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The Paroled Soldier 1
WHEN the war began I was goin' to school at an academy twenty-six mile north of Chattanooga. The war broke the school up. I expect it had as many as one hundred and fifty students, and forty-four of 'em was old enough to become soldiers. About half of the forty-four went across the mountain and joined the Federal army, and the other half enlisted on the Southern side.
The principal of the academy was a strong Union man, but after the school had broken up he come down with a serious sickness. He thought that sickness was a judgment because he'd been goin' against his state. So when he got well he went into the Rebel army, and he was a sergeant in my regiment.
The assistant principal was from Ohio, but he was the worst Rebel we had in the school. He would have gone into the Southern army if his mother hadn’t insisted that he should come home. His last word when he left was that he would be back to lead us, and the next we heard was that the feller was a Federal lieutenant.
I was raised on a farm right out north of Chattanooga close to Orchard Knob. The Knob is a pretty good-sized height that rises out of the level ground just like a round potato hill. We had a very good framed house there with two rooms in the main part and two rooms in an ell. My brother-in-law was running the farm.
The Rebels was picking up all the recruits they could, and he was afraid they'd conscript him. He was a quiet, peaceable man who didn’t interfere with anybody's business, and, besides, he was a Union man. Naturally the idea of bein' forced into the Rebel army didn’t suit him. So he changed the birth date in his Bible to make him appear to be ten years older than he really was. When the conscripters come around he wouldn’t tell his age at all, but would show the Bible. He was a dark-skinned man getting gray, and the conscripters didn’t suspicion that he was young enough to go into the army.
My regiment was in Vicksburg during the siege. I'd got to be twenty-five years old. The week after the place surrendered, as near as I can remember we were payroled. The Yankees examined our knapsacks and everything to see that we didn’t carry away what we ought not to, and they give us so many days' rations and let us go. We walked out easterly across the state about one hundred and fifty miles and then got a train, and I came home to Chattanooga.
My brother-in-law had died of the smallpox, but I knew nothing of it till I reached home. He'd been dead a month then. They'd got the place cleaned up only a day or two before I come. The disease had run through the whole family, and when I met the children with their faces all scarred I didn’t hardly know 'em. It made a pretty sad arrival for me.
We had eighty acres of land, but not more than twenty acres was cle'red. Corn was our principal raising. The Rebels was here, and they'd taken the chickens and hogs and sich things as that. All my sister had left was a cow or two and a blind mar' and a filly. The soldiers had cleaned up pretty near everything else.
Our home people suffered from the Yankees and Rebels alike. The truth is there was thieves and rascals and gentlemen, too, in both armies. I don't think one side was any worse or any better than the other.
I just stayed at home and worked with the rest, and I was there when the Federals got to Chattanooga early in September. On the night before the Rebels left I went down in the town — it wasn’t much of a town then. We knew the Yankees were movin' in this direction. of course, they had no right to interfere with me at all as long as I observed my payrole, but if the Confederates was goin' to leave I wanted to go with 'em. General Cheatham promised faithfully to let me know when they got ready to start, and I returned and went to bed and slept peacefully.
In the morning I got on my horse and rode down town again. As I approached the soldiers' camp everything was quiet and no one moving. In fact, they'd all gone, and they'd gone in a hurry, too. A good deal of stuff was lyin' around, hogskins was hangin' on the bushes, and there was a little curling of blue smoke from the campfires.
I left the camp and was riding toward the village when I heared two or three guns fire from the north side of the river. There was no answering guns from this side — just silence. On the borders of the village I found twenty or more of our best citizens trying to fix up a flag of truce to carry down to the river and surrender the town. Among 'em was Chattanooga's mayor and the sheriff of the county. When the white flag was ready they made me ride ahead and carry it. They said they'd all go with me, but they got weak-kneed and stopped to rest on the doorsteps along. My following had dwindled to three by the time I reached the river. The Yankees was on the other bank. They was just gettin' into boats to come across. There was an upper ferry and a lower ferry, and each ferry had at least one large boat that could take a four-horse wagon, and a couple of smaller boats for lighter teams. The boats was all pulled with oars. The Yankees had secured enough of those boats so they could ferry across pretty peart. Besides, there was skiffs and canoes and dugouts. If a feller wasn’t mighty careful when he stepped into a dugout he hit the water.
I didn’t enjoy bein' where I was, and I soon left. I remembered that I hadn’t said farewell to a schoolmate of mine, a young lady whose name was Miss Sally Royson. So I handed the white flag to the mayor and lit out to see her. Miss Sally's father was a Union man. He'd been gone to Nashville several months, but I expected he was on the other side of the river now, and I wanted to tell her he was comin' and to have a good dinner ready for him.
After the Yankees had been here a week or two they had a little skirmish with the enemy around the edge of Lookout Mountain. When it was over a Rebel who'd been in that fight come to our house and wanted me to get word to his mother that he was all right. She lived not more than a mile from me, but the feller didn’t want to go any farther for fear the Yankees would capture him.
After dinner I started. I went afoot, and when I got there I found her and a nigger out in the yard watching some dust up the road. The nigger had a double-barrel shotgun in his hands. A troop of Union cavalry was comin'. They stopped at the gate to ask what I was doin' there. You see I wore my Confederate uniform. I explained and showed my payrole papers and they treated me very kind.
While they was talkin' with me a horse ran out of the barn into the lot and the head officer told two of his men to go and get him. The officer and the rest of his command started on, and the two men went into the lot to ketch the horse. At the same time the nigger jumped over the fence with his gun and said they should n't have that horse. So they galloped off across to the main road and joined their comrades and reported. In a few minutes a squad of 'em come back, and the nigger saw it wa'n't no use, and they took the horse.
On the two days that the battle of Chickamauga was fought I set on Orchard Knob and listened at it. I took along my little niece. She was about three, I reckon. I kept her with me for protection so if the Yankees accidentally come across me they wouldn’t think I was spyin'. I could hear the small arms, and I could look over Missionary Ridge and see the smoke a-risin'. I remember what I had for breakfast the day the battle ended. I had corn bread and pickled pork, and for drink there was coffee that was made out of parched sweet potatoes.
A week or two later I moved my folks farther south where I hoped we'd be less disturbed, but there wasn’t much comfort to be had till the war ended. Everybody was glad then. I remember I met a nice young lieutenant in Chattanooga right after the news reached us of Lee's surrender, and he was ready to throw his arms around me, or any other Rebel, he was so happy. He'd been celebrating by drinking, and he said, "This is the first time I ever got drunk in my life."
1 He was a hearty, full-bearded veteran whose hair was as yet more black than white. I visited him in the pleasant, modern city house where he lived. While he told of his experiences he often chuckled over incidents and hardships that originally had been entirely serious, but which the softening touch of the passing years had made humorous.