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The Farm Lad 1
OUR family lived in a 16 x 18 split log house. We never did like that kind of a house because after the big pine logs had been split and laid up for walls they'd warp and twist. The house had two rooms, and above the rooms was a loft where we stored our corn and wheat and oats. At one end was a stone chimney. Paw bought the place in the fall of '59. There was one hundred and sixty acres of land, but I reckon not more 'n twenty-five acres was cle'red then. Even that had been cle'red recently, and the dead, girdled trees and the stumps stood pretty thick in the fields that we cultivated. All through this region was the finest kind of timber — hard pine, red oak and white oak, hickory, and poplar. We've got timber here now, but nearly all the good is gone.
Them times they'd have what they called "log-rollings" when they wanted to cle'r land so they could plough it. One or two men couldn’t do anything with the big logs, and the neighbors would come and help pile 'em so they could be burned.
Same way in corn-shucking — it was fashionable to have the neighbors help. The home family would gather in the corn ears from the field and pile 'em near the crib. When the men and boys of the neighborhood came at the appointed time and got to work they threw the ears into the crib as they shucked 'em. They'd tell jokes and have a big time. Down under the pile of corn was a jug of liquor and they'd shuck fast to git at it. Perhaps there'd be another jug that would be passed around a little while they worked, and some of the men might git boozy and be rather rough, but they hardly ever did any harm. It was good liquor—not like the liquor you buy now. That is poison to some extent, and it makes men crazy drunk so they kill each other, and when a man goes home drunk he don't know his wife and baby.
I had an uncle in the Northern army and one in the Southern army fightin' each other. They didn’t come home till the war ended. My father was a Union man, but I expect the Rebels would have conscripted him when they were picking up recruits, only he was gray and looked older 'n he really was.
Some fellers went nearly wild they were so afraid they'd be conscripted, and when a man could git across the Federal lines he'd go. But if the Rebels caught him goin' they'd string him. A good many refugeed south, but that didn’t better the matter. Sooner or later they were overtaken.
The battle was fought here in September, 1863, when I was about eight years old. The Rebel army had been in the vicinity all along befo' that, and occasionally some of the soldiers would come and take a horse — "press it into service," they said. Sometimes they'd kill a hog and skin the hams and carry 'em off, and leave the balance. We'd hardly ever see 'em kill an animal, but we'd find the carcass afterward. Their forage wagons would come around and go into our fields and take the oats, and the sheep. We had hogs, sheep, and cattle, plenty of 'em, then. Sometimes we'd git pay for the things that were taken, and sometimes we wouldn’t. But when we did git pay it was in Confederate money which wasn’t of much value.
We didn’t fear the regular armies as we did the guerillas. There were two bands here. One claimed to be Yankees and the other Rebels. But they were just robbers and both mean alike — that was all we could make out of 'em. The Rebel band would raid north, and the Yankee band would raid south. Sometimes they'd whip a man if they thought he belonged to the other side. They prowled around on their horses and went in the houses and pilfered. Generally their raids were made at night.
I remember once some of 'em drove right up in our yard after we'd all gone to bed. I expect it was ten or 'leven o'clock. We all slept in the living room. There were two beds in the other room, but that room was for company. The guerillas knocked, and Mother got up and opened the door, which was fastened with a wooden button. Several men came in. They were dressed like Rebel soldiers. One of 'em with a big revolver had Paw set by the fire. of course Paw didn’t show any fight or order 'em out. He knew what they was up to. They'd been through the valley before.
We children stayed in bed. There was five of us, and we was skeered. We didn’t like to see such visitors that time of night. They asked for food. We was good livers and had plenty to eat and wear — such as it was. The guerillas cooked some of our meat by the fireplace. While a few of 'em was doin' that the others looked around to see what we had that was worth carryin' off. They took some of our homespun clothing and a couple of quilts and a counterpane. They didn’t find any silverware. We didn’t have any those days. After they'd eaten they left.
The Yankee guerillas was commonly known as Wilder's Thieves. They taken the last horse we had. She was a little claybank filly, two years old — old enough to work pretty well. We had her grinding cane to make sorghum molasses, and they taken her right out of the harness. We asked 'em to leave an old mule we had that was about wore out, but they was kind of hardhearted and they went off with both the animals.
Befo' that, the Rebels had taken a mare and a young horse; so afterward Paw had to do our farm work with a yoke of oxen. It's a pretty hard task to plough with cattle. They 're contrary and slow and likely to make a man say bad words. It was worst workin' in the bottoms with 'em. They attracted the mosquitoes and gnats, and you'd be mighty near eaten up by them little pests. But you had a hard time in the bottoms then anyway. If you was fishing it was slap, slap, slap, all the time. The mosquitoes was so bad you couldn’t hold the pole.
My wife's home was not very far from ours. She was a young girl in them days, but her pappy and mommy were tolerable old. Her pappy ran a gristmill, and he ground for both armies while they were around in this neighborhood. When the Union army was passing through here some of the soldiers went in and searched the house, and they jerked the quilts all off the beds to carry away with 'em. My wife's mommy had pieced a quilt of the clothes of her first baby that had only lived to be three years old, and she begged 'em to leave that, but they didn’t care, and they taken 'em all. My wife's pappy and mommy needed those quilts to the end of their lives to keep 'em warm.
They had a jar of lard rendered out, and the soldiers emptied it into a kettle that wool had been dyed in to make jeans, and that colored the lard. Those soldiers went out to the stable and stabbed one of the horses that was fastened up in there, and they robbed the bees. Yes, they burnt the bees and carried off the honey. They took the cows, too, and left one little lousy calf. But that calf lived to be a cow, and she gave the family milk till she was twenty-two years old.
I know those thieving soldiers are all dead now, or I been hoping so for the last forty or fifty years. They were a bad lot, but I don't feel no animosity — at least not toward them that are buried. If any are livin' I don't doubt they're sittin' up back on a pension. Most of the good men up North hired substitutes. The few good men who were in the Yankee army were officers that came along to keep the soldiers out of jail, I reckon.
Chickamauga Creek is down in the hollow here. They say the name means River of Death. That's a pretty good name for a battleground stream. Rosecrans came marching through the mountain passes from Chattanooga, and we was in the Union lines just befo' the battle opened. On Friday evening, September 18th, the cavalry had a pretty smart skirmish. The Rebels made it a little too hot for the enemy, and the Federals fell back. It was very dry weather, and I noticed that the dust had settled so thick on the cavalry that passed our place we couldn’t hardly tell the color of their clothes.
Several families above here were ordered out, because it looked as if there'd be fightin' on their places. Two of the families came to our house and stayed a day and two nights.
The armies fought pretty much all of Saturday and Sunday without a stop except at night. They were willing to cook and eat then. The fighting was all of a mile or more away, and we could n't see no distance because of the woods, but we could see the smoke and dust rising above the trees, and we could hear the guns. Well, sir, the cannon fired so fast we couldn’t count the bangs, and the small arms sounded like a storm. Sometimes we'd hear the men chopping timber to try to make breastworks.
On Sunday a Union officer misunderstood an order. A gap was left in the Yankee lines, and the Confederates pushed into it and swept the right wing off the field. The rest of the army was under Thomas. He planted his twenty-five thousand men on a curving hill called the Horseshoe, and every time the Confederates attacked him he drove 'em back. That's where he got his nickname, the "Rock of Chickamauga." He stood his ground for six hours till night, and then got away in the darkness to the mountains and joined the rest of the army in Chattanooga. He had lost ten thousand men.
The battle days was pretty tolerable hot, but Monday was cooler, and that night there was a frost. A Rebel soldier who'd been wounded in the arm came to our house the next morning. He didn’t have any coat, and he'd lain out on the ground over night, and he was shivering. Not much attention was paid to those that wasn't wounded bad. They just let such go and shift for themselves. Father gave this man a coat and carried him part way to Ringgold, which was our clostest market town.
About the time Paw got back another Rebel came and said his brother had been killed in the battle, and he wanted a box made to bury him in. Father walked with the soldier two mile over to the sawmill where he got some boards. They nailed up a box that did for a coffin, and Father helped the man bury his brother.
We boys wanted to go onto the battlefield and pick up guns and the like o' that, but Maw knew what a sickening sight the battlefield was with the dead men and dead horses, and she wouldn’t let us go over there. So we didn’t get to see anything.
All the food at my wife's house was stolen, and the morning after the battle they didn’t have a bite to eat. Her pappy had to wait until somebody brought a little corn to mill. He always took one eighth for toll, and as soon as he ground some corn that day he carried his share of the meal to the house, and his wife made corn bread.
He could have put in a claim for what the soldiers took, but so many rascals sent in false claims he was ashamed to ask for anything. Men who never did have property to lose would get the congressmen to work for 'em, and the biggest liars got the most money; but my wife's pappy was an honest man.
1f we could get that money now, which was rightfully due him for what the government troops destroyed or took from his place, we'd put up gravestones to mark the old people's graves. We been wantin' to buy 'em stones ever since they died, but we've never felt hardly able to pay what the stones would cost.
At our place we saved our wheat and most of our oat crop the year of the battle, but we lost our corn. I expect we had eighteen or twenty acres in corn, but we didn’t get to gather any of it. The Rebel wagon trains went out through the country foraging, and they drove into our corn after it was pretty well matured and pulled the ears off. There was no paying for it in the game, and there was no use of kicking. People couldn’t help themselves. For a while the citizens here like to have starved. Some would go to the commissary, and they'd be given rashions if they put up a good excuse.
By and by the Yankees got possession of the region. They had plenty of good meat — pickled pork, they called it — and they had hardtack and coffee and sugar. They'd swap those things with us for barter like chickens, eggs, and butter. 'T wasn’t long befo' we had half a bushel of coffee in a sack. They'd mighty near give their hardtack to the citizens they were so sick of that.
So we got along somehow or 'nother till the war ended, and then we had a chance to git ahead a little.
1 The land that had belonged to his father he now tilled. We talked together one mild spring noon sitting on the vine-draped porch of his little farmhouse whence we could look off across the battlefield.