Legend Of The South
A southern woman’s memoir of a by-gone era
June 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 4
While confined to our room, we girls made bandages and rolled them for the army surgeons to use on the wounded. On the third day, after the battle had moved on and the dead bodies had been cleared from the premises, my friends and I, in company with a surgeon, were allowed to carry supper to the wounded soldiers. The Yankees were profuse in their expressions of gratitude for the treatment they were receiving. On the fourth day the wounded had all been taken to Jackson, where hospital accommodations could be had. Jackson was now known as the “Town of Chimneys,” because in taking it General Sherman saw to it that most of the homes were burned, and tall brick chimneys rose into the air to mark the sites once occupied by houses.
Uncle Jerry and Aunt Melissie, their two almost grown children, a son and daughter, and three little orphans were all the Negroes left on the place when the Federal army moved on. After the departure of the wounded, we all went to take a look at the battlefield. Some of the dead were scarcely covered. It was a gruesome sight. Uncle Jerry brought a spade and went over the field covering those exposed. He had to dig trenches and re-bury a large number of the corpses.
At one time during the Federal army’s presence in our vicinity, General Ulysses S. Grant and staff moved in and took possession of our entire plantation. General Grant established his headquarters in the front rooms of the house. He ordered that my mother be issued rations from day to day, according to the number that she had to feed. This was a bitter pill for my mother to swallow—now we were virtually prisoners in our own home.
Our Negroes huddled close to us in wide-eyed fright and joined us in amazement at seeing the Yankee boys cook and wash dishes. For two weeks General Grant and his army ruled supreme over Newstead, living on the fat of the land. His men drilled every day. It looked as if the whole face of the earth was covered with blue soldiers. The ground was mashed to a pulp—not a blade of grass was visible. When they left they gave my mother rations enough to last three days. After that we had to “root hog or die.”
After General Grant had moved on toward Vicksburg, my mother received a message from our neighbor, Colonel H. O. Dixon, a veteran of the Mexican War, too old to join the Confederates. The message stated that he and his wife, also quite old, were under arrest at the headquarters which the General had established farther up the line and near Clinton. He asked that my mother lend them what assistance she could.
Our plantation had been swept clean of horses, mules, and vehicles, but my mother set out afoot to go to the rescue of her friends. She had won the respect of General Grant during his stay at Newstead and hoped that she might have some influence in behalf of the Dixons.
It was a walk of several miles to the new headquarters, but my mother was rewarded with an immediate interview with the old couple. They said that when the Yankees entered their home to plunder, Mrs. Dixon rushed to the piano and began to play “Dixie.” The Colonel took down his flag of the South and marched up and down the room, waving it. This was too much for the men in blue. They set fire to the house, threw the piano outdoors and split it into kindling wood. They arrested the old couple, threatening to send them north to prison.
Upon request, my mother was granted an audience with General Grant. She told him of the valiant service Colonel Dixon had rendered the country during the war with Mexico and pointed out their age and infirmities. The General shook his head and started to walk off as a signal of dismissal of the subject, but my mother grabbed his coat tail and refused to let go until her request had been granted.
General Grant had a sense of humor. With a chuckle he said, “Take the old couple. I’ll hold you responsible for them.” Then he called a mounted guard to escort the three back to Newstead. We cared for Colonel and Mrs. Dixon until arrangements could be made for them to return to what was left of their own plantation.
The confiscation of our animals and food by the enemy was to be expected. It had, up to this time, been done under the supervision of army officers—my mother being treated with the utmost deference. However, after General Grant moved on toward Vicksburg, a lawless element began coming in behind the army to plunder and steal. One would have to see a raid of this kind to form a just conception of it. They would draw the water out of the cisterns and cut the ponds to drain them, with the hope of finding hidden treasures. A great many of the people of the South would take this means of hiding their gems and gold, only to lose them to the plunderers.
During one of these raids Sister Lucy, who was an ardent Rebel, defiantly waved a Confederate flag in the face of the soldiers and sang “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” which greatly incensed the men, and one of the leaders warned my mother to send her away before she was arrested. The next day Lucy was sent to South Carolina where she would be safe, for the time, with relatives.
If it had not been for Uncle Jerry and Aunt Melissie I do not know what would have become of us. It was like magic the way they made food appear. With the abandonment of crops, all effort was turned to growing food for our table. The woods close by still held wild life. Uncle Jerry was good at trapping and he somehow managed to keep a gun. We learned to like possum and sweet potatoes.