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The Planter 1
I'VE passed my eighty-sixth birthday — so how old am I? That's a question I've asked a good many times, and even college presidents and educated men are apt to answer it wrong. I'm eighty-five. My first birthday was when I was born.
I've always lived in this vicinity a few miles north of Atlanta. At the time of the war I was in the farming and milling business. My house was a five-room framed building with two chimleys, one outside and one inside. There were four sets of waterwheels in my mill, and I ground the wheat and corn that were brought by customers, and I bought grain and sold flour and meal. I had some eight hundred acres of land, and cotton was the main crop that I raised.
My habits and opinions have always been somewhat different from those of the mass of the people. I don't drink and I don't smoke. I tried smoking once. That was when I was sixteen or eighteen years of age, I should say, and felt I was a man. Tobacco was raised in this country, and we boys made some cigars. I smoked half a one. It nearly killed me, and I gave up smoking. Another thing that influenced me was the fact that my mother didn’t like for us to get into doubtful habits. Her foreparents came from Scotland, and she was pretty strict in her views. As I look at things now I wouldn’t use liquor and tobacco even if they were harmless. Indeed, I never have felt able to buy what does n't do any good.
I was opposed to the war. I gave a good deal of thought to it before our people went into it, and the extreme ones looked on my reluctance to resort to war as rather cowardice. The popular idol was Jefferson Davis. He was an honest, conscientious, Christian man. I've seen him and been with him, and personally I liked him, but I had a much higher opinion of Stephens, the Confederate vice-president, as a statesman.
I'm the only person in the state of Georgia who went so far as to spend a thousand dollars to prevent the war. Some others and myself proposed a gradual emancipation of the slaves that would free them all by the end of the century. The owners were to receive part compensation from the government. We sent men to see what arrangements could be made for securing a great tract of country in northern Texas, where the free negroes could be colonized, The plan was favored by Everett of Massachusetts and by other leading men North and South, but we didn’t get it much before the public. It was to be urged before our state convention that met to decide what course Georgia would take in the crisis. However, it was never presented. Sentiment was too strong for secession among the politicians; and yet I'm satisfied that the mass of the people favored the Union. I did, but I had been outvoted, and I was as true to my Confederate state as any man in it. I felt that my duty was to go with the people here in the course they'd chosen, or get out of the country.
I told the boys that left this locality for the front that as long as I was able their families should n't suffer. I furnished their home folks with something to eat when they were in need and aided the sick. People would come long distances to get supplies at my mill. There was lack of food here, and lack of clothing, and lack of comforts of all sorts, but I never in my life heard a lady complaining of the hardships she had to endure. We don't realize ordinarily how little a person can live on. Lots of us found out in war-time. I knew a lady of wealthy parents who hadn’t a pair of shoes to wear. She lived eight miles from my mill, and she walked there toting forty pounds of corn. After the corn was ground she walked home with the meal.
One night, early in the war, the mill was burnt. I'd raised six or seven hundred bushels of wheat that year, and I 'd bought fifteen hundred bushels of corn in the upper part of the state. I wasn’t burnt out until I'd just got that all in. I built up immediately but the mill gradually grew less profitable. We hadn’t the grain in the country to grind, and families lived with more economy as the war progressed.
The Yankees come here about the first of June, 1864. I saw very little of them because I had refugeed with my family. We moved down about a hundred miles to the central part of the state. Some of our things we carried on wagons, but the family rode in a carryall. The shift didn’t prove to be any great gain, for later the Yankees raided down there and burnt all I had.
I was purchasing agent for the railroad, and I traveled about to a good many places. At the time of the Battle of Atlanta I was living in a wagon five miles below the city at what had been my father's old homestead. In fact, the battle was fought on land I wunst owned. I knew the country, and during the fighting I was out where I could act as a pilot for our troops. For instance, if an officer asked me where a certain spot was I told him how to go the quickest and shortest way. There was continuous firing for hours. Some of the fighting was done in the woodland. That was where the Union General McPherson was killed. He was riding along a road and come to where it forked. Right there some one had cut down a tree that had bees in it, and it had fallen so it entirely blocked the fork of the road that turned to the right, which McPherson would naturally have taken. He went a hundred yards on the other fork and was shot down.
I was on the battlefield after the fighting was over. The Federals had been driven back from a portion of the field and had left a good many wounded there. I helped gather them up. They were taken down to a church hospital.
In December I came back to my plantation. The Yankees had gone to Savannah, firing the buildings and destroying stock of all kinds as they went. They said the object of this devastation was to impoverish the South and make further resistance impossible. I believe the soldiers were ordered to burn only barns, but they were n't very discriminating, and most of the dwellings were destroyed, too.
On my place here I found my house, though with comparatively little in it. There had been twenty buildings on my premises, and the raiders were kind enough to leave me two, Those two were my dwelling and a smokehouse. Not another house was standing on the road between Atlanta and Marietta, a score of miles to the north. A lot of the soldiers had a camp near here. It covered five acres. They were there till cool weather late in the fall season, and they tore a good many buildings to pieces to use in making shacks to shelter them in the camp, and to make bunks to lie on. If they needed anything they took it. In a few instances they were very insulting to some of the local families, but as a rule they didn’t do anything but what soldiers would do for their own benefit. When they started to leave they burnt everything up in their camp that they didn’t take along.
They had been instructed to destroy the railroad as they came down from the north, and they had piled up the ties, set fire to them, and thrown the iron rails onto the fires. The middle part of the rail would lie on the pile of burning ties, and when it got red hot the soldiers took the rail and gave it a twist around a tree. Then the rail couldn’t be used again. Some of the rails got so hot on the fires that they curved themselves.
When I got back here not a person within twenty miles had a bushel of corn so far as we knew, and I went to Macon and bought some, and I brought back a cow and four hogs. I had more hogs then than any of my neighbors.
Spring come and the war ended. Some of the cowardly scamps who got up the racket tried to keep it up, but the brave soldiers buried any feeling they had. They considered that the issues on which the war had been fought were settled.
1 He was an energetic, philosophic old man with a craggy face and a bald head. His mind rambled somewhat, but he still had a good grip on essentials. His home, where I called on him, was a few miles north of Atlanta. It was a large and modern country dwelling which gave evidence of taste and wealth. The day was one of summer heat and buzzing flies, and we sat and talked on the generous gallery.