War Diary of a Union Woman in the South
HOMELESS AND SHELTERLESS
Thursday, July 10. (— Plantation.) —Yesterday about four o’clock we walked to the lake and embarked. Provisions and utensils were packed in the lockers, and a large trunk was stowed at each end. The blankets and cushions were placed against one of them, and Annie and I sat on them Turkish fashion. Near the center the two smaller trunks made a place for Reeney. Max and H. were to take turns at the rudder and oars. The last word was a fervent God-speed from Mr. E., who is left in charge of all our affairs. We believe him to be a Union man, but have never spoken of it to him. We were gloomy enough crossing the lake, for it was evident the heavily laden boat would be difficult to manage. Last night we staid at this plantation, and from the window of my room I see the men unloading the boat to place it on the cart, which a team of oxen will haul to the river. These hospitable people are kindness itself, till you mention the war.
Saturday, July 12. (Under a cotton-shed on the bank of the Mississippi River.)— Thursday was a lovely day, and the sight of the broad river exhilarating. The negroes launched and reloaded the boat, and when we had paid them and spoken good-bye to them we felt we were really off. Every one had said that if we kept in the current the boat would almost go of itself, but in fact the current seemed to throw it about, and hard pulling was necessary. The heat of the sun was very severe, and it proved impossible to use an umbrella or any kind of shade, as it made steering more difficult. Snags and floating timbers were very troublesome. Twice we hurried up to the bank out of the way of passing gunboats, but they took no notice of us. When we got thirsty, it was found that Max had set the jug of water in the shade of a tree and left it there. We must dip up the river water or go without. When it got too dark to travel safely we disembarked. Reeney gathered wood, made a fire and some tea, and we had a good supper. We then divided, H. and I remaining to watch the boat, Max and Annie on shore. She hung up a mosquito-bar to the trees and went to bed comfortably. In the boat the mosquitoes were horrible, but I fell asleep and slept till voices on the bank woke me. Annie was wandering disconsolate round her bed, and when I asked the trouble, said, “Oh, I can’t sleep there! I found a toad and a lizard in the bed.” When dropping off again, H. woke me to say he was very sick; he thought it was from drinking the river water. With difficulty I got a trunk opened to find some medicine. While doing so a gunboat loomed up vast and gloomy, and we gave each other a good fright. Our voices doubtless reached her, for instantly every one of her lights disappeared and she ran for a few minutes along the opposite bank. We momently expected a shell as a feeler.
At dawn next morning we made coffee and a hasty breakfast, fixed up as well as we could in our sylvan dressing-rooms, and pushed on, for it is settled that traveling between eleven and two will have to be given up unless we want to be roasted alive. H. grew worse. He suffered terribly, and the rest of us as much to see him pulling in such a state of exhaustion. Max would not trust either of us to steer. About eleven we reached the landing of a plantation. Max walked up to the house and returned with the owner, an old gentleman living alone with his slaves. The housekeeper, a young colored girl, could not be surpassed in her graceful efforts to make us comfortable and anticipate every want. I was so anxious about H. that I remember nothing except that the cold drinking-water taken from a cistern beneath the building, into which only the winter rains were allowed to fall, was like an elixir. They offered luscious peaches that, with such water, were nectar and ambrosia to our parched lips. At night the housekeeper said she was sorry they had no mosquito-bars ready and hoped the mosquitoes would not be thick, but they came out in legions. I knew that on sleep that night depended recovery or illness for H. and all possibility of proceeding next day. So I sat up fanning away mosquitoes that he might sleep, toppling over now and then on the pillows till roused by his stirring. I contrived to keep this up till, as the chill before dawn came, they abated and I got a short sleep. Then, with the aid of cold water, a fresh toilet, and a good breakfast, I braced up for another day’s baking in the boat.
If I had been well and strong as usual the discomforts of such a journey would not have seemed so much to me; but I was still weak from the effects of the fever, and annoyed by a worrying toothache which there had been no dentist to rid me of in our village.
Having paid and dismissed the boat’s watchman, we started and traveled till eleven to- day, when we stopped at this cotton-shed. When our dais was spread and lunch laid out in the cool breeze, it seemed a blessed spot. A good many negroes came offering chickens and milk in exchange for tobacco, which we had not. We bought some milk with money.
A United States transport just now steamed by and the men on the guards cheered and waved to us. We all replied but Annie. Even Max was surprised into an answering cheer, and I waved my handkerchief with a very full heart as the dear old flag we have not seen for so long floated by; but Annie turned her back.
Sunday, July 13. (Under a tree on the east bank of the Mississippi.) — Late on Saturday evening we reached a plantation whose owner invited us to spend the night at his house. What a delightful thing is courtesy! The first tone of our host’s welcome indicated the true gentleman. We never leave the oars with the watchman; Max takes those, Annie and I each take a band-box, H. takes my carpet-sack, and Reeney brings up the rear with Annie’s. It is a funny procession. Mr. B.’s family were absent, and as we sat on the gallery talking it needed only a few minutes to show this was a “Union man.” His home was elegant and tasteful, but even here there was neither tea nor coffee.
About eleven we stopped here in this shady place. While eating lunch the negroes again came imploring for tobacco. Soon an invitation came from the house for us to come and rest. We gratefully accepted, but found their idea of rest for warm, tired travelers was to sit in the parlor on stiff chairs while the whole family trooped in, cool and clean in fresh toilets, to stare and question. We soon returned to the trees; however they kindly offered corn-meal pound-cake and beer, which were excellent.
Eight gunboats and one transport have passed us. Getting out of their way has been troublesome. Our gentlemen’s hands are badly blistered.
Tuesday, July 15.— Sunday night about ten we reached the place where, according to our map, Steele’s Bayou comes nearest to the Mississippi, and where the landing should be, but when we climbed the steep bank there was no sign of habitation. Max walked off into the woods on a search, and was gone so long we feared he had lost his way. He could find no road. H. suggested shouting and both began. At last a distant halloo replied, and by cries the answerer was guided to us. A negro came forward and said that was the right place, his master kept the landing, and he would watch the boat for five dollars. He showed the road, and said his master’s house was one mile off and another house two miles. We mistook, and went to the one two miles off. At one o’clock we reached Mr. Fetler’s, who was pleasant, and said we should have the best he had. The bed into whose grateful softness I sank was piled with mattresses to within two or three feet of the ceiling, and with no step-ladder getting in and out was a problem. This morning we noticed the high-water mark, four feet above the lower floor. Mrs. Fetler said they had lived upstairs several weeks.
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