CHAPTER 15 – Demopolis
July 6th, 1863. We received our paroles yesterday, and today we marched out, but were haulted at our outer line, which was our only line of breastworks, and every one searched for contraband of war, which consisted of medicine, and musket caps. Quinine was the principle medecine, they did not want us to have. This looks unmerciful, and extremely wicked, to take the medecine away from a sick man, that he may die, or that his wife and children, at home may die for the want of it. I stood by and saw twenty-five or thirty, infantry men searched, the guard went through their knapsacks and every little bundle they had, but they found no contraband on them. When we battery boys presented ourselves, the guard noticed that we had nothing but our blankets, and haversacks and we were told to pass on. So much time was lost by searching the men that we did not get far today.
July 7th. Weather warm and dry, and roads dusty. We crossed Pearl river the water was clear as crystal, it was not over two feet deep, and we all enjoyed wading it. Gen. Pemberton and a few of his staff, crossed at the time I was crossing, some one cryed out, “Boys there goes the traitor”, he gave a quick side glance in the direction of the voice, but continued his course. It was boldly stated by our Missouri soldiers and I presume by others, shortly after we were forced into Vicksburg, or ordered there, that Pemberton was a traitor, because he would not let our batteries fire on the enemy when they came up and commenced building breastworks. He gave as his reason, that the ammunition was scarse, and we must husband it. My battery boys and Lieut. Murphy also bitterly condemned the order, but I am not prepared to say that he was a traitor, though I condemned the order also, as that was the only time we had to damage the enemy. But the final result, would have been the same.
July 8th. I plodded my way along the dusty road, water to drink is scarse, and I turned aside to a house near the roadside today to get a drink from a well, many soldiers were drawing and filling their canteens, but as I came up the woman was complaining about the men drawing all the water out of her well. The men left, much dissatisfied. In a few minutes a crowd of Louisiana soldiers rushed for the well, and some officers that were in the house, took the bucket off and carried it into the house. This act made the brave Louisiana boys furriously mad, and part of them rushed to a rail fence close by, got an armful of rails and filled the well to the top. This act was pretty hard on the woman, but these men were in no humor to stand such treatment.
Late this evening I fell in with a young man named Walter Kirkpatrick of New Madrid, Mo. He was a member of Co. No.2, 1st Mo. Reg., I found him a congenial companion. We camped for the night close to a nice looking cottage, and after getting some good dry wood, and making a fire to warm up some bread, and to make some boiled Yankee coffee in an oyster can, while making these preperations, an old negro came up and we chatted with him awhile, and made a bargain with him to go home, kill a fat hen, have his wife cook it and bring it to us, with a corn cake for supper. He promised to have the goods ready wihin three hours, so we stopped our preperations, and walked up to the cottage to pass the time until our supper arrived. We found a doctor and his wife, with out any children living there, they were nice people, of middle age. They had a hand organ, and the good wife was proud of it, and seemed determined that we should enjoy it, as she wound the little fellow up a few times too many, for our musical ear. Well about nine o’clock, having enjoyed ourselves, we bid them good night and repared to our camping place, started a bright fire, spread our blankets, and lay down to await the coming of our baked hen, for which we had bargained to pay 50 cts, in Confederate money. We had not long to wait, as supper was on time, and the fowl was nicely seasoned and cooked, with plenty of rich highly seasoned gravy and good bread. It was one of those suppers that a Confederate soldier never forgets. Of course we had some evil thought as to the real owner of the hen, but would not judge, so we kept the commandment. Walter Kirkpatrick, is a fine looking, beardless young man, about twenty years old, blue eyes, dark hair, fair complexion, 5 ft, 10 inch high, weighs about 150 lbs, with a soft gentle voice, and manners, and the soul of truth and honor, and loves God.
When we arrived at the RR station near Brandon, Miss. there was a train awaiting to take us MO. troops to our selected parole camp, at Demapolis, Ala. And there was near by on a side track, a car load of the largest water-mellons I ever saw. The owner had the door ajar just enough for him to fill the opening, and for us soldiers to see dozens of his five dollar mellons, as that was his price. We had but little money, the majority had none, yet we felt like we must have the mellons as it had been more than two years since we had tasted one. Notwithstnding the command “Thou shalt not covet,” that desire seemed to be getting the control of the crowd, as it grew larger. I knew that something was going to happen, and in a few minutes some one had gotten a crow-bar and prized open the door on the opposite side, and the mellons were expropriated as fast as it was possible to do so, until all was gone, and such a mellon feast no mortal man had ever seen before. As the price of property is controled by the amount of money in circulation, the owner concluded to take what he could get, so when the men got abord the train for Demopolis, the mellon man also went aboard, and went from one end of the train to the other, asking every man that helped to eat his mellons, to please, give him something, as he had bought the mellons on a credit from his neighbors, and he was now in a bad fix. He acted wisely, by coming at us in that way, it made us ashamed of our meanness and cowardly conduct. Every one that partook of that uninvited mellon feast, made some reparation, none gave less than one dollar, some as much as three, and considering that many of the mellons, were as much as four men could eat, he was well paid after all.
We landed at Demopolis July 12th, 1863, and were all happy to know that we had escaped prison life, by surrendering on July 4th. That day was all that saved us from prison. Our army could have held out four or five days longer, but the privates as well as our General knew, that by adding to that day, our surrender, we could get better terms, so all hands were willing for Gen. Pemberton to do so, as it was only a question of a few days anyway. But what the whole army denounced Gen. Pemberton for, and call him a traitor, was his order prohibiting the firing of the artillery, around our lines, claiming that artillery ammunition was scarce, and we must husband it. We could have done the enemy great damage, when he first commenced to invest the city, by waiting the opportunity was lost, and our batteries being exposed, soon became useless, by the close proximity of the enemies sharp shooters.
Our camp was an ideal one on the north east side of the City, amidst magnolia and some other forrest trees, on rolling ground carpeted with blue grass, and bounded on the south, by the beautiful Tombigby river, which is formed by the Little Tombigby and the romantic Black Warrior rivers, both in view of our camp, we are content to rest here, but as we are strangers in a strange land, and prisoners of war, our hearts yearn for home, and how greatful we were, when we quickly realized, that the noble Southern women of Demopolis, and vacinity, understood from the very depth of a pure womans soul, our sad and almost unbearable condition, and came to our rescue by the hundreds, with their praise for our patriotism, and their tender words of comfort and sympathy. Having their carriages loaded with good things, and feasted us on the very manna of their Alabama homes. They also sent wagons and carts to our camps loaded with mellons, peaches, and all kinds of vegetables, without money and without price. Our souls were revived, and a God bless the Alabama women, was on the lips of all the Missouri boys. Most of the boys received invitations to visit the homes of their comforters.
July 26th, 1863. Today while fishing in the beautiful Tombigby, I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting his horse near the ferry, awaiting the return of the boat from the opposite side, that he might cross and return to his home. By some strange presentament I could not overcome, I was moved to approach him and introduce myself, I found he was cultivated, refined, and a man of wealth. I spoke of the royal hospitality we exiled Missourians were receiving at the hands of his people, that although homeless and provisionless, and prisoners of war, we were happy to know, that we were in the midst of warm, sympathetic friends. That our reception by the good people of Demopolis, and vicinity, would ever be one of the bright oasis, in the Missourians life. Before seperating, I modestly inquired, if he could inform me where I could get some buttermilk, as my soul panted for a few draughts, of that refreshing home beverage, he smilingly informed me, that if I would come out to his place, I could partake of that beverage “twenty times a day, if I so desired,” I thanked him for his cordial invitation and promised to come and after some directions, we seperated.
I went back to my angling, with my mind upon the home with the buttermilk, which I did not especially want, but used that hoax, as a piece of military stratagy, to find, what I had pictured in my minds eye, I wanted. A home of culture, refinement, sunshine, and wealth, with the essential adjunct, of pure maidens, and music. At such a home, if it could be found, I thought, I would delight to spend my days, while a paroled prisoner of war. My mind was so engrossed with the picture, that it incapasitated me, for further enjoyment in my past-time. I hurried to camp, to see about getting a pass, to the country for a few days. Met James Talbot, on my way, told him that I had located plenty of buttermilk, and to go with me and enjoy it, which he agreed to do. We received a three days leave of absence from camp, and was soon at the front gate of the buttermilk home. Doubtless Talbot’s mind was fixed upon the buttermilk, mine upon things higher.
I had strange feelings as I gazed upon the scene before me, a fine two story house, with broad breezy galleries, typical of every Southern home of wealth, and comfort, embowered amidst giant oaks, the many comfortable homes of the house servants, with their cheerful surroundings in the back-ground. The garden and the large orchard, groaning with its tons of ripe peaches and other Southern fruits. The lovely walks from the front gate to the dwelling, densely overlaped with the bows of a row of mulberry trees on either side, and the flowers, roses and Cape Jessamines, in all their Dixie glory, was spread out before me. And the half has not been told, grouped upon the gallery of that lovely home were three maidens, ranging from twelve to sixteen summers, I was bewildered, what could it mean; was it luck, or a game of chance. Away, with such idolatrous thoughts as they belong to the dark, ignorant, superstitius ages of the past, and not to the age of the open Bible, the Light of the World, that gives light to the mind, and soul of man. It seems that all I had pictured was about to be fulfilled.
Comrade Talbot, who was about thirty-two years of age, and a married man, seemed not to be impressed with the surroundings, but opened the gate and took the lead down the cool shady walk to the inviting home, in a business like manner, and introduced himself to the mistress of the home, and introduced his young timid comrade of twenty. We were seated in comfortable rockers, and Talbot being a good talker held the Fort, which gave me time to study the situation. The two youngest were fine looking dark hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion, and nicely formed, intelligent, and lady like. The eldest a perfect Southern brunette, dark hair, and rather large dark brown eyes, and the sweetest pouting mouth imaginable. She is straight, and handsomely formed, weighs about one hundred and ten pounds, with the smallest foot and hand I ever saw. She is well educated, and of retiring nature. The parents, our host and hostess, soon arrived from a horseback ride, to their plantation, he greeted me warmly, and then introduced me to his wife. I in turn presented my comrade, and time passed rapidly.
The buttermilk, fresh and cool, which I had to take, as it was the medecine I had claimed such a fondness for, but a few hours previous, was passed to Talbot and I. He took two hearty droughts, and praised its merits, but Oh my, my sin had quickly overtaken me, and I made an open confession by swallowing one light drought. Supper was announced and served in royal style, so well known in every home of culture and wealth in the South. It was truly a feast of good things to a hungry soldier, except the buttermilk, which I could relish only in camp. Leaving the dining-room, we were seated in a large handsome parlor, elegantly furnished. I mustered courage and asked the eldest maiden to give us some music on her piano, with a graceful bow she complied, and I soon learned that she was a splendid musician, and has a sweet and well trained voice. I feel strange and wonderfully impressed.
Led by an unseen hand from my peaceful home, surrounded by woodland, and flowers, and broad prairies with roving heards of fat cattle in north east Missouri, to the southern part of the state, thence into Arkansas to the battle of Elk Horn, thence to Memphis, to Corinth, Iuka, and again to Corinth, Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Baker’s Creek, Black river, and Vicksburg, thence to Demoplis, Ala. as a prisoner of war, beyond the reach of loved ones, and friends of my far away Missouri home, but God is still with me, and although a stranger in a strange land, He has raised me up friends, as well as my comrades, and led me into a home of sunshine, where God is loved and honored, and joy and peace abideth, to show me a maiden that appears, on short acquaintance to be perfect.
Aug. 1st 1863. I am in camp again, but have arranged to return to the country, in company with my young friend, Walter Kirkpatrick, and stay a week. I was cordially invited to come back, and stay as long as I wished, and bring a friend with me. The few days that I have spent with those dear people, glided by as happy, and sweetly as a poets dream.
Aug. 16th. Kirkpatrick and I had a glorious good time, at what I will call, my Soldier Home, as I have been invited by my host and hostess to make their home, my home as often as I had a chance to do so during the war. My friend Kirkpatrick, received the same invitation, he says we have found the best home in Alabama, and that the girls are jewels. We will return in a few days, as our Captain is off somewhere himself, and three fourths of my company are absent, having a good time. No restraint is thrown in the way, of us all having as much joy and happiness, as we can get out of the temporary check in our soldier life.
Aug 19th. Have spent much of the last ten days at my Soldier Home, with my Alabama girl, enjoying songs and music, and besides the three lavish meals set before me every day, mellons, fruits, and peaches, and cream, were continually offered me between times. No soldier ever had a better time. Kirkpatrick and I are not the only Missouri boys, that are loud in their praise of their Soldier homes. Nearly all have found good homes and ideal girls, so they say, but the people of Demopolis were never surpassed for whole soul hospitality. Mrs. Gains Whitfield, especially will never be forgotten, she gave away a fortune in feeding Confederate soldiers. That grand Missouri lady, Mrs. Mc Clure, who has been banished from St. Louis, on account of her uncompromising Southern principles, is here in Demopolis among us, full of sunshine, and cheer. It does us good to meet with her, she has suffered much, but no earthly power can conquer her Southern will. She has done a great work, for the Missouri Confederate soldier, and we all love her dearly. It is rumored that we will soon be exchanged, and permitted to take up arms again, in defense of State Rights, which to us always includes Secession and Southern Independence.