot of schoolboys runnin' a rabbit. Indeed, the Southern soldiers were mo' like schoolboys runnin' a rabbit than anything else. They were full of mischief — cram full of it.
A great many men were killed in that battle, and there were places where the ground was so soaked with blood that not one thing would grow on those spots for years.
You'd be surprised how careless the Yankees were about burying their dead. The Confederates did their part all right. Our men were buried so deep no ploughshare or anything will ever touch 'em. There they'll stay till the Day of Judgment. Some soldiers were sent hyar from Washington to bury the Union dead, and they just joked and talked politics with the old men in the neighborhood, and run on foolishness with the little white boys and little niggers. of co'se they made some pretense at doin' their work, but often they'd leave a corpse right on top of the ground and throw on a little dirt, or turn half a log over it. One man had rocks piled on him, and another they put in a little narrow ravine and laid some rails on top. A detachment of artillery drove across the rails afterward, but a day or two later the man was removed — I reckon by soldiers who knew him. They buried him near an oak tree and cut his initials on the tree-trunk.
Frequently I'd go to walk over the battlefield just to be at it, and I'd always pass a place where one of those men was layin' half buried on top of the ground. Enough dirt had been thrown over him to cover all except his head and one arm that was stretched out from his body. There was a road near him, and a big pear tree. I'd go and look at him out of curiosity. He was a sharp-featured man with a long face and sandy hair and a sandy moustache. His eyes were closed, and he lay there just like he was asleep.
Our men buried some of the Yankees. A railroad had been begun hyar and abandoned, and they gathered up six hundred and eighty-three Yankees and piled 'em up good at the end of this railroad embankment and then threw dirt down on top of 'em and covered 'em deep. Along in '64 and later Northern people used to come out hyar all in a cahoot from Washington to see the battlefield. They had it in their heads that a lot of Rebels were buried at the end of that embankment, and they went on their horses and hawhawed and rode all over the spot just for the fun of it. You people don't know how they behaved down hyar. I don't think devils could have been so mean. They wore the dirt off the bodies, and the citizens would go and throw it back on.
One day I was standin' by the roadside with some friends down at Groveton when a Yankee doctor come ridin' along on his horse, and he had a leather strap full of skulls. The strap was run through at the ears. He held it up and said to us laughing, "Look at these Rebel skulls I've got."
"Where'd you get 'em?" I asked.
"Out hyar at the end of the embankment," he said.
"Indeed, then, they're not Rebel skulls," I said. "They're skulls of your own men."
But he took 'em along just the same. I hope they were always grinning at him and wouldn’t let him sleep nights.
Plenty of Yankees in the army, too, were no more a credit to the North than those people from Washington. If you knew what we know about the letters found on your dead and wounded hyar on the battlefield you'd be ashamed to say that any of your ancestors were in the Northern army. One letter was from a woman who asked her husband to send her some Rebel furniture, because she was tired of boarding and wanted to go to housekeeping. The top of the man's head was blown off, and my brother said, "He's got the Rebel furniture all right."
The letters were written by people who had no education scarcely. We hear tell 'bout New England education and how Boston is the top of the pot, but the writers of those letters couldn’t even spell.
From what I've heard of the folks who live in Vermont and New Hampshire and your Northern mountains a stranger can hardly get a civil answer to a question. It's different down hyar. Our mountain people are polite and nice. I can tell you another thing — when I get on a train and set with a stranger I always know which section of country the stranger is from. If he's chatty he's Southern — if not, Northern.
There's a lot mo' class distinction in the North than in the South. An officer come hyar one evening and wanted supper, and he had his orderly with him. Well, the hateful old thing kept the orderly settin' out on his horse while he himself was in gettin' warm by the fire. We were havin' misty, damp, foggy, wet weather just as we always do in the fall of the year, and Paw spoke to the officer 'bout the man outside.
"Oh! he's only an orderly," the officer said.
But Paw went out and told the man to come in. He came, and yet as long as he was in the room with the officer he looked just like he was on a hot griddle.
Quite a lot of your Northern men was hyar some six or seven years ago to dedicate a monument, and they was wantin' whiskey, whiskey all the time. They had puffy bodies and purplish cheeks, and I never saw such a funnylookin' set of people in my life. It seemed as if you might touch a match to some of 'em, and they'd be set on fire.
In the spring of '65 the government sent men to dig up the remains of the Northern soldiers and carry 'em to Arlington, but they only just took the big bones, and not all of those. There were lots of arm and leg bones out hyar in the woods where the doctors did their amputating that they never got at all. It seems to me I don't want to be livin' at the resurrection when all the people's bones will get together to make their bodies complete. I might get hit. They'd be flyin' around so thick it would be dangerous — it would so.
I remember there was one skull layin' out on the pike a long time. The boys thought it was fun to see how far they could kick it. They couldn’t break it to save their lives, and everything that come along — horses and all — give that skull a kick and never broke a piece off of it. I don't know whatever became of it — whether it got kicked in the branch, or what happened to it, but it disappeared.
Once some of us young people were goin' along side of Bull Run through the bushes. I was ahead, and the first thing I knew I was face to face with a Yankee skull some one had set up there on a black stump about five feet high. I couldn’t help but laugh. It didn’t scare me. I'd seen too many. Yes, some of the most ridiculous things happened during the war, and some of the saddest and some of the meanest.
We had the Yankee soldiers around hyar most of the time, and some of 'em were posted as guards close by at the railroad crossin'. They wouldn’t allow any citizen to go over the crossin' unless they were satisfied he was all right. In order to stop any one who might try to go along after dark they fixed wires across the road to take a man riding on horseback just below the chin. But our boys found out about the wires, and they'd duck their heads and ride under 'em.
Black Frank Lewis had an ol' hog that used to ramble all about the country, and one night the hog was rootin' in the leaves near the crossin', and the Yankees swore it was the Rebels. They caught a glimpse of it by the light of their lantern and shot and killed it. Then they skinned it right there, and some wrote home that they had shot a panther which measured five feet from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail.
A good many of these Yankees had joined the army to get a bounty with the understanding that they'd only be used to protect the capital. But you know the United States government never kept a promise, and they were awful afraid they'd be sent down to fight around Richmond. Some of 'em cut up Jack and were mean as the Ol' Scratch, but we tried our best not to have any trouble with 'em. "Better have the good will of a dog than the bad," Mother said.
Tongue-lashin' 'em didn’t pay. Sometimes my youngest brother made us anxious, for he was the greatest little rascal, and he'd say things befo' 'em. But he lisped, and they couldn’t understand him. The rest of us wouldn’t never say much to 'em, but if they got cuttin' up too high and stealin' we'd save what we could. Ol' Doctor Stewart up hyar kept a hatchet sharpened to split their heads open, and he let 'em know it. They told him if there was mo' ready that way, they'd behave themselves.
Once a prowler come round to where we had all our fowls fastened in the paddock. The wretch started to crawl in there and had got half way under the high log fence when my little brother saw him. The boy took a good stout apple-stick and gave him the biggest lamming I ever looked at, and the feller was glad to back out and slink off.
Another time I found a Yankee in our yard chasin' the chickens, and I told him to let 'em alone. He said: "I'll leave you two. You can be thankful I won't take 'em all. You can raise a dom sight from two."
But he didn’t carry off any at all. He'd got 'em to runnin' and he couldn’t ketch 'em. We had some guineas, but the soldiers never bothered them. They thought guineas wasn’t fit to eat, and that we just kept 'em to scare off hawks.
For a while we had our hens underneath the kitchen. There was forty or fifty — a whole gang of 'em. The kitchen was underpinned all around, but some of the rocks were loose near the back door so we could pull 'em out, and my younger brothers would get in there and hunt for the eggs. They were little chaps who could crawl everywhere. Under the stove was a hole that had got burnt through the floor, and we'd laid a piece of board over it. We threw the chickens' feed down that hole. A guard who had been detailed to stay at the house and protect our property heard one of the chickens squawk when another pecked it, and he said; "Oh! you-all got your chickens under hyar. I never knew that befo', and I been hyar with you nearly three weeks."
Besides our ol' Jim horse we had another horse named Barney. It was funny to see Barney sometimes. Once some Yankee cavalrymen got after him and chased him into our potato patch. We saw 'em racin' around there and doin' their best to ketch him, and he was so smart he wouldn’t let 'em do it. He'd stop short off and they'd go on past him, and he played that same trick on 'em again and again. It's a wonder they didn’t shoot him. They did some tall cussin', and if every oath had been a Parrott shot they would have killed all the people within range. Pretty soon an officer came, and he made 'em go away. If I'd been him I'd have taken my saber and whacked some of 'em. Barney went down in the woods and stayed there till they were all out of the country.
One of Barney's hoofs was too long. I don't know what had happened to him. He wasn’t lame, but that hoof made him walk lame, though we could work him anywhere and ride him. I've ridden him many a time. After bein' chased by the Yankees he never could bear the sight of a blue coat. It would make him jump like he was goin' to jump out of his skin. We had a neighbor who wore an old blue army overcoat he'd picked up on the battlefield. Once I went to where he lived on some errand, and I rode Barney. I got to the man's gate, and he come out of the house wearin' that coat, and I told him to stop where he was. But he walked right along to the gate, and Barney drew himself up in a hump and bucked. If I'd had a sidesaddle I could have stayed on, but I had a cavalry saddle, and I went over backwards onto a pile of stones. I hurt my thumb — that was all. When the ol' fool in the blue overcoat saw what he'd done he kept back, and the horse stood still. I got on Barney and rode away. I could have killed that man, but I never said no mo' to him. I'm one of these that treat a man with silent contempt when they have no use for him.
This was such a small of house that most of the soldiers thought there was nothin' inside worth takin', but we had some silver spoons and a few other small articles that were of value. Women wore hoops then, and I made a big pocket and put our valuables in it and wore it under my hoops when the Yankees were around.
They used to help themselves to the potatoes in our potato patch. They didn’t get many, though, for they only had bayonets and spoons and such things to dig with.
The Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois men — they were the meanest — except the riffraff from the cities, and one regiment from Michigan. The colonel of that regiment was as mean as the men were, and there was a major who was meaner 'n any of 'em. Long after dark, one warm September night, that major and two or three of his men come in hyar without knockin'. I was up, but Maw and the children had gone to bed. Paw was away. An officer had sent for him to come and pilot some of the troops on an expedition they were makin' that night, and Paw said they were shootin' at every cedar bush along the way takin' it for a Rebel.
The major wanted to boil some coffee, and I said, "I'll boil it for you."
I wasn’t goin' to let 'em in the kitchen to save their necks, because I and my third brother had a pet sheep fastened up there. She kept mighty mum that night and never bleated once.
The coffee hadn’t hardly come to a boil when the men wanted it. I brought it to 'em, and they sat around a table on the porch and drank it. They'd brought brown sugar for sweetening and they had some of crackers to eat. I gave 'em a lamp. That was befo' coal oil days, and we burnt butter in it. While they sat there they were makin' mean remarks 'bout one of the local women. I wish she'd heard what they said. She would jaw and abuse the Yankees and say all sorts of hateful things to 'em, and yet later she turned right around and married a Yankee soldier.
Those men stayed hyar till morning. We had a great big stack of hay next to the barn, and they would have fed their horses at it, but Paw had put briery hay on the outside on purpose, and when they got their hands into it they thought it was no good. Half of our garden was full of the biggest cabbages I ever see, and they just stripped that garden of cabbages and everything else. Besides they killed all the turkeys on the place. It wasn’t that they wanted the things for food, but they thought they were starvin' us Rebels. When they left they loaded themselves up, and they scattered turkeys and cabbages along the road half way to Gainesville.
We see hard times in the war. The women had to turn their dresses upside down and wrongside fore and inside out to make 'em last. My youngest brother had pants made out of pretty gray cloth that had been some Southern soldier's saddle-blanket, and his jacket was made out of a blue army overcoat. The battlefields was quite a help to us, for you could find almost anything on 'em — all but a steam engine. I never went out on 'em that I didn’t bring back a load of plunder. That's where we got materials for our shoes. Cartridge boxes were good for soles, tent canvas would turn water and was all right for the upper part, and we tipped 'em with patent leather from soldiers' belts. Paw could make the rougher shoes. But a fellow who lived out across the battlefield made shoes for all over the country. We took the stuff for our best shoes right to his house to be made up.
Well, I've told you 'bout the fightin' round hyar. It makes me mad when people talk in favor of war. I've got no use for it, and I've got no use for battle vessels or big guns. It would pay a heap better to put the money into missions.
1 Her home was an old, low-roofed farmhouse. It was small and much patched and stood in a thin grove of trees where the wild flowers grew in the grass, and the turkeys and chickens rambled freely about. We sat in the little kitchen the greater part of one mild, showery day. The door was open, and we could look forth on the misty fields and woodlands. My hostess had reached the age of three score years and ten, but her tall form was unbent, her features retained their natural ruggedness, and there was all the fire of youth in her lively and unconventional conversation.