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“ Hoo!” flinging up his hands with a ludicrous expression. "Don't talk about skeered! I never was so skeered since I was bo’n! I stood hyer by dis sher winder; I 'spected to see de whole of it; I know I was green! I was look'n' to see de fir'n' down below dar, when a bullet come by me, ht! quick as dat. 'Time fo’ me to be away f'om hyer!' and I started; but I'd no sooner turned about, when de bullets begun to strike de house jes' like dat!” drumming with his fingers. “I went down-stars, and out dis sher house, quicker 'n any man o'my size ever went out a house befo'e! Come, and I 'll show you whar I was hid.”
It was in the cellar of a little dairy-house, of which nothing was left but the walls.
“I got in thar wid anoder cullud man. I thought I was as skeered as anybody could be ; but whew! he was twicet as skeered as I was. B-r-r-r-r! b-r-r-r-r! de fir'n' kep' up a reg’lar noise like dat, all day long. Every time a shell struck anywhar near, I knowed de next would kill me. •Jim,' says I, now de next shot will be our own!' Dem's de on’y wu'ds I spoke; but he was so skeered he never spoke at all.”
“Were you here at the fight the year after ?"
“Dat was when Shedwick [Sedgwick] come. I thought if dar was go'n' to be any fight'n', I'd leave dat time, shore. I hitched up my oxen, think'n' I 'd put out, but waited fo' de mo’nin' to see. Dat was Sunday mo'nin'. I had n't slep' none, so I jest thought I'd put my head on my hand a minute till it growed light. I had n't mo'e 'n drapped asleep; I'd nodded oncet or twicet: so;” illustrating ; " no longer 'n dat; when — c-r-r-r-r, - I looked up, — all de wu'ld was fir'n'! Shedwick's men dey run up de road, got behind de batteries on dis sher hill, captured every one; and I never knowed how dey done it so quick. Dat was enough fo' me. If dar's go'n' to be any mo'e fight'n', I go whar da' an't no wa'!”.
"A big fellow like you tell about being skeered !” said the young Rebel.
“I knowed de bigger a man was, de bigger de mark fo' de balls. I weighs two hundred and fifty-two pounds."
"Where is your master ?" I asked.
“I ha'n't got no master now; Mr. Marye was my master. He's over de mountain. I was sold at auction in Fredericksborg oncet, and he bought me fo’ twelve hundred dolla’s. Now he pays me wages, — thirty dolla's a month. I wo’ked in de mill while de wa’ lasted. Men brought me co'n to grind. Some brought a gallon; some brought two qua'ts; it was a big load if anybody brought half a bushel. Dat's de way folks lived. Now he's got anoder man in de mill, and he pays me fo' tak'n' keer o’ dis sher place and fitt'n' it up a little."
“ Are you a carpenter ?”
“Somethin' of a carpenter; I kin do whatever I turns my hand to.”
The young Rebel afterwards corroborated this statement. Although he did not like niggers generally, and wished they were all out of the country, he said Charles (for that was the giant's name) was an exception; and he gave him high praise for the fidelity and sagacity he had shown in saving his master's property from destruction.
While we were sitting under the portico, a woman came up the hill, and began to talk and jest in a familiar manner with Charles. I noticed that my Rebel acquaintance looked exceedingly disgusted.
“That woman,” said he to me, " has got a nigger husband. That's what makes her talk that way. White folks won't associate with her, and she goes with the darkies. We used to have lynch law for them cases. Such things wa’n't allowed. A nigger had better have been dead than be caught living with a white woman. The house would get torn down over their heads some night, and nobody would know who did it.”
"Are you sure such things were not allowed ? Five out of six of your colored population have white blood in their veins. How do you account for it?”
“O, that comes from white fathers !”.
“And slave mothers,” said I. - That I suppose was all right; but to a stranger it does n't look very consistent. You would lynch a poor black man for living in wedlock with a white woman, and receive into the best society white men who were raising up illegitimate slave children by their colored mistresses."
“Yes, that 's just what was done; there's no use denying it. I've seen children sold at auction in Fredericksburg by their own fathers. But nobody ever thought it was just right. It always happened when the masters was in debt, and their property had to be taken.”
The field below the stone wall belonged to this young man's mother. It was now a cornfield; a sturdy crop was growing where the dead had lain in heaps.
“Soon as Richmond fell I came home ; and 'Lijah and I went to work and put in that piece of corn. I didn't wait for Lee's surrender. Thousands did the same. We knew that if Richmond fell, the war would be removed from Virginia, and we had no notion of going to fight in other States. The Confederate army melted away just like frost in the sun, so that only a small part of it remained to be surrendered.”
He invited me to go through the cornfield and see where the dead were buried. Near the middle of the piece a strip some fifteen yards long and four wide had been left uncultivated. “There's a thousand of your men buried in this hole; that is the reason we didn't plant here.” Some distance below the cornfield was the cellar of an ice-house, in which five hundred Union soldiers were buried. And yet these were but a portion of the slain ; all the surrounding fields were scarred with graves.
Returning to Fredericksburg, I visited the plain northwest of the town, also memorable for much hard fighting on that red day of December. I found a pack of government wagons there, an encampment of teamsters, and a few Yankee soldiers, who told me they were tired of doing nothing, and “three times as fast for going home " as they were before the war closed.
In the midst of this plain, shaded by a pleasant grove, stands a brown brick mansion said to have been built by
George Washington for his mother's family. Not far off is a monument erected to Mary, the mother of Washington, whose mortal remains rest here. It is of marble, measuring some nine feet square and fifteen in height, unfinished, capped with a mat of weeds, and bearing no inscription but the names of visitors who should have blushed to desecrate the tomb of the venerated dead. The monument has in other ways been sadly misused; in the first place, by. balls which nicked and chipped it during the battle ; and afterwards by relic-hunters, who, in their rage for carrying away some fragment of it, have left scarce a corner of cornice or pilaster unbroken.
I had afterwards many walks about Fredericksburg, the most noteworthy of which was a morning-visit to the Lacy House, where Burnside had his headquarters. Crossing the Rappahannock on the pontoon bridge, I climbed the stone steps leading from terrace to terrace, and reached the longneglected grounds and the old-fashioned Virginia mansion. It was entirely deserted. The doors were wide open, or broken from their hinges, the windows smashed, the floors covered with rubbish, and the walls with the names of soldiers and regiments, or pictures cut from the illustrated newspapers,
The windows command a view of Fredericksburg and the battle-field; and there I stood, and saw in imagination the fight reënacted, - the pontoniers at their work in the misty morning, the sharpshooters in rifle-pits and houses opposite driving them from it with their murderous fire, the shelling of the town, the troops crossing, the terrible roaring battle, the spouting flames, the smoke, the charging parties, and the horrible slaughter ;-- I saw and heard it all again, and fancied for a time that I was the commanding general, whose eyes beheld, and whose wrung heart felt, what he would gladly have given his own life to prevent or retrieve.
In conversation with my Rebel acquaintance at the Marye House, I had learned that his friend “ 'Lijah” sometimes conveyed travellers over the more distant battle-fields. Him, therefore, I sent to engage with his horse and buggy for the following day.
Breakfast was scarcely over the next morning, when, as I chanced to look from my hotel-window, I saw a thin-faced countryman drive up to the door in an old one-horse wagon with two seats, and a box half filled with corn-stalks. I was admiring the anatomy of the horse, every prominent bone of which could be counted through his skin, when I heard the man inquiring for me. It was “ 'Lijah,” with his " horse and buggy.”
I was inclined to criticise the establishment, which was not altogether what I had been led to expect.
“I allow he a’n't a fust-class hoss,” said Elijah. “Only give three dollars for him. Feed is skurce and high. But let him rest this winter, and git some meal in him, and he 'll make a plough crack next spring."
“What are you going to do with those corn-stalks ? "
“ Fodder for the hoss. They're all the fodder he 'll git till night; for we're go'n' into a country whar thar 's noth’n' mo'e for an animal to eat than thar is on the palm of my hand.”
I took a seat beside him, and made use of the stalks by placing a couple of bundles between my back and the sharp board which travellers were expected to lean against. Elijah cracked his whip, the horse frisked his tail, and struck into a cow-trot which pleased him.
“You see, he 'll snake us over the ground right peart!”