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The Soldier's Son 1
MY father was a soldier, and he was away in the Southern army. We lived on the pike road east of Chickamauga Creek, and on Friday, the day that the skirmishing began, half a dozen Union officers stopped at our house and told us that a battle was coming. After they left us we watched 'em as they rode along the pike. Every now and then they stopped and looked back. A lot of their troops soon followed, and we got so uneasy that we went down to Grandmother's just across the creek. She had a double log house with a big entry between the two parts.
By four o'clock the face of the earth east of the creek was covered with Federal soldiers. The roads was full, and the men had taken down the fences and marched into the fields, and those was full. But pretty soon the Rebels rushed 'em across the creek, some by way of the bridge, and some through the water.
Mother was anxious. Oh, Lor', yes! I guess she was; and she stuck up a stick at the front door and tied a sheet on it to make a flag. Then she shut all the doors and had us five children lay down under the bed. She and my old grandmother set right by the bed in their chairs. They hadn’t been there long when an officer come to the house and wanted to know what that white sheet meant. Mother told him it was to protect us, and he said he'd order the soldiers not to get behind the house for a breastwork.
By that time the fields around the house were full of men on the trot, and we could hear the bullets spat the garden paling. Then, do you know, in the midst of the fightin', a man come up to the door and knocked and fell right into the room. He'd been shot through the body in the field north of the house. His blood stained the floor, and up to last year, when a cyclone tore the house to pieces, that bloodstain could be seen on the floor boards.
We'd hardly got the wounded man onto a cot out in the entry when another wounded man was brought there. He wasn’t hurt as bad as the first one, and, bless your life! he just cussed and cussed till the next day when the doctors got to our place. I saw 'em carry him to the yard where some hospital tents had been put up, and soon they had him asleep on a table and cut off his leg. After that they tuck him into a tent. The other man died there in our entry while the battle was still goin' on.
I don't think the fighting that Friday lasted more than half an hour. Then a heap of men come to our well to get water. They flocked into the kitchen, too, and they raked coals out over the hearth and began frying their meat, Mother had to get an officer to send 'em out.
There was no fighting right around our house Saturday and Sunday, but we could see the smoke of the battle over in the trees and hear the cannons turn loose. Well, sir, there was a pretty heavy noise. It was just a roar. One cannon ball cut our front gatepost down, and we could see the bumbshells light on our fields and make the dust fly. The battle was a Southern victory. The Yankees said they retreated, but they run back.
After it was all over I and my brothers picked up as many bullets as we could find and carried 'em home. Among other things we come across a broken cannon cassion with a box on it that had a hundred little sacks of powder inside. Each sack held a pound or two — just a load. We had fun with those sacks for a month, I guess. We'd string the powder from one of 'em along on a plank and touch a match to it to see it burn. Sometimes we'd wet it, and then it would fiz and sparkle as it burned on the plank. We didn’t know the danger of the thing. One of us found a gun. The barrel was bent as if some one had struck it against a tree. We picked up several boxes of cartridges in the woods, and we fired the cartridges off in that bent gun. Bumbshells were lyin' around everywhere, and I know Mother pried the tap out of one with a table knife. That was pretty risky, and so was our fooling with the gun.
The troops tuck a heap of stock during the battle or just afterward. They tuck our cow, and that hurt us mighty bad. Children have to have milk. They tuck our mare, too. Mother had a hog in the pen back of our house. It was a fat, nice little hog that I s'pose would weigh a hundred and fifty pounds net. When we went home the hog was gone. We found a butcher knife and scabbard in a crack of the hogpen fence. I've got that knife yet.
Things was so unsettled that several families here decided to refugee, and our family was one of 'em. We had a pair of oxen, and a pair of steers, and we hitched 'em to a couple of canvas-covered wagons that we fixed up, and started. My old grandfather was along driving, and one of my uncles who was home from the army on a furlough was with us. We stopped side of the road to cook our meals, and at night some of us lay in the wagons and others in tents that we put up. Oh! people can live pretty rough when they have to. We travelled eighty or ninety miles south to a place where we had kinsfolks. It took us a week.
The next year we went to work to make a crop there. Grandfather couldn’t help. You'd hardly ever see him out in the field. He was just settin' around the house. I and two cousins made the crop. We was from ten to fourteen years of age. My mother and grandmother and aunt did the planning. Us boys had been raised on a farm, and we knew how to work. We planted the garden and grew cabbage, beans, and Irish potatoes.
After the surrender we went back to Chickamauga, and Father come home with an old horse he'd picked up. The South had lost, and it was no wonder, for we had to fight the whole world. You know, you Yankees sent to England and Italy for soldiers.
Our family was in hard circumstances — everybody was — and at first we had to draw corn from the government to feed our horse, and to live on, and to plant. I don't know what we'd 'a' done if we hadn’t drawed that corn. We used it mighty sparingly.
There was a heap to do to get started. We had to make some rails and build fences, and we didn’t raise much the first year. But the second year we got good big fields fenced and done a little better.
1 He was a gray, bronzed farmer. I found him working with two colored men in a big cotton patch. He was following along behind a mule hitched to a seed-planter, but he stopped to visit with me at the end of a row. There he stood still gripping the handles of his machine ready to resume his task as soon as we finished talking.