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A Country Youth's Adventures 1
I'M a man that knows what trouble is. Last July I lost my wife after her bein' sick for twenty years, and just at present I 'm my own housekeeper.
When the battle was fought here I was sixteen, but until the war ended I always said I was fifteen, because I wasn’t overly anxious to go into the army. They could draft you at sixteen.
We are only fifteen miles from the Potomac, and on the other side of that was Yankee-land, but this Shenandoah Valley was genuine Confederate country, and the people who lived in it were "our" people. At first we thought the Yankees were a set of scoundrels, and we were dreading 'em. We didn’t know what they looked like until Banks raided through here. But when we got acquainted we found they were human with about the same faults and virtues as our own men.
After the troops were in camp we didn’t fear 'em much because there was some sort of law and order established then. But we had reason enough to be anxious when they were on a stir. You couldn’t blame 'em though for lookin' around to see what they could pick up in the line of something to eat. A soldier's life is a dog's life, anyway, and a steady diet of crackers and pickled pork becomes stagnant to the stomach. The men would want a change. Often they came to houses to get pies or a loaf of bread, and of course the roughs would take advantage of you.
But it wasn’t the soldiers who made the most trouble. A great many men generally followed the army who had no business in it at all. These scalawags, as I call 'em, just gobbled up whatever they could lay their hands on. The robbers would come into the house and take the bread and flour and corn meal and everything so that the women and children and old men suffered for something to eat. That was common throughout the country. I know one of the neighbors didn’t have a mouthful of food in the house. A girl there and her little brother went to the Yankee army and drawed rashions for the family to keep from starvin'.
If a scamp came alone to rob a house the people would often turn him away, but if there was more than one or two together the people had to surrender. One morning we sat down to eat our breakfast of Graham bread and a little fried meat when half a dozen or more soldiers walked in. They stripped the table — just gobbled up all the victuals on it — and away they went. They didn’t pay. It would have been something if they'd had good manners, but they didn’t have that.
We never got entirely out of food at our house. My mother and father were pretty good providers, and they'd hid stuff to eat in the garret. My sister wouldn’t let any Yankee go up there. She was a young woman who had considerable courage, and she carried a revolver in her pocket. It wasn’t loaded, but when she showed it and threatened to shoot, it would shrink a man every time. They knew she could do things a man couldn’t, and escape punishment. Even if she was to kill some one under such circumstances, she wouldn’t be hung.
Once a Yankee come to our house and opened the door and walked right in. He had some uniform buckled onto him and said he was a-huntin' Rebels. Daddy was there, and my mother, and two of the girls. My sister that had the revolver said to the man, "There are no Rebels in the house."
"I'll find that out for myself," he told her, and he was pushin' right along to go upstairs.
She stood in his way, and he spoke threateningly to her, and Father said, "If you hurt her you'll not get out of here alive."
She 'd taken her revolver out of her pocket and was holding it under her apron, but she showed it enough to let the man know she had it. "I'll shoot you if you go up that stairway," she said. "Leave this house"; and he didn’t stop to argue the matter.
The outlaws often searched houses for silverware and jewelry that had been hid. They'd take whatever was of any value to 'em. I've known 'em to hunt for Rebels, as they said, and prod the ceilings and floors with their bayonets pretending they were lookin' for a trap door.
The better sort of soldiers paid for what they got, sometimes in gold and silver, but usually in Yankee greenbacks or Confederate paper money. Not all of us would accept the greenbacks. They were shaky in their value the same as our own paper bills.
At the time of Banks' retreat we left everything and dug out. It was early in June and Daddy had a growing crop. The soldiers went right across the fields. They camped near by and turned their horses into our grain and clover, and what the horses didn’t eat off they tramped down. Our crop was pretty near ruined, and the pay wasn’t in it that day, either.
Well, the Yankees kept pickin' up our hogs and other livestock and the things we raised on the land till there wasn’t much left. Whenever we heard they were coming we'd try to save our stock by hiding it, and that was the habit of all the community. Unless we sneaked our stock away from this valley pike we knew it would be stolen. We generally went to North Mountain. The edge of the mountain was only about three miles away, but we'd go farther if we heard that the army was comin' nearer. A man could ride one horse and lead three or four others. He'd carry just a little something to eat and a blanket to protect him from the weather. If it was stormy he'd get shelter in some barn or house. Often Union scouts were roaming around dressed in Rebel clothes, and there were sharp, shrewd Confederates who dressed up in Yankee clothes and went all over. If we met a man we didn’t know, we couldn’t judge which side he belonged to by his dress, and if he asked us questions when we were on the road with our horses we'd tell him they'd gotten away or something. Our object was to put him off the trail and not arouse his suspicion.
After we got to the mountain the women and children would be comin' every few days to bring a sack of grain for the horses and a basket of provisions for the men. They walked back and forth. Yes, indeed! It was nothing for a woman to walk ten miles then. Besides bringing food they brought the news and it would be passed along from one refugee to another.
Right back of my father's place was a thick wood, and we'd often take our horses there when we got word that a raid was comin'. My two younger brothers and me would ride the horses into the thickest brush and tie 'em. We thought nothing of staying out in the woods all night with 'em so they wouldn’t hurt themselves, but usually we'd only stay till dark and then come back to the house.
A neighbor kept his horse in the smokehouse when there was danger, and if any one came near the smokehouse that horse stopped chewing and would hardly breathe. He was as good at hiding as his master was at hiding him.
Once I was captured. Me and my next younger brother and a neighbor boy had gone to a pond to water our stock. It was winter. There was no snow on the ground, but the pond was frozen, and we tied our horses to the fence and went to sliding on the ice while the cattle were drinking. The pond was near a road, and pretty soon along came a lot of Yankee raiders and seen us there playing. When we looked up everything was blue. We'd been so interested in our fun and were making such a racket that we never noticed the Yankees till the cavalry and infantry of the whole command halted opposite the pond.
We was scared — well, I should reckon we was! At home, my older brother who was a Rebel cavalryman, was layin' right then sick with inflammatory rheumatism, and I had the horse he rode in the army. I was more anxious about him and his horse than I was about myself.
The Yankee commander called us off the pond and told us we must go with him to Strasburg, four or five mile distant. He had all three of us walk along at the head of his troops. Some of the infantry got on our horses. I begged him not to take us far because our cattle would get lost, and I told him my father was a Union man. He asked us where the Rebels were, and I answered that they were up the valley, but that I knowed nothing about their camp.
My younger brother was so scared that he couldn’t say a thing, and the neighbor boy would only grunt a few words. They let me do the talking. I had the cheek, and I was too young to fear being carried away. I soft-sided the officer the best I could, and after we'd gone about two mile he let us off. Then I told him it was too far for us to walk back. I begged for our horses, and he ordered his men to turn 'em over to us.
As soon as he let us go and we got a little away from the army, we all rode for life to get out of gunshot. I went straight on through the woods and over the fences toward home. When we hurried off like that the moment we got loose, the Yankees thought we wasn’t as innocent as we'd pretended to be. So they chased us, but my horse was a blooded mare, and she was much faster than their horses.
I met my soldier brother when I was only one field from home. He was wearin' his uniform, and had his revolver and saber buckled around him. I got off the mare, and he leaped into the saddle, and when I saw him goin' and knew he'd escaped I throwed up my hat and hollered. I went along to the house, and there I found the Yankees so thick around that I couldn’t get in. If my brother had been just five minutes later they would have got him.
When Sheridan camped on these crick hills in October, 1864, I was stayin' at the house of a neighbor named Hoover. Jim Hoover was off refugeein' in the mountains with his stock. His father was crazy, and I'd gone there to help take care of this old crazy man. Besides him, there was the old lady and a daughter and a hired girl at the house.
Old Hoover didn’t know his own mind, and there was just a channel between his bein' harmless and dangerous. He was likely to get cross to his wife, and he was very rough to all the family. At times he was a good deal worse than at other times. He had to be watched for fear he'd set the buildings on fire. The less work he did the worse he was. He was able to saw wood, but I had to threaten to whip him or something of that kind to get him out of the house to work.
The Hoovers lived just south of Sheridan's picket lines. Even a hog couldn’t have got through those picket lines. There were three or four of 'em, and the pickets were walking back and forth all the time about thirty paces each way. Squads of men were posted at advanced spots on the roads, and if anything was wrong a report would be sent right in to headquarters.
At four o'clock on the morning of the battle I heard the first musket open. I was in a fidget anyway on account of a couple of Yankee scouts who had stopped at the house in the night. As soon as the firing began I got up, but I didn’t go out of the house till daylight. We were havin' a little snack to eat for breakfast when I said, "I'm goin' on the battlefield."
I'd heard a great deal about battles, but had never seen one, and my curiosity was excited. Go I must, even if I got into the blood myself. Then Miss Hoover and the hired girl, who were about my age, said they wanted to go with me if I didn’t care. They knew I 'd look after 'em.
"All right," I said, and they put on their sunbonnets and I put on my old black slouch hat and we started.
We had to cross the crick, and when we were on the bridge we saw that the water was full of guns. The Yanks had thrown their guns away.
Soon we got to the battlefield, and we walked right along to the Yankee camp. Men had run out of their bunks who didn’t get their guns at all, and we saw soldiers in the tents who had been shot there. Some of 'em were not dead. Behind the breastworks the dead and wounded were layin' five deep, and we waded through blood as we looked around. You see the Rebs took the breastworks endways — and it was playin' on the enemy like that that killed 'em so fast.
The wounded men were hollerin' and screamin' and prayin'. We heard one Southern soldier prayin' for his wife and children way down in Alabama, and he was beggin' just for life enough to get back to see 'em. A doctor come along and examined him and moved on. He said there was no hope. It was sad, sir.
You'd think the sights would have made the girls faint, but in that war girls got pretty tough and they didn’t faint easy. We wasn’t carin' to stay long, though, and presently the girls said their curiosity was rather gettin' satisfied.
So we started back, and we went down toward the crick to where there was a big brick farmhouse that had been turned into a hospital. The wounded were inside the house and outside both. The front yard was full, and they lay there close together arranged in sections so as to have convenient walkways. On the back porch the surgeons were sawin' off limbs, and as soon as they got through with a man he was laid back on the ground where he'd been before. They had about a four-horse wagon load of limbs outside of the porch in a heap just as you might pile up corn or manure.
The day was pretty warm, and the wounded men were very thirsty — there's no two ways about that. Those men were beggin' for just a mouthful of water, and me 'n' the girls stayed several hours carrying water to 'em, and they thanked us as we waited on 'em.
At last we went on again toward home, and after we'd gone half a mile we found another hospital at a stone blacksmith's shop. But we didn’t stop because just then we see there was a skedaddle on hand. Our entire army was goin' back as fast as it could, and the Yankees was pushin' em. That was a great surprise to us, our men had won such a complete victory in the morning.
We ran for home, but got in the skirmish line. The Yanks and Rebs were both shootin' across us, and Miss Hoover was almost helpless with fright. The hired girl seemed to have more spunk about her. I wasn’t any too fond of those little fellers whistlin' overhead, but of course I couldn’t leave Miss Hoover behind. It was all the hired girl and I could do to get her to the house.
When we were indoors we felt safer. There was nothin' but musketry, and we stood where we could look out and see the men running and shooting at each other. The girls said they never wanted to see another fight like that, but I was pretty hard for my part, and I just felt as if I ought to have a gun and shoot, too.
We'd gone off that morning and left the crazy man to luck and the old lady, but he was there when we got back. He'd been sitting all day rubbing his hands and saying, "Oh Jim, oh Jim!" over and over again.
There had been cannonading in the morning, and a number of the window lights had got jarred out. We squared some boards and fitted 'em into the places where the glass was broken.
The Hoovers didn’t have anything left in the house to eat. They were obliged to go hungry till I got some wheat at our house and carried it to a mill and had it chopped — that is, had it ground without bolting. They lived on that till Jim come home from refugeein' in the mountains and made some arrangement for getting food.
The Hoovers didn’t lose any buildings, and neither did my folks. The barns on both places were of logs and not of much account, but wherever the Yanks found a fine barn or any other building that looked as if it might benefit the Southern army they burned it.
1 I called on him at his farm home one lowering spring evening. He was a sinewy, small-statured, elderly man who was living alone, and I found him doing the kitchen work. But that was quickly disposed of, and we went to the sitting-room. It was late when I was ready to leave, and the night was dark. So my host put a light in the window and accompanied me across a field to a footbridge that would take me onto the highway.