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A Tennessee Boy 1
FATHER had settled on the other side of Missionary Ridge, four miles from town. He died in 1858 when I was a child.
The people in this region were pretty well divided on the slavery question. Often opposite sides were taken in the same family, and there was much feeling. At least fifty per cent of the people were for the Union. A company of Confederate soldiers was stationed at Chattanooga, and those soldiers went around to the houses in the adjacent country and arrested every one they suspected of sympathizing with the North. They brought their prisoners to town and put them under guard.
One day they were out our way. They'd been to a number of different houses, and at each house had arrested the head of the family and his grown sons and marched them off. Among those taken into custody were several of the tenants on our farm. Soldiers and prisoners were all on foot, and they were followed by the prisoners' wives and children. The road was full when they got to Mother's. They were on the big road heading to town. At our place the soldiers made the women and children turn back. There was crying and wringing of hands, and the parting was very touching.
The arrested men were kept in town several days. Then an influential citizen got them all released, and they returned to their homes, but not to stay. Within a short time they all left for the North, and many of 'em joined the Union army and fought their way back to the region of their birth.
It wouldn’t have been safe for 'em to stay here. A mile and a half from where I was raised lived a very intelligent Union man named Lominick. He had education and ability, and he had courage. If let alone he was inoffensive, but the fact that he was an outspoken opponent of slavery made him enemies who wouldn’t stop at any crime. One Saturday night some of 'em went to his place. It seems he must have been expecting trouble, for he was sleeping in the barn. They got in there and took him out and hung him to a little post oak tree on his own farm.
The next day we had gathered at church for preaching when we got word of what had happened, and we all immediately went to Mr. Lominick's place. Some man coming along the road that morning had seen the body and had told Mrs. Lominick. She went and cut her husband down, and when we got there she was sitting under the oak tree with his head in her lap.
The body was put into a wagon and hauled to the house. We all followed and went in, and the house was full. A very large number of people attended the funeral on Monday, and the dead man was buried in his home yard next to his baby girl. A good many old-timers used to be buried in their yards.
The community was very indignant over this lynching. Two men who lived a few miles away were suspected of being the murderers, but they didn’t await any investigating. They immediately joined the Confederate army. A fellow could do anything and escape punishment by joining the army.
After the war one of the men returned to his home, and he hadn’t been there long when he was dragged out of his house one night and beaten and left for dead. But he revived and got out of the country. People had no doubt that his assailants were Mr. Lominick's sons avenging the death of their father. Nothing was done to punish them. One of 'em is living out on the old place yet.
The war came on here in earnest in 1863, and for a while some seventy-five thousand Confederate troops were stationed between the town and Missionary Ridge. Mother had only myself and my sister with her. So she applied for protection, and a house guard was sent to us. The officers in both armies seemed to take pains to select men of good character for that duty. Our guard did his work efficiently until he was ordered back to camp, when the Confederates were leaving at the approach of the Federal army.
The battle of Chickamauga was fought only about six miles from our home. It was so clost that we could hear the roaring of the cannon very distinctly. While the battle was going on Colonel Minty with a regiment of Northern cavalry came to our farm and they fed their horses in a ten-acre cornfield of ours. They cleaned it out. The field wasn’t in sight from the house, but Mother learned of what they'd been doing, and she took me and my sister and went right down there. She found the colonel near by in an old log church, and he paid for the corn by giving her a voucher for ninety dollars. It was not till seven months later though that she got the money.
My mother had been a school teacher in her younger days, and was more cultured and capable than the average of women. She was strongly religious and thought it was a sin to own slaves. Her friends advised her to at least buy two or three to help on the farm, but she would not. She and Colonel Minty had quite a conversation in the old log church, and among other things she told him how sure she was of the righteousness of the Union cause, and that the Lord was with the Federal army.
"Well," he said, "that certainly explains why so many deserters are comin' to our camp. But don't you think you'd better be going home?" he asked. "I expect some of our soldiers are pilfering your house now."
Sure enough, when we got there several soldiers had broken into our smokehouse. They heard us coming and skinned out — ran like good fellows.
The battle was over the next day. The Yankees got back to Chattanooga, and the Rebels followed them as far as Missionary Ridge. The men and teams of the whole Confederate army passed our place. They were going all that day and all night and the better portion of the day after.
The troops were camped close by until late in November. One of the colonels had a tent in our yard. We had an old-fashioned three-room house with a big chimney at one end, and there was a log kitchen sitting a little apart from it. My mother was a very energetic woman, and she entertained to some extent ladies from farther south who came to see their husbands and sons, and she baked a great deal to sell to the army. I was only ten years old, but most every day I'd take to camp a basket filled with pies, cakes, corn bread, and light bread. Mother had the reputation of making the finest corn bread in the country. The soldiers were so anxious to get it they'd flock right around me as soon as I arrived.
Sometimes I did my peddling on horseback. Once, when I had ridden my little sorrel mare to camp, I sold my load and went to a spring to water her and get a drink myself. A bunch of soldiers was there who belonged to the Texas Rangers. One of 'em helped me off and on the horse. When he lifted me back he tickled me. I reached home and put my hand in my pocket to deliver the money I'd received to my mother, and my little red pocketbook was gone.
The peculiar part of the matter is that some twenty-five years later I was on a train with a number of gentlemen in the smoking car, and I related this incident. When I got through one of 'em said: "I was very much interested in your story. I belonged to the regiment of Rangers which was camped near that spring, and I remember very well that the fellow who tickled you showed us your pocketbook afterward. That very night I and some others, including him and our colonel, were gambling. He had a falling-out with the colonel and killed him. Then he made his escape and joined the Federal army."
All the time that the Confederates were camped in our neighborhood there was more or less bombarding, and after dark I often sat in the yard and watched the bombs go over the house. They were like comets, with a long tail of light trailing after 'em.
On the day of the battle of Missionary Ridge myself and a colored man started early for camp, each with a basket of provisions. It wasn’t an unusual thing for the Federals and Confederates to be shooting at each other, but we noticed there was more shooting than usual that morning. When we got up on the top of the ridge the colored man said to me: "Buddy, you'd better go back home. They're fightin'. I'll take your basket."
He went along with the baskets, and I've never seen the nigger from that day to this. I waited a while, and the bullets began to fly so thick I lay down behind a stump. There I stayed all day. I didn’t have anything to eat, and I didn’t want anything. I had too much else to think of. Men were shot all around me, and the wounded lay on the ground groaning to beat the band. I thought if the Yankees knew that a little boy like me was there they'd stop the fight till I got home. The bullets were cutting off twigs and bushes in the woods roundabout, and I got myself in as small a ball as I could behind the stump.
It's curious the different ways men conduct themselves in battle. If a bombshell fell near them some would laugh and smack their hands. Others would look serious as if they felt the awfulness of the situation. Some would swear. They'd cuss the Yankees at the top of their voice. Others would sing a jolly song. When a shell burst in the ranks the yelling was almost deafening.
Near my stump was a very large cannon. The Confederates presently started to retreat, and orders were given to haul the cannon away. A driver with some big, fine-looking bay horses was hitching onto it when a bullet killed one of the horses. That excited the others and they pranced around so that he had difficulty in getting them straightened out. Before he could hitch them to the cannon a second horse was killed. He kept losing 'em that way till only one was left; and he got on it to ride off. Just then a wounded man called to him for help.
"Pardner," the driver said, "if I can lift you up on this horse I believe I can get away with you."
He dismounted, and in a few moments had contrived to get the wounded man on the horse's back. Then he jumped up himself and away they went down the ridge as fast as the horse could gallop.
About that time a couple of gentlemen spoke to me. They were hangers-on of the army — clerks or something — and they were the first persons who'd noticed me that day.
"What are you doing here?" they asked.
I don't know what my reply was, but it throwed 'em into convulsions of laughter.
"You'd better light out," they advised, "or the Yankees'll be here and get you. Where do you live?" "Just down the hill to the east," I answered.
"Come along then," they said. "We're going that way."
I went with them a little piece, but they were n't going fast enough, and I left 'em and dodged along ahead. Before I got home I met my mother and she embraced me with tears of joy. She'd got so alarmed about my long absence that she didn’t know what to do, and she'd left my little sister alone in the house and was comin' to look for me.
That experience of mine has proved valuable to me in one way since. When my children were small and wouldn't sleep at night I'd tell them the story of how I stayed behind a stump on Missionary Ridge while the battle was being fought there, and it never failed to quiet them.
After Mother and I reached home I heard the small balls striking the house and the boards of the fence around the yard. The army had taken all our cows but one some time before. That one was in a cleared field a short distance from the house. We became anxious about her, and I slipped out the back door and went after her. I had got the old cow turned around and started toward the house when I heard a shell coming right in my direction. It made a noise somewhat similar to that made by the wings of a covey of birds. I'd been taught by the soldiers that I must lie flat on my breast to avoid being hit by a shell, and down I lay. The shell burst, and pieces of it went over me and the cow without hitting us. Then we went on, and I put her in the smokehouse and locked her up.
The Confederates had left, and now we had the Yankees around us. Some of 'em broke into the smokehouse that night. They evidently tried to split the cow's head with an ax, but she got away, and we found her in the morning with a great gash in her shoulder. We sewed up the wound and put her back in the smokehouse. But the soldiers stole her after night came, and when we looked around the next day we came across her hide a quarter of a mile away.
As soon as the winter was past we went to work to replace the fences that had been destroyed and get our fields ready to plant. It was a good crop year, and we received first-rate prices for all we raised. The next year the war ended, and we were able to buy army horses for thirty or forty dollars apiece and so got our farm running in good shape again.
1 He was now a stout-figured, deliberate business man. I spent a morning hour with him in his handsome office in one of Chattanooga's big public buildings. As he talked he puffed meditatively at his pipe and sat with his feet on his broad-topped desk.