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ELIJAH AND HIS MULE.
He proceeded to tantalize me by telling what a mule he had, and what a little mare he had, at home.
"She certainly goes over the ground! I believe she can run ekal to anything in this country for about a mile. But she's got a set of legs under her jest like a sheep's legs."
He could not say enough in praise of the mule. “Paid eight hundred dollars for him in Confederate money. He earned a living for the whole family last winter. I used to go reg'lar up to Chancellorsville and the Wilderness, buy up a box of clothing, and go down in Essex and trade it off for corn."
“What sort of clothing?" "Soldiers' clothes from the battle-fields. Some was flung away, and some, I suppose, was stripped off the dead. Any number of families jest lived on what they got from the Union armies in that way. They'd pick up what garments they could lay hands on, wash 'em up and sell 'em. I'd take a blanket, and git half a bushel of meal for it down in Essex. Then I'd bring the meal back, and git maybe two blankets, or a blanket and a coat, for it. All with that little mule. He 'll haul a load for ye! He'll stick to the ground go’n’ up hill jest like a dry-land tarrapin! But I take the mare when I'm in a hurry; she makes them feet rattle ag’in the ground !"
We took the plank-road to Chancellorsville, passing through a waste country of weeds or undergrowth, like every other part of Virginia which I had yet seen.
" All this region through yer,” said Elijah, “used to be grow'd up to corn and as beautiful clover as ever you see. But since the wa', it's all turned out to bushes and briers and hog-weeds. It's gitt'n' a start ag'in now. I'll show 'em how to do it. If we git in a crap o' wheat this fall, which I don't know if we sha’n’t, we kin start three big teams, and whirl up twenty acres of land directly. That mule," etc.
Elijah praised the small farmers.
“People in ordinary sarcumstances along yer are a mighty industrious people. It's the rich that keep this country down.
The way it generally is, a few own too much, and the rest own noth’n’. I know hundreds of thousands of acres of land put to no uset, which, if it was cut up into little farms, would make the country look thrifty. This is mighty good land ; clay bottom; holds manure jest like a chany bowl does water. But the rich ones jest scratched over a little on 't with their slave labor, and let the rest go. They would n't sell ; let a young man go to 'em to buy, and they 'd say they did n't want no poo' whites around 'em; they would n't have one, if they could keep shet of 'em. And what was the result? Young men would go off to the West, if they was enterpris'n', and leave them that wa’n't enterpris'n' hyer to home. Then as the old heads died off, the farms would run down. The young women would marry the lazy young men, and raise up families of lazy children.”
The country all about Fredericksburg was very unhealthy. Elijah, on making inquiries, could hear of scarcely a family on the road exempt from sickness.
“ It was never so till sence the wa'. Now we have chills and fever, jest like they do in a new country. It's owin' to the land all comin' up to weeds; the dew settles in 'em and they rot, and that fills the air with the ager. I've had the ager myself till about a fortnight ago; then soon as I got shet of that, the colic, took me. Eat too much on a big appetite, I suppose. I like to live well; like to see plenty of everything on the table, and then I like to see every man eat a heap."
I commended Elijah's practical sense; upon which he replied, —
“ The old man is right ignorant; can't read the fust letter ; never went to school a day; but the old man is right sharp!”
He was fond of speaking of himself in this way. He thought education a good thing, but allowed that all the education in the world could not give a man sense. He was fifty years old, and had got along thus far in life very well.
“ I reckon thar's go’n’ to be a better chance for the poo' man after this. The Union bein' held together was the greatest thing that could have happened for us."
ELIJAH'S ACCOUNT OF SEDGWICK’S RETREAT. 117
“And yet you fonght against it."
" I was in the Confederate army two year and a half. I was opposed to secession ; but I got my head a little turned after the State went out, and I enlisted. Then, when I had time to reconsider it all over, I diskivered we was wrong. I told the boys so.
"• Boys,' says I, when my time's up, I'm go'n' out of the army, and you won't see me in ag'in.'
"• You can't help that, old man,' says they ; fo’ by that time the conscript law 'll be changed so 's to go over the heads of older men than you.' .
". Then,' says I, the fust chance presents itself, I Aling down my musket and go spang No'th.
“They had me put under arrest for that, and kep' me in the guard-house seven months. I liked that well enough. I was saved a deal of hard march'n' and lay'n' out in the cold, that winter.
6. Why don't ye come in boys,' says I, and have a warm ?'
“I knowed what I was about! The old man was right ignorant, but the old man was right sharp!”
We passed the line of Sedgwick’s retreat a few miles from Fredericksburg.
“Shedrick's mer was in line acrost the road hyer, extendin' into the woods on both sides ; they had jest butchered their meat, and was ishyin' rations and beginnin' to cook their suppers, when Magruder struck 'em on the left flank.” (Elijah was wrong; it was not Magruder, but McLaws. These local guides make many such mistakes, and it is necessary to be on one's guard against them.) “ They jest got right up and skedaddled! The whole line jest faced to the right, and put for Banks's Ford. Thar's the road they went. They left it piled so full of wagons, Magruder could n't follah, but his artillery jest run around by another road I 'll show ye, hard as ever they could lay their feet to the ground, wheeled their guns in position on the bluffs by the time Shedrick got cleverly to crossin', and played away. The way they heaped up Shedrick's men was awfull”
Every mile or two we came to a small farm-house, com monly of logs, near which there was usually a small crop of corn growing.
“Every man after he got home, after the fall of Richmond, put in to raise a little somethin' to eat. Some o' the corn looks poo’ly, but it beats no corn at all, all to pieces.”
We came to one field which Elijah pronounced a “monstrous fine crap.” But he added,
“I've got thirty acres to home not a bit sorrier 'n that. Ye see, that mule of mine,” etc.
I noticed — what I never saw in the latitude of New England — that the fodder had been pulled below the ears and tied in little bundles on the stalks to cure. Ingenious shifts for fences had been resorted to by the farmers. In some places the planks of the worn-out plank-road had been staked and lashed together to form a temporary enclosure. But the most common fence was what Elijah called “ bresh wattlin'.” Stakes were first driven into the ground, then pine or cedar brush bent in between them and beaten down with a maul.
“ Ye kin build a wattlin' fence that way so tight a rabbit can't git through.”
On making inquiries, I found that farms of fine land could be had all through this region for ten dollars an acre.
Elijah hoped that men from the North would come in and settle.
“But,” said he, “'t would be dangerous for any one to take possession of a confiscated farm. He would n't live a month.”
The larger land-owners are now more willing to sell.
“Right smart o' their property was in niggers ; they 're pore now, and have to raise money.
“The emancipation of slavery,” added Elijah, “is wo’kin' right for the country mo'e ways ’an one. The' a'n't two men in twenty, in middlin' sarcumstances, but that's beginnin' to see it. I'm no friend to the niggers, though. They ought all to be druv out of the country. They won't wo’k as long as they can steal. I have my little crap o' corn, and wheat,
ELIJAH ON THE NEGROES.
and po'k. When night comes, I must sleep; then the niggers come and steal all I've got.”
I pressed him to give an instance of the negroes' stealing his property. He could not say that they had taken anything from him lately, but they “ used to" rob his cornfields and hen-roosts, and “they would again.” Had he ever caught them at it? No, he could not say that he ever had. Then how did he know that the thieves were negroes? He knew it, because “ niggers would steal.”
“Won't white folks steal too, sometimes ?”.
“ Yes," said Elijah, “ some o' the poo' whites are a durned sight wus 'n the niggers!”
“ Then why not drive them out of the country too? You see," said I, “your charges against the negroes are vague, and amount to nothing."
“I own," he replied, “ thar 's now and then one that's ekal to any white man. Thar 's one a-comin' thar.”
A load of wood was approaching, drawn by two horses abreast and a mule for leader. A white-haired old negro was riding the mule.
“ He is the greatest man!” said Elijah, after we had passed. “He's been the support of his master's family for twenty year and over. He kin manage a heap better 'n his master kin. The' a'n't a farmer in the country kin beat him. He keeps right on jest the same now he 's free; though I suppose he gits wages.”
“You acknowledge, then, that some of the negroes are superior men ?”
“ Yes, thar 's about ten in a hundred, honest and smart as anybody."
“ That,” said I, “is a good many. Do you suppose you could say more of the white race, if it had just come out of slavery ?"
“ I don't believe,” said Elijah, “that ye could say as much!”
We passed the remains of the house 6 whar Harrow was shot." It had been burned to the ground.