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The Color Bearer 1
WHEN the war began Atlanta was a place of not over seven thousand inhabitants. It was in the heart of the Confederacy, and it was a natural center for gathering and distributing supplies. The Federals didn’t penetrate to the region till toward the end of the war, and until that time the people lived very comfortably. In fact, before Sherman came, we never wanted for anything.
My father went into the army early. At first he was a lieutenant, but later he made up a company of his own and was its captain. I became a color bearer in his company. That was in 1861 when I was thirteen years old, and I was the youngest soldier who ever went from Atlanta.
I used to see lots of fellows leaving here to go to the front, and they'd holler and laugh as if they were starting off to a picnic. They were new recruits, all fresh then. They hadn’t got a taste of war. Box cars were used for transporting the troops, but that didn’t trouble 'em. Some rode inside and some on top, and they were feeling fine. They felt as if they could whip the whole world. When they came back it was like a funeral — no hilarity then. Some of the dust had been knocked out of 'em, and a good many never returned at all.
Perhaps our greatest excitement in the earlier years of the war was Andrews's Raid in the spring of 1862. I don't know much about this man Andrews before that time except that he had been teaching school in Kentucky and had become a Union spy. His scheme was to have a small company of picked men go down into the South nearly to Atlanta, steal a locomotive, and then ride back north on it, stopping on the way to burn the bridges and wreck the railroad as much as possible. The raid was well planned, and only a mere chance prevented it from succeeding.
Twenty-four soldiers were selected from some Ohio regiments to aid Andrews. The men put on ordinary Southern clothes instead of their uniforms and went south in small detachments of three or four. When they were questioned on the way they said they were Kentuckians going to join the Confederate army. Nineteen of the soldiers succeeded in reporting to Andrews at Marietta, about twenty-five miles north of Atlanta.
On Saturday, April 12, the adventurers bought tickets for various places in the direction of Chattanooga and got on an early north-bound train. The day was chilly and rainy. After a ride of eight miles they reached Big Shanty, where a stop was made for breakfast. The train crew and all the passengers, except those twenty raiders, flocked into the hotel and left the train unguarded. Then Andrews and his men got busy and uncoupled the locomotive, the tender, and three box cars from the rest of the train. Sixteen of the men climbed into the rear car of the front section of the train, and their leader and the three other men got into the locomotive car. Big Shanty was a place where Confederate soldiers rendezvoused. Plenty of 'em were around, and a sentinel stood not a dozen feet from the locomotive watching proceedings, but before any of 'em made up their minds to interfere the train started.
Among the men gathered about the hotel dining-tables was Captain Fuller and the locomotive engineer and my brother-in-law. A commotion outside attracted their attention and they rushed forth to find that a bunch of strangers had gone off with a part of the train. At once they started running along the track in an attempt to overtake the raiders. But of course that was hopeless. They kept on for about a mile and got to the next station. There they secured a hand-car and continued to press on. That pursuit was a thing Andrews hadn’t calculated on, and really it was ridiculous — three men on a hand-car chasing twenty men on a train.
The raiders were handicapped by the fact that there was only a single track. They had to meet two passenger trains and a freight, and it was therefore necessary to run according to time-table. Besides, they were obliged to make stops to get wood and water for the locomotive, and to cut the telegraph wires beyond each station lest word should be sent on ahead to stop them. When they halted at a station they explained that they were going with a special powder train to the Confederate army at Corinth.
Once they tore up the track and loaded a lot of ties into one of the box cars to be used in bridge burning. Their most serious delay was at Kingston where they had to make a long wait for a regular passenger train from the north and two extras.
Meanwhile their pursuers on the hand-car had come to where the raiders had torn up the track and were thrown down an embankment into a ditch. But no bones were broken and they got the hand-car back on the rails and proceeded with more caution.
Presently they came to a station where they found a locomotive with the steam up, and they hastily loaded it with soldiers who were there and renewed the chase. They reached Kingston only four minutes after the raiders had gone. Here they shifted to another locomotive and took along one car with about forty men aboard. But they had to abandon their train when they came to a place where the raiders had broken a rail. They then hurried along on foot until they got a fresh locomotive from the second of the two regular passenger trains that the raiders had been obliged to meet.
Soon they were right on the heels of the fugitives who were still obliged to stop after passing each station to cut the wires. They followed them so closely that they often had the raiders' locomotive in sight. The country was hilly, and the railroad was nothing but a snake in its winding, and when a curve took the stolen train out of view they could usually still see the smoke of its locomotive.
The raiders dropped off ties and put all sorts of obstructions on the track but did not succeed in stopping their pursuers. At last they approached a long covered bridge, and they set fire to their rear box car and left it in the bridge while they kept on. But before the bridge was seriously harmed the pursuers arrived and pushed right into the smoke with their locomotive and shoved the burning car before them to the next side-track.
Now, after making a run of ninety miles, the raiders were without fuel for their engine, and there was nothing to do but abandon it. They scattered in the swamps, but men gathered from every direction to chase 'em. Some of them were soon captured. Others contrived to keep their freedom for several days and got away quite a distance. But eventually every man was caught, and also two of the original party who had failed to make connections with Andrews at Marietta.
If the daring undertaking had been successful it would have seriously disturbed traffic and cut off the usual means of getting supplies to our army in Tennessee. That railroad was the only one out of the state to the north. The raid was certainly one of the most thrilling incidents of the war.
Eight of the captives were tried by court-martial. They were condemned as spies and hung here in Atlanta. I was at home when Andrews was executed. The procession passed our house, and I sat on one of our gateposts and watched it go along the street. Andrews was sitting in a big, old-fashioned family carriage drawn by two horses. The sides were open, and I could see him on the back seat. His face was very pale. He had long, black whiskers and very black hair. Beside him sat a guard, and on the other seat, facing him, was a minister. The driver sat out in front. A squad of soldiers marched ahead, and on each side of the carriage were several more, and a company of 'em followed behind. Then came quite a crowd of people, some on foot, some in carriages, and some on horseback. They were all very quiet. It was a serious occasion.
My sister, who was standing at our gate, always said that was one of the saddest days she ever spent in her life. It seemed to her that a depression or gloom had settled over the city. She first realized at that time the horrors of war. Until then she had seen only our own soldiers here, and though there were army hospitals, very few wounded men had as yet been sent to them from the front.
The hanging was to be public, and the crowd wanted to see it. A good many boys were going along, and I jumped down off the gatepost and fell into line in company with one of the boys I knew.
Andrews was taken to the dense woods on the edge of the city where was a hurriedly arranged gallows. When they were ready to hang him they found they had forgotten to provide the black bag which it was customary to put over the condemned man's head on such occasions, but Andrews asked to just have a pocket handkerchief tied about his eyes. He was very courageous to the end. Some man in the crowd furnished a handkerchief. It was quickly adjusted, and the hanging followed. The prisoner, however, was a very tall, slim man, and his feet struck the ground. That wouldn’t do, and the guards pulled off his shoes. Still his feet touched, and the officer in charge dug a hole under 'em. The body was taken down presently, put in a board coffin, and buried where a big pine tree had blown over. The tree roots were canted up ten feet high with the clay adhering to 'em, and they'd left a soft place where it was easy to dig the grave.
A HOSPITAL VISITOR
Andrews' shoes were cut up for relics. I brought home one of the pieces, and also a piece of the cord that bound his hands. I was quite elated to be the possessor of such prizes. When I reached home I ran in and said, "Ma, I've got a piece of Andrews' shoe."
"Take it out of the house," she ordered. She wasn’t stuck on that kind of relics.
For some time afterward throngs of people were going out to see the place where the raider was hung and buried. The very next week a young man was standing over the grave, and he stuck his walking-stick down into the earth.
A hissing sound came up the hole, and the young man threw a fit and had to be carried home. The body stayed there twenty-five years. Then it was removed to the Federal cemetery at Chattanooga.
The other condemned raiders were hung all together very quietly not long after Andrews had been disposed of, Only a few were present at the hanging except the military, It wasn’t an entire success. Some nooses had been hitched to a beam, and two of the ropes broke, but the guards tied 'em together and dropped the men again.
The next year another execution stirred us up here. A man who belonged to the Confederate army deserted and returned to his home region up in North Georgia and went to bushwhacking. The fellow had a regular organized gang and made a business of stealing cattle, robbing houses, and murdering. He committed so many depredations that the authorities arrested him, and he was brought to Atlanta, tried, and sentenced to be shot. They had an old dray at the jail, and on the appointed day he rode in that, sitting on his coffin, to a grove in what is now a busy part of the city. Just cheap little houses were scattered about there then. They confined him to a big pine tree, and a squad of men stood and fired their guns at him. His relatives carried off his body to North Georgia. I believe he was a prominent man up there.
About the first of May, 1864, Sherman began to move down this way from Chattanooga, and a great many people whose homes were in the region he was invading refugeed here on the railroad or came in wagons. There was nothing but excitement and sensations from then on. One battle followed another, and after each fight every train that came in brought wounded to be cared for. The ladies organized relief societies and took turns in going to the different hospitals to distribute food. My younger brother, who was a great big chunk of a boy, used to go with Mother to help carry the heavy baskets. They took soup, coffee, sandwiches, pies, cakes — everything.
I was in a cavalry regiment, which at that time was campaigning in Virginia, but in the early summer my horse was killed, and I returned home to get a new one. I came by train. It was slow traveling. We spent every night on a siding to leave the main track clear for the trains that were carrying troops to the front, and for the work trains loaded with darkies going to dig trenches and throw up dirt for breastworks.
Whenever our train stopped at any station the ladies in the neighborhood were sure to be on hand with pies and other good things to eat. There'd always be a table waiting.
I reached home and found the family anxious to refugee. So I went down in middle Georgia and looked around for a house that we could rent. After a while I ran across a beautiful place that just suited me. The owner was a man who was playin' out of the army. At first he thought I was an enrolling officer, and when I called he was in bed with a big cabbage leaf on his head. A cabbage leaf with vinegar on it applied in that way was an old remedy for the neuralgia and the headache.
The man recovered at once when he learned what I was after. He got up and was very sociable and gave me a drink of whiskey. I stayed to supper and feasted on fried chicken, corn-muffins, milk, and butter. He agreed to rent the house for a year at a hundred dollars a month and I paid him five hundred dollars in cash and took his receipt.
As soon as I got back home we prepared to move.
Atlanta was evidently doomed. The invaders had fifteen men to our one, and the place had no chance whatever. We felt that the Southern cause was lost. But I'll tell you when I first decided that the South would eventually be beaten — it was when the Yankees began to get troops from Europe by paying 'em five hundred dollars bounty. Lots of those fellows in your army couldn’t speak a word of English. But we fought on. Not another nation on earth could have stood what the South did. The fact of it is that the Rebels got hungry, and when a man's hungry he'll fight.
At the time we refugeed, Father was with us on a leave of absence, and as he was an army officer, he was able to get government wagons for our use. They were old schooner wagons that dipped in the middle and had bows above with canvas over 'em. Each wagon was drawn by four or six mules and had two soldiers detailed to it. The left wheel mule was saddled, and a man rode on it. He had a check line that went to the right wheel mule and a long line to the left front mule, and he guided the team with those lines. A steady pull meant to go to the right and one or more jerks to go to the left. If horses or oxen had been hitched to the wagons we would have driven 'em in the same way.
I had a very large bay horse hitched to a lighter wagon that we loaded with provisions. There was meat and flour, and a sack of coffee and a sack of rice and the like of that, and a keg of whiskey. Whiskey was better than money then. A quart of it in the latter part of the war would sell for one hundred dollars in Confederate money.
Of course, we couldn’t carry everything, but we took along most of our best carpets and rugs, some feather beds, our piano, and our set of china. We left our sewing-machine — and at that time sewing-machines were n't very plentiful — and we left a lot of flour. There was enough flour to fill two of the house rooms that were each sixteen feet square. It wasn’t just for our own family. We owned negroes and had to feed them, and we'd bought up the flour to be prepared for hard times. There was plenty of bacon in the house, too — bacon that was made from our own hogs.
My father had a distillery on the edge of the town, and I went out to it just before we started. We kept our hogs there and fed 'em on the still slop. I counted eighty in the pen. We didn’t bring 'em away and the soldiers got 'em. The shells were falling around there when I drove off.
We left a nigger man in charge of our house. His name was Ike. My mother considered him her most reliable servant, and as we were going about the house deciding what to take and what not to take she would point out one thing after another and say: "Leave that here. Ike can take care of it."
"Yes," Ike would respond, "leave everything to me. I'll take care of this whole house. Don't you worry about anything."
Pa was a hustler and a man of excellent judgment. He looked ahead and calculated what was coming with such accuracy that he left on the last train to go out of the city and came back on the first, eleven months later. All of the family except me were on that last train which started at about one o'clock in the afternoon of July 17th. It was believed that the track had been damaged by the enemy and they didn’t know what minute the train was going to be ditched, or when it might run off into the river beside which they traveled a part of the time. The danger was not altogether imaginary, for after two or three hours they came to where the track had been so torn up by a Yankee raiding party that they had to wait till after midnight while it was being repaired.
The weather was awful hot — it was a hot year anyway — and there was very little water on the train. The cars were jammed full so that many of the people had to stand. A part of the train was made up of passenger coaches and a part of box cars. But the refugees were thankful to get any kind of a conveyance, and they regarded a box car about the same as we regard a Pullman now. It was one of those cars that my folks were on. Some slats were knocked out to let in air and light.
The passengers were afraid to get off during that long wait lest the train should start on and leave them. It would have been a relief to walk up and down the track for a little exercise, but the uncertainty as to when the train would resume its journey, and the fancy that the Yankees might pounce on them, deterred the refugees from venturing. They were looking all the time for something in the rear to develop or something in the front to happen. It seemed to them that the enemy might let in on 'em at any time. My sister says that the weather and the anxiety and the hardships of the journey had made her the sickest human that ever was, but there she stayed right on the crowded car until the track was repaired and the train moved on.
I went with the wagons, and I had two of our niggers with me on my vehicle. One of 'em left the second night out. While I was asleep in our camp by the roadside, he took a couple of blankets and walked off. I never saw him afterward. Well, I didn’t care. I wouldn’t have gone fifty yards to look for him.
We had put Ike in charge at our residence, but no sooner were we gone than he began to sell off our belongings. He disposed of a great many valuable things for whatever he could get.
However, as a general thing, the niggers could be trusted then where you couldn’t trust 'em now. Father would leave his children in their care with no fear at all. They were loyal to their masters and would even fight for 'em. They'd steal a few eggs and take a chicken occasionally, but such stealing wasn’t counted against 'em. That was all right. We expected it.
Ike was one of the few who were unfaithful. He had things his own way until after the city had been captured, when he one day told some Yankees he would take them out to a place in the woods and show them where a lot of money was buried. They went with him, but ran into a troop of Confederate soldiers. Most of 'em were captured. Ike and a few others escaped. The Yankees who got away thought Ike had led 'em into a trap, and they hung him to a big post-oak tree. I was wholly ignorant as to his fate until I came home after the war. Then one of the niggers told me. They all know about each other.
Some of the townspeople didn’t refugee, but were in the place when the battle of Atlanta was fought on its southern outskirts. There was a bombardment which lasted a considerable number of days, and all who were able to do so dug a hole to accommodate their families. The niggers did the bulk of the digging, but the white people helped, and sometimes the soldiers helped, too.
There was fighting right along roundabout until Sherman captured the city on September 1st. Ile was here for six weeks. Practically all the inhabitants who had hitherto remained were sent away, and Atlanta became simply a military center. The soldiers tore things to pieces a good deal, for they took anything they could get their hands on that would be of use in fixing up their camp.
When they started on their raid down through the state they set the town on fire. Not much was left except ashes and brick. The business part was all gone, and the few buildings that escaped the fire were nearly all damaged by shells. Our house was large and roomy, and some general used it for headquarters. It wasn’t burned, but everything we left in it was gone at the time we came back.
After Ike had been disposed of, some woman had taken possession and claimed that the house was hers. When the people of the city were ordered to leave they were allowed to choose which way They'd go — north or south. If they went north they were given free transportation with their baggage. The woman in our house said she'd go up to Kentucky, and she took our mahogany furniture with her. The soldiers loaded it onto government wagons and carried it across the river on the ferry to the railroad. At the close of the war Father went up to Kentucky to try to get it, but affairs were very much unsettled, proving his claim was not easy, and he accomplished nothing.
Sherman made a clean sweep of everything in this region so that for quite a while afterward it was almost impossible to get supplies of any sort. Prices were way out of sight. Another soldier and I paid ten dollars for five dozen eggs. We made one meal of 'em. Dave e't twenty-eight, and I e't thirty-two. But bear in mind that we hadn’t eaten for three days except a few hardtack crackers. What we did was nothing remarkable in those times. I've seen a Rebel soldier draw two days' rashions, and as soon as he could cook what needed cooking he'd sit down and eat all he'd drawn. Well, you know, he was empty down to his feet, and he wanted to make sure of what was in sight.
Prices were at their highest when the Confederacy was about to go up. My sister tells of riding on a public coach and stopping in a town to buy a fine-tooth comb. There were soldiers riding on the coach, and they were full of body lice. She felt like the lice were all over her and thought she must get a fine-tooth comb, no matter what it cost. She paid thirty dollars for one, and she paid seventy-two dollars for a pair of slippers.
The last piece of tobacco I bought in war-time was a half plug for ten dollars. I remember that as if it was yesterday. It took twenty-seven hundred dollars to buy a hundred pounds of sugar and seventeen hundred dollars to buy a hundred pounds of salt. Other things cost in proportion, though there wasn’t many other things to proportion, to tell the truth.
In the final days of the war I was in a town one evening, and a cavalryman stopped his horse in front of where I was standing and asked me to get him some peanuts. I got a little sackful — possibly a quart — and he gave a thousand dollar bond for 'em. The Confederate money was soon no good at all. Several thousand dollars were blowing around our backyard. Pa had a satchel and a trunk full. There was forty-seven thousand dollars to the best of my recollection, and the children took the money and played with it.
1 I spent an evening with him in a pleasant home near the business center of the city. Youth was past, but he had as yet robust health and an unbent form.