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A Battlefield Farmer 1
I LIVED in a log house on the main road half a mile south of Shiloh Church. So I was right plumb in the worst danger thar was at all. I'd bought the place in '59 and paid two hundred and fifty dollars on it, and I gave my note for two hundred and fifty more. The land was already cleared, and thar was a cotton gin on the place. I chopped down trees and built the house myself. We didn’t have no such thing as a lumber house in this country then much. My house had jist one room and no loft. The roof was made of thin oak boards, three feet long, split out by hand, and put on like shingles. Close by was a smokehouse and a little barn.
I was young them days — not much over thirty at the time of the battle — and I had a wife and two children.
After the Yankees begun to gather hyar early in March, 1862, some of 'em was pretty generally around my place every day. I had some fodder stacked in the field—two big stacks — and they tuck that the first thing. They tuck nineteen bales of cotton, which was all I had ginned, and carried it down to their steamboats, and I never saw any more of it. That same day they tuck my corn, and I says to the feller that drove up to the crib, "I'd ruther you'd jist shoot me down than take my corn."
He told me I didn’t know what war was. Well, I didn’t, and I don't want to know what it is no more.
They gave me vouchers for the truck they carried off, and I was hopin' I might git money for them vouchers; but one mornin' some soldiers broke into my house while I was away. Thar was a key lock on the front door, but only a thumb bolt on the back door. By poundin' off a board that was nailed over a space between the logs near the back door they reached in and slid the bolt. When I got home at noon I found six of 'em in thar cookin' dinner. I threatened to complain of 'em, and they told me they'd pay me a gold dollar for their dinner. So I said, "All right."
But after they'd gone I found they'd taken my vouchers and every paper I had on top of the earth, and they tuck the old woman's scissors and needles, and they tuck my razor, and they tuck my clothes so I didn’t have an extra suit or nothing. One feller put on my drawers, and I found his under the house full of body lice.
I moved my family a few days before the battle right across the hill to my father-in-law's. I didn’t want to be at home. The Yankees was camped thick as blackbirds all around my place, and things looked too scarey thar.
On Saturday morning, April 5th, some of their cavalrymen stopped at my father-in-law's and said they was thirsty and hungry, and we gave 'em water and food. Then they went along, and they'd hardly got out of sight in the next holler when two Confederates spurred up to the gate and wanted to know if any Yankees had been thar. "Yes, and they've jist gone," I said.
Whichever side come to me for information I told the truth and didn’t hide anything. Northern or Southern, they was alike to me. I wasn't nary one of 'em.
The Confederates asked which way the Yankees went, and I replied, "They went down the hill."
The men questioned me some more and found out I'd been livin' inside of the Union lines, and then they said, "You come along with us."
Thar was two of 'em, and I didn’t have a gun, so I couldn’t do anything but go. They went straight to the head man, Sidney Johnston, and lit off their horses. They'd been out scouting, and one of 'em said to the general, "We've brought you a man who's been in the Yankee camps."
Johnston wanted to know how things looked thar, and I said: "The Yankees' battle line stretched out in the woods so far I couldn’t see any end to it. Their tents made as pretty a city as I ever looked at."
"Have they got any rifle-pits out?" he asked.
"No, I didn’t see any," I told him.
"Do you know the country back hyar?" he said.
I told him I did, and he sent me off to show his men some roads that wasn’t so muddy as the main roads. In about an hour by the sun I got back to Johnston, but they didn’t let me leave till it was gittin' dark. So I stopped that night at my Uncle Peter's on the other side of the creek from my father-in-law's.
The battle began the next morning jist at daylight. I was already awake, but I wasn’t out of bed yet. As soon as I could git to the stable I saddled up, and I'd ridden down as far as the creek when the first cannon was fired. An old turkey gobbler answered it. Another cannon fired, and he gobbled again, and that was what he did every time till they was firing so fast he couldn’t keep up. Then he got ashamed of himself and quit.
About that time some Confederate soldiers caught me, and they didn’t turn me loose till ten o'clock. When I was free I hurried to whar my family was and I found a world of soldiers around the house. An officer said to me: "You git the women and children out. Thar's liable to be a fight hyar."
I decided to take 'em to Squire Greer's, a mile above, and I was on the way when some troops stopped me. Their colonel said, "We want you to pilot us across to whar they're fightin'."
But I told him, "I got to take these women and children to a house up hyar a little ways."
"All right," he said, "take 'em along, and then come back."
I didn’t have no notion to go back, and after I got to Squire Greer's me 'n' my family — every one — went on down in the swamp. We found a dry place to sit on, and we stayed thar that day. None of us older ones e't any dinner, but I expect my wife had brought along something for the children so they didn’t go hungry.
I might perhaps have got some idea of how the battle was goin' by climbin' a tree, but I didn’t want to be seen. We wasn’t a quarter of a mile from Squire Greer's blacksmith's shop. He was busy shoein' the soldiers' horses as fast as he could shoe, but every half hour, or as often as he got news of the battle, he'd come whar we was to report.
Thar was a continual roar of small arms and cannon all day long, and I could tell by the sound that the Yankees was bein' pushed back to the last jump-off. That suited me well enough. I didn’t care which side whipped, and I wasn’t anxious except to see the thing closed out. I jist wanted to git 'em to quit. That was what I was after. I didn’t want no war.
In the evenin', about sundown, after the firin' had stopped, I tuck my family up to Squire Greer's, and we spent the night thar. He had plenty of beds, and I slept tolerably good.
I waked up about day and went to my father-in-law's house. Things looked pretty bad thar. Under a big oak tree in the yard lay a man flat on his back with a blanket over him, and I pulled the blanket up enough to see that he was dead. The house was full of wounded men, and dead men was piled up in the little hall jist like hogs. You see perhaps the wounded wouldn’t more'n git thar in the ambulances than they was dead, and I reckon the hall was a convenient place to pile their bodies. The bullets was flyin' thick thar for a part of the day, and a cannon ball had knocked off the chimney, and a good many trees and limbs were shot off. Thar was blood everywhar all over the place. Hit was most too much for me, but by the end of the week I got so hardened to such things I could have eaten my dinner off a dead man.
Thar wasn’t no doctor at my father-in-law's that Monday — nary a one — and the first thing I done I waited on the wounded men the best I could. I give 'em some water which I carried around to 'em in a canteen. Afterward I cooked bacon and cornbread for 'em. The armies was fightin' again and I could hear the cannon very plain, but it had begun to rain, and the drops a-spottin' the house made so much noise I couldn’t hear the small arms. About two o'clock the Confederates formed a line of battle right through the yard. I tuck that as a notice to leave, and I went to whar my family was stayin'.
On the first day of the battle the Confederates captured everything the Federals had in their encampment. They drew the things back two or three miles, but the next day, when they retreated, they had to abandon 'em. So they broke the flour barrels, and they piled up the tents and guns and touched a match to 'em to destroy 'em. But thar was stuff that they didn’t have time to destroy scattered all along the road with dead men and dead horses and mules lyin' about. On Chuesday thar wasn’t any soldiers on that part of the battlefield, and the people come from all around and gathered up as much as they could carry off. In places thar was great piles of bacon, and I heard of one family that got enough of that bacon to do 'em the rest of the year.
Hit had rained a-Monday night a big one, but Chuesday was tolerable pleasant, and I started about sun-up to go back to my father-in-law's. The creek was up and out of the banks in places, but I got over on a log. When I reached the house I found the wounded as thick as they could lie in thar. I couldn’t hardly git around among 'em, and thar was nobody to care for 'em except one soldier. Jist as I was makin' ready to give 'em somethin' to eat a troop of Federal cavalry come and wanted me to pilot 'em. I told 'em I couldn’t go because I had to cook for the wounded, and besides I had no horse.
"Yes, you can go, too," they said. "We'll have men to take care of the wounded, and we'll furnish you a horse." So I had to go along, and I was with 'em all day. We went up the road a piece and they marched into an old field. Some of us stayed behind on the edge of it, and the rest galloped on across and in among the trees beyond. But in a few minutes back they come out of the woods, officers and men all mixed up together, and the Rebels drivin' 'em.
I spoke to those I was with and said: "What in the world have you fellers got me out hyar for? I ain't no fighter."
A major who was right next to me says, "That beats anything I ever see."
They fought in that old field, and I looked on. Over a hundred men were killed thar, and the wagons ran till deep dark bringin' back the wounded. Hit was way in the night that I reached my father-in-law's house, A soldier come with me. I was ridin' a powerful big horse, and this soldier went off with it and his, too. He ran away with 'em. I found that out the next day when his colonel come to the house and asked, "Whar is that horse you rode yesterday?"
I said, "Your man tuck him away."
"If you don't bring me that horse we'll have to hang you," he said.
"Well," I says, "git your rope and go to work. I can't bring you the horse."
He didn’t talk any more about hangin', but advised me to move across the river.
I said, "I've stood it this far hyar, and I'm goin' to tough it out."
Later that day me 'n' a Yankee doctor went down to my farm. The cotton gin had been burned with about forty thousand pounds of cotton seed and enough cotton that was in the lint room to make three bales. The doctor picked up a piece of shell, and he said a bomb had burst in the gin-house and set it on fire. But a soldier told me that he was lyin' in the lint room wounded when a big, red-complected man come in and tuck him out. The next thing he knew the gin was on fire. I had a neighbor who was jist sich a man as he'd described, and this neighbor had told me if I didn’t burn the gin the Confederates would do so to keep the Yankees from gittin' the cotton. Hit's my guess that he set the fire, but I couldn’t prove it.
My house was used as a hospital during the battle. The surgeons worked thar, and the arms and legs that they cut off was buried in a great pit near the back door. After the wounded was all carried away the soldiers tore the house down and left the pieces scattered around.
I had 'bout thirty acres in wheat, and the wheat was already headed. I'd put a lot of work into it, and when I was ploughin' in the seed I had often kept goin' till ten o'clock at night. The cavalrymen tied their horses all through the field to stakes that they set as close together as they could and not have the horses kick each other, and those horses had e't off the wheat and stomped it down so I never got nary a bit.
Before the battle I had twenty-four head of nice hogs, and I only saw one afterward, and that was crippled. Hit was done shot, but they didn’t git it. They killed the rest of 'em and cut off their heads, and threw the heads down in the well. I looked and I could see the noses and years stickin' up out of the water. Hit was fine water, but I ain't never tried it since. Yes, they got my hogs, but plague it all! you couldn’t blame soldiers for killin' hogs.
I had a cow and a calf, and the cow ran off over on Lick Creek. The timber was budding out a little, and she went whar she could git some buds. But the soldiers caught her, and they kept her in camp about a week and milked her.
Then she got away, and I found her with twelve feet of grass rope on her horns. So I knew she'd been tied up. Her calf had done starved to death at home.
My mare run away and went up whar she was raised, and before I could go after her another army passed through and she disappeared for good.
One of the wounded men at my father-in-law's had been hit by a cannon ball in the ankle so his foot was jist hangin'. He was shot Sunday, and he didn’t git no medical attention till Thursday. Then the doctors cut his leg off just above the knee, and I tuck his leg and foot and buried 'em in the garden. The man said he was a flag-bearer, and that the soldiers always shot at the flag-bearers mo' than at others. One day I noticed a change had come over him, and I said to the doctor, "That man's a-dyin'."
"Oh, no!" the doctor said, "he's gittin' along the best kind."
But in a few minutes he was dead, and I and three Federal soldiers carried him out in his blanket, each hold of a corner. We dug a pit 'bout two feet deep, lowered him into it, folded the blanket over him, and covered him up. His bones are thar yet out on the hillside.
Some of those who was killed on the battlefield never had any graves dug. They lay whar they fell, and a little dirt was thrown over 'em. I saw sixteen Confederates lyin' flat on their backs side by side, and not a speck of digging was done except to git enough dirt to cover 'em out of sight. Lots of bodies had the dirt washed off 'em by rain, or the hogs rooted 'em out; and then the hogs and buzzards and other varmints would devour 'em. The bones lay thar and sun-dried, and a heap of 'em was carried off by people who come hyar to look around. I saw a skull only the other day that a man had found while ploughing. He had gathered it up and brought it in the house to keep for a show. Oh! I've seen lots of different bones in houses.
A RELIC OF THE OLD BATTLE
When the last of the wounded were moved away from my father-in-law's 'bout the only food we had left was half a flour barrel of bolted meal. I went to the general for a pass to go to mill, but he wouldn’t give me one. He didn’t want to have me go outside of the Union lines. I told him I didn’t see what I was goin' to do for something to eat.
"Well," he said, "if we starve to death, you will, too. If we don't, you won't."
I went back to the house, and I hadn’t been thar long when an old Irishman walked in and said, "Hyar's some bread the general sent."
He had an armful of crackers — great big hard fellers. "I can't eat those things," I said, but he showed me how to soak 'em in hot water and fry 'em in fat, and they were good.
All the chickens on the place had been sold or stolen except one rooster, and a soldier come to the door and wanted to buy him.
"I tell you p'int blank you can't have him," I said, "I'm goin' to keep him to crow for me"; and the soldier turned away.
The same old, long-legged Irishman who brought me the hardtacks happened to be callin' on me, and a minute or two later he looked out of the window and said. "Thar's that man tryin' to ketch your rooster."
He went to the door and said, "I'll shoot you down right thar if you don't let that chicken alone."
Of course the feller quit chasin' the rooster then and went about his business. I couldn’t ask for a better friend than that Irishman was.
In the North you taught your children that the Rebels were idiots and didn’t have no mo' sense than to kill little boys and girls; and in the South we taught our children that the Yankees had horns. Well, that did for talk, and talk's cheap. I know I struck some as clever fellers in the Yankee army as I ever met in my life. Really, you can't git as many men together as thar is in an army but thar'll be some mean ones and some good ones.
The soldiers found out that I could cook, and they brang me their bakin' powder and corn meal and salt, and I'd bake 'em corn bread to halves. Then one of the officers asked me if I could wash, and I told him, "Yes."
So they brang me their fine shirts and drawers and stockings, and I done washing. By that time I'd got my family thar. I washed all day long as hard as I could, and my old woman would starch and iron. We had all we could tend to, and we was paid in gold.
But after a while the last of the army got away, and we moved out on the creek. I spent the summer hunting squirrels and turkeys. We had a little bit of a split-log house we stayed into, and the next year I rented some land and raised a crop of corn.
I was always afraid the recruiting officers would ketch me, and I'd be conscripted. I slept out a couple of nights to avoid 'em. Hit was in October, and I carried along some bed quilts and found a dry place under a tree and slept fine. People who knowed me didn’t want to interrupt me because I made shoes for 'em and water vessels, churns, and tubs.
A cousin of mine slept out till he was wild as a buck. He and two other fellers hid together in the woods all the time of the war. They had blankets, and they'd move about from one swamp to another, and in bad weather they would slip to some old waste house to sleep. I reckon they sponged most of their food, but they made a little corn crop every year, and they shot some game that they'd cook over a fire among the trees. In the daytime they'd mostly jist lie in their nest, but one of 'em would keep on the watch for any soldiers or conscripters who might come in.
I wasn’t as lucky as they was. One day, in the fall of '63, the conscripters caught me, and they kept me in the army a couple of months. Then I got a slow fever. I had a brother in the army, and he brought me home, and I was never out of the house until the next March. By that time I was able to work a little. I expected to be ordered back to my regiment, but the summons didn’t come, and I stayed on and on and got the crops laid by. I'd jist finished when a mule throwed me and broke my arm. After that the army had no use for me.
The guerillas got to be kind o' troublesome late in the war. They was mostly Confederates, and they'd a heap rather rob a Republican than a Democrat, but none of us was safe. A few of the Yankee deserters joined the guerilla bands. I reckon some of those fellers may be livin' yet, and if they are I'll be bound they're drawin' pensions, the same as all the other Northern soldiers.
Them guerillas was about as lawless a set as there was on the face of the earth. I knowed one old man who didn’t have much sense, and they shot him off the fence whar he was settin', jist to see him die.
I got into a nest of guerillas myself one evenin' down the river. Me 'n' my wife's brother, Hiram, was a-goin' across country on foot when we see a lot of cavalry, as we tuck it to be. Thar was six or eight or ten of 'em. They discovered us and turned to ride in our direction. That made Hiram anxious, and he wanted to run, but I wouldn’t.
"They'll git us shore," he said, "and I'm a-goin' to throw my pocket-book away."
"I wouldn’t do that," I said. "I don't think they are guerillas."
They soon got to whar we was, and without gittin' off their horses they commenced gougin' their hands in our pockets. I couldn’t help bein' sort of skeered then. I didn’t like their appearance. In my coat pocket I had a home-made twist of tobacco, and they got that. Thar was a three-dollar bill in my vest pocket, and it was every cent of money I had. They didn’t happen to find that, and I was afraid they'd be so mad at not gittin' any money from me that they'd shoot me.
But in a few minutes they rode off. Hiram had lost his pocket-book, and he said he wished he had not tuck my advice. We both went home after we got into that yaller-jacket's nest.
The war left this region in pretty bad shape. Every farm had suffered, and Corinth, our market town, was tetotally wiped out. I jist went to work by the day. That war ruined me financially forever, and now that I'm old and can't work any mo' I don't know what's goin' to become of me.
I think perhaps the last war will be fought within fifty years. I've been readin' the Bible and watchin' the signs, and I believe the end of all time is near. Thar's a heap of fightin' right now across the big deep, and troubles are growin' on people jist as the Bible described it. "When ye shall see these things the end is nigh," the Bible says. "There shall be wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes" — we know those are hyar — "and pestilence and troubles of all kinds, and men shall grow worse and worse unto the end." Any man with two eyes ought to see that the state of things at present is like what the Bible words describe.
But some people claim that wars and famines and disasters don't indicate nothing in partickerler. They say that human bein's are multiplyin' so fast that the world can't hold 'em, and it's necessary to have some means to destroy and thin 'em out. That sort of argument only shows their ignorance. They think the world is jist the same size now as it always has been and always will be. But they're wrong. Thar's mo' foolish ideas about creation than about anything else. The world ain't over-populated and never will be. It's growin' in size as fast as the people increase in number.
I dug wells in my young days. Once I went down nineteen feet through as pretty earth as I ever saw and found some blue mud that had a hickory log in it with the bark on. I've dug a well sixty-three foot deep and found clam shells down thar. All that earth has formed over those places since the trees and the clams was alive.
That makes me say the world grows, and I shore ain't afraid it will be over-crowded — no, sir, not a bit of it. If God created the world in the first place He can easy make it twice as large to take care of the people.
1 He was a slight, smooth-faced old man, who was much more lively mentally than he was physically. I found him living with a son-in-law off on a half-wild by-road near the battlefield. The day I visited him was warm, and we sat in the open passage between the two sections of the one-story dwelling.