« AnteriorContinuar »
provide for it and treat it kindly. There was a negro man, Silas; a woman, Rose; and Jesse, Rose's son. My grandfather and uncles went to the field with the colored man, worked as long as he did, and required nothing harder of him than they did themselves. The same was true in the house. My grandmother and her daughters spun and wove and did their full share of the work with the colored woman. The boy Jesse, who was lame, was near my mother's age, and was her playmate in childhood. He was taught to read and write, and for years after my parents came to Macon County he kept in touch with them, not only by sending messages when the white folks wrote, but by writing letters himself. When my mother wrote to her people she always inquired after the welfare of these slaves as carefully as of her own brothers and sisters, and I still have an old letter written by my grandmother, telling of the death of one of my uncles, and how at his request Rose and Jesse were called to the bedside to receive his blessing and last farewell. To be sure, all these people in Tennessee were very shadowy to me, for I had never seen any of them; but from the letters that passed and from my mother's talk of the old home to which I listened, I received the impression that Silas and Jesse and Rose were as much a part of my grandfather's family as were my aunts and uncles.
This, then, was the idea of slavery in its practical working that I received as I was growing up, here in Macon County, and in the same way a similar impression was being made in a thousand other homes in Indiana and Illinois; and no matter how much we of the second generation might come to dislike slavery in after years, and no matter how determined we might be that it should not be extended into the territories, we never could be brought to hate indiscriminately all holders of slaves, or to feel that they were on that account sinners above all other men.
Then here is another fact to be considered. Families do not usually all move together to a new country. Usually those who are best established hold fast where they are, and it is only those who are most energetic or least well provided for that push on into the unoccupied territory. Thus it happened that we, the children of the pioneers, had a long line of relatives extending back through Kentucky or Tennessee to the Carolinas and even to Virginia, growing more and more shadowy all the way. I, for instance, had three families of full cousins in Macon County, but I had six families of full cousins in Tennessee, and whether or not I had kinfolk in North Carolina, my great-grandfather's grave was there; and so it was in thousands of other homes in Indiana and Illinois. As sure as blood is thicker than water, our sympathies, thoughts, and interests were turned southward rather than to the north or east.
Of course the pioneers brought their politics with them, and retained their confidence in the leaders whom they had been accustomed to trust and follow: equally of course we, their sons, accepted their political faith without question. My cousins and I raised hickory poles sporting pokeberry-stained flags in 1844, and were staunch supporters of the war with Mexico, mustering loyally with tin swords and wooden guns, though since then I have come to look upon that war with grave suspicion. I suspect now that if there had not been a desire among the southern leaders for more territory that might be converted into slave states, that war had never been. We of the second generation, being less bound by association and less warped by prejudice than our fathers, began to be disturbed by the demands and aggressions of the slave power before our fathers were. We disliked slavery and gradually became resolved that it should not be extended into the territories. I think that I and most of my Macon County cousins would have voted for Fremont in 1856 if we had been of voting age, but cur fathers, though uneasy and disturbed, held fast to their old political moorings. They no more wanted slavery extended than we did, but they could not believe that the southern leaders really meant to disrupt the Union.
In the meantime it became evident to us that conditions were changing in the south itself, that the relations between master and man were not as they had formerly been. My grandparents were dead, the cousins were in control. Jesse ceased to write, and my mother's inquiries were but indifferently answered if answered at all. The wife of one of my uncles paid us a visit, and my mother, still concerned for the welfare of her old playmate, asked her direct if Jesse had books and papers and was permitted to read and write.
answered, “Oh, no, no, he would not appreciate such things at all;" and mother was vexed, for she knew that he would appreciate them, and she sadly realized that Jesse was being taught to know his place. We could not help seeing that the slave power was more tightly riveting the chains of its victims where it already ruled, as well as reaching out to lay its hands on Kansas.
In 1860 the crisis was upon us, and in the midst of commotion and threats of war we had to decide. A companion said to me, "I shall vote for Lincoln, but if I believed there would be war if he is elected, I would not do it.” I answered, “I believe there will be war, and I shall vote for Lincoln all the same. It has to come, and surely it will be more manly for us to fight it out ourselves than to hand it on to our chil. dren.” That young man did vote for Lincoln, and there was
He helped to fight it out, and bore the scars of the battle to his dying day. I think my father voted for Lincoln, though I am not certain; but at any rate, when South Carolina seceded and Sumpter was fired on, he threw off all his allegiance to the south and its ideals, and to the end supported the government heart and soul. But we were not Abolitionists. Lincoln, being one of us, gave full voice to our creed. If we could have saved the Union without disturbing slavery in the states where it was, we would have done it. Indeed, to have called a man an Abolitionist in Macon County, up to and even after the beginning of the war, would have been to have used the most opprobrious epithet that could be applied to him. When the crisis came, the pioneers, and to a lesser extent we, their sons, found ourselves in an impossible position, caught, as it seemed, between the Devil and the deep sea. We could no more train with the Abolitionists of New England than we could with the fire-eaters of the south. We needed some middle ground, some compromise that might stay the strife. I do not think that the position of these good old pioneers had been fully appreciated. They had only been out of the south from twenty to forty years; constant intercourse with the homeland had been kept up, the ties that bound them to the homes where they were born had never been broken. Now what did it involve on their part, to support the government in its attempt to coerce these seceding states? Why, they must renounce their ideal of the absolute sovereignty of the individual state; they must cut themselves off from and war against their kindred; they must dethrone their political gods; and, probably hardest of all, they must join hands and cooperate with the Abolitionists of New England, whom they most heartily hated and despised. In stead of being surprised that so many of them could not bring themselves to these things, the greater wonder is that so many did rise above prejudice and party and do them. I have some conception of the travail of soul that this required, as I witnessed it in my father and in my neighbors. And may we not spare a little sympathy for those good old men who could not bring themselves to it? They had some gleams of joy in national disasters, to be sure, but many a sad day as well. Their position was exactly that of the hyphenated German of the World War, only that instead of the trouble being three thousand miles away across the ocean it was only a hundred miles or so across the Ohio.
There was a naval battle on the Mississippi, in sight of Memphis, Tennessee, in the course of which two Confederate gunboats came into collision, practically destroying both of them. An account of this action was being read aloud to a company of interested listeners; when the destruction of these two boats was reached, one old man who was inclined to conceal his opinions betrayed where his heart was by exclaiming impulsively, “Oh, what a pity, what a pity !" just as doubtless many of the people of Memphis exclaimed who witnessed the event. Two of this man's sons volunteered in the Macon County Regiment, the 116th. One of them died, and the other, from the lack of home sympathy or possibly in response to home letters, deserted. He was never apprehended or punished, but lived quietly here in Decatur till his death not many years ago. Of course he never attended regimental reunions or had any part in our fellowship. There was another man of this hyphenated sort, who applied the ancient prophecies to passing events. The forces were being gathered at Cairo for the opening of the Mississippi River, and everyone knows that the southern part of this State is called Egypt. This man derived great satisfaction and comfort from Hosea the ninth chapter and part of the
sixth verse, "Egypt shall gather them up, Memphis shall bury them.” What could be more certain than that a great disaster was to befall the Union forces at Memphis, Tennessee, Backed by this sure word of prophecy, he told me in his own house that he believed the South would win, and that he wanted it to win. But when Memphis fell after a short naval battle, he was greatly perturbed; had he been mocked by a lying prophet? He hastily sent his boys off to California, where they would be safe from any prospective draft. Now this was a good man, had been a good citizen before the war, was a good citizen after
We may be sorry for his temporary obsession, but should we be very much surprised that he was so obsessed?
There was another man whose case was somewhat different. He had inherited a bunch of slaves in the South. Of course they had been left in the South, and their owner received a thousand dollars a year as their hire. Human nature being what it is, could we expect that this man would encourage enlistments? Need we wonder that none of his sons entered the Union Army? Should it be very surprising if he used some influence on the other side? When we were down in Alabama, Jacob Cross, who like myself had attended school at the Emerson Schoolhouse, showed me a letter which he had just received, telling him that being in the army was a bad thing, and sug. gesting that he would be made safe if he should get out of it the quickest way possible. This man's name was signed to that letter, and I believe it to have been his genuine signature, though I could not swear to it. Oh, there were plenty of such letters written! Well, be it said to the credit of Jacob Cross that he did not take the hint, but went with Sherman to the sea, and was blown up into the air a little too high for comfort by the explosion of a torpedo during the successful assault on Fort McAlister.
The original pioneers did not have quite all the sacrifices to make. We, their sons, also had to face some unpleasant contingencies when we determined to give active support to the government by entering the military service. We knew that there would be more of our cousins in the Confederate Army than in the Union Army, for there were more of them there to go; and they were certain to be in it, for they had inherited their military spirit from the same ancestors as ourselves. We