A Rebellion in Dixie
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“How are you going to take this county out?” said he. “You haven’t got men enough to do any fighting.”
“No, sir; but we are going to do the best we can with what we have got.”
“That’s plucky at any rate. I suppose that if the rebels come in here to capture you, you will take to the swamp.”
“Yes, sir. That’s just what we intend to do.”
“Well, sir, you can put my name down for that convention,” said the man, getting upon his feet and going to work upon his wood-pile. “I’ve got so down on the rebels that I am willing to do anything I can to bother them. I’ve got two brothers in jail up there now.”
“You said something about bridge burning,” said Leon, and he didn’t know whether he made a mistake or not. “Perhaps you had a hand in it.”
“Perhaps I did,” answered the man with a laugh. “And I tell you I had to dig out as soon as I got home. So you see I dare not go back there.”
“What’s the punishment?”
“Death,” answered the man. “And they don’t give you any time to say good-bye to your friends. They don’t even court-martial you, but string you up at once.”
The man said this in much the same tone that he would have asked for a drink of water. Leon was surprised that one who had passed through so many dangers as that man had could speak of it so indifferently. But then he looked like a man who would have been picked out of a crowd to engage in business of that kind. He was large and bony, the ease with which he handled his axe was surprising, but his face was one to attract anybody’s attention. It was a determined face – a face that wouldn’t back down for any obstacles. If the Union men in Tennessee were all like him, it was a wonder how the rebels got the start of them.
“I can’t give you as good a place here as I could at home,” said the man, as his wife came to the door and told him that supper was ready. “At home I have a commodious house, and you could have a room in it all to yourself. Here I have nothing but this little tumble-down shanty to go into. It leaks, but I will soon get the better of that. Molly, this young man is Union all over, and he has come down here to tell of a convention that is to be held at Ellisville to take this county out of the State. Whoever heard of such a thing? I am going to that meeting, sure pop.”
His wife was greatly surprised to listen to this, but she accepted the introduction to Leon, and forthwith proceeded to make him feel at home. There were two children, but they had been taught to behave, and did not try to shove themselves forward at all. Taken altogether, it was a comfortable meal, and before it was over Leon learned some things regarding this man that he wouldn’t have believed possible. He had come all the way through the rebel State of Mississippi by telling the people he met on the way that he was going to see some friends, and had, by chance, struck Jones county, the very place of all others he wanted to be.
“I must confess it was pretty pokerish, sometimes,” said the man.“The rebels had sent on a description of me as the man who helped burn their bridges, and now and then I had to get under the bundles of clothing and cover myself up there, leaving my wife to guide the horses. But I had my rifle all right, and it would have gone hard with the men who discovered me.”
The evening was passed in this way listening to the man’s stories, and when Leon went to bed in a dark corner of the room he told himself that he had got into a desperate scrape, and that he had got something to do in order to get out of it. He had never dreamed that men could be down on their neighbors in that way, and here this man had all he could do to keep from being shot.
“By George! I tell you we are in for it,” said Leon, pulling the blankets up over him, “and I don’t know how we are going to come out. There are rebels all around us, and if they are as bad down here as they are up in Tennessee there won’t one of us come through alive. But I am armed, and I’ll see that some of them get as good as they send.”
It was daylight when Leon awoke, and after washing his hands and face in a basin outside the door he stood in front of the fireplace, before which the woman was engaged in cooking the breakfast, and looked up at the man’s rifle, which hung on some wooden pegs over the mantel. It was an ordinary muzzle-loading thing, and didn’t look as though it had been the death of anybody.
“That rifle has been too much for half a dozen men,” said the woman.
“Why, how did that happen?” asked Leon.
“It happened when they came to burn us out,” answered the woman. “They came one night and tried to call Josiah to the door, but he would not go. He took his rifle down, but he wouldn’t shoot until they did, and as he is a good shot, he hit every time. The next day we had to move, for they came with a larger body of men.”
“There is one thing that makes me think you are in a bad place,” said Leon. “You are right here close to the river which separates the two counties, and if anybody makes a raid over here they will strike you, sure. I think if that convention is held you had better come down to our place. We have room enough there to stow you away.”
“Oh, thank you. Perhaps you had better speak to Josiah about it.”
Josiah was out attending to his horses and cow, and Leon went out to him. He looked at him with more respect than he did the night before, for, in addition to burning the bridges, he had “got the better” of half a dozen men. He bade Leon a hearty good-morning, but the boy noticed that all the while he kept talking to him he kept his eyes fastened on the woods. Probably it was from the force of habit. He agreed with Leon that they were in a bad place to meet raids, and promised that after the convention came off he would see what he could do. He didn’t want to trespass on anybody until he had to.
Breakfast over, Leon brought his horse to the door, put on his saddle and bridle and bid good-bye to the family from Tennessee, and rode off. He was two days more on his route, and on the third day he turned his horse toward home. He reached it without any mishap, and his mother was glad to see him, judging by the hug she gave him. His father had arrived the night before, but the stories he had to tell didn’t compare with Leon’s. Of course his mother was shocked when she learned that Josiah (Leon did not know what else to call him) had shot so many men before he left Tennessee, but she readily agreed to shelter his wife and children.
“I never thought to ask him his name,” said Leon, “but I will ask him down to the convention. He was dead in favor of it, and said he would be there. I tell you that man has passed through a heap. He couldn’t talk to me without running his eyes over the woods to see if there was anybody coming.”
On the next day but one was the time of the convention, and at an early hour Mr. Sprague and Leon mounted their horses and set out for Ellisville. On the way they picked up a good many more, both afoot and on horseback, and by the time they reached their destination they numbered fifty or more. They made their way at once to the church, and found themselves surrounded by a formidable body of men, all of whom were armed with rifles. There must have been a thousand men there, and there was not a secessionist to be seen in the party. Shortly afterward Nathan Knight arrived. He bid good-morning to the people right and left, and went into the church, whither he was followed by all the building would hold. Those who couldn’t get in raised the windows on the outside and settled themselves down to hear what was going to happen.
Nathan Knight was a large man, with gray whiskers and an eye that seemed to look right through you. But for all that his face was kindly, and if you got broken up in business and wanted help, Nathan Knight was the man to go to. He took his seat in the pulpit, just where he knew the folks would send him, took off his hat and drew his handkerchief across his forehead. His meeting was not conducted according to order, but those who were there understood it.
“Gentlemen will please come to order,” said he. “Are there any of us who are opposed to taking this county out of the State of Mississippi? If there is, let him now speak or hereafter hold his peace.”
Each man gazed into the face of his neighbor; but each one knew that the one he looked at was as much in favor of secession as he was himself. Finally, some one in the back part of the church called out:
“Nathan, there ain’t nary a rebel here.”
“I am glad to hear it,” said Mr. Knight. “But there are some around in the county, and you want to be careful how you deal with them. I will now appoint a committee of six to draw up a series of resolutions of secession. They will go over to the hotel and come back when they get done.”
Mr. Knight had evidently been thinking of this matter before for he appointed the committee without hesitation, and among them was the name of Mr. Sprague. They were all men who would not say a thing they did not mean, and as they were about to go out the president beckoned Mr. Sprague to his desk and placed a piece of paper in his hands.
“There’s some resolutions I drew up after thinking the matter over,” said he. “Perhaps it will serve as a model to you. You can amend them or leave them out entirely, as suits you best.”
When the committee had retired Mr. Knight got up, and for the next half-hour proceeded to arraign the Confederate States and praise the Union, his remarks calling forth loud and long-continued applause. He took the ground that it was a “geographical impossibility” to conquer Jones county, because, the inhabitants being lumbermen, it would be easy for them to slip into the woods, and when there nobody but a raftsman could find them. He kept his speech going until the committee were seen coming back. Mr. Sprague made his way to the desk, and amid the most impressive silence read the resolutions of secession as follows:
When Mr. Sprague ceased reading, the applause which shook the building was long and loud. Not satisfied with that, some of the raftsmen fired off their guns, and for the next five or ten minutes it was impossible to do anything inside the church. By that time the excitement had somewhat died out, and then the president asked if there was any debate on the matter, but no one had anything to say. Knowing that those six men had the good of the county at heart, there was not one who had anything to say against them. Mr. Knight expressed himself pleased, and was about to announce that the resolutions were passed, when somebody on the outside of the building called out:
“Nathan, here’s a couple of rebels out here.”
“What are they doing out there?” asked the president, in surprise.
“I don’t know. They have just come up here. It looks to me like they were going to recruit.”
“Well, fetch them in here. Now, boys, not a word out of you. I will do the talking, and if you have any questions to ask, you can ask them; but don’t all talk at once.”
Mr. Knight settled back in his chair and the most profound silence ensued. Finally the crowd about the door gave way as the rebels and their escort approached, and the Confederates, seeing so many men standing there with their hats all off, courteously took off their own. They kept on until they got up to the desk, and then Mr. Knight drew up chairs for them to be seated.
“Now, gentlemen, what brought you up here?” asked the president.
“We came up here to recruit,” replied the ranking officer. “I am glad to see so many of you here, for it will save us the trouble of hunting you up.”
“Will you be kind enough to read that?” said Mr. Knight, unfolding the paper on which the resolutions were written and passing it over to the officer.
The official took the paper, and as he read his eyes opened with surprise. When he had got through with it he passed it over to his subordinate, and then turned and looked at the men near him. He was satisfied that there was not a man there who did not believe every word of those resolutions. The officer had nothing to fear now – he was the first recruiting official that ever came there – but after he got away he would not come back at any price.
“These are not all your men?” said he.
“No, sir. We have not more than three hundred men, but these extra parties have come in with their families at odd times. And every man you see is a Union man.”
“My friend, you are making a great mistake,” began the officer.
“We are ready to stand by it, sir.”
“Do you suppose the Confederates will stand by and allow you to take this county out of the State, to be an odd sheep in the flock?” continued the officer. “The first thing you know you will be overrun with men, and you won’t have a house to go into.”
“What will we be doing all that time?”
“Oh, I suppose you will fight, but it won’t do you any good. The Confederates can send twenty thousand men in here.”
“We don’t care if they send forty thousand,” replied the president. “Whatever you send we’ll fight.”
The men who were crowded in the church and gathered about the windows couldn’t stand it any longer. They broke out into loud applause, which continued for some minutes. When they got through, the officer evidently thought they were in earnest.
“We have a thousand men here, and when we get into the swamp we are willing to meet five thousand,” continued Mr. Knight. “You can’t conquer us.”
“What will you do for grub?”
“We’ll steal it,” shouted one of the men; and the answer was so droll and corresponded so entirely with the thoughts of the men who were standing around, that the whole assembly burst into laughter. Even the enrolling officers joined in.
“I suppose you can do that, of course,” said he, “but supposing the escort is too strong to be successfully attacked?”
“We don’t borrow any trouble on that score,” said Mr. Knight. “We haven’t got all the men we are going to have. You see how they are coming in now. But you are interrupting us, and we shall have to bid you good-bye. You see very plainly that you can’t raise any men here for the Confederate army. Another thing we’ll tell you, you are the first to come in, and you will be the last to go out.”
“Do you mean to say that you will kill any enrolling officers who come here?”
“That’s just what I mean to say. We don’t want them here.”
“Well,” said the official, rising to his feet, “we’ll go, but we won’t be the last officers to come in here. I will tell you that very plainly. You mustn’t think that the Confederates are going to allow you to have your own way in this matter. It beats anything I ever heard of.”
“We are aware of that, and that’s what makes us think we are going to go through with it. I will bid you good-bye, gentlemen.”
The men divided right and left to allow the rebels a chance to get out, and when they had passed out beyond the door the president proceeded to call the meeting to order.
“I am pleased with the way you obeyed my commands,” said Mr. Knight. “If you will obey as promptly as that, we are going to be hard to whip. The next thing is to elect a president.”
“I nominate Nathan Knight as president of the Jones County Confederacy,” shouted a man near the door.
“We ought to have a ballot for that,” said Mr. Knight.
“We don’t need no ballot. It takes too much time. Can I get a second to that?”
He could and he did. It seemed as if every man in the house seconded the motion. Mr. Sprague put the vote before the house, and it was carried unanimously. Mr. Knight did not stop to make a speech, but said the next vote would be for vice-president, and Mr. Sprague was nominated.
“Hold on, there,” shouted a voice. “We don’t want Mr. Sprague for vice-president. We want him for secretary of war. If there is any man who can put us fellows where we can do the most good in a fight Mr. Sprague is the chap.”
And so it was all through the convention. There wasn’t a ballot taken for anything, and no man thought of declining an office. By four o’clock the work was all done, and then Mr. Knight thought of something else.
“There is one thing more that I want the convention to decide on,” said he. “It is a ticklish piece of business, but we have got to do it. Jeff Davis has been making things very uncomfortable for our fellows out there in the Confederacy by telling them that they have got to light out or go into the army; now, what’s to hinder us from doing the same thing? There are many rebels about here – ”
“And I say let’s get rid of them,” said a voice. “I know one fellow who is going around all the time talking secession, and if the meeting says the word I’ll go to him and tell him he had better dig out. The county will be a heap happier if he ain’t in it.”
“Let’s all go in a body,” said another voice.
“That’s what I say,” said a chorus of half a dozen men.
“I think myself that would be the better way,” said the president. “If a lot of us get together and call upon a man, he will think we are in dead earnest. Give them time to take what they want, and then escort them out of the county. Don’t leave a rebel behind you. There being no further business, the convention stands adjourned, to meet again upon call.”
And where was Leon Sprague all this time? He was sitting in the front seat, where he could hear all that was going on. He felt proud when his father was elected secretary of war. He supposed, of course, that it was his business to post men in battle, but he learned better after a while. He was particularly anxious about escorting the rebels out of the county, and as soon as the convention adjourned he hurried out to find Tom Howe. As he was hurrying through the door, whom should he run against but Josiah – the “man who had seen a heap,” and who “got the best of half a dozen men.” He stood with his rifle hugged up close to him as if it were an old friend and he did not want to part from it.