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The Little Rebel1
MY father used to be a bookkeeper in a Fredericksburg store, and for two years before the war he had just been dying of dispepsia. He didn’t weigh over one hundred and twenty pounds and was nothing on earth but a frame of bones. One day he came home from work and said, "Well, war has been declared, and I must join the army."
He got an appointment as quartermaster. We thought he could never stand army life, but he had to go out foraging, and the knocking about did him good. He recovered from his dispepsia, put on flesh, and became hearty and strong.
However, after he'd been in the army about a year he was taken sick with typhoid fever down in Richmon'. Presently he began to get better, and he felt that he must come home. The Yankees had control of Fredericksburg at that time. So he didn’t dare come straight here, but stopped a few miles away at the home of a Mrs. Smith, who was a friend of ours. He asked her to get word to Maw, and she sent her little boy with the family carriage and a note that said: "Come at once. Have a surprise in store for you."
We lived in a nice large house on the main street in the business part of the town. I was sixteen then, and I had two brothers who were both younger, and a sister who was a little tot just beginning to walk.
The carriage that our friend sent was drawn by one horse, but it had two seats, and me and Maw and my little sister got in and went along. When we reached Mrs. Smith's house, there was Father, and he looked like death itself he was so white and thin, for he'd been ill a long time. I suppose his full black beard and long black hair made him appear all the paler. We got there in time for supper, and we stayed two days. It was on a Sunday afternoon that we started for home. Father walked along with us as far as the road gate to bid us good-by. We got in the carriage and left him standing there, and Mother called back, "When you get to Richmon' be sure to write."
He was a great home body, and it like to have killed him to have to part from us. He just thought to himself, "Can I give them up and not see the others?" and instead of going to our friend's house he came right on toward Fredericksburg. The railroad track made a short cut into the town, and he followed that. He had on citizens' clothes, and nobody paid any attention to him. So he walked on and on, and at last came in at the front gate of his own home. That was shortly after we'd got here, and Mother had just gone across the street to tell some of the neighbors that she'd seen him. We sent for her, and when she came and found out who was there she was perfectly miserable. of course she was glad to see him, but she was just wild she was so 'fraid the Yankees would ketch him.
The Yankee suttlers had stores in the town, and we knew a little Northern drummer boy who worked for one of them. He had been sick a while before, and Maw was so sorry for him that she had him stay at our house where she could take care of him. On the day after Paw came into town this drummer boy spoke to me and said he 'd like to give my father some oranges and bananas.
"You're foolish, boy," I said. "You haven't seen any man in our house."
"Yes," he said, "I saw one go in yesterday, and I thought he looked like you."
"Oh, no!" I said, "but you can bring that fruit to me. I'll eat it myself."
Father stayed in town a week, but he went to the house of a friend for the last three days, we were so fearful he would be discovered if he remained with us. Sunday came, and about seven o'clock in the morning he went out on the street carrying a little bucket in his hand as if he was going blackberrying. Mother had told him good-by the night before. "Don't come again, please, till after the war," she begged.
Things were getting too hot here, and it was certainly high time that he made his way out. The town was just filled with Confederate soldiers spying, and we'd heard there was goin' to be a general search for 'em. Sure enough, on Sunday afternoon, when Paw had only been gone a few hours, a dozen men with an officer came to the house, and the officer said to Maw, "Have you seen Captain Turner?"
"No," she said, and she considered that she was tellin' the truth because she called him Jim.
But the officer insisted on searching the premises. Maw was nervous, and I did most of the talking, and I followed the officer as he went about. He noticed that I wore a breastpin with a man's portrait on it, and he said, "Is that Captain Turner's picture on your breastpin?"
"You can find out, sir, if you are able," I retorted. "You're lookin' for Captain Turner, and you ought to know whether this is the picture of the person you're after."
"Isn't that your father?" the officer asked.
" I haven't told you who it is," I answered.
"You're a saucy little minx," he said.
There we were — only him and me — up on the third floor jawing. He searched from the cellar to the roof. There wasn’t any place he didn’t search in, I tell you. He turned up the beds, and he looked in the wardrobes and closets. He even pulled open the bureau drawers, and I said, "Do you think Captain Turner is small enough to get in there?"
At last he climbed out of a dormer window onto the slate roof, crawled up to the ridge, and looked down the chimney. I don't know how on earth he ever got up there. When he was comin' back his feet slipped, and I leaned out of the window and just managed to ketch him by his two arms. I held on and hollered, "Help!"
A NARROW ESCAPE
One of his men come rushing up the steps, and Maw come, too. They helped pull him in. "Oh!" he gasped, "you have saved my life."
He was speakin' to me. "I didn’t do it from choice," I said, "but because I didn’t want a dead Yankee on the place on Sunday afternoon."
That was a close call for him. If he'd fallen three stories onto our brick-paved yard he'd have been killed.
Father had started off as if he was goin' berrying, and he didn’t meet a soul. He went right out the plank road west of the town, and kept on walkin', walkin', till he just had to sit down to rest himself. But finally he got to Mrs. Smith's where he was before.
"Well, for heaven's sake! where are you goin' now?" she asked, when she found him at her door.
"I'm tryin' to make Richmon'," he said.
He stayed at Mrs. Smith's over night. Next morning, while he was eating breakfast, he looked out and saw a dust rising from the road in the distance. "I believe there are soldiers comin'," he said.
But Mrs. Smith told him the dust was raised by cattle, and Father went on eating. Presently he heard the sound of horses' hoofs and saw from the window a whole company of cavalry entering the yard. He dodged out of a back door and started down the hill toward the woods. The cavalrymen saw him, and five of them charged after him. By the time he 'd crossed the yard they were so close they struck at him with their sabers. He made a dive through the barnyard gate, and the gate closed after him. His pursuers had to stop and open it, and that gave him a chance to jump the barnyard fence into a field. Then he ran on down the hill to a little spring branch in among a right heavy growth of trees. The cavalrymen had a little difficulty in getting their horses over the fence, and their leader was very angry. He stood up in his saddle and shouted to his followers: "Circle to the right two abreast. We'll find that man if we find him in hell to-night."
Father had got into the woods, and he lay down right in the water of the little branch — and him gettin' over the typhoid fever. The cavalrymen dashed about huntin' for him, and if he'd had a three foot stick in his hand he could have touched them with it they came so close, but they didn’t find him.
By and by, the men gave up their search, and Mrs. Smith sent a negro woman to get some water down at the spring, which was near where she'd seen Father disappear among the trees. "If you see Captain Turner," she said, "tell him to keep on in the woods and not try to come back to the house."
The woman went to the spring, and Father crawled out of the branch and spoke to her, and she said, "Ain't they done killed you?"
She was excited and talked louder than he thought was necessary. "Hush!" he said. "Where are those men who were chasin' me?"
"Their commander called 'em back, to the house," she answered.
"Well," he said, "you can tell Mis' Lizzie I'm safe so far."
Then the colored woman gave him the message her mistress had sent, and walked off with the bucket of water on her head as if nothing had happened. The cavalrymen were still at the house, and they questioned her, but didn’t discover her secret. She was right smart not to give it away.
Father kept out of sight on the wood roads till he got way up country, and in the end he reached Richmon' in safety.
The front room of our house was made for a store, and a man by the name of Jones rented it and kept groceries. He often sold things to the Union soldiers who were camped on the other side of the Rappahanock for several months before the battle. We had burnt the bridges in '61, but a wire bridge for foot passengers had been fixed up, and the soldiers would come over on that, eighteen or twenty in a bunch, to visit the city. Sometimes the streets would be thronged with 'em.
One day a soldier came into the grocery store and went behind the counter and took a piece of tobacco, and he wasn’t goin' to pay. The tobacco only cost ten cents, and he took it for a projec' more than anything else. That was his idea of fun. "Stop!" Mr. Jones said. "Pay for what you've taken or I'll have you arrested, sir."
But the man went off with the tobacco. Then Mr. Jones just spoke to a guard, and the soldier was locked up for a certain number of days as a punishment. The officers were right strict with the men and tried to make 'em behave themselves, but in a crowd like that, you know, there's bound to be some rowdies.
Early in December that soldier hollered across the river to our pickets: "You tell Roy Jones he'd better get out of town. We 're goin' to hang him if we ketch him, and we're goin' to burn his store."
The threat was reported to my mother, and she was very uneasy. Mr. Jones had begun to move his business to a town farther south, things were so unsettled at Fredericksburg, and Mother said to him, "Please take your sign along with your goods."
"Oh, yes!" he said, "I'll sure take that. I'll need it where I'm goin'."
He got it off from the store front and put it inside, and there he left it while he went with a load of goods to his new location. He'd got to come back for another load, and then he intended to carry along the sign. But a couple of days later our minister came to the house and said to Mother: "Sister Turner, orders are bein' sent around that we must leave before daybreak to-morrow. The Yankees are goin' to shell the town."
The Northern commander and General Lee had consulted under a flag of truce, and they'd agreed to give the citizens that warning. Maw didn’t want to leave. Our soldiers were in the town then, and she vowed she would stay cookin' and handin' out things to 'em.
But it seemed as if everybody else was gettin' out of here. They went up the road by the dozen carrying bundles of clothes. I set up there in our second story window, and watched 'em. One man went past with such a large bundle I couldn’t help laughing. I pointed him out to Maw and said, "It looks to me as if that man had a feather bed on his back."
"Mary, I believe you'd laugh at your own funeral," Maw told me.
"Well," I said, "I reckon I'm half-past silly."
Lots of people went out of town on the cars. Others went in teams, and they hired everything in the world in the shape of a vehicle that was available. They were branchin' out from the town anywhere they could get. There were families of means that took refuge in little log cabins — even in the negro cabins — and were glad of the shelter.
At last Maw consented to leave, but when I went for a carriage I couldn’t get one, nor a cart, nor a vestige of anything. But General Lee sent in ten big canvas-covered army wagons, late that night, and I got one of those. We put in a bed and some provisions, and then got in ourselves. My aunt, who lived across the street, went with us. It was just getting daylight in the morning when we started. I had a Confederate flag hanging out of the rear of the wagon, and my aunt was scared to death because the batteries across the river had a direct line on us. She was afraid the Yankees would shoot us as we was drivin' up the street.
"I don't care," I said; "I'm goin' to fly my colors. They have no business makin' us go out of town, If they don't want me to fly my flag they can let us stay here."
We'd gone a mile or two, and I was settin' there in the wagon when we met some troops comin' up the road. General Lee and his staff were with 'em, and I waved my flag and the general saluted it. About three miles farther on we got beyond the firing line, and the captain of the wagon train spoke to us and said, "Now here's where I'm ordered to dump everybody, and you'll have to get out."
"No, indeed," I said, "you'll not put us out here. I'm Captain Turner's daughter."
All the army men knew Captain Turner, and the wagon master said he'd take us wherever we wanted to go. A friend of ours, Mr. Holliday, lived eight miles from town out on that road, He had a big farm and was quite a wealthy man before the war. He must have owned hundreds of slaves. Their cabins were all around his house, almost like a village, and each family had a little garden spot. The first time I was ever there I went with Father, and we met some little darkies as we approached the house. Father asked them who they belonged to.
"We belong to Mr. John Holliday," they said, "and he's a mighty nice man."
"Doesn't he whip you?" Father said.
"No, sir," the oldest child replied, "and he wouldn’t let my mammy whip me if he knew it."
When we refugeed I had the army wagon take us to Mr. Holliday's. I only weighed sixty-eight pounds, but I'd put on three dresses that morning — in fact, I was wearing nearly all the clothes I possessed; and the colored man who helped us out of the wagon thought I looked so big and strong that I didn’t need any assistance, and I just flopped out.
A good many others had flocked to Mr. Holliday's, and when night came we had to sleep anywhere we could. I shared a room with twelve others. We arranged blankets and quilts on the floor so we could lie side by side, one right after the other. When they had all lain down except me I counted 'em and said : "I won't be the thirteenth. I 'm goin' to sit up in a chair."
Don't you know, speakin' of that, the war was a sad thing, and it was often a hardship bein' knocked around as we were, but we had right much fun.
We didn’t have pillows that night, and we tipped chairs down so the backs would slant up for us to rest our heads on. But after the first night we arranged things so we were more comfortable.
Mr. Holliday's house was heated only by fireplaces, and I shall never forget how cold it was there in those days of early winter. We had great big fires, but you had to sit right on top of 'em to keep warm. I said to Maw, "I feel like my face was burning up and my back freezing up here before this fire."
We'd been at Mr. Holliday's nearly a week and there'd been no bombarding yet; so I decided to go to town and see if I could save some furniture. I walked, and two other ladies came with me. A part of the way we went around by paths and through strips of woods to flank the pickets. But we finally met a picket down here back of the town, and he says, "Ladies, where are you goin'?"
We told him what we wanted to do, and he let us come on in. The place was almost deserted. There were just a few people about, and all the stores were closed except one or two and the eating-places for the soldiers to get a lunch. I went to an officer, and he ordered two men to take a four horse wagon and go with me. He said I could fill that with whatever we wanted to carry off, and he would provide an ambulance for me and my friends to ride back in. I packed away some of the things at the house, and had the men put in the wagon such articles as we needed for every-day use. I know the load included considerable clothing, several chairs and beds, and a couple of bureaus. Later in the day we returned to Mr. Holliday's. That was December 12th.
The next morning, about five o'clock, I reckon, I was waked by the report of a cannon. It shook the glassware in the china closet that stood in the room where we were sleeping. The gun was fired by the Confederates to announce that the Yankees were attempting to cross the river. After some sharp fighting the Federals succeeded in making pontoon bridges, and in order to drive back the Confederates they shelled the town off and on all day. Finally they got across and our men retreated.
When the town fell into their hands some of them went into a house near ours and asked a negro servant, who was the only person at home there, for a firebrand. He wanted to know what they intended to do with it.
They said, "We're goin' to burn that house across the way because Roy Jones, who treated us so bad has his grocery store in it."
"But Jones has moved away," the negro told 'em.
"You can't fool us," they said. "We've looked through the window, and we can see his sign inside."
So they took a chunk of fire from the kitchen fireplace and went into our cellar and started a blaze. We had thirteen cords of wood in the cellar and the greatest quantity of groceries that my Paw had put in to last two or three years. He was a splendid provider. When he was buying supplies for the army he would get supplies for us, and we had everything in the world we wanted. There were three barrels of flour, two barrels of sugar, a sack of coffee, and a barrel of corned beef, and there were the hams and shoulders of three hogs hung up ready cured. All that was burned, and so was our china-ware and library and everything. I never bothered with any deep literature then, but Father said he had books he could n 't replace to save his life. The house of our nearest neighbor caught fire from ours, and went up in flames; and all that destruction was the result of the soldiers' antipathy toward one man — our tenant, Jones.
On the night of the twelfth the ladies who were at the Hollidays' scraped lint, and I have n 't made any since. I got my share of makin' it then. We certainly did work hard. I scraped two tablecloths into lint with my penknife. Indeed, I scraped right down through my clothing to the flesh, and I said to the others, "It's time I was dressin' my own wounds."
After the fightin' began the next day I walked with a lady friend up to within three miles of the town. The bullets were flying, and there were lots of wounded who needed attention, and we thought we would help take care of them. We came to a field hospital where they had amputation tables all about among the trees of an orchard close to the main road. The doctors were cutting off arms and legs, and the amputated limbs lay in piles by the tables. It was such a terrible sight that we did n 't stay there long. We could n 't stand it, and we returned to Mr. Holliday's.
All day the ambulances were going past the house on their way to the nearest railroad station. You could hear the wounded men in them groanin' a quarter of a mile away, it hurt the poor things so to jolt over the road. A good many of the ambulances stopped in front of the house to have the men's wounds dressed, and sometimes the men would be laid out on the grass. The rags on their wounds got so dry they chafed them, and we had to wash the wounds and put on clean cloths. I don 't know how many sheets we tore up.
"O lady! we do thank you so much," they'd say when they were leaving. They were taken six miles farther to the railroad and sent on to Richmon'.
The sight of blood makes me faint. I can't bear it. I can't even cut a piece of fresh meat for my dogs. But I think you can get used to anything when you have to; and it seems to me, on that battle day, I got to helping with the wounded before I knew it, and I wasn’t affected by what I saw at all.
Most of the fighting was done just back of the town where the Yankees tried to force the Confederates from their position on Marye's Hill. Lines of cannon crowned the height, and the sides were covered with rifle-pits which concealed a host of sharpshooters, and at the base of the hill was a stone wall behind which crouched several regiments of infantry. Six assaults were made, but not a single Yankee could get beyond that wall. The Union loss was twelve thousand, and ours less than half that number.
You have no idea what a wreck this town was after the battle — so many buildings burned, and so many battered by the balls and shells, and so many of them pillaged. The soldiers went into the house of an old lady who lived the second block from us, and they took her haircloth parlor suite out into the street and some of the things were broken all to pieces. They pulled a lot of clothing out of the wardrobe, emptied the oil can and two or three cans of preserves onto the clothes, mopped 'em around, and threw 'em in a corner. I reckon they did the same thing in all the houses. They seemed to want to ruin whatever they could lay their hands on. I don't think they found much silver in their rummaging. Our people connived every way in the world to hide and keep that.
I heard a man tell how at his house they made batter in a bureau drawer and opened the piano and poured the batter all over the wires. He never saw such a mess in his life. He'd refugeed, but he came back right after the battle to find out how things were lookin' at his place. He had a mirror that his daughters could see themselves in full length from head to foot, and the soldiers had busted that all to pieces, and they had taken an axe and split a wardrobe from end to end. He was a real ignorant old man, but he had sense enough to make plenty of money. Oh, yes indeed!
It was the fall of '63 when we moved back to town. The place looked pretty desolate. There were a good many women here, but only a few men and those all old. Supplies were scanty and prices way up in G. We toasted wheat and rye and used it for coffee. Some one from the country told me the other day that at his house they had drank wheat coffee ever since the war. They liked it better than the real coffee and thought it was much healthier. Another substitute for coffee was made out of sweet potatoes. We peeled the potatoes and sliced them very thin, then toasted the slices in the oven and ground them up, and that potato coffee tasted splendid.
The first year of the war Mother took a tin box that had two compartments, and filled one side with Java coffee, and the other with crushed loaf sugar. Each compartment had a lid and held about five pounds, I reckon. We'd just use the coffee once in a while when we wanted it for extra occasions.
Once we went to Richmon', and Mother took her box of coffee and sugar along. The baggage master who put it on the train for her said, "You surely must have all your gold and silver in this, it is so heavy."
"What I've got in there is just as precious as gold to me," Maw said, and she told him what the box contained.
We used to buy things of an old gentleman who ran the blockade. He never would tell how he managed it, but I know he went up to Alexandria to get the goods. He just brought shoes and drygoods and articles of that sort. Toward the end of the war Mother got a pair of Congress gaiters from the old man. He said they would be two dollars in silver, or two hundred dollars in Confederate money. Mother said she didn’t have the silver, so she paid him the two hundred dollars. About the same time she paid twenty-four dollars for a pound of sugar. My brothers went barefoot. They had good shoes, but they didn’t want to wear them out because they were 'fraid they wouldn’t get any more.
When Grant was fighting in this region in 1864 a boy roomed with us who carried newspapers and writing materials on to the front to sell to the Northern soldiers. He went back and forth on horseback. One day he brought me a haversack of French patent leather and the skirt of a saddle that he'd picked up on the Wilderness battlefield. "You can make a pair of shoes out of these," he said.
I took them to a shoemaker and paid twenty dollars to have him make me some shoes. The leather was very nice and soft, and I had those shoes yet after the war was over.
A good many of the Northern wounded and stragglers came here at the time of the Wilderness fight. They'd hardly begun to arrive when some of the officers went to the stores and got all the casks of whiskey they could find and broke the heads and emptied the whiskey into the gutters. The officers were fearful, if the men got to drinking, they'd tear up the town. I remember looking out of the window and seeing some of the soldiers with cups and canteens trying to save what they could of the whiskey from the gutters, and I said, "Maw, will you please look at that."
At last the war ended, and Paw came home directly afterward. He had bought a lot of tobacco in Richmon' just before the surrender, but lost it in the fire that burned the city. If it had escaped the fire he could have sold it for thirty-five thousand dollars. When he reached home he said, "Richmon' has gone up, my tobacco's gone up, and I'm goin' up."
Pretty soon the Union troops were passing through the town going home North. There was cavalry, artillery, and men on foot. We had some nice meat, and we went to cooking for 'em. Mother and the servant and I sat up all one night cooking. We got ready ham and beef sandwiches and coffee and pie and hot rolls and lightbread. My two little brothers stood at the window and sold the things. Father was in back of the boys watching to see that everything was all right. "The idea of my settin' here," he said, "and sellin' to Northern people who've whipped us!"
I told him, "Don't say whipped — just overpowered,"
The men were pretty well worn out, and it seemed to be quite a treat to 'em to get soft bread. Well, that was not to be wondered at considering how long they'd been living on hardtack.
One of the men had a mule that he said he'd sell us, saddle and all, for twenty-five dollars. It was the prettiest thing I ever laid my eyes on — just like a butter ball. Paw told him he s'posed he'd stole it, but the man said, "No, I only want to sell the mule because I can't conveniently take it North."
Mother and I had the money, and we bought the mule. Father had rode a horse home, and now that we had the two creatures it gave us a little impetus. He rented a piece of ground and put in a crop of corn, and then he secured the position of bookkeeper in a flour mill, and we got along very well.
We had a Northern man who was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness staying at our house for three weeks after the battle. I was always telling him funny things. "You want to kill me laughing," he'd say.
He was wounded in the cheek bone, and it hurt him to laugh. To retaliate and tease me, he'd say, "You'll marry a Yankee."
"Never in the kingdom!" I'd declare. "I'm too much of a Rebel."
Just before he left us an army friend of his who'd called to see him remarked to me: "I've seen you before. One day you were down by the river, and I was on the other side. You wore a brown dress and had a little slat bonnet in your hand. I was looking through my field glasses."
I recalled the time. Some men on horses across the river had called out: "Hello, sis! Want a cup of good coffee?"
They thought I was a child, I reckon, I was such a little bit of a midget.
"Want a hot biscuit?" I called back, and pointed to a cannon that was near me.
It's curious, but after the war I met the Northern soldier who saw me that day through his field glasses as he looked across the Rappahannock, and we married. I've spent a good deal of my life since up in Connecticut, but I haven't become a Yankee. My friends there call me, "The Little Rebel."
___________1 At the time of my acquaintance with her she was a gray, slight little woman, whose closest companions seemed to be two dogs. She was living in a small, old-fashioned wooden house that the Northern bombshells had battered, and the passing years had warped the walls and floors so that the doors were troublesome about opening and shutting. Dressmaking furnished her a livelihood, and while we talked she sat with her work scattered all about and her sewing-machine close at hand.