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The Invalid's Wife 1
I DON'T know who you are or where you're from, but I'm goin' to tell you the truth. I'm livin' hyar at the foot of Lookout Mountain where I've always lived. The Indians was still hyar when my father come. Him and another man bought all this land up for a dollar an acre. You see land wan't worth nothin' in them days.
At the time of the war there were just a few scattered houses hyar where now it is all built up thick like a city. The house I lived in had three rooms, and there was a kitchen outside. I owned some slaves, and they had little plank houses to themselves. We called the black people niggers and do yet, but Northern people associates with 'em as if they liked 'em better than white.
My husband had been sick for a long time when the Yankees come hyar. He'd been down the last year so he couldn’t do nothin', and he was just barely able to walk across the room. He had the kidney disease and the stomach disease. We'd spent a great deal of money goin' to doctors and tryin' to cure his bad health, but they didn’t help him none. I put no confidence in doctors any more. All they want is money. If you are sick, just doctor yourself.
The first big battle near hyar was Chickamauga, and it just like to have killed everything. The Yankees had gone out there from Chattanooga, and they retreated to the town when they were beaten. If the Confederates had kept up the pursuit four minutes longer they'd have drove the Yankees into the river. I wish they had and drowned every one of 'em.
The Confederates had the top of Lookout Mountain and the sides way down to the base of it where I lived. One morning the Yankees made a bridge across Lookout Creek in a valley north of the mountain and got over hyar while the Rebels was all asleep on post up on the side of the mountain. The fighting begun without any of us having any warning. I know my sister was a-milking, and she throwed the pails down and run in the house,
I had three children. My oldest was a boy maybe ten years old, and there was a little girl, and there was a baby that had been born just four days. Old Mrs. Kilgore come to my house to help me git out. The shot was falling like hail, and we had to go to git shet of it. Mrs. Kilgore wrapped the baby up in a shawl and gave her to the boy to carry. He was skeered to death. He didn’t have no sense, and as soon as he got out of the house he run. None of us knew where he went, and we didn’t find him till evening. We never expected to see the baby any more nor him either. He run over a mile to one of our neighbors, and when he got there they found he was carryin' the baby head down with her feet up in his arms. I reckon God had determined that child should live. I don't know what else saved her.
Well, all of us at our house had to run out of the battle, and I like to have lost my life by it. My husband was layin' at the point of death, but he wasn’t so skeered as I was. He couldn’t walk to do no good, and Mrs. Kilgore put him on a horse. She helped me git on my own riding mar', which was very gentle and walked slow. We went to the house of a family named Richardson and got out of the fightin' for a while. But pretty soon the soldiers was at it right around us again. The Yankees had run the Rebels back and was a-hurryin' 'em along the mountain side.
Mrs. Kilgore had me lie down on a feather bed, and she put two more feather beds on top of me to keep the bullets from shootin' me. That was all she had to stop the flyin' bullets, It was right funny, and I laughed about it, and I was skeered to death, too, for I thought I'd be shot every minute. Some of the bullets did come through the feather beds, so Mrs. Kilgore said.
Well, she fixed me up, and then she tied a tablecloth to a stick like a flag and ran out and held it up. That was for peace. Some officers come galloping up to ask what was the matter. She told 'em there was a sick woman in the house, and they never shot toward it any more. They didn’t bother nothing around the place after that, and the old woman had a chance to make me some strong coffee. I never shall forgit that day while I live.
About the time my coffee was ready the Rebel doctors took possession of the Richardson barn for a hospital and went to cuttin' off men's arms and legs. I was glad they was on the place, for they was all good and kind to me.
The Richardsons had moved away, and a woman whose husband was a Southern soldier was stayin' in the house.
He had done deserted, and he was there, too. The Rebels was lookin' for him every minute, and he knew if he was caught he'd be hung. So he and his wife set up all that night gittin' ready to go away. They went to the Yankees and left everything they had. I don't blame 'em, If I'd been goin' to git killed I'd have gone, too.
Before they started they cooked two or three pots full of chickens, and I said, "Lord 'a' mercy! Mrs. Shaw, where'd you git all them chickens?"
"They belonged to the Richardsons," she said, "but the Richardsons are gone and we might as well have the chickens as any one else."
She brought me a whole one, but I didn’t eat it. That chicken was so tough I couldn’t bite it. Mrs. Shaw dished out a whole chicken for every one of us and told us to give the balance to the doctors.
The soldiers did all the damage they could at my house. Why, they just tuck everything that was of any use to 'em and then burnt up the house. They were the worst people I ever heard tell of. The Bible was in the house, and we'd written down in it the dates when our children were born. of course the Bible was destroyed, and I couldn’t tell afterward just how old the children were.
We had two cats. I don't know whether the soldiers eat 'em or what. They were on the place when we left that morning and never was seen or heard tell of afterward, But I thank God I had life, let alone anything else.
After a few days the Rebel doctors went away, and then some Union doctors come and camped in the yard.
My husband had pains in his heart very often, and we used to make a poultice to relieve him. We'd take hot ashes and embers, pour on water, and spread 'em on a cloth while they was hot and smokin', and then we'd lay 'em on his heart. One day when the baby was 'bout a month old my husband had a bad spell. He frothed at the mouth, and you could hear him breathing way out to the road, I sent a nigger to a tent in the yard for a doctor, and the doctor gave my husband half a glass of whiskey with a little black stuff like opium in it. Very soon he was dead. That doctor killed him. The doctors would just as soon kill you as look at you in them days. 1f you was dead they wouldn’t be bothered with you any more.
My husband hadn’t been buried more'n a week when two soldiers come in one morning and wanted me to give 'em something to eat. So I put some breakfast on the table for 'em, and when they finished eating they tuck a jar of sweet milk that was settin' by the fire and drank it up. They saw my husband's coat hangin' up there. It was a fine coat, plush all over, and they tuck that and all his other clothes. They stole my extra clothes, too, so my people had to give me shiftin' clothes. They tuck ten or twelve quilts. I guess they did! and I reckon they sold 'em, They carried off all those things and never said, "Thank you," nor nothin'.
Often when the soldiers come to the house 1'd pretend I was deef and dumb. I played off that way in order to git shet of 'em. It was a scarey time.
They had the finest kind of grub, but they was always beggin' and stealin' things to eat. They went across the creek and stole a poor woman's chickens — twenty or thirty — all she had. There wan't a chicken to be seen no place. I had two pigs up in a pen to fatten, and they taken them.
I was raisin' two pet lambs, Peter and Billy. They'd run around and feed and play in the yard. I owned a nigger named Jim, and I was so fond of the lambs that I even had that nigger take a coarse comb and comb 'em, They was 'bout half grown and was the prettiest things I ever saw in the world. Nigger Jim kept 'em with him at night in his little one-room house. By and by there come a morning when I didn’t see only one of 'em, and I said to Jim, "Where's that other one?"
"Hit's gone, mist'ess," he said, "and I had both of 'em in my house last night."
But I always thought Jim left 'em out in the yard, I didn’t believe a word he said. Well, I put a shawl over my head and went out to camp. I'd always go there to hunt up anything that was missing. An officer went around with me, and we found the lamb's head. The soldiers didn’t deny they had killed it, and within a week they got the other lamb.
Nothin' was ever paid me for what was taken or destroyed, because I was one of these stout-hearted, and I got so mad I wouldn’t ask for any pay. Oh! I have seen more trouble on account of that war than 'bout anything else in all my life.
Some of the army meal and other provisions was stored in our barn, and one of my cows eat a sack of the flour, The doctors gave her calomel and everything, but she swelled up and died.
I had a calf that I tried my best to save. "Now, Jim," I said, "you tie this calf to the door inside of your house every night, and don't let 'em kill it."
But one morning there was the rope hangin' from the door, and no calf. "I never heard a sound," Jim said. That nigger was a sleepy-headed thing anyway. He cooked for me, and at night he'd cook for the Yankees to make some money. We made a search for the calf, and, I 'clar'! we found where the thieves had killed it not one hundred and fifty yards from Jim's house. In a day or two they tuck the calf's mother.
Those Yankees were the cruelest men I ever heard of, and I know we got mighty tired of 'em. But I expect our folks was just as bad when they was in a strange place.
One night, when Jim went to water my mar' and horse and mule, a soldier tuck 'em all. Oh! I couldn’t tell you 'bout that war as bad as it was. It just broke me up. They didn’t leave me anything but myself and my children.
Things got so bad I was 'fraid they'd kill the children and eat 'em, and I had to go to headquarters and git a guard. He was from Philadelphy. It was the rules that he should always wear his uniform while on duty, but he'd come in the house as often as he could and make himself comfortable by takin' off his belt and sword. He didn’t want word of that to git to the general, and when he heard any one comin' he'd put his belt on quick as lightning. Then out he'd run and meet whoever was comin'. "Halt!" he'd say, and you bet they helt. They stopped right there.
I was standin' at the gate one day when a soldier asked me if I was a Rebel or a Yankee.
That was a pretty question to ask a lady. "It's none of your business what I am," I said, "but you might have enough sense to know I'm not a Yankee."
He just laughed and went right along.
Another time a soldier come to the house cryin'. He'd got word that one of his sisters was about to die, and he wanted to go to see her. His mother had sent him a trunk plumb full of provisions that he couldn’t eat himself and couldn’t take. He asked me a dollar for the trunk and all there was in it, and I gave him the dollar to help the poor thing to go home.
I was tickled one day. There was a big green punkin in the garden, and some soldiers stood lookin' at it from outside of the fence for half an hour to the best of my knowledge and belief. They was waitin' for a chance to steal it, but I was in my room watchin' 'em. Sometimes they'd reach over the fence and pick it up, and then they'd see I was lookin' and they'd drap it.
"I wonder what they want, standin' over that punkin so long," I said to myself, and finally I walked out and spoke to 'em.
"Lady, can you spare this watermelon?" they said.
"I can spare it," I answered, "but that's not a watermelon. It's a punkin."
They didn’t believe me, and they said, "Will you give it to us?"
"Yes, indeed!" I said, "take it along."
I didn’t care anything about the punkin. They'd stole my cows, and I hadn’t nothin' to feed it to. Everything had been taken so clean that I had to draw rashions till the country got settled down. I tell you we-all see the cruel time. If you'd been hyar you'd have seen it, too.
1 She lived in a shabby, little, unpainted house, the interior of which, in its grimy, unkempt disorder was appalling. We sat in a combined living-room and bedroom. She was a sallow, grim old woman, and her gray hair, which she had evidently started to comb, hung about her shoulders. A feeble coal fire burned in the grate. The woman sat close to it, for the day was chilly, and sometimes poked it into brighter burning.