Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
In a Southern Village in ’64
By William Mumford Baker (1825–1883)
 
[From Inside: A Chronicle of Secession. 1866.]

AH, the eagerness with which we clutch a paper from the North! We get it as a great favor, to be read as rapidly as possible, to be returned exactly at such an hour to such a place. We button it up in our breast-pocket, and hurry home, for we dare not be seen with it on the streets. Arrived at home, we arrest all the household work, turn the children ignominiously out of the room with terrible threats in case they come in again, which, by-the-by, they are sure to do a dozen times during the reading, on pressing emergencies which cannot be postponed a moment; and so we carefully unfold and read the precious paper aloud to wife or sister, to say nothing of all the Union people in the neighborhood cautiously summoned in to hear. The editorials, dispatches, items, advertisements of hair oil, and the like—with greedy hunger we let no morsel or crumb of the paper escape us. In spite of all the effort we made, a dozen readers or two have had the document before us, as dozens will, eagerly wondering why we cannot remember that others want the paper as well as ourselves and get through with it, after us. In consequence of this, the paper is painfully illegible at the folds; we have, in the centre of the most interesting articles, to stop and puzzle around the chasms, often to take a flying leap over them and proceed. The little scraps of patriotic poetry, here and there, we often memorize even. And so the paper circulates till it is read, literally read, to shreds.
  1
  There was Everett’s speech at the Dedication at Gettysburg. Could the orator have imagined the zest with which his words there spoken would have been read from soiled and worn-out sheets by thousands at the South, his soul would have burned with sublimer enthusiasm than any wakened in him by the audience then visible to his eye. Who of us forgets the keen enjoyment with which we read our first fairy tales in childhood’s sweet hour—not so keen, so delicious, that gratification as the reading, during the war, of all thoroughly American matter oozing in to us, parched with thirst, from abroad. The circulation through Somerville of one good paper of the kind did all the Union people—for if one individual thereof read it, every soul did or had it repeated to him—evident good for weeks to come. Perhaps the shortness of the allowance—as with food doled out to the wrecked at sea—increased its value, months often elapsing between the rations. Let us keep secret the absolute faith even Mr. Ferguson placed in the least assertions of a Northern paper, his belief herein as absolute and sweeping as was his unbelief in reference to the Somerville “Star” and all its kind. And, as men build a mural tablet into the wall of an edifice with due inscription, permit the insertion here of this profound truth, that in very much every sense of the word human nature at the North and the South is exactly the same; with superficial differences we are at last One people.  2
  The fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson and the victory at Gettysburg send the Union people of Somerville quite up upon the crest of the ever-rolling sea, and—Mr. Ellis, Dr. Ginnis, lowest of all—the Secessionists down into the trough thereof for months to come.  3
  “I tell you, Lamum,” Dr. Peel says to the editor of the Somerville “Star,” toiling away cold, pale, steady as ever in his business of lying by power-press, ever consistent in falsehood whatever news Bill Perkins brings in his budget—“I tell you, man, one screw loose in the machinery of the Confederate Government is the way the post-office is managed. What avails all you say in your paper so long as there is a perpetual stream of private letters coming in to the contrary? Federal papers, too, these Union people are constantly getting them; letters, also, from friends in the Federal lines—such things provision them, so to speak, to hold out. If a few more of them could be hanged—!”  4
  But this last remedy has been so thoroughly tried—not actually in Somerville, as yet, but all around it. There was Mrs. Isaac Smith’s brother, John Jennings. Who did not know him? Gray-headed with fifty years of farming—farming with his own hard hands alone these days, his boys being in the Confederate service, and he owning no negroes.  5
  “You see, Mr. Arthur,” Mrs. Isaac Smith says to that individual, who hurries to see her—is she not a member of his church?—on hearing of the catastrophe, “they knew John was a Union man. He tried to help its being known, but he couldn’t. Not that he said anything. He made a point to stay close at home—never opened his lips. But he was my brother, you know, and my husband being gone, that was enough. Every once in a while he’d come down from his place—fifteen miles, you know, it is from here—to bring me a little butter, or cheese, or wheat, whatever happened he could spare. Ever since Jim Boldin waylaid and shot down his own brother-in-law, Mr. Tanner—they do say Mrs. Tanner, his sister, who is a bitter Secessionist, actually put her brother Jim up to it—ever since Tanner was found lying dead in the road with a ball through his head for being a Union man, John has been careful as a man could be. Letters from Isaac! How could John get letters from Isaac? As God hears me, Sir, John never saw one that I didn’t show him. But you’ve heard the story; I have no heart to tell it, hardened as I’m getting to almost anything. A party of a dozen of them broke into his house at midnight: said to his daughters, poor things! screaming around, they only wanted to take him to Somerville to be conscripted. Sarah, the eldest, knew better; she clung to him till they tore her off, some of them holding her to the wall while they tied John’s hands. As they was dragging him out, Sarah she begged and screamed only to be let give him—her gray-headed old father—one last kiss: they wouldn’t let her do even that, the man holding her saying things—Can you make yourself believe, Sir, that such a thing can be true in this Christian land?” says Mrs. Smith, speaking more slowly, exhausted with weeping till not a tear is left, emotion itself worn out from exercise so intense and so long. “Sarah here in the next room could tell you herself. They dragged that unoffending old man—lived fifteen years in the neighborhood—out of his house, mounted their horses, and rode off at full speed, holding the end of the rope. Of course when he couldn’t run he was dragged. Sarah tracked him next day by the bits of his clothes on the brush till she lost the trail over the rocks. No one but her, and she not twelve years old, near night she finds her father at last. They had hung him by the neck from a blackjack. God knows whether it was because they intended it, or because they did not know how to tie the rope so as to strangle, but he was warm yet when she came upon him. He had been hanging there in struggle and agony full fifteen hours. Sarah she had never thought to bring a knife—just think if you can of that poor young thing working there—”  6
  But here there is loud crying from the next room of the little house—Sarah has been wakened from her slumber of exhaustion by her aunt, who has forgotten in her excitement that her niece is asleep there.  7
  “We must get used to it, man; like things, in all varieties of hellish wickedness, are taking place every hour,” says Mr. Ferguson, to whom Mr. Arthur has been telling the story. “The National Government will not or cannot help us. For His own wise purpose the Almighty is leaving us to ourselves.”  8
 
 
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