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COTTON-PLANTING AT PORT HUDSON.
A GREAT many "contrabands" sought refuge at Port Hudson in the winter of 1863-64. I determined to turn their labor to account; and having obtained permission to cultivate the fields between the old Confederate line of works and the Federal cavalry pickets-the fields over which so many desperate charges had been made during the siege-I engaged one hundred and fifty hands, a force sufficient to plant a thousand acres in cotton. The freedmen were still called "contrabands," to their own great wonderment; but as their ideas crystallized, they began to call each other "citizens," and before the close of the war any one speaking of their " camps" in terms less respectful than the "citizens' quarters," was not considered friendly to the colored man.
We were located at Mt. Pleasant, about half a mile below the citadel of Port Hudson, where, during the previous autumn, I had built a large steam saw-mill to supply the quartermaster's department with lumber. At this point first touches the river the line of bluffs that frown upon the Mississippi at Port Hudson, Vicksburg, and Memphis, forming the castern boundary of the delta, and of that great alluvial plain which extends from the mouth of Red River to above Cairo. The position was inside the cavalry picket-line; but, to guard against surprise and for the protection of the mill, a stockade-fort had been built, and was garrisoned by a company of soldiers.
I had arrived at Port Hudson in September, a few weeks subsequent to the capture; and after a couple of days spent in getting my military pass en règle for landing, was permitted to ascend the lofty bluff and enjoy the liberty of the post. What first struck my attention was some of the strange transformations effected by war. The brick walls of the church where the bread of life had been wont to be dis
pensed, were being converted into an immense oven for the soldiers. The Point Coupée Echo, which had taken refuge inside the fort, and had doubtless often encouraged the besieged to die in "the last ditch," was itself cast into the gutter.
When Port Hudson fell, there was but little to savor except mule-meat and a few cow-peas. Yet several thousand barrels of the finest rock-salt, in large crystal masses from the wonderful mine of Petite Anse Island, were captured in transitu to the Confederacy, at a time when salt was more of a king than cotton. Scattered all about were the spoils of war, the great guns mounted on the bluff, grim and sullen, the park of light-artillery which the Confederates had used to defend their long lines, the pieces broken and bruised by Federal shot, and thousands of small-arms that were hardly worth preserving.
Still more interesting to me were the old camps occupied by the Federals during the siege. They were outside the zigzag Confederate works, on the crests of those terrible ravines which with their underbrush and fallen timber rendered the approaches to Port Hudson so formidable. The artillery had been removed, but the great piles of cotton bales of which the batteries, unlike the mythical cotton breastworks of General Jackson in New Orleans, had mainly been built, were still remaining. Most of the camps had been pitched in the woods, and it was curious to notice how many little things the men had improvised for their convenience. Here a horseshoe had been nailed against a tree over which to throw the reins, or the prostrate trunk of a tree had been hollowed out for a feed-trough; there a rude earth-oven had been built, and along the ravines little caves had been dug in the hillsides that served as shelters against both the elements and the bullets of the enemy.
Many of the soldiers had in leisure moments carved their names on the tall magnolias, that were to be their only memorial. Temporary hospitals had been made within brush enclosures, and soft couches prepared by opening on the ground bales of cotton. Several weeks had elapsed, but the rains had not sufficed to wash out the purple stains, and wild forget-me-nots had bloomed where blood had so recently flowed. In the tumult and labor of the siege but few head-boards were placed over the dead; and of perhaps three thousand graves, few can now be identified. Who, alas! shall deck with flowers the graves of these unknown, patriotic dead!.
We began to plough about the middle of February, and in a few days forty-five teams were at work, very much as when breaking up for spring crops in "God's country," with the exception that the ground is thrown up into narrow ridges, or "cotton-beds." The fields, or rather the open plain-for of fences there were none left within several miles-was covered with a tall growth of dry weeds that burned like tinder. Sometimes the fire communicated to the great canebrakes in the ravines, and by night furnished the semblance of a battle. Vast clouds of smoke would roll in sullen splendor above the sheets of flame. The newlycaught cane would crackle sharply, like a discharge of firearms, while now and then one of Farragut's monster unexploded shells, ignited by the searching heat, boomed, and sent its fragments whizzing through the air.
On the first day of April we began to plant, and for a good omen-my wife committed the first seed to the ground -the first, also, ever tended by emancipated labor in that part of Louisiana. A slight furrow is opened on the "cotton-bed" with a rude implement which my Irish overseer called an eye-opener." Over this furrow the cotton-seed is scattered by the women, and imperfectly covered by means of a light harrow drawn by a single mule. Before the war it was customary to re-plant nearly all the cotton-seed obtained from
the crop equal to three times the weight of the cotton itself-in order to enrich the land. Many a fastidious epicure now dresses his salad with deodorized "oil of cotton-seed," under the innocent delusion that it came from the rich olive-presses of Italy.
When we began to plant, the Southern spring was already far advanced. The tops of the lofty cypresses,
"The green-robed senators of the mighty woods," were the first to put on the verdure of spring. The cotton-woods, which spring in pigmy groves from the slimy ooze deposited along the river-bank, as if to conceal its deformity, and rise from the battures in immense, successive waves of foliage, were next sprinkled with green. Gum, locust, and oak were soon clad in the livery of spring. The beech-trees had already lost their bloom. The long hedges between the plantations were white with flowers, but the magnolia, the pride of the Southern forest, had not yet opened its creamy, lemon-perfumed petals.
The flocks of robins and troops of swallows, so numerous in the short winter, had long ago migrated northward with the airy shoals of waterfowl. Quails whistled cheerfully from their glossy coverts, great flocks of buzzards wheeled high in air, and now and then, from the river-bluff, one caught sight of a stately crane or a pair of snowwhite pelicans. Birds of song and of brilliant plumage were not abundant, but one could often catch the gleam of a cardinal-bird flashing through the air, and by day and night the wild weird carols of the mocking-bird were so constant, that for sleep I had to drive them from the branches overhanging our window. By night, also, the swamps resounded with a batrachian chorus, varied now and then by a dissonant croak, deep, heavy, and of such roaring volume as to deceive Taurus himself. Mingled with these was an occasional bellow from an alligator making its lonely night-rounds of the swamps, or traversing, with wallowing gait, the narrow strip of land between the river and Lake Fontana.
Our cottage stood on the steep bluff, from which one could toss an apple on board the great steamboats that came thundering by, looking, as they approached in the darkness-the light gleaming from the open furnaces on deck-like some monstrous Cyclops with an eye of fire. The great spring torrents of the Mississippi were pouring down with the accumulated driftwood of half a continent, and many an hour, like the Federal sentinel standing guard along the "Father of Waters," have I watched by moonlight the dim processions of mighty forest-trees, wrested from far-off forests on the slopes of the Alleghanies or the Rocky Mountains, and hurried silently and phantom-like down the turbid flood, as the ghostly dead were hurried down the river of Lethe.
The commanding general frequently rode out to Mt. Pleasant with his staff to see about lumber for the works at Port Hudson, or to enjoy a gallop over the cotton-fields. Among the officers was a brother, or cousin, of, Prince Ghika, late hospodar of the Danubian principalities, of whom I had known on the lower Danube during the campaign of Omer Pacha, and also a brave Hungarian, a relative to Kossuth, who had unsheathed his sword in several European wars. Our rides over the cottonfields brought back many reminiscences of the plains of Hungary and Wallachia. Their being here illustrated how deeply the great American conflict had excited the European mind, and drawn multitudes of its most liberal spirits to the theatre of strife, just as the Eastern war • gathered on the plains of the lower Danube the armies of civilized Europe, the picturesque hordes of Asia, and dusky legions from Africa.
The military lines were closed, but I soon learned that a Federal cavalryofficer was deeply enamored of a rebel maiden outside, so ineffectual were picket-guards and the rage of war to intercept the shafts of love. Such planters outside the lines as were willing to take the oath, were permitted to visit Mt. Pleasant. I also sometimes
accompanied a reconnoissance into the country. Southern society I find is not more homogeneous than in the North; yet I am surprised at that marvellous peculiarity of American civilization which enables it, here as well as there, to engraft, appropriate, absorb foreign elements and mould them into a strong and vigorous nationality.
When I was a student at Vienna, Hyrtl, the great anatomist, used to show us on his brawny forearm a little plantation of human hairs transp'anted many years before from the bodies of dear friends. Here was one from Humboldt, here one from the renowned Von Hammer Purgstall, there one from a distinguished poet, a noted actress, from his Transparency a Minister of the Court, or from a famous Hungarian general. It was strange to hear the professor eloquently descant upon the virtues of departed friends who to a certain extent were yet living in his own body. What, indeed, are the limitations of this subtle theory? May not the single cell in which one life originated, transmitted mysteriously, but always imperishable in the world of atoms, be, at last, the nucleus of a resurrected body? The extraordinary vitality of American society always reminds me of Hyrtl's capillary plantation.
It is now the first of May. The seed has come up, and the process of " scraping" has begun. The earth is taken from both sides of the row with a proper implement drawn by a mule. Then come the hands, cutting out the superfluous plants with the hoe, yet leaving until the next working more than are actually necessary, in order to insure a "stand."
The freedmen are doing well, and every thing goes on merrily. The outer fields are some distance from Mt. Pleasant, and the ploughmen take the women behind them on their mules as they go out in the morning and return at night. It is as peaceful and quiet as if there were no enemy within a thousand miles. The sentinel's musket gleams in the sunshine as he paces his solitary round
on the rampart, and outside the fields stands the mounted picket, the cavalry reserve, or deserve," as my overseer called it, being concealed in the thicket close at hand. The old plantation-songs are heard, and some of the hands, who claim to have always taken the leadrow at home, and are wise in cottoncraft, begin to talk of our making a thousand bales of cotton.
Business called me to New Orleans on the 10th of May. My wife accompanied me. Early the following Sunday morning, as I was leisurely passing by headquarters, Captain Buckley asked me, into his office. His nervous manner foreboded trouble. Putting himself in connection with the Port Hudson operator, he began slowly to read, as the electricity clicked the words, Five hundred rebels just attacked Mt. Pleasant-mill and plantation buildings in flames-many hands killed, and rest prisoners-rebels have got off with plunder our cavalry in pursuit "when the line broke, and I-drew breath.
Hour after hour I waited for a message, hoping the disaster had not been so terrible, and anxious for a word to relieve my suspense. It was in vain. The rebels had cut the wire between Baton Rouge, and Port Hudson. Pleasant was a hundred and fifty miles from New Orleans, and the road, if not actually held by the enemy, was infested with guerillas. I could only wait for the Tuesday evening Vicksburg packet.
Wednesday afternoon the Albert Pierce brought me in sight of Mt. Pleasant. Nothing was to be seen but a column of smoke and the tall brick chimney of the mill-the first erected below Cairo after the beginning of the war. As I contrasted the latter with the chimneys that rose grimly above the ruins of the great sugar-mills on the opposite side of the river, I was reminded that my misfortune was but one of the accidents of war. Just six months previously, to a day, an agent of Jefferson Davis, who afterwards received six thousand dollars in gold from his chief for his devilish work, VOL. II-4
had set fire to the steamboat Tecumseh, and in half an hour forty thousand dollars of my property were in ashes, with half a million dollars' worth of cotton belonging to other parties. Confederate hatred could hardly ask for more than this second disaster on almost the same spot, involving far greater loss than the first, and accompanied by circumstances of shocking barbarity.
When I landed not a soul was to be seen, and nothing remained of the pleasant hamlet but piles of smouldering ruins. The stockade-fort was abandoned, and even my wife's little flowergarden had been trodden under foot by the rebel cavalry. I had scarcely looked around, however, before my bookkeeper suddenly appeared, with the utmost terror pictured on his countenance. They had come out of the fort to bury one of the men killed Sunday morning, and were about to lower the body into the hastily dug grave, when the Confederates again made their appearance. He and his companions had taken to the ravine. He urged me to hasten to Port Hudson: there was not a moment to be lost.
Just then also my Irish overseer came rushing down the hill, himself and horse covered with blood and foam. The brave fellow, who had been in Japan with Commodore Perry, had often ventured alone, miles inside the Confederate lines, and had recently risen from an attack of typhoid, thought he had received a mortal wound, and I could not restrain a smile at his almost disappointment in finding that the rebel bullet, fired at him but a few paces dis tant, had taken effect only in his horse's neck, from which a purple stream still flowed. Recovering in part his composure, "I've had,” said he, “the newmoonia and the typhoon faver, but niver the likes of this!"
We hastened towards Port Hudson, and before reaching the sally-port were so fortunate as to overtake Mr. Ewho had come out with my bookkeeper and overseer to bury their comrade. His clothes had been torn by the thorns, and it seemed incredible that he
should have found his way through the dreadful ravines and thickets. His vacant, pitiable expression-a blending of terror and despair-told me plainly that the fright he had just received, his fatigue, and the dreadful sufferings of Sunday morning, had unsettled his mind. He had come out from the North only a month previous to assist me, but never recovered from the terrible shock.
I obtained a tent for myself and such of my people as could be found, and during the evening learned the particulars of the raid. Just at the gray dawn of Sunday morning five hundred mounted rebels, yelling like demons, dashed upon Mt. Pleasant, a deep ravine winding back into the forest having concealed them until within a few rods of the stockade. They had doubtless spent the night near by, as the freedmen afterwards declared that a strange person, dressed in blue, had come into their meeting Saturday night whom they recognized next morning among the raiders. Part of them immediately overpowered the stockade-guard and made the lieutenant prisoner, while the others rushed among the buildings and fired upon the terror-stricken people, not one of whom was armed or offered any resistance. Two of my employeesfaithful, loyal men, who had lived many years in the South, were shot down, yet not until they had almost reached, in attempting to escape, the foot of the citadel of Port Hudson. It was the work of but a few minutes to plunder my house, set fire to the buildings, and, gathering up prisoners and mules, dash off into the forest. Two of my white men were mounted bareback on a powerful mule with a colored man between them. Another was hurried along half running, half dragged by a stalwart rebel hold of his collar. The best mounted rebels ordered negroes, both men and women-perhaps their former slaves-to get on behind them, and a few even carried off small children. They rushed through the forest at full speed, where an ordinary rider would have to pick his way. A small detach
ment, with seventy of my mules and horses, took another obscure path into the woods.
But the Federal cavalry, a splendidly mounted Illinois regiment, were soon thundering up in pursuit. The chase was magnificent. Had not Colonel Fonda been informed by a negro, who halted him just as they reached the open country, that a large rebel force was in ambush ahead, scarcely one of the enemy could have escaped. The rear of the pursued and the van of the pursuers were soon mingled, and sabres and revolvers were freely used, several of the rebels being killed.
One by one the prisoners let go their hold, slipped off, and got out of the way. The stalwart rebel who had put my man through nine miles quicker than they were ever made by the swiftfooted Achilles, had to let go his hold. A bolt of Sprague's prints proved the ruin of a raider who had fastened one end of it to his saddle. It unrolled and streamed along in the wind, and before he could disengage it the Yankees were upon him. During the running-fight a Federal and Confederate got separated from the others. They unloaded their revolvers upon each other, tried their sabres, finally halted, dismounted, and clinched for very life. The Yankee had lost a thumb in the mêlée, and was getting worsted, when a comrade rode up. "Surrender!" cried the latter.
"Go to h-1!" was the only response. "I'll teach you how to raid plantations!" replied the Yankee, in equally forcible language, as he split him down with a single stroke of his sabre.
The rebels, however, got off with the stock and a few prisoners. Among the latter was the poor lieutenant. I was afterwards told, that when the Confederates encamped that night, they put him one side while holding a parley. A negro crawled up to the officer in the dark, and asked him if he had any message to send: that was the last ever heard of him. The leader of the raiders has never ventured to show himself in the vicinity of Port Hudson since the