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The Wife of an Army Cook 1
MY husband was in the army. He went off in April, 1862. Luckily he was a cook and nurse and so didn’t run the risk of being shot that the soldiers did. Toward the end of the year he came home on a furlough and stayed six months. Then he returned to the army, and a full year passed before he was home again. That time he came on a Friday and left the next Sunday evening, and he wasn’t back any more till the end of the war.
We had a fifty-four acre farm, five or six miles north of the city, on Peach Tree Creek. I was left on the farm with three children. They were little bits of things. The youngest was five months old when the war began. There was a slave man on the place, and a good one. If it hadn’t been for him I don't know what I would have done. That colored man stuck to me till the year after the surrender.
Usually we had an extra hand that we hired. We raised corn and potatoes and wheat and everything else. The soldiers bought early vegetables of us, such as radishes, lettuce, and peas. We had sixty hogs and six cows, and we had chickens all over the place.
When the Yankees come in here in 1864 our wheat was nearly ripe and stood as high as my head. There was a big field of it — ten or fifteen acres. Wheat gets ripe here by the middle of June, and the Yankees must have come earlier than that. They turned their horses right into the field, and there was nothing left worth harvesting.
A few weeks later a battle was fought on my place, but I got away at the very start of it. I refugeed to Atlanta with what two mules could draw on a wagon. That was all I saved.
The first I knew of serious danger was one evening just about sundown when I was getting supper ready. The Confederates were retreating toward Atlanta and carrying the cannons in, and I decided that was the place for me, too.
My slave man and I hurried to load a wagon. I threw a sheet on the floor and put on it what clothes it would hold and tied it up. We carried that out to the wagon, and the feather bed I lay on, and a right smart of provisions. I carried all the provisions that were on the place. If I hadn’t I'd have seen tight times. There was some corn meal and flour and syrup, and I robbed the bees and added the honey to the load. We had seventy or eighty bee gums — some of them boxes made of planks and others sections of hollow logs. When we found a good hollow tree we'd saw off a gum or two.
We never started to town till nine o'clock that night. The Confederates were digging rifle pits and battle trenches near our house when we left. It was a rough country road that we had to travel, and we were obliged to drive out often to the side of it to give the cannons a chance to pass. They came in a hurry, and the horses were galloping. The moon was shining, and that helped us to see where we were going. A part of the way I walked and a part of the way I rode. The children slept up on top of the feather bed. I had them fixed so they wouldn’t fall off.
When we reached Atlanta the houses were all lit up and everybody was frightened, but there was no turmoil. My father was an army surgeon. He lived in Atlanta and had charge of the hospitals. I went to his house and slept that night.
The next morning, just at daylight, the colored man and I got into the wagon to return to the farm and fetch another load, but when we were nearly there we were stopped by the Confederate picket line and told that everything on our place was destroyed. There were two houses — a nice large house with six rooms in it, and a little two-room house right adjoining. The soldiers had torn 'em both down to make a bridge so as to bring their cannons across the creek.
That same day I moved from my father's house into another from which the people had refugeed. Early one afternoon, a day or two later, we heard firing south of the town. I ran out to see what was going on, and the spent bullets dropped all around me like hail. The Battle of Atlanta was being fought.
It was after I refugeed that the first shells fell in the town, and the shelling continued at intervals for a week or more. The enemy would throw their shells around for perhaps a couple of hours and stop, and then, when you least expected it, would commence shelling again. Sometimes we'd hear the boom of a cannon in the night and see a shell coming up like a big red star. The first day and night of the bombardment twenty-four shells fell close around the house I was in. One rolled under the step. They were everywhere. The house had no cellar that I could go into for shelter, and I just sat there.
The people flocked in from the country around. Women would come with dough all over their arms. They'd been working and had just left everything in their hurry. They had to huddle in anywhere they could get after they reached Atlanta. Oh Lor', yes! Right across the street from the place where I made my home was a two-story house that had been empty. They crowded in there, and among the rest was a lady who had a young nursing child. A shell come in the house and took that child's face off. Then it went through the bed and the floor and out the side of the house, and buried itself in the ground.
Near by lived a man who built a shed for a shelter. He fixed it up so it was a sort of room for his family, and around it he piled bales of cotton. You see, a shell won't go through a bale of cotton. I spent one night in that shed.
Once, when I was just leaving my house, a shell buried itself right at my feet. It didn’t explode. If it had I never 'd 'a' known what killed me.
Another time I was going to the post office. A courier had come with letters. It had been a long time since I had heard from the front, and I was anxious to find out whether there was any mail from my husband. Six mules hitched to an army wagon were plodding along the street. A shell bursted up in the sky — just splashed and went all to pieces with a noise like a clap of thunder. One piece went right through the body of one of the mules and killed it. Men on horseback who were on the street helped hold the other mules, and the wagon men adjusted their harness and went on and left the dead mule lying there. A piece of the shell struck my dress. It had a sharp edge and tore a slit through my skirt.
One day my father and several ladies and myself went up in the cupola of the medical college. We carried a spyglass to look off on the country around. I had a little white scarf about my shoulders. That made me conspicuous, and the Yankees saw us. They sent a shell that just did glance on the tin roof of the cupola and left a dent. The shell only missed us by half a yard. We didn’t stay up there. We come down.
After Atlanta had surrendered the Yankees camped in the town. One of our doctors had gone with a hospital down forty or fifty miles to a little place called Milner. I sent my negro man there with my team, and the doctor was to feed the two mules for the use of 'em.
The Yankees ordered all the Confederates to move out of town. I declared I wouldn’t go, but I was such a Rebel they refused to let me stay. They just took my things, put 'em in a wagon, and started for the railroad with 'em. I followed the wagon on foot and carried my youngest child. When we got to the depot they asked me whether I preferred to go north or south. I said I'd go south where I might find some gentlemen.
Then they put me and my children and what little plunder I had into a slatted cattle car. We rode in that dirty, odorous car to Milner, and there they put me off and set my things down side of the railroad. The hospital was in sight near by. It was just a shed open at each end. Two doctors were in charge. They lived in a two-room house. Each man had a room for himself and his family. Back in Atlanta they had nice houses, but they'd been obliged to leave everything just like the rest of us.
My negro cleaned out the smokehouse, and I had to live in that for nearly a week. It was made of logs, and it was barely large enough for us to have a bed inside. of course it smelt smoky, but it was better than no shelter at all.
The doctors soon left and took with 'em all their patients who were able to be moved. Twenty-five wounded men remained. The doctors said they would all die and they left twenty-five coffins to bury 'em in. My father was a physician, and I knew how to nurse and how to give medicine and dress wounds, and I knew how to cook. The doctors left two men to help me, and we saved all those wounded men but one. That one had lost a leg and was pretty weak. He took typhoid and died.
As soon as the others had all gone I went back to Atlanta. That was in January. My father's house had been spared. He was a Mason, and that helped protect his property. Besides, there were as many Yankees as Confederates under his care in the hospitals, and he was respected.
A few months later the war ended and my husband come back. He had only what he had on, and I didn’t have much more. We returned to our farm and built a little log cabin. I had saved our two mules, and we made a crop, but we had nothing to sell until late in the fall. However, when things ripened we found everybody eager to buy, food was so scarce, though they didn’t have much money to pay us.
At any rate we got a start, and gradually we recovered from the setback caused by the war.
1 She wore spectacles, and she was stout and matronly, but her hair was dark, and though in years she was old she was not so in appearance. I visited with her on the porch of her humble home on the outskirts of Atlanta.