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IGNORANCE OF THE LOWER CLASSES.
“A nigger will live on almost nothing," he replied. “It is n't to be denied, however, but that some of them work."
He criticised severely the government's system of feeding the destitute. “Hundreds are obtaining assistance who are not entitled to any. They have only to go to the overseers of the poor appointed by government, put up a poor mug, and ask for a certificate in a weak voice; they get it, and come and draw their rations. Some draw rations both here and at Fredericksburg, thus obtaining a double support, while they are well able to work and earn their living, if left to themselves. The system encourages idleness, and does more harm than good. All these evils could be remedied, and more than half the ex. pense saved the government, if it would intrust the entire management of the matter in the hands of citizens.”
"Is it the whites, or the blacks, who abuse the government's bounty?”
“The whites.” “ It appears, then, that they have the same faults you ascribe to the blacks: they are not over-honest, and they will not work unless obliged to.” .
“Yes, there are shiftless whites to be sure. There's a place eight miles west from here, known as Texas, inhabited by a class of poor whites steeped in vice, ignorance, and crime of every description. They have no comforts, and no energy to work and obtain them. They have no books, no morality, no religion ; they go clothed like savages, half sheltered, and half fed, - except that government is now supporting them.”
“Do the whites we are feeding come mostly from that region?"
“O, no; they come from all over the county. Some walk as far as twenty miles to draw their fortnight's or three weeks' rations. Some were in good circumstances before the war; and some are tolerably well off now. A general impression prevails that this support comes from a tax on the county ; 80 every man, whether he needs it or not, rushes in for a share. It is impossible to convince the country people that it is the United States government that is feeding them. Why, sir, there are men in the back districts who will not yet believe that the war is over, and slavery at an end!”
" It appears,” said I, “that ignorance is not confined to the region you call Texas; and that, considering all things, the whites are even more degraded than the blacks. Why does n't some prophet of evil arise and predict that the white race, too, will die out because it is vicious and will not work ?”
“ The whites are a different race, sir, — a different race," was the emphatic, but not very satisfactory reply. “The negro cannot live without the care and protection of a master.”
“ You think, then, the abolition of slavery a great misfortune?”
“ A great misfortune to the negroes, certainly; but not to the whites: we shall be better off without them.”
“ It is singular that the negroes have no fear of the fate you predict for them. They say, on the contrary, · We have been supporting our masters and their families all our lives, and now it is a pity if we cannot earn a living for ourselves.” “Well, I hope they will succeed!”
This is the reply the emancipated slave-owners almost invariably make to the above argument; sometimes sarcastically, sometimes gravely, sometimes commiseratingly, but always incredulously. “The negro is fated;" this is the real or pretended belief; and this they repeat, often with an ill-concealed spirit of vindictiveness, an “I-told-you-so !” air of triumph, until one is forced to the conclusion that their prophecy is their desire.
POLICY OF SLAVE-OWNERS.
THE FIELD OF SPOTTSYLVANIA. I WALKED on to the tavern where Richard H. Hicks was baiting his horse. The landlord took me to a lumberroom where he kept, carefully locked up, a very remarkable curiosity. It was the stump of a tree, eleven inches in diameter, which had been cut off by bullets — not by cannon-shot, but by leaden bullets — in the Spottsylvania fight. It looked like a colossal scrub-broom. “ I had a stump twice as big as this, cut off by bullets in the same way, only much smoother; but some Federal officers took it from me and sent it to the War Department at Washington.”
He had many battle-scars about his house to show; one of which I remember: “ A shell come in through the wall thar, wrapped itself up in a bed that stood hyer, and busted in five pieces."
In one of the rooms I found a Union officer lying on a lounge, sick with the prevailing fever. He seemed glad to see a Northern face, and urged me to be seated.
" It is fearfully lonesome here ; and just now I have no companion but the ague.”
Learning that he had been some time in command of the post, I inquired the reason why the citizens appeared so eager to save the government expense in feeding their poor.
" It is very simple: they wish to get control of the business in order to cut off the negroes. They had rather have the assistance the government affords withdrawn altogether, than that the freedmen should come in for a share. It is their policy to keep the blacks entirely dependent upon their former masters, and consequently as much slaves as before."
“ You of course hear many complaints that the blacks will not work?”
"Yes, and they are true in certain cases: they will not work for such wages as their late owners are willing to give; in other words, they will not work for less than nothing. But when they have encouragement they work very well, in their fashion,
— which is not the Yankee fashion, certainly, but the fashion which slavery has bred them up to. They have not yet learned to appreciate, however, the binding character of a contract. It is a new thing to them. Besides, the master too often sets them bad examples by failing to keep his own engagements. He has been in the habit of breaking his promises to them at his convenience; and now he finds fault that they do not keep theirs any better. The masters have not yet learned how to treat their old servants under the new conditions. They cannot learn that they are no longer slaves. That is one great source of trouble. On the other hand, where the freedman receives rational, just, and kind treatment, he behaves well and works well, almost without exception. I expect a good deal of difficulty soon. The negroes have in many places made contracts to work for a part of the crop ; now when the corn comes to be divided, their ideas and their master's, with regard to what "a part of the crop is, will be found to differ considerably. I was not an anti-slavery man at home,” he added ; " and I give you simply the results of my observation since I have been in the South.”
" What do you think would be the effect if our troops were withdrawn?”
“I hardly know; but I should expect one of two things : either that the freedmen would be reduced to a worse condition than they were ever in before, or that they would rise in insurrection.”
The landlord wished me to go and look at his corn. It was certainly a noble crop. The tops of the monstrous ears towered six or eight feet from the ground; the tops of the stalks at least twelve or fourteen feet. He maintained that it would average fifty bushels (of shelled corn) to the acre. I thought the estimate too high.
SCENE OF THE DECISIVE CONFLICT.
“Good corn,” said he, “measures finely ; sorry corn porely. And consider, not a spoonful of manure has been put on this ground fo’ fou' years.”
" But the ground has been resting; and that is as good as manure.”
“ Yes; but it's mighty good soil that will do as well as this. Now tell your people, if they want to buy good land cheap, hyer 's their chance. I've got a thousand acres ; and I 'll sell off seven hundred acres, claired or timber land, to suit purchasers. It 's well wo’th twenty dollars an acre; I 'll sell for ten. It a’n’t fur from market; and thar 's noth'n' ye can't raise on this yer land.”
Of all his thousand acres he had only about fifteen under cultivation. His cornfield was not as large as it appeared ; for, running through the centre of it, like a titanic furrow, were Lee's tremendous intrenchments. These few acres were all the old man had been able to enclose. There was not another fence on his farm. “I had over ten thousand panels of fence burnt up for me during the wa’; over eighty thousand rails.”
" By which army?”.
“ Both: fust one, and then the other. Our own troops were as bad as the Yankees.”
Afterwards, as we rode away from the tavern, Richard H. Hicks gave me the following succinct account of the landlord :
“He used to be a heavy coon-dog. He had fifty head o' darkeys. He would n’t hire 'em, and dey lef'. Now he has nobody to wo'k de land, he's got a light pocket, and so he's a mind to sell.”
Riding west from the Court-House, and striking across the fields on the right, we passed McCool's house, in a pleasant shady place, and reached the scene where the eight days' fighting culminated. Of the woods, thinned and despoiled by the storm of iron and lead, only a ghostly grove of dead trunks and dreary dry limbs remained. Keeping around the western edge of these, we came to a strange medley of intrenchments, which it would have required an engineer to unravel and