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The Colored Servantmaid 1
MY home was at a farmhouse a mile out of town on the Chambersburg Pike, where I worked for Mrs. Hartzell. She was a widow woman with two small children — a boy and a girl. I was about twenty years old then.
The Rebels knew this country well, and some time before the battle they come ridin' all around here dressed in women's clothes spyin' out. We had a militia troop in the town but the Rebel raiders druv our militia clean out of sight.
On the mornin' the fightin' begun there were pickets on horses all up and down the pike. We were standin' at the gate watchin' 'em, when suddenly they come tearin' along shoutin' that there was goin' to be a battle, and we were ordered to go to the next house. I was bakin' that day, but I left my bread in the oven, and we didn’t take nothin' we were so scairt. Mrs. Hartzell ran along with the little girl, and I gathered up the little three-year-old boy and hurried after her. We got up to the high ground and stopped to look back — and oh! there was the beautifulest sight — the Union army all in line of battle. The blue coats and guns and flags stretched away a long distance as fur as we could see.
The Rebels fired the first shell, and I pointed it out to the little boy way up in the air. After a while it busted. The Rebels fired twice befo' our people turned loose. Then we ran, and I fell. Mrs. Hartzell thought I was shot. But we got safely to the house of an old gentleman named Chriss. He and his family, and the rest of us went down in the cellar where we'd be mo' safer; and how that poor old soul did pray! My laws! you never heard such prayin' in your life, and I think the Lord heard his prayers and took care of us. The children and nearly every one was cryin'. Once a ball come in through a window and rolled down in the middle of the floor. I was thankful it didn’t hit us. I wanted to see my mother then, but I was satisfied to stay there till they were done fighting.
Once I looked out. The Rebels were charging, and when the Union troops fired their volleys I see men among the Rebels stumble and pitch forward and fall as if they were tripping over briars.
We were inside the Rebel lines, and the soldiers were all the time running in and out of the house. You'd hear 'em load their guns — clicky-click, and push 'em out the windows and fire. We didn’t know what they was goin' to do with us. 'Long about five o'clock the noise stopped for a while, and the old gentleman said, "I b'lieve I'll go up and see what's goin' on."
In a minute he run back and says, "Women and children, fo' the Lord's sake come up!"
We went up and looked out of the kitchen door, and down a little way toward the town there was a bayonet charge in a wheatfield. They were just cuttin' and jaggin'; and of all the hollerin' and screamin' and rattlin' of swords and bayonets I never heard the like. It was the awfullest thing to see! They had ambulances there, and as fast as the men fell they were picked up and carried off. Pretty soon they commenced firin' again, and we all fell right back down in the cellar. Then some one come and told us we must get out of there and go across the fields to another house. That house was Dave Hankey's. His place was thronged with Rebels, and they stopped me, and said to Mrs. Hartzell: "Hey, what you doin' with her? She's got to go along with us,"
"You don't know what you're talkin' about," Mrs. Hartzell said, and I was so scairt I hung onto her skirts.
We got down into the cellar, and I crawled way back in the darkest corner and piled everything in front of me. I was the only colored person there, and I didn’t know what might happen to me. Up in the kitchen was a sick officer, and he wanted the women to come up out of the cellar to take care of him and do some cooking, and he promised they should be well treated. Mr. Hankey says to him, "Would you see a colored person protected if she was to help with the work here?"
He said he would, and he sent out a written somethin' or 'nother orderin' the men to keep out of the kitchen, and he had the door boarded up half way so they could hand in things to be cooked and we could hand 'em out afterward. No one could go out and no one could come in. The officer must have been pretty sick. 'Deed, I don't know what was the matter of him, but he just lay on the broad of his back, I had to comb his head, wash his face, and take off his shoes and stockings. We stayed up all night doin' nothin' but cook and bake for the Rebels. Good land! they killed cows and calves and chickens and everything they come across, and brought the things to us to cook. I heard Mr. Hankey pleading with 'em not to kill his calf, but it didn’t do no good.
By morning we were pretty near dead. There was no chance to sleep, and I couldn’t have slept anyway for hearin' them miserable wounded men hollerin' and goin' on out in the yard and in the barn and other buildings, They moaned and cried and went on terribly. "Oh! take me home to my parents," they'd say.
The battle was at a distance the second day, and late on the third day the Confederates left. They'd just heard of some great army comin', and they run. I never seen such a sight of goin' people with their wagons, cannons, ambulances, and horses. Nobody has an idea of the excitement and noise. But in a little while the place was rid out. We were free souls then. Our army didn’t pursue 'em. The people that was in the battle needed a rest, and the people that wasn’t in it was satisfied to take a rest, too.
When we got back to Mrs. Hartzell's we found everything either thrown out of the house, or all broken up, and the garden all tramped and mashed down. She had relatives who give her some things so we got fixed up after a while,
Near us was a brick tavern, and in this here tavern a company of soldiers put up after the battle. We used water from the tavern well, but it got so ugly and smelt so bad we could hardly drink it. The soldiers was sick, and we was sick. They thought there was dead frogs down in the well, and so one day they pumped and pumped to clear it out, and by and by here comes up a little piece of a wrist and thumb. They'd been cookin' with that water, and so had we; and now that they knew what was the matter there was a lot of gaggin' done among 'em, but what was down they couldn’t git up. We didn’t use that well no mo', and to this day I couldn’t drink a drop out of it just for the thoughts of what was found in it so long ago.
I knew of another well that was half filled with dead soldiers. That was an easy way to bury 'em. Those was rough times — rough times — and I'm sure of one thing — if they ever fight again in this country I don't want to be around.
1 She was a fleshy woman who looked much younger than she really was. I spent an hour in the late dusk of an afternoon in her sitting-room. She had politely made me welcome and then disappeared. But she soon returned with her cap adjusted and her apron turned to present a clean side and sat down on the sofa after removing a sticky fly paper that' was covered with flies.