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The Refugees 1
I WISH my old man was hyar to visit with you. He suffered a great deal in the war, and he'd rather talk about it than eat. Those was powerful troublesome times — scarey times. Me 'n' him was young folks then with a little family of three or four children. We didn’t live in this country hyar. Our home was fifteen mile up the river. He 'd went into the Rebel army, but early in 1862 he come home on a furlough. I s'pose he stayed two months. I ain't certain. You see that's a long time for a person old as I am to ricolect. I'm goin' on eighty now.
His captain come and wanted him to go back into the army and would have rushed him right down hyar where they was about to have a fight. My old man said he would go, but he didn’t say when he was a-goin' — he didn’t tell him that at all. "Fanny," he said to me afterward, "I've made up my mind to see my father and mother once more while I'm a-livin'."
Their home was somewhere near four miles from ourn, I reckon. He started, and he was ridin' slowly along when he saw a sight of men down the road on horses — awful large horses. The men was all dressed in blue, and the first thing he knew they charged right up to him and said, "Throw up your hands, sir."
They asked him where he was a-goin', and where he lived, and what was his name, and he told 'em. Then they wanted to know if he was a Rebel soldier. Well, there was no use to deny it.
"Do you want to go back to the Rebel army?" they asked.
He said he didn’t want to go back if he could help himself. So they asked him to take the oath of religion, I believe they called it. He taken that all right, and they wrote him a great long paper and turned him loose and told him to go where he pleased. They didn’t order him to join the Union army because they had plenty of good drilled people, and he wasn’t.
He went on and seen his father and mother, and then he come back home and bid me good-by. Hit was his intention to go right straight hyar to be near the Yankee army and keep out of the way of the Rebels gittin' him. He come down the river in a bateau with some other men, and when they got nearly hyar they landed on the opposite bank. The next day the battle begun. My old man was on yon side of the river scouting that morning when he heard some men hollerin' to him from this side. The Rebels had housepitals above Pittsburg Landing, and there was a sight of sick folks in them housepital camps. Several of the sick men had come out on the river bank. They wanted to git out of the way of the fightin', and they hollered, "Come over hyar and git us with them boats there."
My husband, he thought so much of the pore sick folks that he went right into a boat and started to row across — and them armies a-fightin' there. About middle ways of the river was a gunboat throwin' shells over into the woods, and the men on it hollered at him, "Halt!"
Well, he just stopped rowin' and floated down onto the gunboat, and the men reached their hands and pulled him in. He wasn’t scared, for he knowed they wouldn’t jump on him and beat him to death, but so many were blobbin', blobbin' to him that he didn’t have no sense. They were all private men, and they kept jabbering to him till an officer came and told 'em to go set down. This officer was the head man, and my husband showed him his papers and told him what he was doin'.
"You can take that little craft of yours," the officer said, "and go git those men there. Take 'em over to the other bank and report back."
My husband went, and tuck the men across to yon side. Then he rowed to the gunboat, and the gunboat men helped him on board. "Hyar's that same man," they said to the commander.
"Yes, I know he is," the commander said, "I recognize his countenance."
Then he said to my husband: "Don't git away from the river. These are terrible times right now."
He gave him a pass to go on shore, and ordered him to report back there the next morning. That night my husband went to his Uncle Tom's about two mile back from the other side of the river, and early the next day he returned to the gunboat and asked the captain could he come out hyar on the battlefield. The captain said he could, and he done so. He knowed he was in danger, but he had a brother in the Rebel army, and he wanted to look and see if he'd been killed or hurt.
My old man didn’t find his brother, though he seen many others that he knowed among the dead and crippled. He tried to pick up and tote the wounded, but he couldn’t stand the blood and the scent, and the groans, and the hollerin' for water. That was what hurt him. Hit made him sick, and for quite a while he wasn’t able to sleep at night for imaginin' he heard the cries of those wounded men.
He went back to his uncle's, and after the battle, when things was sort of settled up, he brought me down there. Aunt Mary had butter and milk and eggs and chickens, and he peddled 'em to the soldiers. Oh law! the soldiers was great hands for such things. He ran a ferryboat, too, and carried across a sight of people and wagons and horses. We was used to skiffs and boats, for we was raised beside the river just like a duck. My husband had a man to help him run the boat in the daytime. One of 'em pulled with the great long paddles, and the other steered. I've guided the boat a-many a time on a moonshiny night. I'd leave the littlest children with the biggest and go to help.
My husband got some land and made a fine crop. Hit was bottom land, and he raised mighty good corn. Sometimes he'd go off down the river, and he'd bring back sich things as cloth, pepper, and especially coffee and salt. You couldn’t hardly git salt at all them times. Thar was nothin' hyar, and he was tryin' to help people all he could. He bought cheap and sold high, and he was makin' money.
We was prosperin', but my old man taken a flux hyar because he had to drink the river water. He like to have died of fever and chills. So the next season we moved to Corinth, and there the old man had yaller jaundice. Hit like to have killed him, and we did lose one child. Corinth was full of Northern soldiers, and it was sich a nasty place they was a-goin' to vacate. Yes, Corinth was powerful sickly for 'em.
We didn’t like it any better than they did, and we moved seventeen mile to Purdy. About a dozen families went at the same time. Hit was March, and the coldest kind of weather, and there was awful deep mud. We was three days on the road. Often a wagon would stick in the mud, and we'd have to pry it out, or double up teams and pull it out. At night we'd camp in the woods and make log-heap fires to cook by and warm us. We slept in the wagons. Our horses was tied to the wheels or the trees. A robber come into our camp and stole a horse one night. We'd 'a' lost a good deal more, I reckon, if we hadn’t had dogs along to git after people and drive 'em off.
At Purdy the only building we could git to live in was a little old blacksmith's shop. It was pretty cold weather to stay in that old shop, but we stuck in there for three or four months. The building had only a dirt floor, and you couldn’t say anything good about such a floor except that the wind didn’t come up through. Yes, the old plank2 blacksmith shop had a tight floor, and that was the only tight thing about it.
While we was livin' in that shop my old man was sick of the diptheria. He had it bad, too, and like to have died. We moved again and went to Savannah on the Tennessee River near where we lived when the war begun. The doctor there waited on the old man about two years before he got well. He was sick all that time, but he was able to work some, and he tried to make a crop in the fields right around the house.
We had a sight of trouble with the guerillas while we was livin' in Savannah. They run in there two or three times a week, and they'd whip people and they'd burn up a heap of things for spite. Yes, what they couldn’t carry off they'd throw in the fire just from meanness. They was powerful folks to drink and was always wantin' whiskey, If they couldn’t git whiskey they'd drink vinegar, and vinegar got so gone people hardly ever had any. We put ourn in jugs and hid it so those fellers wouldn’t git it. They'd come in and take all our food, and at last we 'lowed to keep only one meal ahead.
If there was a skirmish with the guerillas anywhere around, all the men in the place, except the very old ones, would run and git out of the way and hide hyar and yonder.
Part of the guerillas was Rebels and part was Yankees. Sometimes they'd fight each other, and sometimes they'd git friendly and go together. I suppose we wouldn’t have had guerillas if it hadn’t been for the war, hut this war never made all the rogues. Some were rogues afore, I guess, though I don't doubt the war give many a one a big start in roguery who didn’t work for it.
We wasn’t afraid of the regular soldiers, for we knew they wasn’t a-goin' to hurt us. But it was different with the guerillas. We dare n't open our doors on a dark night because maybe a robber or somethin' would be standin' out there, and we dare n't talk above a whisper hardly, The whole country was alive with them guerillas, and they'd be about and hear you when you didn’t see 'em.
One day we looked out of the window just at nightfall, and there was a party of guerillas off in the distance comin' along the road. My old man had bought him a new pair of shoes a short time before. We was mighty pore folks, and he said, "Fanny, I believe I'll put those shoes on or they'll take 'em."
So he sat down and put 'em on, and by that time nine of the guerillas was in the house. Two of the village men who was settin' in the next house jumped up and run out of the back door through the briers and one thing another, and the guerillas shot at 'em. Then the guerillas went from our house over to that one, and my old man said: "I expect those old mean men will come back hyar. So give me a couple of quilts and I'll go lay out for to-night."
He took the quilts, and I didn’t see him again till the next day. It was a cle'r, pretty night, and he slept in a cotton patch under a big persimmon bush.
Them robbers bolted in soon after he left. They was dressed in black and armed with pistols. "We know you've got some money hyar," they said, "and we're goin' to have it or burn the house."
"Well," I says, "burn the house, if you want to."
But I was scared so bad I just went and got the bucket of water I'd hid the money in and handed it to the head robber. There was ten dollars in silver, and I said, "If the money 'II do you any good take it and leave."
He put his hand down in the bucket and got the money. My old man had a rifle gun hanging up in a rack, and he thought a heap of it, Well, one of the robbers took that gun down and bent the barrel and broke the stock.
Then he goes off and the others with him to the next house. The only people there were old Mr. Webb and his wife, and they were cripples who couldn’t walk to do no good. One of the robbers put his pistol to the old man's breast and said, "I want that money you're takin' care of for your neighbor."
My husband thought they wouldn't trouble the old man, and he'd given him his pocketbook. But they knowed he'd done it, and they made Mr. Webb hand the pocketbook over to 'em.
They went to another house and took a young feller and hung him to an apple tree till he was black in the face. They was pretty near drunk, and that was their way of makin' the feller's folks pay 'em money. His mother gave 'em two dollars, and they hung him again till she gave 'em five dollars.
They stopped at every house in the neighborhood, and by and by they went to Mr. Owens' and hollered to him to open the door, and he did so. "We want you to give up that fifty-dollar bill you've got," they said.
"Well, I won't do it," he told 'em, and shut the door and wouldn’t let 'em in.
It was gittin' daylight, and they started off, but before they was out of the yard they got into some dispute and began shootin', and one of the robbers was killed. The next day it rained one of the hardest rains you ever saw, and that dead robber was lyin' there with his brains droppin' out of a bullet hole in his head. My old man said, "I'd throw him out of the yard and let the hogs eat him, only it might poison 'em he was so mean."
We couldn’t leave him there, and we dug a grave. Hit wasn’t fur away, and it wasn’t very deep. Then we tuck him and rolled him into an old box and tied some lines to the box and drug it to the grave and buried him.
Well, that's the way things went in that old war, and we didn’t have any comfort until it was over.
1 She was fleshy and elderly. Her home was a primitive, whitewashed log dwelling on the battlefield about a quarter of a mile from the river. Now and then, as we sat in the kitchen talking of the long-gone war days, she would pause in her reminiscences to refresh herself with some snuff from a tin spice box. She swabbed it up on the frayed end of a slender stick, put the snuff end of the stick in her mouth, and there the stick stayed with the other end protruding. After she had absorbed a satisfying amount of the snuff she put the stick back in the box and spit tobacco juice into a wooden box of sawdust on the floor with a persistence and precision that would have done credit to a masculine expert.
2 The word "plank" as used in the South is equivalent to "board" as understood in the North.