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The Machinist's Daughter 1
HERE I am in this little old house right in the heart of Atlanta, and I was living in this same house all through the war, but it was a new house then. It was built about 1858, and the work was all done by slavery labor. These brick walls are very thick and substantial, and the house seemed a pretty fine one fifty years ago, though a two-story house like this here now looks very small and humble.
Atlanta was not much of a town then. It was a right smart woodsy place. I was a Iittle girl in war-time, but even when I got to be a great big girl there were woods two blocks from here, and I would go over to 'em and cut Christmas trees. Yes, Atlanta was a country place and didn’t begin to grow fast until some years after the war. People used to turn their cows out, and the cows would graze around where they pleased all day and come back at night.
My father was a railroad machinist, and he was away from home most of the time during the war. Mother took care of our home place. 'There were only two of us children — me and my brother who was five years older. We had two cows and some hogs and a lot of chickens. After the soldiers got around we had to keep our cows up. We wouldn’t let 'em out till ten or eleven o'clock in the morning and they wouldn’t go far. If they didn’t come in tolerable soon my brother would go after 'em. When there was kind of a rough crowd around so we were anyways scared about the cows we wouldn’t let 'em out at all. Our hogs were kept in a pen.
The house lot here measured one hundred by two hundred feet, and most of it was a garden. Mother understood planting and cultivating things, and she tended the garden herself.
Father was with us a little while when the Yankee army began to close in around the town. He dug a great hole in the back yard and made a bumbproof. It was broad and it was right deep. He got some crossties from the railroad to use in making the roof. He laid a row of 'em side by side and put another row on top laid the other way, and then he shoveled on dirt. You could stand up underneath the ties. He cut steps in the earth so we could get down in there.
But we never used our bumbproof. My mother wasn’t scared of anything — didn’t seem to be. We were right between the Yankee and Confederate batteries, and we didn’t know but we'd be killed. That didn’t make any difference. We slept in our beds, but if the shells were coming from any particular direction we'd move over to the other side of the house.
Father left us as soon as he finished the bumbproof. We didn’t expect to see him again for a long time, but just before the Yankees captured the town he surprised us by returning. "Oh, heavens!" Mother exclaimed, "what did you come back for?"
She knew she was safe, but she thought he'd get into trouble.
"I came to take you and the children away to where you'll be out of danger," he answered.
"Well, I'm not going," she said. "If there's no one on the place to take care of things we'll lose everything we have."
So Father had to go off by himself. Shortly afterward the Yankees took possession of the town. While they remained Mother never left the house for a day, but we kept on good terms with them just as we had with the Confederates. You'd think they would have stolen all our garden truck, but they didn’t, and I'll tell you why. The hospitals wanted the things we raised, and so did the Union officers. Mother often gave the officers some of the vegetables without pay. Yes, she'd divide with 'em to a certain extent, but they bought things, too, and she swapped with 'em for brown sugar, coffee, and hardtack. They liked to exchange coffee for buttermilk. We didn’t suffer,
A lot of grass was growing in our yard, and the officers would ask if their horses could graze there, and Mother would let 'em.
Sometimes the soldiers would slip into the garden in the night and dig potatoes. They did that because they were hungry, and they only dug what they wanted to eat. In those days and times they didn’t feel like they was stealing when they took things.
One day two men came to our back door and said they were going to take our stove.
"No you won't," Mother told 'em. "If you come inside this house I'll kill you. But no, you wait — some guards are coming, and they'll get you instead of your gettin' our stove."
Then she stepped into the next room and told my brother to go to headquarters and tell the officers there that we needed protection. He was a little bit of a fellow, but he went, and a Northern general at headquarters sent some guards right down. However, by that time the two men had done gone.
Once the soldiers come in the night and stole a whole lot of chickens. Mother had one hundred and sixty, and they got about half of 'em.
We had a neighbor named Mis' Green. One morning Mother happened to look out of our kitchen door and saw some soldiers leadin' Mis' Green's cow away, and Mis' Green was beggin' 'em not to.
"Why do you let 'em take your cow?" Mother called out. "I wouldn’t let 'em take it," she said.
But Mis' Green didn’t know how to stop 'em, and she just went right on after 'em cryin'.
We had a big padlock on our gate that kept our cows safe while they were on the home place, but we lost one while she was out grazing. She was gone when my brother looked for her, and he said, "Well, I will get my cow."
So he went over to the camp and found her there and claimed her. But he was too small. The men wouldn’t pay any attention to what he said. If he'd come right to Mother when he first missed the cow she'd have gone and got it. There was no use trying to do anything after he returned home. They'd killed the cow by that time.
We kept a dog. His name was Bob. He was a good-sized dog with straight, black hair. He'd bark at the soldiers and they'd stab him with their bayonets. Bob was stabbed or shot nine times. He wouldn’t recover from one wound before he'd get another. Father was at home once when a regiment was passing and a soldier stabbed Bob. That made Father mad, and he cussed the whole regiment. It's a wonder they didn’t shoot him and Bob, too.
At the far end of our lot was our cow pen, and beyond that was another lot. One night Mother heard the dog making an awful fuss up by the cow pen. She slipped out real easy and heard three men talking in the next lot. The night was dark and she couldn’t see them, but she could hear the three voices. The men were talking about coming to steal our chickens or something.
Mother returned to the house and then went out again making a great racket. "Come, Bob," she called to the dog, "I can do more to keep those fellows where they belong than you can. Pat, bring that gun from behind the door. Three Yankees are out here. Put a bullet in 'em."
The prowlers didn’t wait to see what would happen, but ran off. We heard that when they got to camp they swore that Mother was a witch. They said: "We ain't goin' to fool with her any more. How 'd she know three men were out there?"
Our dog went all through the war without gettin' killed, but he didn’t live long afterward. There was a nigger servant in a house across the street, and Bob would bite at him. You get a right black dog, and he hates a nigger. He can't bear a darky at all. This nigger servant was afraid of Bob, and finally fed him cut glass in a piece of meat and so killed him. At any rate we suspicioned that he was the guilty one, but we couldn’t prove it.
When the Yankees were ready to leave Atlanta they went about the city setting fire to the buildings. Some come up our street and were going to set fire to our house. Mother begged them not to, and their leader said: "Come on, boys. Here's one woman brave enough to stay in Atlanta and protect her home. We won't burn her house."
No sooner were they out of the yard than Mother put on her bonnet and went up through our garden, climbed the back fence, and kept on till she come to the house of an old lady who had refugeed. Mother stood there on the porch, and those same soldiers come along. They didn’t recognize her in her sunbonnet, and the leader said: "Here's another woman brave enough to protect her home. We'll leave her house, too."
Mother often laughed over how she saved both houses. She certainly must have had an iron nerve. I know I didn’t inherit it.
While the burning was going on my brother disappeared. He had been playing around the yard, but now he was gone, and Mother ran everywhere to find him. She was most crazy. At last she found him in a vacant lot over near a car shed that we understood had powder stored in it. The car shed was burning and she was expecting an explosion any moment. My brother had shot a bird with a slingshot, or something. A nigger boy had got the bird and wouldn’t give it up. That made my brother mad and he had the other boy down and was pounding him. It was war between black and white, wasn’t it? Mother was glad enough to find my brother, no matter what he was doing, and she got him home in a hurry.
Well, in the course of time the war ended, and Father came back to stay. But the hardships were n't all past. The only thing that was plenty was Confederate money. It was no good though, and everybody threw it away.
Women and children would go out on the battlefields and pick up bullets. We could pick 'em up all around Atlanta, and we could sell the lead to the commissary for something to eat. My brother and I carried some bullets to the commissary once. We had 'em in my school satchel. It wasn’t more than half full, but the man we talked to seemed to take a fancy to me and said something nice about my long, black, curly hair, and he gave us a big sack of corn for our little pigs.
Not long ago I had a whole cup full of those battlefield bullets in the house here. You see a person who has never moved accumulates a lot of trash.
1 I was invited into the plain little parlor of a small brick house that lingered among the big buildings of the rapidly-growing city. There I spent an hour or more with my informant, a pleasant, chatty woman of middle age.