English Literature

A Rebellion in dixie by Harry Castlemon

A Rebellion in dixie by Harry Castlemon

CHAPTER I.
IN REGARD TO THE REBELLION.

“Now, Leon, you will take in everybody. Don’t leave a single man out, for we want them all there at this convention.”

“Secessionists, as well as Union men?”

“Yes, of course. I had a talk with Nathan Knight, last night, and he says everybody must be informed of the fact. We are going to secede from the State of Mississippi and get up a government of our own, and he declares that everybody must be told of it.”

“I tell you, dad, we’ve got a mighty poor show. I suppose there are at least two thousand fighting men here—”

“Say fifteen hundred; and they are all good shots, too.”

“And Jeff Davis has called out a hundred 6thousand men. Where would we be if he would send that number of men after us?”

“He ain’t a-going to send no hundred thousand men after us. He has other work for them to do, and when the few he does send come here in search of us, he won’t find hide nor hair of a living man in the county.”

It was Mr. Sprague who spoke last, and his words were addressed to his son Leon. They, both of them, stood leaning on their horses, and were equipped for long rides in opposite directions. Just inside the gate was a woman leaning upon it; but, although she was a Southerner, she did not shed tears when she saw Leon and his father about to start on their perilous ride. For she knew that every step of the way would be harassed by danger, and if she saw either one of them after she bade them good-bye it would all be owing to fortunate manœuvres on their part rather than to any mismanagement on the part of the rebels. They were both known as strong Union men, and no doubt there were some of their neighbors who were determined that they should not fulfil their errand. It would 7be an easy matter to shoot them down and throw their bodies into the swamp, and no one would be the wiser for it.

Leon Sprague was sixteen years old, and had been a raftsman all his life. He had but little education but much common sense, for schools were something that did not hold a high place in Jones county. In fact there had been but one school in the county since he could remember, and some of the boys took charge of that, and conducted themselves in a manner that drove the teacher away. Leon was a fine specimen of a boy, as he stood there listening to his father’s instructions—tall beyond his years, and straight as one of the numerous pines that he had so often felled and rafted to Pascagoula bay. His countenance was frank and open—no one ever thought of doubting Leon’s word—but just now there was a scowl upon it as he listened to what his father had to say to him.

These people, the Spragues, were a little better off than most of those who followed their occupation, owning a nice little farm, four negroes, and a patch of timber-land from 8which they cut their logs and rafted them down to tide-water to furnish the masts for ocean-going vessels. His father and mother were simple-minded folks who thought they had everything that was worth living for, and they did not want to see the Government broken up on any pretext. The negro men worked the farm and their wives were busy in the house, which they kept as neat as a new pin. Just now the men had been butchering hogs in the woods, and were at work making hams and bacon of them. These negroes did not have an overseer—they did not know what it was. They went about their work bright and early, and when Saturday afternoon came they posted off to the nearest village to enjoy their half-holiday. They loved their master and mistress, and if anybody had offered them their freedom they would not have taken it.

In order that you may understand this story, boy reader, it is necessary that you should know something of the character of the inhabitants, and be able to bear in mind the nature of the country in which this Rebellion 9in Dixie took place, for it was as much of a rebellion as that in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Missouri, where men were shot and hanged for not believing as their neighbors did, and their houses were set on fire. They made up their minds at the start—as early as 1862—that they would not furnish any men for the Southern army; and, furthermore, they took good care to see that there was no drafting done in their county.

If you will take your atlas and turn to the map of Mississippi you will find Jones county in the southeastern part of the State, and about seventy-five miles north of Mobile, a port that was one of the last to be captured by the United States army. It comprised nearly twenty townships, the white population being 1482, a small chance, one would think, for people to live as they did for almost two years. The land was not fertile, “the entire region being made up of pine barrens and swamps, traversed by winding creeks, bordered by almost impenetrable thickets.” It was bounded on four sides by Jasper, Wayne, Perry and Covington counties, which were all 10loyal to the Confederacy, and it would seem that the people had undertaken an immense job to carry on a rebellion here in the face of such surroundings. The inhabitants were, almost to a man, opposed to the war. They were lumbermen, who earned a precarious living by cutting the pine trees and rafting them to tide-water, which at that time was found on Pascagoula bay. They had everything that lumbermen could ask for, and they did not think that any effort to cut themselves loose from the North would result in any glory to them. They could not get any more for their timber than they were getting now, and why should they consent to go into the army and fight for principles that they knew nothing about?

Of course, this county was divided against itself, as every other county was that laid claim to some Union and some Confederate inhabitants. There were men among them who had their all invested there, and they did not think these earnest people were pursuing the right course. These were the secessionists, but they were very careful about what 11they said, although they afterward found opportunities to put their ideas into practice. When General Lowery was sent with a strong force to crush out this rebellion he was met by a stubborn resistance, and some of these Confederates, who were seen and recognized by their Union neighbors, were afterward shot to pay them for the part they had carried out in conducting the enemy to their place of retreat. Taken altogether, it was such a thing as nobody had ever heard of before, but the way these lumbermen went about it proclaimed what manner of men they were. It seemed as if the Confederacy could run enough men in there to wipe out the Jones County Republic before they could have time to organize their army; but for all that the inhabitants were determined to go through with it. They held many a long talk with one another when they met on the road or in convention at Ellisville, and there wasn’t a man who was in favor of joining the Confederacy, the secessionists wisely keeping out of sight.

Things went on in this way for a year or more, during which the lumbermen talked 12amazingly, but did nothing. Finally Fort Sumter was fired upon, and afterward came the disastrous battle of Bull Run, and then the Confederates began to gain a little courage. They knew the South was going to whip, and these battles confirmed them in the belief; but the raftsmen did not believe it. In 1862, when the Confederate Congress passed the act of conscription, which compelled those liable to do military duty to serve in the army, the lumbermen grew in earnest, and a few of them got together in Ellisville and talked the matter over. The market for their logs had long ago been broken up, and some of them were beginning to feel the need of something to eat; and when one of their number proposed, more as a joke than anything else, that they should cast their fortunes with the Confederates, and so be able to go down to tide-water and get some provisions, the motion was hooted down in short order. There were not enough people there to hold a convention, and so the matter was postponed, some of the wealthy ones who owned horses being selected to ride about the county and 13inform every one that the matter had gone far enough—that they were going to hold a meeting and see what the lumbermen thought of taking the county out of the State of Mississippi. Leon and his father were two of those chosen, and they were just getting ready to start on their journey.

“I don’t know as I ought to send that boy out at all, Mary,” said Mr. Sprague, when he arrived at home that night after the convention had been decided upon. “I have never seen Leon in trouble and I don’t know how he will act; but the boys down to Ellisville seemed determined to let him go, and I never said a word about it.”

“I think you have seen Leon in trouble a half a dozen times,” said his wife, who was prompt to side with her son. “The time that Tom Howe came so near being smashed up with those logs down there in the bend—I guess he was in trouble then, wasn’t he?”

“But that was with logs; it wasn’t with men,” said Mr. Sprague. “Yes, Leon was pretty plucky that day, and when all the boys cheered him I didn’t say a word, although I 14had an awkward feeling of pride around my heart, I tell you.”

Leon and three or four other fellows of light build were frequently called upon to start a jam of logs which had filled up the stream so full that the timber could not move. A hasty glance at the jam would show them the log that was to blame for it, and armed with an ax and bare-footed the boys would leap upon the raft and go out to it. A few hasty blows would start the jam, and the timber rushing by with the speed of a lightning express train, the boys would make their way back to the shore, jumping from one log to another. Sometimes they did not get back without a ducking. On the occasion referred to Tom went out alone, and after he had been there some minutes without starting the jam, Leon was sent out to assist him. Two axes were better than one, and in a few minutes the timber was started. It came with a rush, too, but Tom was just a moment too late. The log upon which he had been chopping shot up into the air fully twenty feet, and when it came down it struck the log on which Tom 15was standing and soused him head over heels in the water; but before he went he felt somebody’s around him. It was Leon Sprague’s arm, for the latter struck the water almost as soon as he did. Leon came up a moment afterward with Tom hanging limp and lifeless in his arms, and heard the cheers of the “boys” ringing in his ears, but had to go down again to escape the onward rush of the logs which were coming toward him with almost railroad speed. By going down in this way and swimming lustily whenever the logs were far enough away to admit of it, Leon succeeded in landing about half a mile below, and hauling his senseless burden out on the bank. Tom could swim—there were few boys on the stream that could beat him at that—but when that log came down on him it well nigh knocked it all out. Leon’s father never said a word. He walked up and gave the boy’s hand a hearty shake, and that was the last of it. Leon had the opportunity of knowing, as soon as Tom came to himself, that he had made a life-long friend by his last half-hour’s operations.

16“Jeff Davis ain’t a going to send no hundred thousand men after us,” repeated Mr. Sprague, preparing to mount his horse. “He’ll send a few in here to break up this rebellion, and when they get here we’ll be in the woods out of sight. Kiss your mother, Leon, and let’s go. We have got a good ways to ride before night.”

“Now, Leon, be careful of yourself,” said his mother.

“You need have no fear of me,” said Leon, leaving his horse and going up to the gate. “I’ve got my revolver in my pocket all handy.”

“But remember that when you are riding along the road somebody can easily pick you off,” said Mrs. Sprague. “You know you are a Union boy.”

“Do you want me to make believe that I am–Confederate?”

“By no means. Stick to the Union. Good-bye.”

The farewells being said, father and son got upon their horses and rode away in opposite directions. Leon rode a high-stepping horse—he 17was fond of a good animal and he owned one of the very best in the county—but he allowed him to wander at his own gait, knowing that the horse would be tired enough when he returned home. As he rode along, thinking how foolish the people were to consider seriously the proposal to withdraw from the Union, he ran against a boy about his own age who, like himself, was journeying on horseback. He was a boy he did not like to see. He was awfully “stuck up,” and, furthermore, he was a rebel and did not hesitate to have his opinions known.

“Hello, Leon,” exclaimed Carl Swayne, for that was the boy’s name. “Where are you going this morning?”

“I am going around to see every man in this side of the county,” said Leon. “We are going to get up a convention on the 13th, and we want everybody there. The convention is going to be held at Ellisville.”

“By George! Has it come to that?” cried Carl, flourishing his riding-whip in the air. “What do you think you are going to do after you get to that convention?”

18“We are going to dissolve the Union existing between this county and the State of Mississippi.”

“Yes, I’ll bet you will. How long will it be before the Confederates will send men in here to whip you out? You must think you can stand against them.”

“I don’t think we can stand against anybody,” said Leon. “If the Confederates come in here we shall go into the woods.”

“Well, it won’t take me long to show them where you are,” said Carl, savagely. “I was talking with uncle about it last night, and he says you haven’t got but a few fighting men here, and that it is utterly preposterous for you to think of getting up a rebellion. I know one thing about it: you will all be hanged.”

“And I know another thing about it,” said Leon. “When it comes we’ll be in good company. Will you be down to our convention?”

“Not as anybody knows of,” replied Carl, with a laugh. “I’ll get somebody up here to put a stop to it.”

19“Well, I wouldn’t be too hasty about it. You may get hanged yourself.”

“Yes? I’d like to see the man living that can put a rope around my neck,” exclaimed Carl, hotly. “I’ve got more friends in this county than one would suppose. I’ll bet you wouldn’t be one of the first to do it.”

Leon picked up his reins and went on without answering this question. He saw that Carl was in a fair way to pick a quarrel with him, and he had no desire to keep up his end of it. Carl was hot-headed, and when he got mad, was apt to do and say some things that any boy of his age ought to have been ashamed of. He kept on down the road for a mile further, and finally turned into a broad carriage-way that led up to a neat little cottage that was surrounded by shade trees on all sides. This was the house of Mr. Smith—a crusty old bachelor who had always taken a deep interest in Leon. He was Union to the backbone, and if he could have had his way he would have made short work with all such fellows as Carl Swayne. He was sitting out on the porch indulging in a smoke.

20“Hallo, Leon,” he cried, as soon as he found out who the new-comer was. “Alight and hitch.”

“I can’t do it, Mr. Smith,” replied Leon. “I am bound to see every man in this part of the county, and that, you know, is a good long ride. We are going to hold a convention on the 13th, and we want you to come down to it.”

“Whew!” whistled Mr. Smith. “You bet I’ll be there. What are you going to do at that convention?”

Leon explained briefly, adding:

“I just now saw a fellow whom I asked to come down, and he positively declined. He says he will get somebody to put a stop to it.”

“That’s Carl Swayne,” said Mr. Smith, in a tone of disgust. “Say! I will give half my fortune if we can hang that fellow and his uncle to the nearest tree. They have been preaching up secessionists’ doctrines here till you can’t rest.”

“I think we can get the better of them after a while,” said Leon. “When did you get back?” he added, for Mr. Smith had been 21down to tide-water to see what was going on there. “Did you see or hear anything in Mobile?”

“I got back last night. There is nothing in Mobile except fortifications. I tell you it will require a big army to take that place. By the way, Leon, I want to see you some time all by yourself. Don’t let any one know you are coming here, but just come.”

“I’ll remember it, Mr. Smith. You won’t forget the convention? Good-by.”

“What in the world does the old fellow want to see me for?” soliloquized Leon. “And why couldn’t he have told me to-day as well as any other time? Well, it can’t be much, any way.”

Leon kept on his ride, and before night he was many miles from home. He took in every house he came to, Union as well as secessionist, and while the former greeted him cordially, the rebels had something to say to him that fairly took his breath away. If he hadn’t been the most even-tempered fellow in the world he would have got fighting mad. They all agreed as to one thing: They were 22going to see Leon hanged for carrying around the notice of that convention. His neighbors wouldn’t do it, but there would be plenty of Confederates in there after a while that would string the Union people up as fast as they could get to them. Leon had no idea that there were so many secessionists in the county as he found there when he came to ride through it, and he made up his mind to one thing, and that was, it was going to be pretty hard work to carry that county out of the State.

“But just wait until we get together and decide upon a constitution,” said Leon, as he rode along with his hands in his pockets and his eyes fastened upon the horn of his saddle. “Jeff Davis has long ago ordered all Union men out of the Confederacy, and what is there to hinder us from ordering all these rebels out? That’s an idea, and I will speak to father about it.”

Leon did not care to spend all night with such people as these, and so he kept on until he found a family whose sentiments agreed with his own, and there he laid by until 23morning. The head of this household had but recently come into the county, and Leon did not know him. When the latter rode up to the bars the man was chopping wood in front of a dilapidated shanty, but when he saw Leon approaching he dropped his axe, took long strides toward his door and turned around and faced him. The boy certainly thought he was acting in a very strange way, and for a moment didn’t know whether he was a Union man or a rebel.

“Good evening, sir,” said Leon, who thought he might as well settle the matter once for all. “Can I stay all night with you?”

“Who are you and where did you come from?” asked the man in reply.

“My name is Leon Sprague and I live in the other part of the county,” replied Leon. “I am a Union boy all over, and I came out to tell everybody—”

“Course we can keep you all night if that is the kind of a boy you are,” replied the man coming up to the bars. “Get off and turn your horse loose. I haven’t seen a Union boy before in a long while. I came from Tennessee.”

24“What are you doing down here?” asked Leon, as he led his horse over the bars.

“I came down here to get out of reach of the rebels, dog-gone ’em,” said the man in a passionate tone of voice. “You had just ought to see them up there. They have got their jails full, they are hanging men for burning bridges, and when I left home there was two or three thousand men going over the mountains into Kentucky. But I couldn’t go with them. The rebels cut me off, and as I was bound to go somewhere, I came on down here.”

Leon had by this time taken the saddle and bridle from his horse and turned him loose to get his own supper. Then he backed up against the fence and watched the man chopping his wood.

25

 

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