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The Negro Village Girl 1
OUR family lived right hyar in Middletown, three miles north of whar Sheridan's army camped at Cedar Crick. I was about ten then. My father's name was Abe Spencer. He was free, and so was the rest of us. Besides him and Mother thar was six children at home. Our house was a log cabin on a back street jis' across the road from Mr. Wright's.
What they called Yankee scouts used to come in hyar. I remember one of 'em by the name of Chrisman. He would generally go on this back street, and he'd wave his hand as he left. Always after he'd been to town we'd be lookin' for the Yankees to break in hyar, and it seem like Mother and the old heads were glad watchin' out for 'em to come.
After the first part of the war it was mostly the Northern troops that we had around hyar. The Rebels wouldn’t git to stay no time. We never knew what was goin' to happen. The soldiers would take every bit of cabbage we had grown and cl'ar up the garden. They'd come right into the garden when we was workin' thar and take the things. They'd come into the house, too, and carry off whatever they could find to eat.
Once two of 'em stopped out in front in the night. They sat thar on their horses and kep' a-hollerin': "Hello! Come out!"
They wanted to rob the house. My sister's husband, Jacob, was with us that night, and he got up and was goin' out to fight 'em and run 'em away. But my sister said: "Jacob, don't go out. You'll git shot."
So he only went and stood on the steps, and he said, "If you darken this door, you'll never darken another one."
They answered by shootin', and a bullet whizzed right across Jacob's face. Jis' then a guard who was stayin' over at the Wrights come out, and the robbers went up the street as fast as they could go.
An old colored servant named Billy worked for Mr. Wright, and one October mornin' befo' day, when we children were still in bed, he come rappin' at Mother's door and called to her: "Git up, Henrietta, git up! They're fightin'."
Mother roused up us children, and we could hear the guns at Belle Grove, pop, pop, pop, pop! Belle Grove was jis' out of town 'bout a mile and a half. Mother went to the gate, and we children went, too, clingin' to her dress-tail. She was a very nervous woman, and she was skeered most to death. We stood and listened. Ever'body in town had got up and lit their lights. Father had gone to find out what was goin' on. He was a man that weighed nearly three hundred pounds, but he toddled around lively for a little while that mornin'. After the fightin' begun in the town he went into the house.
The Yankees come rushin' through hyar with the Rebels right after 'em and knockin' 'em in the head, and the wounded men were cryin', "Oh Lord, oh Lord!"
Thar Was shootin' all along this pike, and lots of bullets went through the upper part of our cabin, but I enjoyed it. I was small and didn’t understand the danger. I thought it was the finest thing that ever was, and my folks couldn’t hardly keep me in. Father and the others was all a-layin' down flat on the floor by the chimbly. But I wasn’t a bit skeered, and I'd run across to the Wright's back and forth. Oh! I was busy as a bee. The bumbshells was comin' over, and I jis' thought it was grand. One bumbshell lodged right in our garden.
It makes me laugh yet to think what a goose I was. Once I went upstairs. We had kind of a loft up thar. I stuck my head through a window whar a pane of glass was broken out. A Union soldier had hid by the 'Piscopal church which was jis' beyond our cabin, and he was takin' aim at a Rebel on the corner. But the Rebel went around onto the next street out of range, and the Yankee looked up and saw me watchin' him. Then he pointed his gun at me, and said, "Take your head in or I'll shoot you."
I went to jerk my head back and nearly drew the whole sash in. I was skeered that time. You see the hole was so small that my chin wouldn’t go through without I turned my head sideways. "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" I begged.
"Little girl," the man said, "I'm only funnin"'; and he jis' laid back and laughed.
While the Rebels was still rushin' the Yankees out I ran down to Main Street. They was fightin' thar, and I seen a Yankee shot on a horse. He reeled first this way, then that, and fell off, and his saddle was covered with blood. My parents come after me and whipped me back home.
A few days befo' the battle, Uncle Billy, who belonged to Mr. Wright, brought a ham to our house. He wanted to have it whar it would be safe, and at the same time he wanted for to put it in a window to sun and keep the skippers out of it. If the skippers was already in thar, and the hot sun struck it, they'd come out and jis' hop and git away from it and die. Uncle Billy carried the ham upstairs and left it on a windowsill. Mother told him it wasn’t safe thar and that it would be stolen by the soldiers. But he says: "Heny, I'm not afeard of 'em. They won't take it."
The window was on the side of the house toward the garden, and he didn’t think any soldiers would go around that way. But on the day of the fight they went everywhar. A number of apple trees was back thar, and some Rebel soldiers was gittin' apples and saw the ham. They knocked it out with a pole. Yes, they taken Uncle Billy's ham, and when he went to look for it later it was gone. "Oh Heny!" he says, "my Lord! they've got my ham."
She says, "Billy, I told you not to put your ham in that window."
He hurried out and hunted and hunted, but his ham was gone for good. He went all to pieces then, and he had no more use for Rebels.
Thar was an uproar all that day. In the afternoon the Southerners was retreatin', and two Rebel men come in our house and said, "We want something to eat."
"Well, you won't git no food from me," Mother says. "I've got nothing for you."
"You certainly must have something hyar," they said.
But she wasn’t goin' to let 'em have anything, and they talked very mean to her. "Are you slave or free?" they asked.
Mr. Wright had said to her: "Heny, you let on like you belonged to me. Jis' tell that to any soldiers that come around a-troublin' you, and you'll be safer."
So she says: "My white people live across the road hyar. My master is Mr. Wright."
"Are you shore you're a slave?" one of the men said. "Yes," she answered.
"I don't believe it," the other feller says. "You're a liar."
Some soldiers were so owdacious they'd jis' as soon shoot you as not, and Mother got pretty uneasy. She went and looked out of the door, and I was walkin' right at her heels. "Gentlemen," she says, "you better git out of hyar. The Yankees are on the next street."
"No, they're not," the men said. "We done whipped the Yankees this morning, and we're not botherin' about them no mo'."
But Sheridan was comin' back, and the two fellers looked out and started to run. On the corner was a Yankee ridin' horseback. He was a cavalryman. "Halt!" he hollered. "Give up your guns," and he captured the two rascals.
That was good enough for 'em. They was fixin' to raise sand with my mother. Oh! some of the soldiers on both sides was pretty rough.
The Rebels had artillery in the orchard behind the church, and the Yankees come so sudden that when the artillerymen tried to hitch horses to the cannon to drag 'em away, the horses got tangled up, and the men couldn’t git the guns started. After that we heard the Yankees backin' the Rebels back through the town.
Mother had done washin' and ironin' befo' the battle for the men who were out at the Yankee headquarters. She baked bread for 'em, too, and made up a little nourishment such as cakes and custard, and they'd double pay her. They thought the Southern cooking was fine. Some of 'em rode up to our door that evenin' and shuck hands with her. "Glad to meet you, Aunty," they said. "You see we're back on our old ground once more."
It wasn’t quite dark when they called, and they hadn’t hardly gone when Charlie Matthews come bustin' in our door. He was a poor, raw-boned consumptive young strip of a man who was one of our white neighbors. "Aunt Heny! Uncle Spencer! save me!" he cried.
The Yankee soldiers had been lookin' around for Rebel scouts, and they happened to see him down street wearin' gray clothes. Every one dressed thataway had to tell 'em his business. He ran and they right after him, but he dodged a corner and they lost track of him.
I remember Father pushin' Charlie up the chimbly. Then pretty soon the Yankee soldiers come to the door and asked if we'd seen anything of a young feller runnin' around hyar dressed in gray clothes.
"No," we said, "we haven't seen no strangers. We haven't seen nobody but what we knowed."
That satisfied 'em, and they went along. We had to keep Charlie up the chimbly till after night. It was a job to git him out. Father had to take hold of his legs and pull him down. His coat was all slid up around his shoulders. Some places on his face was cl'ar, and other places was as black as tar. His clothes was all full of pot-black, sut, and stuff, and his hair was standin' up jis' like bristles.
If the Yankees had caught him they'd 'a' killed him. They caught a Rebel woman dressed like a man scouting around, and they hung her in some woods right out on the edge of town. She wore the men's clothes over her dress, and they pulled 'em off, and those clothes laid thar on the ground in the woods till they rotted. I saw them.
I always went with my aunt to milk in the evening at Mr. Wright's barn. On the night of the battle we was on our way to the barn when I heard somethin' movin' near the woodpile whar thar was lots of leaves. It was a scramblin' sound. Aunt heard it, too, and she said, "You see what that is." Then she went along to milk.
I scraped the leaves away and found a little feller with yeller stripes on his pants. He was a Rebel and belonged to the artillery. I ran to get Doctor Garr. The doctor come back with me, and we picked the little feller up and carried him to a cabin in the doctor's yard. The leaves was stickin' all over him he was so bloody. A bullet had gone through his head. He didn’t reco'nize any one — but while the doctor was washing the blood off he spoke several words. The only word we could make out was "Mother." He said that twicet. The next night he died, and he was buried behind the 'Piscopal church. Some one wrote to his parents. They was well-to-do, and they sent and got him.
The mornin' after the battle Father took me out to show me a field whar thar had been some very hot fight-in'. I remember he led me by the hand. We saw one man not far from our house, right over a fence, who lay thar with the top of his head shot off. His brains and scalp were in his hat. Oh! it was the most scan'alous thing I ever saw in my life the way men was shot to pieces.
We plough up bones out hyar on the fields yet, and bullets, and Yankee buttons and buckles with U.S.A. on 'em. Until lately we found canteens, but those old canteens are about rusted up now.
'Bout a couple of days after the battle we had a roast of beef in the oven. It had been sent over from headquarters, and it was a great large roast. We was to have part for roastin' it. Whenever the soldiers was goin' through the country hyar we kep' our front door fastened up. But this time a soldier come to the back door and says, "Got anything to eat?"
He was a cavalryman, and another young feller was out at the gate with their horses.
Mother told him, "No."
Meat was meat then. We didn’t often have any, and we was nearly dyin' for it. Mother hoped to turn the feller off, but he pushed right past her and went to the stove. He'd opened the stove door and was lookin' in when Mother whacked him 'cross the back with the broomstick. That made him leave the stove, and she whipped him out of the room. Then he turned on her and said, "I'll shoot you!"
But jis' then he heard my sister, who had gone out the front door, holler to the guard over to Mr. Wright's — and of all the gittin' on horses you ever see! Indeed, those two fellers was lively! and they went up the street with all their might.
I used to have to go to mill to git a little dab of flour. I wasn’t able to git much because I couldn’t carry it, and because we didn’t have the money to pay for only a little. The mill was a mile and a half out on the pike. A few weeks after the fight, when things was settlin' down a little bit, I started for the mill with a neighbor woman.
We'd got out hyar on the hill a short distance from town when we met three young fellers with commissary wagons that they was walkin' along beside of. They stopped when they got to us and asked whar we was goin'.
"We're goin' to mill," we said.
"Stop hyar," the tallest one says.
He grabbed the woman that was with me, but she pulled away and fell back. I said, "Aunt Fanny, don't run. Let's fight 'em."
I used to fight like a Turk when I was small. Any one that knowed me then will tell you so. I said to Aunt Fanny, "We'll take and whip 'em out and go about our business."
But when I looked around my help was gone — and she was a great large woman, too! She ran away across the field cl'ar back to town. She was a lightning bird. I didn’t think she was running. I thought she was a-flyin'. I imagine I hear her coat-tail whippin' yet as she ran.
It was right funny, but I was so spunky I wouldn’t run, and I fought those three fellers. I was a fat chunk, but at the same time I was strong and active. "I'm not afeard of you," I said.
I fit with my hands and scratched and pulled. When they got hold of me thar was something doin', I tell you! I give that tallest feller all that was comin' to him. Every time he got near enough I'd rake with my finger-nails right down his face. I had him pretty well fagged out when he knocked me down, and then I used my feet as well as my hands.
"Hold her feet!" he hollered to the other two.
So one of the fellers caught hold of 'em, but he couldn’t keep his grip very well because I didn’t have no shoes or stockings on, and I drawed back and kicked him head over heels. He was the smallest one. He kind of stayed back then.
I grabbed the middle-sized feller by the hair with one hand, and with the other I got hold of his vest and was jis' a-wringin' him. Then I thought it was time to use my teeth. I bit like a horse. I bit him comin' and goin', and I'd holler, "Let go of me!"
He went to smother me by puttin' his hand over my mouth, and I taken his hand in jis' like a crocodile. I bit him awful. I bit till the blood come. I could hear my teeth a-grindin'. I tried to eat him up. I'll bet he's carryin' the marks to-day if he's livin'.
The feller swore at me, and said, "I'll shoot you if you don't let go of me."
He was chokin' me, but I never let go my holt and he'd have killed me if thar hadn’t been any one near. Mr. John Miller had a big farm right out on the pike, and as he was comin' out of his gate ridin' his horse he saw that some one was havin' trouble with the soldiers. So he galloped full speed to whar we was fightin'. He knew me well and my parents, and when he saw who it was he hollered: "Let go of that child! Let go of that child!"
Mr. Miller took the three men right to headquarters, and they was punished. Their heads was shaved, and they was tied up by the thumbs.
I went along to the mill. I was afeard not to do the errand when my mother had sent me. I've got a-many a whippin' for not doin' as my parents told me. They was very strict with their children, and we had to obey 'em or have a very lawful excuse. So I went and got the flour at the mill, and when I reached home I was lookin' pretty raggedy, but I wasn’t hurt.
I tell you it was a time through hyar when the North and South was fightin'. I never want to see another war.
1 She was a very corpulent woman beginning to be elderly, but she still had much bodily vigor and a lively mind, and her ample features twinkled with good humor. We visited in the kitchen of her comfortable frame house, with listening children gathered about in chairs or lying on a sofa that was there.