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The Colored Woman at Headquarters 1

WHEN John Brown broke out I was twenty-one years old. So I ain' no young chicken no mo', but I do jus' as much work yet as any of my gran'chil'en. In war-time I worked at the Belle Grove place. Me and my father and four of his chil'en who were small lived right at the yard in a two-story log cabin. Belle Grove belonged to Mr. Cooley, and it was a big farm. Oh, my, yes, sir!

Mr. Cooley owned a woman and some chil'en, but I was bound. I never was a slave. One week I'd be cookin' at the big house, and the next week I'd be a field han'. The slave woman and I took turn about, you know. I used to drop the corn when the men were planting, and I'd help cuttin' up corn, and when they had the horse-power th'ashing I'd take the sacks off and I'd put back the chaff. I would always help in harvesting' and such as that, and when they were extry busy at the big house I'd put in mo' time there makin' butter, perhaps, and washin' and doin' other work that needed doin'.

The war made us lots of trouble. As I've often said since, I felt as if the world was comin' to an end in a short time. We couldn’t understan' what was goin' on. You could hear a heap of things, but the poor black people didn’t know — didn’t know! Some would say one thing and some another. A great many of the slaves run off North, and a great many others were taken up the country by their masters out of the way of the army. Often there'd be only a few old ones left to help on a place. None of us went away from Belle Grove. We had to stay to keep everything together what we could. There was nobody hardly that could be hired to help tend the crops, and we jus' raised enough wheat and corn to keep us goin'. Sometimes we'd get right smart, and other times the soldiers would get everything.

They would carry off considerable outdoor stuff unbeknownst to us, and they would come into the house and look around and take what they pleased — victuals, flour, anything. We didn’t interfere with 'em. We was skeered and was glad if they took the stuff and did us no other harm.

Both sides acted a good deal alike about stealin' and destroyin', and reely we didn’t know the Yankees and the Rebels apart when the war broke out. Toward the end, we couldn’t hardly tell which from which because the Southerners would have on old blue clothes that They'd got off the camp, I suppose.

When Sheridan's army come to Cedar Crick it looked right frightful, there was so many men. The soldiers troubled us a good deal 'fore the head men got here. General Sheridan made Belle Grove his headquarters. He was a small man. I used to see him. There were tents all over the yard, and some of the scouts slept upstairs in our cabin. Oh, my goodness! the soldiers were in and out all the time. I did washing and baked bread for 'em, and everything like that, and they paid me.

The first I knowed on the morning of the battle some soldiers come into our house gettin' up the scouts who slept there. Everybody bounced up as soon as they could, and the scouts rolled out of the house in a hurry. I run and looked out, and then I shut the door. It was already daylight and the fightin' had begun. The Confederates were drivin' the Union men across the field down below the house.

We kep' as far back in our cabin as we could, and we set there not knowin' when we'd be killed. It was too late to get to the big house. We was lazy in bed that morning, and we had to stay lazy there in the cabin.

Some of the Yankees got back of a wall side of the Belle Grove house, but Lor! they didn’t stop there long. In a little while the guns wasn’t firin' right around us no mo'. So I went to the door and looked out. The tents that had been in the yard were all gone, and I could see men layin' about over the fields every which way. The fields looked jus' like new ground with the stumps on it.

After the armies got away men began to cl'ar up the wounded. They brought 'em to the big house and laid 'em in the yard. I was as crazy as them that was shot, I reckon. I'd run to the door and then run back. Soldiers were goin' all the time and the ambulances were comin' to get the wounded and take 'em off.

Mr. Cooley's sister's daughter and I went down the hill right smart with our wooden buckets to fetch water. If any of the wounded or the other soldiers asked us for a drink as we passed by we gave it to 'em.

Some of the wounded was still layin' in the yard and out in the lot when the troops come back that evening. We'd got news that they were comin', and we had all gone to the cellar of the big house. The cellar was where the cookin' was done, and the rooms down there were nice and large and had rock walls. I didn’t feel much like keepin' quiet when I could hear those wounded men groanin' in the yard, even if the battle was goin' on. So I jus' spent my time walkin' from one door to another and peepin' out. But the others was settin' down and squattin' in the corners, anywheres they thought it was safest.

We stayed in the cellar till we heard no mo' shootin' or nothin', and then we come out. There was Southern infantry in back of the house then makin' for the pike. The Union men returned to the yard that night. We went to our cabin to sleep, but, good land! we did n 't feel much like sleepin' — we didn’t know what mought break up. We sat up long as we could hear any one stirring around.

The next morning the wounded was all gone, and we gradually got things straightened out. But we was always mo' or less uneasy and fearful. I was glad when I heard that the war was over. Those was pitiful times — pitiful times!


1 She lived in a cabin amid the farmlands at the end of a rough, crooked lane. There were numerous children about the place, and there was much dirt and care-free disorder. A thin, tall old woman met me at the door and ushered me into a tiny low-heeled parlor where there were draperies at the windows, and a piano and other furniture more aspiring than I would have expected. It was in this parlor that I heard the woman's story of her war-time trials.

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