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A Boy on a Plantation 1
WE had a six-room farmhouse on the south edge of the battlefield. It was a double house, one story high, and between the two parts was a hallway that was open at front and back. Near by was a whole lot of darky houses. They were log cabins with two rooms. We owned four or five hundred slaves, little folks and all.
Just before the battle my father refugeed south about seventy-five miles with the niggers. He went with three wagons, and there was hogs and cattle to drive and some loose horses. Most of the niggers walked, but the little fellers rid in the wagons.
After Father went away the only ones of our family left here at home were my mother and my two sisters and me. Three of my brothers were in the army.
The fightin' begun here on a Friday. Late that day the Union troops done passed over on this side of Chickamauga Creek. The Confederates was close behind 'em, and some of the Yankees waded through the water at the fords, and some crossed on trees they cut down.
We had a patch of sorghum that was getting about ripe enough to grind, but so many of the boys came tramping through it that it was just ruined. Some cut off stalks, and brought 'em along. The stalks are sweet, you know, and they wanted 'em to chew.
Quite a number of the soldiers stopped in our yard to wait for orders. They were setting around cutting up sorghum stalks into pieces short enough to get into their haversacks when a shell hit one of the fellers and took the top of his head off. The shell went into the ground and never busted. It scattered the man's brains around on the ground, and the chickens e't 'em up.
Me and my sister Mary was lookin' out of a window. She was twenty years old then, and I was twelve. We saw the man keel over when the shell hit him, but we didn’t know he was killed, and we went down where he was. The soldiers picked him up and put him in an army wagon and took him off a little way and buried him. He's still there in an unmarked grave.
Things looked dangerous at our place, and an officer ordered us out. He had a couple of cavalrymen escort us through the lines to the home of a neighbor. Guards were posted at our house to keep everything all right and not let the boys carry off our property. But we were anxious to get back and take care of the place ourselves, and it was so quiet after dark that we came home about nine o'clock.
The Yankees had retreated, and there was a Confederate camp beside the creek. We could look down on the open field where it was and see the tents and campfires and we could see the men moving around. There's always a little stir going on in a camp.
Early Saturday morning these troops marched away to go to battle. Soon we heard the noise of guns, and by and by prisoners begun to be sent back. There were so many that their captors fenced in about three acres for a prison pen, not far from our house, and stationed guards all the way round at intervals. They put tents in the inclosure for the wounded prisoners. Our whole place was just a hospital. We had to live in the dining-room for a few days. The doctors took possession of all the other rooms and the hallway, and they used the outdoor kitchen and the darkies' cabins, too.
The battle hadn’t been going long when one of my brothers was brought to the house wounded. A few hours later another brother who had been hurt in the fight was brought there. The first one stayed with us several months, got well, and went back to the army. The other had been hit in the body by a grape shot, and I don't believe he ever spoke. He came in an ambulance, and he died as the men took him out. They brought the body right into the dining-room and left it there. The next morning we had the neighbors come and make a coffin and put the body into it. Then they lifted the coffin into a spring wagon. There were a number of other wagons, and we all rode to the cemetery, five miles away. Some of the neighbors sang at the grave, and there we buried my brother while the battle was still goin' on.
Monday the fightin' was over, and several of us boys went to look around on the battlefield. We went where there'd been some of the hottest fighting. Guns and shells and bullets were strewed about, and the trees were all battered and splitted up, and lots of dead men and dead horses were lying there — you bet there was! It was horrible, but we got used to it.
A Union force came back under a flag of truce to bury the dead Yankees. They just rolled each man in his blanket, if he had one, and laid him away in a shallow grave. The work was done hurriedly and more or less carelessly, and here and there they'd leave an arm or a leg sticking out of the earth. The battlefield was all cleaned up in a week. Some claimed that bodies lay here on the ground for months afterward, but I never saw anything thataway.
Soon after the battle the prisoners that had been held on our place were marched off ten miles to Ringgold and shipped on a train down South. Then we were able to start cleaning up and making what we could of the wrecked plantation that was left to us.
_________________1 He had become a battleground guide and he wore an official badge on the lapel of his coat. His hair and beard were white, but he retained a good deal of youthful health and vigor. We sat on a settee in a public shelter at the edge of the battleground. Other guides were there, and some of Uncle Sam's soldier boys from an adjacent army post gathered about listening and commenting.