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The Mulatto Girl 1
I LIVED with my Uncle Amos in a four-room frame house in what is now the business part of the city. Chattanooga was a small place then with just a house hyar and thar. Not more 'n three or four of the houses was of brick, and a good many were little log cabins with whitewashed walls. Right in the middle of the town was a big frog pond. Well, the place wasn’t nothing but a mudhole. Oh, but I've spent many happy days thar!
I was just a stripling of a girl when the Yankees bumbarded the town from across the river. They throwed in bumbshells, log chains, and everything. We could see the chains twisting through the air like snakes. A piece of a bumb struck a white woman right above our house just after dark that evening and killed her.
Uncle Amos spoke to my aunt and said, "I expect you'll have to go to the bluff to-night."
The bluff was right in town on the edge of the river, and the women and children, black and white, all went thar together and got under the rocks. A lot of 'em carried bedclothes, but no one did much sleeping. We had fires all along in front and kept them burning till morning.
Uncle had a farm out across Missionary Ridge. Thar was thirty or forty acres in it. During the summer he lived in a little log hut at the farm and cropped the land. We was thar in the early fall of 1863. One day, when we was about ready to start gathering the corn, the old folks took the wagon and the two horses and went into town to get provisions. I and my two sisters stayed at the log hut.
That morning four or five Rebels come running through the yard and smashed their guns against the trees and stumps and left 'em thar. I found out afterward that the Rebel army was retreatin' from Chattanooga. Later the same day the Yankees got to our farm, and the first thing I knew their wagons was out in front, and the men tore down the fence and drove in our cornfield. They began to break off the ears and throw 'em into the wagons. Oh, they like to have scared me to death! The road was full of soldiers. They were all dressed in blue and were covered with dust, and they had canteens and guns and bayonets — they did look scarey. Some of 'em come to the door and said, "Where's your father?"
I felt like I was havin' a chill. My tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth. They were swearing at me and had me most dead when a captain rode up to the gate. "What are you-all doing hyar scaring children?" he said, and he drove 'em right out of the yard and told 'em to go about their business.
"How come these guns hyar lyin' around on the ground?" he asked.
"The Rebels left 'em," I said.
"Whar are the Rebels?" he wanted to know. "They're gone across the mountain," I told him.
He asked some more questions and found out that our old folks were in Chattanooga, and he said, "We've put out our picket lines, and your people can't come back through 'em. It won't be safe for you to stay hyar. I'll take you to town."
So we just left everything standing as it was, and he carried my little baby sister on the horse in front of him. My other sister was larger, and she took hold of my hand and we walked right by the captain's stirrup, and the wagons loaded with corn was driving along behind. He went with us to my uncle's, and delivered us to the old folks. "Hyar's your children," he said, and they thanked him and thanked him.
A FRIENDLY OFFICER
Not long afterward the battle of Chickamauga was fought. We could hear the firing, and the second day of the fight it was boom, boom, boom, boom from morning till night. The weather was hot, and most of the springs was dried up. Thar was a pond on the battlefield, and so many were shot near it that their blood ran down in the pond; and the soldiers just drank that bloody water because they couldn’t get any other. It's called "Bloody Pond" now.
The ambulances were coming all the time bringing the wounded, some with their arms broken, some with their legs shot off. officers and soldiers was just piled in on top of each other. Some of 'em were moaning, and some were hollering, "Lord, have mercy!" All the churches was full of the wounded, and a good many of the houses.
One wounded man come to our house. A bullet had gone in one cheek and out the other and it shot some of his teeth out, too. His tongue wasn’t hit, but he couldn’t talk very well — only just mumble a little bit, He told us he was starved to death almost, and I made some mush right quick. My little sister cried because she was sorry for him. He had to hold a handkercher on each side of his face so the food wouldn’t run out when he swallowed months before they had the fighting hyar Uncle
Amos brought a Yankee spy to our house. We children stood and looked at him and at his blue uniform while he eat supper. He seemed to be anxious about his safety, and by and by he pointed to me and said: "Who's that little girl? I'm afraid of her, she watches me so tight."
After he finished his supper my uncle took him out and put him in the corncrib and covered him up in the shucks, Uncle got him a gray suit, and the spy put it on and he went off at three o'clock in the morning to ketch a train, He was a very small man with hair as black as jet. While the fighting was going on at Chickamauga a man came from the battlefield and leaned up against our fence, It was that spy. He didn’t have any gun, and he was dusty and wore out and all broke down. He asked for water, and when I brought it to him I says, "You're the one who was hyar that night," and he said he was. He stayed thar leaning against the fence for an hour or two.
During the next two months the Union troops was bottled up in Chattanooga, and food got scarce, Aunt would cook things and swap 'em to the Yankees for coffee. We didn’t have no meal or corn, but we had rice, and we sent it to a little mill up the river and had it ground, The rice flour made very good batter cakes, and sometimes we baked it into bread, but I didn’t care for rice bread. Now and then we would get hardtacks from the soldiers. We liked those hardtacks. I had good teeth and I could eat 'em, and they were nice if you put 'em in coffee or milk.
We owned two big mooly cows, so we had milk and butter. There was a shed we kept 'em in at night, and we had fenced an acre lot that we turned 'em out into every morning. General Stedman had a quart of milk a day from us, and we supplied him with fresh butter when we churned. One night the soldiers tore down our cow-lot fence. They wanted it for their fires. At the same time they broke into the shed and milked the cows. The general didn’t get any milk the next morning, and we told him why. Then he made the soldiers take an army wagon and haul lumber from a sawmill over on the river and put up a new fence and a fine large gate. It was a better fence than we had before.
Another night the soldiers tore our dairy down. We could hear 'em, but you know we didn’t dare go out. There were some jars of peach preserves in the dairy, and the soldiers eat up the preserves and rolled the earthen jars down to the gate. They pulled up everything in our garden and took all our ducks and geese.
As it happened, we had plenty of meat, but the meat wasn’t in our smokehouse. We'd rented that to some poor colored contrabands. They had a stove in there and a bed. I don't think they had any table. It was one little room, and there wasn't no window in it—just a front door.
Our meat was buried under the house. The old woman had prepared for war in time of peace. We had taken up some boards of the kitchen floor, dug down in the earth, and put in the meat. Then we'd covered it with dirt, and we poured ashes out of the fireplace around on the ground so if any one looked down there they wouldn’t see the fresh dirt. That meat wasn’t stolen from us, and it never molded either.
One day my aunt had me under the floor scratching for a ham when General Stedman come to the house. He pushed the door open and walked right in. "What have you got down there?" he said.
"Meat," my aunt replied. "I buried it to feed my children."
"Well," he said, "that is a nice Yankee trick in you. Let me have a ham, and you send your wagon up to my headquarters. You needn't be afraid of your children starving."
We sent the wagon, and he gave us pickled beef and pork, cheese, crackers, sugar, and beans.
I remember once a soldier come to the door and rapped, and Aunt just opened the door a crack and asked, "What do you want?"
It made him mad to have her so cautious, and he cussed her and kicked her right under the chin. He kicked her flat, and she screamed like everything. It was mean of him, but I went into the kitchen and laughed, she fell so flat. General Stedman was near by, and he heard the screams, and come hisself. He told some soldiers to ketch the feller, and they carried him to camp and tied him up by his thumbs.
One time the soldiers got some skulls out on the battleground, and they come to our house in the night with those skulls and set three or four of 'em on sticks and leaned 'em against our door. Early in the morning I opened the door and the skulls fell into the house. I hollered and run, and Uncle Amos throwed the skulls outside, That tickled the soldiers. We could hear 'em laughing up in the camp. They didn’t care for anything,
About eight o'clock one morning the Rebels at the foot of Lookout Mountain commenced shooting, The Union army was attacking 'em. It was a cold, drizzly day, and misty clouds hid the mountain. We could hear the guns, but we couldn’t see the soldiers. The shooting sounded like so many barrels of firecrackers, with once in a while the boom of a cannon. When night come the clouds rolled away, and we could see the campfires of both armies in two long lines that went from the valley to the mountain top, and between the campfire lines the men were still fighting. We stood in our yard and looked at the lights from the guns — the blinking lights. They were pretty to see.
In the morning the Rebels had gone, and the Yankee soldiers had clumb that high mountain. We saw what seemed to be a bolt of white cloth stretched right along the mountain top. "Oh, there's the flag of truce!" we cried.
If you'd been hyar you'd have heard lots of old shouting in the town when the people knew that the soldiers had got through fighting on the mountain.
The battle was fought late in November, and the winter that followed was very cold. The horses couldn’t stand the weather, and they died in the corrals faster than the men could haul 'em out. The soldiers suffered from the cold, too. We were cooking breakfast one morning when we heard a noise outside like some one was trying to lift the doorlatch. Uncle Amos opened the door, and a soldier carrying a gun fell in on his face. He was nearly dead of cold. The tears were frozen on his cheeks, his beard was nothing but icicles, and his eyes looked like they were set in death.
Uncle told me to get some cold water. I went to the well and drawed out bucketful after bucketful as fast as I could. They dashed the water over him till it looked like enough had been poured on to drown him. They rubbed him, too, and he got so after a while he could move. Then they carried him back to camp. The men at the camp thought he would die, but he got well and come to our house afterward.
He told us how it happened that he nearly froze. It was because he was out all night on the picket line. He was passed by when the time come to change pickets. So he was on duty twice as long as he ought to have been.
Well, that is the way things went in that old war. Sometimes I go out over the Ridge to whar we had our farm and visit the folks who remember what happened while the soldiers were around hyar. But most of those who were living then have passed away, and those of 'em who are left are few and far between.
1 I called at her home, a humble wooden house on the outskirts of the city, and was invited into the dingy, odorous living-room. My informant was a tall, elderly woman with dark, straight hair, and a mottled, yellow complexion. She had some snuff in her mouth and frequently paused in her narrative to spit into the little fireplace grate.