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