The 'Poor Whites' of the South.
PROFESSOR CAIRNES, of Dublin, in his very valuable and generally accurate work on the "Slave Power," says:
"In the Southern States no less than five millions of human beings are now said to exist in a condition little removed from savage life, eking out a wretched subsistence by hunting by fishing, by hiring themselves out for occaaional jobs, and by plunder. Combining the retlessness and contempt for regular industry peculiar to the savage, with the vices of the prolétaire of civilized communities, these people make up a class at once degraded and dangerous; and constantly reinforced, as they are, by all that is idle, worthless, and lawless among the population of the neighboring States, form an inexhaustible preserve of ruffianism, ready at hand for all the worst purposes of Southern ambition . . . . . . . Such are the mean whites or white trash . . . . . . . This class comprises, as I have said, five millions of human beings — about seven-tenths of the whole white population of the South."
This opinion of Professor Cairnes is no doubt shared by a large portion of the people of the Northern States and of England. But it is a great error. Having read of, or seen, the wretched specimens of humanity who loiter about the railway stations, or hover around the large plantations on the great Southern thoroughfares, they have inferred that they represent "seven-tenths of the whole white population" of the South! The idea is preposterous, for, if it were true, one half of the Southern people would be paupers, which no community could support that proportion of non-producers. But it is not true. The great mass of "poor whites" are superior (and I say this with due deliberation, and after sixteen years acquaintance with them) to any other class of uncultivated men, save our Northern farmers, on the globe.
The eight millions of Southern whites may be divided into three general classes:
First, The ruling class, which includes the planters, and the higher grades of professional men, and numbers about one million. Second, The middle or laboring class, which includes the small traders, mechanics, farmers, and farm and other laborers, and numbers about six and a half millions; and, third, The mean white class, which includes all who are appropriately called "poor trash," who glean a sorry subsistence from hunting, fishing, and poaching on the grounds of the planters. This class numbers about half a million, and to it only does Professor Cairnes's description apply.
The two latter classes are of very marked and decidedly opposite characteristics. One labors; is industrious, hardy, enterprising; a law-abiding and useful citizen; the other does not labor; is thieving, vicious, law-breaking, and of "no sort of account" to his family or to society.
The mean whites do combine "the restlessness and contempt for regular industry peculiar to the savage, with the vices of the proletaire of civilized communities." Their houses are often the pole wigwams of the Indian, shaped like a sugar-loaf, with merely a hole at the top to let the smoke out and the rain in, but generally they are small huts of rough logs, through the crevices of which the wind in winter whistles a most melancholy tune. The one room of these huts is floored with nothing but the ground — hardened with mauls, and hollowed at the centre, as if to hold the rain that comes in at the roof — and it is furnished with a few rickety chairs, a pine log — hewn smooth on the upper side, and made to serve as a sofa — a cracked skillet, a dirty frying-pan, an old-fashioned rifle, two or three sleepy dogs, and a baker's dozen of half-clad children, with skins and hair colored like a tallow-candle dipped in tobacco-juice. In one corner there may be a mud oven, half crumbled back to its original earth, and in the others, two or three low beds, with corn-shuck mattresses and tattered furnishings. The character of the inmates is suited to their surroundings. They are given to whisky-drinking, snuff-dipping, clay-eating, and all manner of social vices.
The costume of these people is of the most meagre and mean description. The women go with bare heads and fact, and their only garment is a coarse cottonade gown, falling straight from the neck to just below the knees. The men wear slouched hats, and linsey trowsers, and hunting shirts, so begrimed with filth, and so torn and patched in a thousand places, that scareely a vestige of the original material is left visible to the naked eye. Many of them — owing, no doubt, to their custom of intermarrying — are deformed and apparently idiotic, and they all have stunted, ague-distorted frames, dull, heavy eyes, saffron-hued skins, small, bullet-shaped heads, and coarse, wiry hair, which looks like oakum shreds bound into mops and dyed with lampblack.
They answer, in their general characteristics, to the "scum" of our Northern cities, and to the vile denizens of the back slums of London and other large European towns; but it maybe questioned whether there is any where a class of whites quite so degraded and so utterly useless as they are. Every where but in the Slave States the poor man labors, produces something toward the support of himself and of others, but the "mean white" of the South does not know how to labor; he produces nothing; he is a fungous growth on the body of society, absorbing the life and strength of the other parts.
As I have said, the laboring poor whites are a very different people. They comprise fully three-fourths of the free population of the South. The census shows that on the first of June, 1860, there were in the fourteen Slave States, exclusive of Delaware, 1,359,655 white males engaged in agricultural and other outdoor employments. Of this number, 901,102 are classed as "farmers" — men who till their own land: 230,146 are classed as "farm-laborers" — men who till the land of others: and 228,407 are classed as "laborers" — men engaged in outdoor work
116other than the tillage of land. The "farmers" are not to be confounded with the planters — men who work large tracts of land and large bodies of slaves, but do not work themselves — for the census takes distinct account of the latter. They number only 85,558, but — such has been the working of the peculiar institution — they own nearly three-fourths of the negroes and landed property of the South. These one million three hundred and odd thousand laboring white men represent a population of about six millions; and if we add to them the four hundred thousand represented by the planters, and the one million represented by men in trade, manufactures, and the professions, there can hardly remain, in a total population of less than eight millions, "five millions of human being who eke out a wretched subsistence by hunting, by fishing, by hiring themselves out for occasional jobs, and by plunder." Half a million — the number I have stated — is vastly nearer the truth.
Little is known at the North of this large farming population, for the reason that they live remote from the great thoroughfares, and have been seldom seen by travelers. They are settled generally in the "up-country" and "backwoods," and there lead industrious and plodding lives. From them have sprung such men as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Alexander H. Stephens, Andrew Johnson, Parson Brownlow, President Lincoln, and nearly all the representative men of the Slave States. In fact they are the bone and sinew of the South, the strength of its armies, the men who are now so patiently fighting and enduring in the cause of Secession; and they will be, when the Union is restored, the ruling class, the real political South of the future.
To illustrate the habits and characteristics of the farmer class of "poor whites" — (this name is a misnomer, for a man can hardly be called "poor" who owns his own house and farm, and enjoys all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life) — I will introduce to the reader one of its representative men, whom I met at his home in Tennessee, about thirteen years ago, and again encountered at Murfreesboro, in the month of May, 1863; and I will let him "speak for himself," in his vernacular dialect, as I may thereby give a more correct idea of the peculiarities of his class than by a more general description.
Late in November, 1850, while journeying on horseback from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Louisville, Kentucky, I was overtaken by a storm one day, just at nightfall, and forced to ask shelter at a small farm-house near the little town of Richmond, in Bedford County, Tennessee. The house stood in a small clearing a short distance from the highway, and was one story high, of hewn logs nicely chinked and whitewashed, with a projecting roof, a broad, open piazza, and an enormous brick chimney-stack protruding at cither gable. As I rode up to it the farmer came out to meet me. He was dressed in homespun, and had a wiry, athletic frame; a dark, sunbrowned complexion; an open, manly face; and a frank, cordial manner that won my confidence in a moment. He bade me "good evenin" as I approached him, and returning his salutation, I asked him for shelter for myself and horse.
"Sartin, Stranger," he replied; "I nuver turned away one o God's images yit, ef they wus a Yankee — an some o them is drefful pore likenesses, ye mought bet a pile on thet."
"Why do you think I am a Yankee?" I asked, smiling.
"I sees it all over ye. But come, alight; ye's welcome ter all I lies, an' ef ye kin spin a yarn or tell a lie ony bigger'n I kin, I'll 'low a Yankee ar smarter'n a Tennesseean — an I nuver know'd one as war yit."
Dismounting, I requested him to give my horse some oats, remarking that I made free with him, because I expected to pay for what I had.
"Pay!" he exclaimed; "nuver ye tork uv pay, Stranger, 'tween two sich men as ye an' me is, or ye'll make me fight another duel. It's agin my principles, but I fit one onst, an it mought be ye, wouldn't loike ter hev me fit another."
"Not with me, I assure you. I'd take free quarters with you for a month rather than fight a duel."
"Yer a sensible man; fur I shud, fur shore, sarve ye jest as I done Clingman — thet famous North Car'lina chap. P'raps ye nuver yered how I fit him?"
"No, I never did."
"Wall, I'll tell ye on it. But yere, Jake" (to a stout, cheerful negro, who just then appeared at the corner of the house) — "yere, Jake, tuck the gen'lemans nag, rub him down, an' guv him some oats, an mind, doant ye guv no parson's measure wuth the oats."
"Nuver you far, Massa. Jake'll gub it ter im chock-heapin — loike you gub's ebery ting, Massa," rejoined the negro, bounding nimbly into the saddle, and riding off to the barn-yard.
The farmer then turned and led the way into the house. At the door of the sitting-room we were met by his wife — a comely, dark-eyed woman of about thirty, neatly clad in a calico gown, and a spotless lace cap perching cozily on the back of her head.
"Sally," said my host, as we entered the room, "yere'r a stranger; so tuck him in; guv him fritters an apple-jack fur supper, fur he'm a Yankee, an thar's no tellin but ye mought save the kentry ef ye made him fall in love wuth ye."
The good woman laughed, gave me a cordial greeting, asked me to a seat by the fire, and went about preparing supper. As I seated myself with her husband by the broad hearth-stone I glanced around the apartment. It occupied one half of the building, and had a most cozy and comfortable appearance. On the floor was a tidy rag carpet, and the plastered walls were covered with a modest paper, and ornamented
117with a half dozen neatly-framed engravings. A gilded looking-glass, festooned with sprigs of evergreen, hang between the front windows, and opposite to it stood a huge piece of mahogany, half a side-board, half a bureau, which in its day had graced some statelier mansion. A dozen rustic arm-chairs, covered with untanned deer-skin, a small stand in the corner piled high with such books as the Bible, the "Pilgrim's Progress," and "Doddridge's Expositor," and a large pine table, on which my hostess was arranging the tea-things, completed the furniture of the room. A little boy of five and a little girl of seven were helping the good-wife set the tea-talble, and through an open door at the rear I saw an older child, with her mother's dark-brown hair and her father's expressive features, busily frying the fritters over the kitchen fire.
After asking me where I "come from," where I "mought be mossyin ter," and other similar questions, my host said:
"So ye never yered how I fit Clingman — thet big Whig chap over thar ter North Car'lina?"
"No," I replied, "I never did, but I would like to, for I know Clingman."
"Wall, ye seas, it war jest afore the last 'lection, when ye put in ole Zack fur President. The Whigs they had a big barbacue down ter Richmond, an' Clingman an' a hull lot uv 'em went inter speechifying ter kill. Wall, in the coorse uy Clingmans speech he said thet Cass, our canderdate, wus a niigger-trader down thar ter Newbern way, an' wus in jail fur passin counterfit money, an' ef we 'lected him, we'd hev ter bail him out ter naugerate him. Now, I couldn't stand thet, no how, so I telled Clingman he lied blazes. Wall, he stopped short ter onst, an' axed me fur my redress."
"Address," said his wife, pausing in her work, and looking pleasantly at me.
"Thet's so, Sally, "replied the farmer. "Stranger, Sally lies all the larnin' uv the fambly. She's a quality 'ooman — she is! Wall, I guv Clingman my name, an whar I hung out, an', shore 'nuff, jest arter dark, a feller rid up yere wuth a challunge, all writ out in Clingmans own hand — an ye knows lie's a right smart scholard, an' a durned clever feller ter boot, of he ar a Whig. I couldn't read the thing — I hain't got no furder nur prent yit — so I guv it ter Sally. Sally she screeched out when she seed whot it war boat, but I telled har ter stand up, an' die loike a nun, an' so she sot down, an' 'cepted the challunge. Now, ye knows, the challunged un allers lies the chise o' weapons, so I said I'd hev swords, mounted."
"Then you are familiar with sword practice?" I remarked.
"Furmilye wuth it! I nuver seed more'n one sword in all my horned days, an' thet war so durned rusty a ox-team couldn't dror it. It hung over dad's front door when I war a young 'un. Dad said he fit wuth it ter Cowpens, but I know'd he didn't, 'case he couldn't ha' been more'n two y'ar old at thet writin.
"Wall, I said swords, mounted, at sun-up the next mornin', over agin my r'ar pinery. Now, I lies a drefful smart ox-brute thet I'se a raised up fur my privat' ridin'. The brute he doan't loike a spur, an' when ye puts one inter 'im, he'll pitch, head-foremose, inter the fust thing he comes ter, be it man or beast. Wall, in the mornin' I tuck out the cow-horn (ye'd think Gabriel war a soundin the last trump when I blows it), cut a right smart stick fur a sword, put it inter a yaller bag thet lucked loike a scabbard, got out the ox-brute, tied a red rag ter his horns, put on him my wife's best kiverlet — Sally hed it agin we got morried; it lies more colors nur Joseph's coat, but red an' yaller dominates. Wall, I put on the kiverlet fur a saddle, an' moseyed off ter the dueling ground.
"Clingman, he war thar, wuth two seconds, a doctor, an' a hull 'potecary store uv cuttin' instruments, all waitin' an' ready ter make mince-meat uv my careass. Soon as he seed how I war 'centered, he up an' 'jected ter fightin', but I counted out the terms uv the duel — swords, mounted — an' I telled him cf he didn't stand an' fight loike a man I'd post him all over the State o' North Car'lina fur a coward. Wall, finarly he 'cluded ter do it. So, we tuck our stands, the seconds they guv the word, Clingman he put spurs inter his boss, an I put spurs inter mine, an', Stranger, ye'd better b'lieve when my ox moseyed down onter his mar, wuth horn a blowin', an' kiverlct a flyin', the mar she piked out quicker'n a whirlygnst chasin' a streak o' lightnin', an' she nuver heit up till she got clean inter North Car'jina. I'se allers telled Sally sense thet thet kiverlet ar the flag I means ter live under, ter sleep under, an ter die under."
When I had somewhat recovered from the immoderate fit of laughter which expressed my appreciation of the farmer's story, his comely wife said to me:
"Fotch up yer cheer, Stranger. We hain't nothin' 'cept common doin's, but we's nuff o them."
And there was "'nuff o' them." The table was loaded down with bacon, venison, wildfowl, hominy, corn-pone, fritters, tea, cider, and apple-jack, all heaped upon it in promiscuous confusion. I liad ridden far, and eaten nothing since the morning, but I might have relished the viands had my appetite been much daintier than it was.
A desultory conversation followed till the close of the meal. When it was over, again seating myself with the farmer before the blazing lightwood fire, while his wife and elder daughter went about clearing away the tea-things, I said to him:
"Now I want to ask you how you live, what you raise, how many negroes you have — all about yourself, for I've already fallen in love with you and your wife."
"Fall'n in love wnth me! ha! ha!" echoed
118the farmer. "Stranger, I nuver fell in love wuth nary man 'cept Sally, but I fell inter it so deep wuth she thet I'se willin all creation shud love har jest loikc I does — an' they wud, ef they only know'd har so wall as me."
"I have no doubt of it. Does she do all her own housework?"
"Uvery thing — she an' the little gal. She woant hev no lazy nigger wimmin round. They make more wuck nur they does."
"Do yer wife wuck, Stranger?" asked the lady. "They say wimmin all wucks ter the North."
"Nearly all do — except my wife. She don't, because I have none. But I intend to have one. I shall probably wait till your husband breaks his neck, and then pop the question to you."
"Wall, I reckon I'd hev ye, fur I'se sort o' tuck ter ye. Pears loike ye Northern gentlemen hain't stuck up, an doant count tharselfs no better nur wuckin folk, like the ristocracts does round yere."
"The heart, not the wealth or the intellect, Madam, makes the true aristocracy," I replied, gravely.
"Thet's whot our parson sez; an in heaven, he sez, them as gits the highest hes hearts jest loike little childerin' — thet loves uvery thing, an' uvery body, an' hain't no larnin' at all. Ef that's so, Bible'll be one on the biggest on cm, fur he's got nigh ter no larnin' — he kin only jest make out ter spell — an' his heart ar big 'nuff ter holt all o creation."
"Doant ye say thet, Sally," said the farmer looking at his wife with a tender light in his eyes, and a beautiful smile on his rough features: "The Lord moughtn't be uv yer 'pinion."
"Yas, He ar, fur He knows ye jest loike I does."
The farmer made no reply, and a short silence followed. I broke it by saying:
"Come, Bible, if that is your name, answer my questions — tell me all about yourself."
"Thet hain't my name, Stranger, though it'r whot I goes by. Ye sees my name ar Smith, an dad chrisund me Jehoshaphat
"Wall, the day I war uv age dad axed me out ter the barn, an totin out a mule-brute as hed been in the fambly uver sense Adam warn't no higher'n lettle Sally, he sez ter me, sez he:
‘Thar, Bible, thar's my last wull an' testamunt; tuck it, an' gwo an' seek yer fortun'.’ I hadn't nary chise, so I tuck the mule-brute an' moseyed out ter seek my fortun'. I squatted down right squar onter this dead'nin', hired my nig Jake (I owns him now), an' me, an' Jake, an' the mule-brute went ter wuck loikc blazes — all but the mule-brute — he war too tarnal lazy ter wuck; he war so lazy I hod ter git my ox ter holp him dror his last breath. Wall, Jake an' me added acre ter acre, an' mule-brute ter mule-brute, as the Scriptur' sez, till finarly I got ter be right wall forehanded. Then, one day, I sez ter Jake: ‘Jake,’ sez, ‘ye's got a wife, an ye knows whot durmestic furlicity is — ter be shore ye hes ter keep it seven mile away; but whot's thet when I guvs ye Saturday arternoons an Sundays all ter yerself. Now I hain't nary fur. licity at all. Whot shill I do?’
"‘Git a wife, Massa,’ sez Jake; ‘git a wife, Massa. Saddle de mar, Massa, an' gwo out on a 'splorin' expedition. Jake'll luck arter de fixin's while you'm away.’
"Now thet nig ar allers right; he's got ahead longer'n the moral law; so I saddled the mar an' sallied out arter Sally. I hed ter scour nigh 'bout all o' creation, an' it tuck me four hull months ter do it, but — I found har. Soon as I sot eyes on har I know'd it war she, an' I telled har so; but she say, ‘Ye must ax Par’. (Sally lies book-breedin', ye sees, so she sez par instead o' dad, which ar' the nat'ral Way.) Wall, I axed ‘par’; he's one on yer quality folk, been ter Congress, an' only missed bein' Guv'ner by — not gittin' the nomurnation. I axed him, an he shuck his head; but I guv him jest a week ter think on it, an' moseyed out ter git ready agin the weddin'. I know'd he'd come round, an he done it. So I sez ter Sally: ‘Sally’, sez I, ‘we'll be morried ter-morrer’.
"‘Ter-morrer!’ screeched Sally, holtin up har hands an' openin har eyes; ‘why, I hain't a ready. I hain't no cloes!’
"‘Cloes!’ sez I; ‘nuver mind yer does; I doant morry ye fur them.’
"So Sally she consented, an' I piked out fur a parson. Now thar warn't none nigher'n over a branch, an' it so happin'd it rained loike blazes thet night, an' toted off all the bridges; so when the parson an' me got down ter the run jest arter noon the next day — we wus ter a been morried at 'levin — thar warn't no way o' crossin'; but thar war Sally, on the t'other side uv the run, in har sun-bunnet an a big umbrell', onpatiently waitin' fur us. Thar warn't no other how, so I sez ter the parson: ‘Parson,’ sez I, ‘say over the Prayer-book — Sally's got the hull uv it by heart agin this time — we'll be morried ter onst right yere’. So the parson he said over the Prayer-book, Sally she made the 'sponses — all 'bout the 'beyin' an' so on — an we's been man an wife uver sense; an Stranger, I doant keer whar the t'other 'ooman ar', thar hain't nary one livin' quite up ter Sally."
"An' does ye b'lieve thet story, Stranger?" asked Sally, who, having finished clearing away the tea-things, had, with the older daughter and the younger children, taken a seat near me in the chimney-corner.
"I cant say that I do. Not altogether," I replied.
"I'm glad on it; fur we wus morried in a house, loike Christun people — we wus."
"Is Jake your only slave ?" I asked the farmer after a while.
"Yas," he'r my only un, but he's as good as ony two ye nver know'd on. Ye sees, I raises nigh on ter no craps cept mule-brutes an horned critters, an them, ye knows, browse in the woods, and doant make much wuck."
If space allowed I would tell the reader more of this farmer's family; how every thing about the house and outbuildings was the model of neatness; how the comely housewife strove, with grace and cheerfulness, to do honor to a stranger guest; how tidily she kept her handsome brood, all clad in homespun of her own weaving, and her own making; how the younger children climbed their father's knee, pulled his beard, and laughed at his stories, as if they had never heard them before; how nimbly the elder daughter sprang to do her mother's bidding, how she fetched the apples from the loft, and the applejack from the pantry, and, between times, helped to lull the sleepy little ones to sleep, or to keep them, wakeful, out of mischief; how when we parted for the night, Sally read a chapter from the big Bible, and then, all kneeling down, made such a prayer as the Good All-Father loves to hear; how when I bade them " good-by" in the morning all had to kiss me, from the mother to the youngest; and how Bible, giving me a parting grasp of the hand, said as I mounted to ride away,
"Come out an' settle yere, Stranger; we'll send ye ter Congress — the man as lies cheek enuff ter kiss a mans wife afore his vury face kin git ony office in this part o the kentry I"
For nearly thirteen years I saw nothing of my Tennessee friend; but one day, last spring, as I alighted from the cars at Murfreesboro, a heavy hand was laid on my shoulder, and a strangely familiar voice accosted me with,
"I know'd it was ye. I know'd ye the minnit I sot eyes on ye."
Turning on the speaker I saw a spare, squarely-built, loose-jointed man, above six feet high, with a strongly-marked face, a long, grizyly beard, and silvery black hair hanging loosely over his shoulders like a womans. He wore an officer's undress coat, and the boots of the cavalry service, but the rest of his costume was of the common "butternut" homespun. Taking his extended hand, and trying hard to recall his features, I said to him:
"I know your voice, but I don't remember your face."
"Doant remember me! me, Bible — Bible Smith! Why I'd a know'd ye. ef yer face hed been. hiacker'n yer Whig principles."
The name brought him to my remembrance. Again grasping his hand, and shaking it this time with a right good-will, I exclaimed:
"I'm delighted to see you, Bible; and to see you here — true to the old flag."
"Ye mought hev know'd. thet."
He accompanied me to my lodgings, and there, seated on the piazza after dinner, told me the story of his life since we parted. As it illustrates traits of character which are common to all of his class, I will give it, in part, to the reader.
The world had gone well with him till the breaking out of the rebellion. That event found him the owner of fifteen likely negroes, a fine plantation of nine hundred and thirty acres, and a comfortable framed dwelling and outbuildings. His elder daughter had married a young farmer of the district, and his younger — little Sally, whom I remembered as a rosy-checked, meek-eyed wee thing of only seven years — had grown up a woman.
In the spring of 1861, when there were no Union troops south of the Ohio, and the secession fever was raging furiously all over his county, he organized one hundred and six of his neighbors into a company of Home Guards, and was elected their captain. They were pledged to resist all attacks on the person or property of any of their number, and met frequently in the woods in the vicinity of their homes. This organization secured Bible safety and free expression of opinion till long after Tennessee went out of the Union. In fact, he felt so secure that, in 1862 — a year after the State seceded — under the protection of his band of Home Guards he inaugurated and carried through a celebration of the Fourth of July at Richmond, Tennessee, under the very guns of a rebel regiment then forming in the town.
An act of so much temerity naturally attracted the attention of the Confederate authorities, and not long afterward he was roused from his bed one morning before daybreak by three hundred armed men, who told him that he was a prisoner, and that all his property was confiscated to the Government. They at once enforced the "confiscation act;" "and this," he said, taking from his wallet a piece of soiled paper, "ar' whot I hed ter 'tribute ter the dingnation consarn. It'r Sally's own handwrite, an I knows ye loikes bar, so, ye kin hev it, fur it'll nuver be uv no manner uv account ter me."
The schedule is now before me, and I copy it verbatim: "14 men and wimmin" [Jake eluded the soldiers and escaped to the woods], " 1600 barrils corn, 130 sheeps, 700 bushls wheat, 440 barley, 100 rye, 27 mules, 5 cow-brutes, 105 head hogs, 17 horses and mars, and all they cud tote beside."
"Wall, they tied me, hand an' fut," he continued; "an' toted me off ter the Military Commission sittin' ter Chattanooga. I know'd whot thet meant — a short prayer, a long rope, an a break-down danced on the top o' nothin'. Better men nur me hed gone thet way ter the Kingdom — sevin on 'em wuthin a month — but I detarmined I wouldn't go ef I could holp it; not thet I jected ter the journey, only ter goin' afore uv Sally. Ye sees, I hedn't been nigh so good a man as I'd orter be, an' I reckoned Sally — who, ye knows, ar the best 'ooman thet uver
120lived — I reckoned she, ef she got thar a leetle afore o' me, could sort o' put in a good word wuth the Lord, an' git Him ter shot His eyes ter a heap o' my doin's; an' sides, I know'd I should feel a mighty strange loike up thar without bar. Wall, I detarmined not ter go, so thet night, as we war camped out on the ground, I slid the coil, stole a nag, an' moseyed off. Howsumuver, I hedn't got more'n a hun'red rods 'fore the durned Secesh yered me, an' the bullets fell round me thicker'n tar in January. They hit the hoss, winged me a trifle, an' in less nur ten minnits, hed me tighter'n liver. They swore a streak uv blue brimstun', an' said they'd string me up ter onst, but I telled em they wouldn't, 'case I know'd I war a gwine ter live ter holp do thet ar same turn fur Jeff Davis. Wall, I s'pose my impudence hed suthin ter do wuth it, fur they didn't hang me — ye mought know thet, fur, ye sees, I hes a good neck fur stretchin yit.
"Wall, we got ter Chattanooga jest arter noon. The Commission they hed too many on hand thet day ter 'tend ter my case, an' the jail wus chock-heapin', so they put me inter a, tent under guard uv a hull Georgy regiment. Wall, I didn't know whot ter do, but thinkin the Lord did, I kneeled down an' prayed right smart. I tolled Him I hedn't no face ter meet Him afore I'd a done suthin fur the kentry, an' thet Sally's heart would be clean broke ef I went afore bar, but, howsumuver, I said, He know'd best, an' ef it war His will, I hed jest nothin ter say agin it, Thet's nil I said, but I said it over an over, a heap o times, an it war right dark when I got off uv my knees. The Lord yered me, thet's sartin, case I hedn't more'n got up fore a dirty gray-back, drunker'n a member uv Congress, staggered inter the tent. I reckon he thort he war ter home, fur he drapped down enter the ground an went ter sleep wuthout so much as axin ef I wus willin.
"Then it come inter my head, all ter onst, whot ter do. Ye sees, the critters hed tied me hand an fut an teddered me wuth a coil ter one o' the tent-stakes, so I couldn't move only jest so fur; but the Lord He made the drunken feller lop down jest inside uv reachin'. Wall, when I war shore he war dead asleep, I rolled over thar, drawed out the bowie-knife in his belt wuth my teeth an sawed off my wristlets in no time. Ye kin reckon it didn't take long ter undo the 'tother coils, an' ter 'propriate his weapons, tie 'im hand an' fut loike I war, strip off his coat, put mine onter 'im, swap hats, an' pull the one I guv him down onter his eyes loike as ef he nuver wanted ter see the sun agin. When I'd a done thet, I stopped ter breathe, an' luckin up I seed a light a comin'. I 'spicioned it war ter 'xamine arter me, so I slunk down inter a crack o' the tent jest aside the door. They wus a leftenant an three privits makin' the rounds, an' the light showed me nigh onter a army uv sentinels all about thar. Thet warn't no way encouragin', but sez I ter myself: ‘Bible,’ sez I ‘be cool an’ outdacioas an' ye'll git out o' this yit;' so when the leftenant luck'd in, an' savin', ‘All right,’ put out agin, I riz up an' jined the fellers as wus a follerin on him. I kept in the shadder, an they, s'posin I war one on 'em, tuck no kind uv notice uv me. We'd luck'd arter three or four proe prisoners loike I war, when I thort I'd better be a moseyin', so I drapped ahind an' arter awhile dodged out beyont the second line o' pickets, I'd got nigh outer a patch uv woods half a mile off, when all ter onst a feller sprung up from a clump uv bushes, yelled ‘Halt!’ an' pinted his musket stret at me. I mought hev eended im, but I reckoned others wus nigh, an sides, I nuver takes humin life ef I kin holp it; so I sez ter 'im: ‘Why, Lord bless me, cumrad’, I didn't seed ye. ‘I s'pose ye didn't. Whot is ye doin' yere?’ sez he. ‘Only pursuin’ a jug o' blue ruin I'se out thar hid under a log,' sez I. ‘Ye knows it'r agin rule ter tote it inside, but a feller must licker.’ Wall, licker up ter-mor-rer,' sez he. ‘We's got 'ticklar orders ter let no 'un out ter-night.’ ‘Blast the orders,’ sez I. ‘Ye'd loike a swig yerself.’ ‘Wall, I would,’ sez he. ‘Wull ye go snacks?’ ‘Yas,’ sez I; ‘an' guv ye chock-henpin' measure, fur I must hev some o' thet afore mornin'.’ Thet brung him, an' I piked off for the ruin. (It warn't thar, ye knows — I nuver totch the dingnation stuff.) Ye'd better b'lieve the grass didn't grow under my feet when onst I got inter the woods. I plumbed my coorse by the stars an made ten right smart miles in no time.
"I'd got ter be right wall tuckered out by thet time. So I put fur a piece uv timber, lay down under a tree, an went ter sleep. I must hev slept mighty sound till long 'bout mornin, when I woke up. Then I luck'd all round an seed nuthin, but I yered — not a mile off — the hounds a bayin' away loike a young thunder-gust. I luck'd at the 'volver I'd stole from the soger, seed it war all right, an' then clumb a tree. 'Bout so quick as it takes ter tell it the hounds — two 'mazin' fine critters, wuth a hun'red an' fifty apiece — wus on me. I run my eye 'long the pistol-barr'l an let drive. It tuck jest two shots ter kill 'em. I know'd the Secesh wus a follerin' the dogs, so ye'd better b'lieve I made purty tall racin' time till I got ter the eend uv the timber.
"Jest at night I run agin some darkeys, who guv me suthin ter eat, an' nothin' more happin'd 'fore the next night, when I come in sight o' home. I got ter the edge uv the woods, on the hill jest ahind uv my barn, 'bout a hour by sun; but I darn't go down, fur, ye knows, the house stood in a clarin', an' some uv the varmunts mought be a watchin' fur me. I lay thar till it war thick dark, an' then I crept ter the r'ar door. I listened; an' whot d'ye s'pose I yered? Sally a prayin' — an' prayin fur me, so 'arnest an' so tender loike, thet I sot down on the doorstep an' cried loike a child — I did.
"She telled the Lord how much I war to har; how she'd a loved me uver sense she'd a fust seed me; how 'fore liar father, or mother, or even
121the chillen, she loved me; how she'd tried ter make me love Him; how she know'd thet, way down in my heart, I did love Him, though I didn't say so 'case men doant speak out 'bout sech things loike wimmin does. An' she telled Him how she lied tried ter do His will; tried ter be one on His raal chillen; an' she tolled Him He hed promised not ter lay enter His chillen no more'n they could b'ar, an she couldn't b'ar ter hev me hung up as ef I war a traitor: thet she could part wuth me if it war best; thet she could see me die, an' not weep a tear, ef I could only die loike a man, wuth a musket in my hand, a doin suthin for my kentry. Then she prayed Him ter send me back ter har fur jest one day, so she mought ax me once more ter love Him — an she know'd I would love Him ef she axed me agin — an' she said ef He'd only do thet, she'd — much as she loved me — she'd send me away, an guv me all up ter Him an the kentry fur uver!
"I couldn't stand no more, so I opened the door, drapped outer my knees, tuck har inter my arms, lay my head on liar shoulder, an sobbed out: ‘The Lord lies yered ye. Sally ! I wull love Him! I wall bo worthy of sech love as ye's guv'n me, Sally!’"
He paused for a moment, and covered his face with his hands. When he spoke again there was a softness and tenderness in his tone that I never heard in the voice of but one other man.
"Sense thet minnit this yerth lies been another yerth ter me; an' though I'se lost uvery thin', though I lies no home, though night arter night I sleeps out in the cold an' the wet, a scoutin', though my wife an' chillen is scattered, though nigh uvery day I'se in danger uv the gallus, though I'se been roped ter a tree ter die loike a, dog, though a thousand bullets lies yelled death in ray yeres, though I'se seed my only boy shot down afore my vury eyes, an' I not able ter speak ter him, ter guv him a mossel uv comfort, or ter yere his last word, I'se hed suthin allers yere (laying his hand on his heart) thet hes helt me up, an' made me luck death in the face as ef I loved it. An' ef ye hain't got thet, no matter whot else ye's got, no matter whot money, or larnin, or friends, ye's pore — porer nur I ar!"
I made no reply, and after a short silence he resumed his story.
"Jake — thet war my boy — ye remember him, ye hod him on yer knee — he war eighteen an a man grow'd then: wall, Jake an me made up our minds ter pike fur the Union lines ter onst. Sally war all night a cookin' fur us, an we a gittin the arms an fixin's a ready — we hid lots o them b'longin tor the Guards, hid away in a panel uv the wall — an' the next day, meanin ter start jest arter sunset, we laid down fulsome sleepin. Nigh onter dark, Black Jake, who war a watchin, come rushin inter the house, sayin' the Secesh was a comin'. Thar wus only twenty on 'em, he said, an' one wus drunk an' didn't count fur nuthin', so we detarmined ter meet 'em. We tuck our stands nigh the door, each on us men — Black Jake, the boy, an' me — wuth a Derringer in his pocket, two 'volvers in his belt, an' a bowie-knife in the breast uv his waiscoat, an' the wimmin wuth a 'volver in each hand, an' waited fur 'em. Half a dozen on 'em went round ter the r'ar, an' the rest come at the front door, yellin' out:
"‘We doant want ter 'sturb ye, Miss Smith, but we reckons yer husban' are yere, an' we must sareh the house. We lies orders ter take him.’
"I opened the door stret off, an' steppin' down onter the piazzer — Black Jake an' the boy ter my back, an' the wimmin ter the winder — I sez ter 'em,
"Wall, I'se yere. Take me ef ye kin!"
"They was fourteen on 'em, uvery man wuth a musket, but they darn't lift a leg! They wus cowards. It'r nuthin' but a good cause thet guvs a man courage — makes him luck death in the face as ef he loved it."
"Wall, they begun ter parley. ‘We doan't want ter shed no blood’, said the leftenant; ‘but we's orders ter take ye, Mister Smith, an ye'd better go wuth us, peaceable loike.’
"‘I sha'n't go wuth ye peaceable loike, nur no other how, sez I; fur ye's a pack o howlin thieves an traitors as no decent man ud be seed in company uv. Ye disgraces the green yerth ye walks on, an ef ye doant git off uv my sheer uv it, in less nur no time, I'll send ye — though it'r agin my principles tor take humin life — whar ye'll git yer desarts, sartin.’
"Then the leftenant he begun ter parley agin, but I pinted my 'volvcr at him, an telled him he'd better be a moseyin sudden. Sayin' he'd port ter his cunnel, he done it."
"We know'd a hun'red on em ud be thar in no time, so, soon as they was out o sight, the boy an me, leavin Black Jake ter luck arter the wimmin, struck a stret line fur the timber. We hedn't got more'n four mile — ter the top uv the tall summit ter the r'ar uv Richmond — afore, luckin' back, we seed my house an barns all a blazin." The Heavan defyin villuns hed come back — shot Jake down in cold blood, druv my wife an darter out o doors, an burnt all I hed ter the ground! We seed the nre, but not knowin' whot else hed happin'd, an not bein' able ter do nothin, we piked on inter the woods.
"We traviled all thet night through the timber, an jest at sundown uv the next day come ter a clarin. We wus mighty tired, but twouldn't do ter sleep thar, fur the trees wus nigh a rod asunder; so we luck'd round, an on t'other side uv the road, not half a mile off, seed bout a acre uv laurel bush — ye knows whot them is, some on 'em so thick a dog karn't git through em. Jake war tireder nur I war, an he said ter me, Dad, sez he, let us git under kiver ter onst. I feels loike I couldn't stand up no longer. It wus fool-hardy loike, fur the sun warn't clar down, but I couldn't b'ar ter see the boy so, an, agin my judgment, we went down the road ter the laurels. We lay thar till mornin, an slep so sound thet I reckon ef forty yerthquakes hed shuck the yerth they wouldn't hev woked us. Soon as sun-up Jake riz an'
122went ter the edge uv the thicket ter rekonnoitter. He hedn't stood, thar five minnits — right in plain sight, an not more'n two hun'red rods frum me — afore I yered a shot, an seed the pore boy throw up his arms an' fall ter the ground. In less nur no time fifty Secesh wus on him. I war springin' up ter go ter him, when suthin' tuck me by the shoulder, helt me back, an' said ter me, ‘Ye karn't do nothin' fur him. Leave 'im ter the Lord. Save yerself fur the kentry.’ It went agin natur', but it 'peared the Lord's voice, so I crouched down agin mong the bushes. I nuver know'd whot it war thet saved me till nigh a y'ar arterwuds. Then I tuck thet leftenant pris'ner — I could hev shot him, hut I guv him his life ter repent in, an he done it; he's a decent man now, b'longin ter Gunnel Johnson's rigiment. Wall, I tuck him, an' he said ter me, ‘I wus aside uv thet pore boy when he war dyin’. He turned his eyes onter me jest as he war goin, an he said, "Ye karn't kotch him! He's out o the bush! Ha! ha!"' He said thet, and died. Ter save me, died wuth a lie on his lips! Does ye b'lieve the Lord laid thet agin him?"
"No, no! I am sure not. It was a noble action."
"It 'pears so ter me, but it war loike the boy. He war allers furgettin' himself, an' thinkin' uv other folk. He war all — all the pride uv my life — him an' Sally — but it pleased the Lord ter tuck him afore me — but only fur a time — only fur a time — 'fore long I shill hev him agin — agin — up thar — up thar!"
His emotion choked his utterance for a while. When he resumed, he said,
"At the eend uv a fortni't, trav'lin by night an sleepin by day, an livin on the darkeys when my fixin's guv out, I got inter the Union lines bove Nashville."
"And what became of your wife and daughter?" I asked.
"Lettle Sally went ter bar sister. My wife walked eighty mile ter liar father's. He's one on yer quality folk, an a durned old Secesh, but he's got humin natur in him, an Sally's safe thar. I'se seed har twice ter his house. The old 'un he's know'd ont't, but he hain't nuver said a word."
Bible's intimate knowledge of the country, and acquaintance with the loyal men of the district, induced General Rosecrans to make him a scout, and he has performed more actual service to the Union cause than a regiment of men in the ranks. Hiding in the woods, or secreting himself in the houses of his friends by day, he sallies forth by night, and, penetrating far into the rebel lines, frequently gathers information of great importance to our army. Often days without food, sleeping out in the cold and the rain, hunted down with blood-hounds, betrayed by pretended friends, waylaid by whole regiments, the mark for a thousand rifles, and with the gallows ever before him, he goes on in his perilous work with a single-hearted devotion to his country, and an earnest, child-like reliance on God, that would do honor to the lest names in history. His scouting advent ares would fill a volume, and read more like a romance of the Middle Ages than a matter-of-fact history of the present time. I will narrate but one, mostly in his own words.
On one occasion, when about five miles outside of our lines, he came, late at night, upun a party of officers making merry at the house of a wealthy Secessionist. Riding coolly up to the mounted orderly on guard before the doorway, he pinioned his arms, thrust a handkerchief into his mouth, and led him quietly out of hearing, Then bidding him dismount, and tying him to a tree, he interrogated his prisoner, and learned that the party consisted of nine officers; that their arms were piled in the hall, and that only one of them, a surgeon, had a revolver.
Fastening his horse in "the timber," and creeping up to the house, he then reconnoitred the kitchen premises. The old man — a stout, stalwart negro of about fifty — sat dozing in the corner, and his wife, a young mulatto woman, was cooking wild-fowl over the fire. Opening tlie door, and placing his finger on his lips to enjoin silence, Bible beckoned to the woman, She came to him, and, looking her full in the eye for a moment, he said to her; "I kin trust ye. Wud ye an yer old un loike ter git out e the claws uv these durned Secesh?"
"Yas, yas, Massa," she replied, "we wud. We's Union! We'd loike ter git way, Massa!"
Then awakening her husband, Bible said to him: "Uncle, wud ye risk yer life fur yer freedom?"
"Ef dar's a chance, Massa, a right smart chance. Dis dark'y tinks a heap oh his life, he does, Massa. It m bout all hem got, but I loikes a chance, Massa, a right smart chance."
Bible soon convinced the negro that he would have a "right smart chance," and he consented to make the hazardous strike for his freedom, Entering the house, he returned in a few moments to the scout, confirming the sentinel's report: the weapons were reposing quietly in the I hall, near the doonway, and the officers, very much the worse for liquor, were carousing with his master in the dining-room. Selecting two of the best horses from the stables, Bible directed the yellow woman to lead them into the road, and to bring his own from where it was fastened in the woods. Then, with his sooty ally, he entered the mansion. Removing the arms from the hall, he walked boldly into the dining-room.
"Gentlemen," he said, pointing his pistols-one in each hand — at the rebel officers, "ye is I my pris'ners. Surrender yer shootin irons, or ye's dade men."
"Who are you?" exclaimed one of them, as they all sprang to their feet.
"Gunnel Smith, uv the Fust Tennessee Nigger Regiment — one old black man an a yaller ooman," coolly replied the scout.
"Go to — ," shouted the surgeon, quickly drawing his revolver, and discharging it directly
123at Bible's face. The ball grazed the scout's head, cut off a lock of hair just above his ear, and lodged in the wall at his back. The report was still sounding through the apartment when the surgeon uttered a wild cry, sprang a few feet into the air, and fell lifeless to the floor! The negro had shot him.
"Come, gentlemen, none o thet," said Bible, as coolly as if nothing had happened, "guv me the shootin iron, and surrender."
Without more hesitation the colonel handed the scout the fallen mans pistol, and then they all, followed by the scout and the negro, inarehed quietly out of the front door. The mulatto woman, holding the horses, was standing in the highway.
"Hitch the nags, my purty gal," said the scout, "an git a coil. An ye, gentlemen, sot down, an say nothin — cept it mought be yer prayers; but them, I reckon, ye hain't lamed yit." The negress soon returned with the rope, and while Bible and her husband covered them with their revolvers, she tied tlie arms of the prisoners. When this was done, the scout affixed a long rope to the waist of the officer on cither flank of the column, and, taking one in his own hand, and giving the other to the negro, cried out:
"Sogers uv the Fust Tennessee! Mount!" The regiment bounded into the saddle, and in that plight — the planter and the eight captive officers marehing on before, the self-appointed "cunnel" and his chief officer bringing up the rear, and the rest of his command — the yellow woman — a-straddle of a horse between them, they entered the Union lines.
I could fill this article with Bible's scouting adventures, but it is my purpose to say only enough of him to give an idea of his character. If I have outlined that distinctly the reader has perceived that lie is brave, simple-hearted, outspoken, hospitable, enterprising, industrious, loyal to liberty, earnest in his convictions — though ignorantly confounding names with things — a good husband and father, with a talent for bragging, and that quiet humor which flavors character as Worcester sauce flavors a good dinner. In all these particulars he is a representative of his class; and his stories and conversation illustrate that disposition to magnify every thing — even himself — and that intensity of nature which leads the Southerner to do nothing by halves; to throw his whole soul into every thing he undertakes; to he, like Jeremiah's figs, " if good, very good, if bad, not fit to feed the pigs."
At the outset of Bible's career he had but one slave — poor Jake, who was "faithful unto death" — and the farmers of his class seldom own more than one, and generally they have none at all. In rare instances, however, the more industrious acquire five or ten; but whether they have many or few they work side by side with them in the fields, and treat them very much as the Northern farmer treats his hired workmen.
Before the war the traveler in the interior of North Carolina would have heard the axe of master and man falling with alternate strokes in the depths of the evergreen forest, or he would have seen the two " camped out" together in the same tent or pine-pole cabin, drinking from the same gourd — tlie darkey always after his master — eating from the same rude table, and sharing the same bed — the cabin floor — in common. So, too, in Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Western Virginia, and Middle and Upper Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, he would have seen the white and the black plowing side by side, or, bared to the waist, swinging the old-fashioned scythe, in good-natured rivalry as to which could. cut the broadest swath of yellow wheat or waving timothy, or tote the biggest bundle of corn to the evening husking-bee. And when the evening had come he would have found them gathered in the old log-barn, husking, and singing, and shouting, and dancing in company, to the tune of " Ole Virginny," or " Rose, Rose, de coal brack Hose," played by "old Uncle Ned," who "had no wool on de top ob his head," but whose skinny fingers, with handy blow, could rap the music out of " de ole banjo."
Bible had got "no furder nur prent yit," and fully one half of his class never get so far as that, though the more wealthy, like the father I of Sally, sometimes give their children what might be called "a fair common-school education."
The reason of this is, there are no schools for the common people at the South. In a village, ten or twenty miles distant, there may be a pretentious "Female College," or "Institute of Learning for Young Men," where "a little Latin and less Greek" is dispensed to the young idea at the rate of four or five hundred dollars per annum, but these prices place their "stores of knowledge" far above the reach of the hard-toiling farmer. Only in Tennessee, so far as I know, are there any free schools, and the scanty State allowance which formerly supported them was dealt out with a most parsimonious hand. How much light those intitutions gave the people may be guessed at from the fact that any one was qualified to instruct in them who could " read, write, and do sums in addition."
But the fact that a large proportion of the Southern farmers have no "book-larnin" is no evidence against their intelligence. At the North if a man has not been to school he knows nothing. The South is more like Greece and Rome, where one might be really educated and vet not know how to read and write. Heading and writing at the South is considered something like playing on the piano at the North — an accomplishment rather than a necessary. The men of this class, of the better order, however (as in the case of Bible Smith and the father of Thomas Jefferson), almost always marry above them, so that not unfrequently the wife reads while the husband can not; of course the children have the advantage of the mother's education, and, therefore, the class is constantly rising. They have also a sort of inn ate faculty
124for culture and gentlemanliness, and this makes a little "book-breedin" go a long ways.
But as the Southern farmer can not read, he is forced to derive his knowledge of current events and political affairs from his wealthier neighbor who can read, and w!io is sure to be a slave-owner. At apolitical barbecue, or a court-day gathering, he may hear, once or twice in the year, the two sides of every national question but the, to him, all-important one of slavery. If that subject is at all touched upon on such occasions, it is shown to be of divine origin — dating back to the time when Ham first cast a black shadow across his looking-glass, and only to end when the skins of his descendants no longer wear mourning for their forefather's, sin. Thus instructed, is it strange the Southern farmer deems slavery altogether lovelier than freedom? What does he know of real freedom? What does he know of what it has done for the poor man at the North? Nothing. He never saw a North cm man in all his life, except, it may be, a Yankee peddler. If the Southern workingman knew what freedom is; if he knew how it has built a free school at every Northern cross-road; how the Northern laborer is comparatively rich, while he is wretchedly poor; how the Northern farmer has a comfortable house for himself and outbuildings for his cattle, while he lodges in a mud-chinked hovel, and stables his cows in the woods; how the Northern farmer is respected and honored because he labors, while he is looked down upon and despised for doing the same thing; if he knew all this, would he not crush slavery and end the rebellion in a day? He would. And slavery will not be effectually crushed, or the rebellion ended, until he does know it. We may overrun the South, we may make its fields a desolation, and its cities heaps of ruin, but until we reach the reason and the hearts of these men, we shall stand ever on the crater of a volcano, whose red-hot lava may at any hour again burst forth and deluge the land with blood and fire!
But how — while every able-bodied Southern man is in the army — can we reach these people? By fighting them with a sword in one hand and a Union newspaper in the other — by giving them ideas as well as bullets. By scattering loyal publications broadcast over tlic conquered districts, and by starting a free press wherever we liold a foot of Southern soil. If the men are away in the army, the women will be at home, and will read these things, and that will be enough. If we convert then, the country is saved. Woman, in this century, is everywhere that "power behind the throne" which is mightier than the throne itself, and the Southern women have been, and are, the mainspring of this rebellion. Every dollar thus planted in the South would spring up a man, in tattered hat and ragged butternuts, it might be, bnt still a man, hardy, earnest, brave — who for what Ie thought was right would mareh straight up to the cannon's mouth, and meet death "as if he loved it."
I have failed of my purpose in writing this article if I have not shown that the great body of "poor Southern whites" are an honest, industrious, enterprising, brave, and liberty-loving people, who need only to know the true issues of this contest to become the firm friends and supporters of the Union. Henceforth they must be the real South. We must enlighten and elevate them. Only in that way can we uproot the despotie power of the aristocracy, and plant in the South a loyal element which will make it one with the North in interest and in feeling. Only in that way can we secure lasting peace, and freedom, and Union, to our distracted country.