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A Youth on a Farm 1

I WAS a boy of fourteen when the battle was fought here. That wasn’t our first experience with armies. Considerable fighting was done right around in this region, and in April, 1863, our cattle was drove off on the hoof by Joe Hooker on his march to Chancellorsville, which is less'n ten miles away.

There used to be a song about "Old Joe Hooker comin' out to the Wilderness." That referred to the time when he was through here and we lost our cattle. We had a right good little bunch of 'em — possibly ten or twelve or fifteen — something like that. Me and my aunt tried to see an officer to get our cattle back. I reckon we followed the troops as much as a mile, but we could get no satisfaction. It seem to me like we had one cow and heifer left, I think they broke and got away and come back afterward.

Late in the autumn of that same year Meade was through here, and he got our sheep and hogs and hens and geese. We had one gander that must have been forty or fifty years old. He was down on the creek with the geese, and they got him, too. I've always heard that Meade skinned the geese to get the feathers off. All our horses was taken except one old blind mar'.

The men come right in our house, and they'd go for the places where we kept our victuals the first thing. If we didn’t give 'em what they wanted they'd threaten to break our dishes. They was just wild, rattlin' fools. Some claim they was foragin' for the army, but that's not likely. I don't s'pose this country could have afforded Meade's troops rashions for one meal even. I reckon, sir, the men who raided our houses wasn’t acting under orders. They was pillaging.

We didn’t have enough to eat after the armies passed, and we had to go off twenty-five or thirty miles where they didn’t invade and get what we could. Some of the people had rashions issued to 'em by the Confederate army or the state.

There was very little doing on the farm the next spring. Father was an old man crippled up with rheumatism pretty much as I am now, and we had nothin' but that old blind mar' to use breakin' the land. But we managed to plough several acres and planted one small field of corn. Then Grant's troops come and trampled the corn in the ground. A big slew of 'em passed right through our place, and some of 'em camped on our farm and burnt a lot of our fence rails, Rails make a mighty good fire, and wherever a bunch of soldiers camped they burnt as many as they wanted.

The troops on our land broke camp the next morning and most of 'em marched off and went into battle. Some of the skirmishers stayed around near our house, but there was no regular pitched battle within a mile. When the guns was not firin' too rapid I was out standin' on a hill to see what I could see. The main road was not far away, and I could watch the troops passin', but the battle was in the forest. I could hear the guns firin' and the men yellin', and I could hear the balls whistle, too.

At one time there was firin' across our house. I went indoors. There was no standin' out then, by George! We had a frame house, but it was small and didn’t have any cellar. None of us was hurt though. The battle kept on all day, and they was fightin' like the mischief in the night, and there was more fightin' the next day.

Afterward the dead men lay so thick that in some places you could step from one body to another. There was most everything you could look at strewed around in the woods. There was camp kettles and hardtack and packages of coffee and ammunition and any quantity of guns. I'd pick up the guns and enjoy myself shootin'. I've got two or three old army guns now at the cornhouse. You could fill a wagon with clothing in a very short distance, and lots of it was never picked up but lay and rotted on the ground, Plenty of people was on the field same as I was, lookin' around and carryin' off what they wanted.

Thousands of saplings was cut off by bullets, and I saw large trees that had been felled by the shells and balls. There are bullets in the trees here yet. The saw-mill men often come across 'em in the trunks of the pines and big oaks. It don't matter when the saw hits a lead bullet. The teeth cut right through that, but when a circle saw such as is used here runs into a big, round, solid steel ball, or half a bumbshell, or something like that, the shanks are torn all to pieces, and the saw is ruined.

Another thing that makes trouble for our sawmills is spikes. You see the troops would generally aim to camp in timber and they'd drive spikes into the trees to hitch their horses to. So our saws are injured as a result of the war even where no battle was fought.

Well, that old Battle of the Wilderness was terrifying, and the war was disastrous for us, but if I had my life to live over I'd take it all in again. Those were interesting times, and what I saw was well worth witnessing. 'Long toward the last of the war I had right smart anxiety to be in the army. That was boyishness, I reckon.


1 The former farm boy was now a ponderous, gray old man, I found him sitting with a few cronies on the porch of a rude little Wilderness store, and there we talked.

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