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The Slave Boy 1
NEARLY all the ol' colored people who can remember the war have passed out now. There's only a few left, and mostly they got no mo' education than a brickbat. They couldn’t read their own name if they see it. But they can talk, yes, sir, they can talk.
I was quite a boy at the time of that Cold Harbor fight.
My master was a man named Wylie. He's dead now. He had two cooks and my mother was one of 'em. A woman by the name of Car'line was the other. One morning Master was out in the garden with my mother and four of us children pickin' strawberries. It was along after breakfast and he was fixin' up some stuff to take to Richmond.
By and by my ol' mist'ess come out to the garden. She was a great knitter, and she could weave and spin and do all such things. People used to make their own cloth then, you know, and manufacture their own clothes. That mornin' she was makin' a seine for ol' Master to use when he went in the swamps to ketch fish. When she come to the garden she had in her hand one of the wooden needles she used in makin' the net. It was two feet long — every bit of that. "Mr. Wylie," she said, "don't you hear it thunder? You listen to that roarin'."
The sky was as cle'r as it is now, and he says, "I don't see no cloud, but that seems to be thunder or somethin'."
He stood there listenin' and lookin', and pretty soon he says: "I certain think a cloud is risin' somewhere. The sun is not as bright as 't was a while ago."
The weather was hot, yes, sir, and the roads was dry. off in the woods the Northern army was comin', and a little breeze was blowin' which carried the dust from the feet of the horses and men on ahead of 'em. It looked just like smoke, but we didn’t know yet what it was all about.
Presently several men on big black horses appeared at the turn of the road. "Hello! Fanny!" ol' Master says to of Mist'ess, "there's somethin' goin' on."
We four children took for the gate. It was a big double gate in front of the shop. We clumb up on it, and the men went past — bloobity, bloobity, bloobity — as fast as they could ride.
In a short time a great number of men on horseback come galloping down the road and through the fields in every direction, and there were foot soldiers runnin' and carryin' on and tearin' the fences all to pieces and throwin' 'em out of the way; and they had some of the prettiest, shiniest things at their sides — bayonets and swords.
We children went out in the road to see all we could see, and Mother had to run out and get us. We lived in a log cabin in Master's yard, and she took us there. She just screamed she was so frightened. My ol' mist'ess was wild, too, there was such a lot of mens and horses on the place, and they had come so sudden, and there was so much hollerin' and confusion. Most of the niggers that Master owned were all lost from each other, and Mist'ess didn’t want 'em to get killed. She thought too much of us for that.
Master had cattle and sheep, horses, hogs, and mules, but Lord 'a' mercy! those men got nearly all of 'em. That was one terrible time! They killed one young mule that kicked when they was tryin' to get her out of the stable. One of the soldiers shot her, and she fell right in the barnyard in a hole of water and died.
There was an ol' pet sorrel horse out on the green lawn in front of the house. She wasn’t worked any more, and she was there grazin'. The soldiers saw she was no good for their use, and they knocked her in the head. They killed our sheep and shot our hogs and took all our hens that they could ketch. They took all the meat out of the smokehouse, and all the corn from the barn. It was the same on the other farms. They went right through the 'munity and took everything.
Late in the day a lot of 'em encamped over in the woods across the road from Master's house. The big wagons drawn by four mules had come and brought their tents and things. They had drums — bum, bum — and they blew horns, and we was all so scared that in the night ol' Master's people and the colored people all went to another house. Mother lit some taller can'les to light our way through the woods. Those ol'-fashioned can'les burned almost equal to a lantern. It would take a good wind to blow 'em out. We just went through a string of woods to another plantation.
The next day the armies were fightin'. Good Lord! I never heared such guns, and we colored people went into the cellar of the servants' house at the plantation where we'd gone. We stayed there the longest time till they stopped shootin'. Our ol' mist'ess brought us down crackers and a few things to eat.
After the battle the Yankees ran down disaway through the Chickahominy swamp and every direction, and the Rebels pushed off toward Petersburg as hard as they could rip.
1 "Uncle Davie" was grubbing up a thorn tree when I met him and listened to his recollections ef war-time. He was getting gray, but was still capable of doing a hard day's work. That he was good-tempered and mentally alert was quite evident. A local white youth vouched for him as a man who could do anything — even preach. His one failing was a liking for liquor, and he would preach one day and get drunk the next, or vice versa.