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But my freedmen. Those not captured Sunday morning had taken to the ravines between Mt. Pleasant and Port Hudson. Most of those carried away had also managed to get back. I asked the commanding general for permission to bring them inside the Federal works. He would not even consider the request. General Banks' Red River failure had emboldened and let loose the rebels; Johnston, they said, was marching down through Mississippi, and would besiege Port Hudson within ten days; I must leave; he would order a steamboat to transport the freedmen to New Orleans.
Times were indeed gloomy, and the general no doubt had the interests of the service at heart, but I was satisfied that the reports of Johnston's movements were unfounded. At least, no rebel general would venture to hurl his columns against the great earthworks of Port Hudson, mounted with so many guns, and defended by several thousand brave men.
Three successive days I urged my case with every argument at my command. I had invested almost a fortune in this enterprise; the Government, in granting me permission to plant, and in approving my contracts, had by implication, at least, promised me its protection, when such protection did not interfere with the service. These hundred and fifty freedmen were also entitled to consideration. My efforts were in vain.
At last the general yielded so far as to permit me to bring fifty of my hands inside the works at night, the remainder to be kept outside. I repaired immediately to the freedmen still hidden in the ravines, trembling with terror, and utterly disheartened. Collecting them near the spot where during the siege the great naval battery had thundered against Port Hudson, I told them my plans: that I had established myself at Port Hudson to make a crop of cotton, and intended to do it; the rebels doubtless congratulated themselves upon having broken up Mt. Pleasant, and might not return in a long time; I asked no one to go where I did not lead; that a
price having been set on my head by the enemy, I ran a far greater risk than any of them; if any of them wished to go away, they had only to step forward and get their wages and a release from their contracts.
But two or three of the faithful freedmen left me. Having procured fifty condemned tents from the quartermaster, we pitched part of them in a deep ravine near the new works, and the balance in a similar ravine just outside the old Confederate line, where they were effectually concealed from sight to a person a few yards distant.
I had remaining but a few brokendown animals. Fortunately, many of the freedmen about Port Hudson were in possession of a horse or a mule picked up as worthless just after the siege, but now again become serviceable. The provost marshal permitted me to use these unemployed animals for a stipulated sum per week, and many a faithful charger, or artillery war-horse, harnessed to an ignoble plough, afterwards pricked up his ears and quickened his gait at call of bugle or boom of cannon from the fort. Just nine days from the terrible morning of the raid we ventured out into the fields to resume work.
The stockade-guard at Mt. Pleasant having been discontinued, and the cavalry pickets drawn in, I was obliged to abandon three hundred acres of, young cotton. It was the most promising part of the crop. The hands had finished "scraping" it the day before the raid. To abandon it involved a greater loss than mill, stock, and plantation buildings together; there was no help for it. Could we save the remaining seven hundred acres?
The freedmen were very shy, and daily turned many a nervous glance to the deep woods bordering the fields. A point which they particularly dreaded came to be called "Reb' Corner." One day there was artillery practice at the fort, and the officer of the day having forgotten to inform me of the order, the hands were frightened out of their senses by the bursting of huge shells over their heads. On another occasion
a false alarm was raised by the commanding general. The drums beat to arms, bugles sounded, and the great guns on the earthworks opened a tremendous cannonade upon the woods at the left. As the cavalry and the batteries of light artillery rushed out of the sally-port in the direction of the 'fields, the hands were sure the rebs were about to fall upon them, and broke for the fort in a general stampede. Our camps were so situated in the ravines that the shells flew harmlessly over them, and at night all our animals were taken inside. With the exception of these, sometimes ludicrous, incidents, there were no serious interruptions, and in the course of a few weeks we regained our former sense of security.
Scarcely a drop of rain fell from March until nearly the end of May. The cotton-plant, when it has attained some size, does not require much moisture, and is oftener injured by the excessive rains than by the long droughts, both of which so frequently occur in the Gulf States. Copious showers fell on the deserted plantations across the river; the young and tender cottonplants on my fields seemed on the point of perishing. At last the windows of heaven were opened, and rain fell almost every day for several weeks, with tropical violence. As the season advanced the weather became excessively hot, but the nights, owing to the breezes from the Gulf and the heavy dews, were cool and agreeable. However distressing the heat of midday, one could rise refreshed in the morning. To this fact may no doubt be attributed, in great part, the good health which, with temperance and habits of regularity, may usually be enjoyed in the South.
To my utter consternation the smallpox broke out among my hands in June. In a few days thirty of them were prostrate with the disease.
had survived the terrible raid upon Mt. Pleasant, but here were disaster and threatening death in a more dreadful form. The fiery drought of May and the torrents of rain in June had done comparatively little harm, and the vigi
lant cavalry seemed to insure protection against further molestation from the enemy; but of what avail were picketlines against this terrible infection? A panic, I feared, would drive the freedmen from the plantations. For several days the success of my enterprise again hung trembling in the balance. I was surprised to find, however, that the disease was neither so contagious nor so fatal as among the whites. Separate quarters were provided for the sick. But two of them died.
The first day of July I picked the first cotton-flower. The plants, so tender and unpromising in May, had of late grown with extraordinary rapidity. The flower, purple when it opens, but soon changing to white, resembles the bloom of the morning-glory, and contrasts beautifully with the deep verdure of the plants. In a little spot almost covered with the rusty fragments of exploded shells, I noticed that the flowers retained a deep-red color, just as in another instance I observed that the water-lilies grown over the sunken ruins of a rebel gunboat were scarlet instead of white. The ground was nearly covered with thrifty cottonplants that would. have ornamented a lady's flower-garden. As I looked over the broad fields, the leaves glistening in the sunshine, and the purple and pearly bells swaying in the wind, I certainly thought I had never before seen so beautiful a rural prospect. The afterthought, also, that they ought soon to yield six hundred bales of cotton, already worth five hundred dollars per bale, did not sensibly diminish the pleasure afforded by the sight.
After an appropriate celebration of the Fourth of July with the freedmen, I again left for New Orleans. But I had scarcely landed when a telegram from my chief overscer informed me that the entire cavalry had been ordered away from Port Hudson, the infantry withdrawn from the old works to the new fort on the bluff, and that during the previous night the rebels had roamed undisturbed over my plantations and committed many depredations. A sin
gle stroke of General Banks' pen, with more absolute power than was ever swayed by the god Terminus, had instantly located my plantations far beyond the Federal lines, and within the rule of Rebeldom.
The freedmen, who had hitherto relied upon the protection afforded by the cavalry, were entirely disheartened at this turn of events. After the dreadful experience of the raid at Mt. Pleasant, it would have been cruel to ask, and useless to expect, them to expose themselves to the enemy. I was advised to arm them, and muskets were provided for the purpose. But aside from the inability of undisciplined freedmen to repel any serious attack, the musket and the hoe were incompatible. Moreover, most of the freedmen in my employment had belonged to planters in the vicinity, and I naturally hesitated to adopt a plan that would inevitably arouse the revengeful hostility of the latter. Nine or ten of the best and bravest of the freedmen were well mounted, and under the lead of my manager, who had shown himself to be a bold and efficient man, acted as a picket-guard for the others while at work in the fields. After the first feeling of timidity had worn off, they scoured the country for some distance in the rear of the plantations, and gave us timely notice of danger. Falstaff's ragged recruits could not have presented a more grotesque appearance than these dusky scouts, awkwardly flourishing their long muskets, but relying mainly upon the speed of their horses.
About this time General McNeill assumed command at Port Hudson. The reputation he had acquired from the summary disposal of guerillas in Missouri had preceded him. Had he fallen into the hands of the Confederates they would have treated him in an equally summary manner. Yet, with a small mounted escort from one of the lightbatteries, he boldly reconnoitred the country many miles in the rear of Port Hudson; and not until several weeks afterward, when the steamboat Empress, on which he was ascending the
river, was attacked by the Confederates, in consequence of information transmitted from below that he was aboard, and the boat and passengers were saved by his heroic conduct, was he seriously molested.
One day, General McNeill happening to get separated from his main escort, an officer of his staff rode up to a house at the fork of the roads, and inquired of the lean, scrawny woman who appeared at the door, vigorously plying the "dipping-stick," whether she had recently seen any cavalry.
"I don't know nothin' about calvary," said she, "but if you're after Capt'in Miller's critter company, they's jist done gone up that way."
The zeal of an old "pincy woods" planter in pursuit of a fugitive slave led him so close to the Federal works that he was picked up by a scouting party. He seemed struck with the appearance of the cotton-fields, and, turning to me, remarked,
"You croppin'? Eh?"
"I reckon, you don't understand niggers?"
"Them's some of my niggers you're workin'."
"Well, here's a right smart chance of a crop, but I'll be-dogoned if you ever pick a pound of cotton. Why, you see our folks is perfectly willin' you should make the crop, but they's jist waitin' to see you begin to gether it."
This, then, was another reason why I had recently been so little molested.
The first day of August we picked the first opened boll of cotton, just four months after the seed had been planted. Before finishing the cultivation, or "laying by" the crop, we went over the fields four times with small ploughs and the hoe. After the process of "scraping," the earth was thrown toward the roots of the plants. The most untiring industry was required to keep down the grass which, especially during the hot and rainy months of June and July, grew with wonderful rapidity.
When we cultivated the fields the last time, mules and hands were almost hidden from sight by the thrifty plants. Some of them were so high that one on horseback could not reach the topmost leaves, and, on a single one, I counted one hundred and sixty bolls. The green and swelling bolls began rapidly to burst, and their fleecy whiteness, in contrast with the purple blooms and rich foliage, made the broad fields still more beautiful.
Aside from the peculiar annoyances and dangers to which we were exposed, the reader should not get the impression that the management of one hundred and fifty freedmen just escaped from slavery was a matter of unalloyed enjoyment. Far from it. It required "the patience of Globe" (Job), as my overseer constantly asserted, to get along with them. It was a matter of the first importance to obtain their confidence by just and honest treatment; and in no case to abuse it. Without this nothing could be done.
Our camp in the ravine near the new fort had meanwhile grown into quite a village, of which the manager's house, a plantation-mill to grind corn for the weekly rations, and an enormous stable, were the conspicuous buildings. The tents had gradually given place to cabins, around many of which the freedmen cultivated little gardens, and made accommodation for the traditional pigs and poultry. As regiments were ordered away from Port Hudson they secured many of the small buildings which spring up like mushrooms in a military camp; and on Saturday afternoons, when I gave them teams for the purpose, I several times saw quite a street of little houses perched bodily on the wagons, moving slowly to our quarters, like Birnam wood to Dunsinane They called our little village Yanktown, General McNeill, restless under the inactivity at Port Hudson, used in vain every effort to have his force increased so as to begin aggressive operations. Suddenly and unexpectedly he was relieved from command.
Dismayed at the gloomy prospect,
and thoroughly convinced that I could not gather the crop without protection, I repaired to the headquarters of the cavalry in New Orleans. Aside from my own interests, which, of course, could not be urged, there were many reasons why a cavalry regiment should be sent to Port Hudson. I used every argument in my power, but could get no encouragement whatever, and returned in more perplexity than ever. Cotton had already advanced to a dollar and a half per pound; the unprotected fields were whitening for a splendid harvest that bade fair to be a very cup of Tantalus.
At this time there happened to arrive at Port Hudson a company of independent loyal scouts, who had joined General Banks' army during the first Opelousas campaign. Among them were Creoles, Cagians, the descendants of the old Acadians, and a few mulattoes. They belonged mainly in the Attakapas region of Louisiana. Many a Federal soldier will recall the daring feats of this band of loyalists, to whom rebel bullets were not half so fatal during the war as rebel rage has been since its close. Here to-day and there tomorrow, now making rendezvous in one of the dense swamps of the Teche or the Cortableau, then falling, like light.ning, upon some rebel detachment or dashing into a rebel town, watching every Confederate camp, learning every movement, eluding all pursuit, their history would furnish some of the most thrilling episodes of the war in Louisiana. Their connection with the army in 1864 was merely nominal, and the commanding general at Port Hudson, who was powerless to protect my interests, advised me to employ this wellarmed an well-mounted company to guard my plantations. However serviceable in keeping off guerillas, they could not have resisted any considerable body of the enemy. There was the same objection as existed to arming my freedmen. But I did not abandon the idea.
In a situation of terrible suspense, I happened one day to be walking on the
levée at Baton Rouge, when I noticed a large steamboat covered with colored troops, whose fine cavalry equipments, especially their new Spencer carbines, attracted my attention. To my incidental question as to the destination of his regiment, Colonel Alexander replied that it was the Fourth Colored Cavalry, for Port Hudson.
I felt like embracing him.
A few hours afterward the men encamped on the little plateau between Port Hudson and Yanktown. Seeing no horses, I inquired when they were to arrive, and was struck speechless with astonishment to hear that the regiment not only had no horses, but that there were none for them in the department.
The situation was growing desperate. Retiring to my tent to think over once more the problem which had so often elated me with hope, and suddenly baffled with disappointment, my eyes fell upon a special order of General Banks, in the newspaper, to press into the cavalry service the available horses in the city of New Orleans. After a few days' delay, which seemed as many weeks, the horses arrived, but notwithstanding my anxiety and disappointment, I could not help shedding tears of laughter at the very sight of them. What but a passion for conic sections could have led the officer in charge to select such miserable hacks! To mount men upon them seemed a mockery and a snare. Had the choice been left to the worst rebel sympathizers in New Orleans, they would have picked out for us just such sorry Rosinantes. True, the equine population of New Orleans had already stood two or three similar drafts, but on my next visit to the city I could see no diminution in the number of fine turnouts on the Shell Road. However, the men were mounted, and a double force pushed out to the old picket-line.
With a light heart I once more rode over the splendid fields for so long a time practically deserted. The impatient freedmen were also ready, with bags strapped over the shoulder, and huge baskets wherein each kept the
cotton picked, to be weighed in the field at midday, and again at nightfall, so that extra care and labor could be compensated. Twice a-day large plantation-wagons, filled to the top with fleecy seed-cotton, conveyed their precious loads to Yanktown, where it was dried upon scaffolds, and, as there were no gins at Port Hudson, was packed in bulk for shipment to New Orleans.
Not waiting for a large lot, I hurried down to arrange for the selling of the crop, and offered four bales at auction. It was the 3d of September-a day not soon to be forgotten by cotton-buyers in New Orleans, for on that day the price touched the very highest point. Never, before nor since, have I seen such an excited crowd at the great cottonmart-such wild, feverish haste to buy. The bulls were in high carnival, jubi lant, defiant. My small lot being new cotton, and the first of the season, reach ed the highest figure. It started at one dollar and fifty cents per pound; "sixty," "seventy,' ," "eighty," "ninety in quick succession-" ninety-one ""two"-" and a half "-"I'm positively giving it away," shouted the auctioneer-"last call "-and down fell his hammer at one dollar ninety-two and a half cents per pound, or over eight hundred dollars per bale.
The Iberville landed me at Port Hudson early the next morning. Riding out again over the magnificent fields, a slight calculation assured me that I ought to make six hundred bales. Was it not in fact already made? Just after the raid at Mt. Pleasant I would gladly have accepted ten thousand dollars for the whole crop. Had any one now offered me three hundred thousand dollars for the same it would have been promptly refused. Why not? It seemed good for half a million.
Who has not studied one of those little charts made to represent the fluctuations of gold during the war by means of an irregular line drawn as an artist, with a single dash across the soft blue atmosphere of a painting, may outline the summits of lofty mountains? That crooked line is a simple matter,