Eliza Frances Andrews: The Journal of a Georgia Girl


Eliza Frances Andrews: The Journal of a Georgia Girl

▪ Primary Source
      

      Eliza Andrews saw the work of Sherman's army about fifty miles east of Dolly Lunt Burge at the end of November. The extracts published here recount her views of the "Burnt Country," a swath of territory that had been systematically destroyed by Union soldiers, as she traveled from Sparta south to Gordon a few days after it had been laid waste. The opening reveals one source of uncertainty in wartime casualty figures: the execution of captured soldiers and foragers by local forces was done casually and without fanfare, outside the reach of either law or recordkeeping. Andrews' hostility toward the Union, and her pride in the Confederacy and the South as a whole, is clear from her descriptions of the destruction Sherman's army wrought on Georgia. It is reinforced in the conclusion's chilling declarations of pride in "uncontaminated Anglo-Saxon blood" and the "secret vigilance and masterful strategy" of "the ghostly bands of 'The Invisible Empire' "—better-known as the Ku Klux Klan.

      

      . . . All being now ready, we moved out of Sparta. We soon became very sociable with our new companions, though not one of us knew the other even by name. Mett and I saw that they were all dying with curiosity about us and enjoyed keeping them mystified. The captain said he was from Baltimore, and it was a sufficient introduction when we found that he knew the Elzeys and the Irwins, and that handsome Ed Carey I met in Montgomery last winter, who used to be always telling me how much I reminded him of his cousin "Connie." Just beyond Sparta we were halted by one of the natives, who, instead of paying forty dollars for his passage to the agent at the hotel, like the rest of us, had walked ahead and made a private bargain with Uncle Grief, the driver, for ten dollars. This "Yankee trick" raised a laugh among our impecunious Rebs, and the lieutenant, who was just out of a Northern prison, and very short of funds, thanked him for the lesson and declared he meant to profit by it the next chance he got. The newcomer proved to be a very amusing character, and we nicknamed him "Sam Weller," on account of his shrewdness and rough-and-ready wit. He was dressed in a coarse home-made suit, but was evidently something of a dandy, as his shirt-front sported a broad cotton ruffle edged with home-made cotton lace. He was a rebel soldier, he said: "Went in at the fust pop and been a-fightin' ever since, till the Yankees caught me here, home on furlough, and wouldn't turn me loose till I had took their infernal oath—beg your pardon, ladies—the jig's pretty nigh up anyway, so I don't reckon it'll made much difference."

      He told awful tales about the things Sherman's robbers had done; it made my blood boil to hear them, and when the captain asked him if some of the rascals didn't get caught themselves sometimes—stragglers and the like—he answered with a wink that said more than words:

      "Yes; our folks took lots of prisoners; more'n'll ever be heard of agin."

      "What became of them?" asked the lieutenant.

      "Sent 'em to Macon, double quick," was the laconic reply. "Got 'em thar in less'n half an hour."

      "How did they manage it?" continued the lieutenant, in a tone that showed he understood Sam's metaphor.

      "Just took 'em out in the woods and lost 'em," he replied, in his jerky, laconic way. "Ever heerd o' losin' men, lady?" he added, turning to me, with an air of grim waggery that made my flesh creep—for after all, even Yankees are human beings, though they don't always behave like it.

      "Yes," I said, "I had heard of it, but thought it a horrible thing."

      "I don't b'lieve in losin' 'em, neither, as a gener'l thing," he went on. "I don't think it's right principul, and I wouldn't lose one myself, but when I see what they have done to these people round here, I can't blame 'em for losin' every devil of 'em they kin git their hands on."

      "What was the process of losing?" asked the captain. "Did they manage the business with firearms?"

      "Sometimes, when they was in a hurry," Mr. Weller explained, with that horrible, grim irony of his, "the gun would go off an' shoot 'em, in spite of all that our folks could do. But most giner'ly they took the grapevine road in the fust patch of woods they come to, an' soon as ever they got sight of a tree with a grape vine on it, it's cur'ous how skeered their hosses would git. You couldn't keep 'em from runnin' away, no matter what you done, an' they never run fur before their heads was caught in a grape vine and they would stand thar, dancing' on nothin' till they died. Did you ever hear of anybody dancin' on nothin' before, lady?"—turning to me.

      I said he ought to be ashamed to tell it; even a Yankee was entitled to protection when a prisoner of war.

      "But these fellows wasn't regular prisoners of war, lady," said the sick soldier; "they were thieves and houseburners,"—and I couldn't but feel there was something in that view of it.

      About three miles from Sparta we struck the "Burnt Country," as it is well named by the natives, and then I could better understand the wrath and desperation of these poor people. I almost felt as if I should like to hang a Yankee myself. There was hardly a fence left standing all the way from Sparta to Gordon. The fields were trampled down and the road was lined with carcasses of horses, hogs, and cattle that the invaders, unable either to consume or to carry away with them, had wantonly shot down to starve out the people and prevent them from making their crops. The stench in some places was unbearable; every few hundred yards we had to hold our noses or stop them with the cologne Mrs. Elzey had given us, and it proved a great boon. The dwellings that were standing all showed signs of pillage, and on every plantation we saw the charred remains of the gin-house and packing-screw, while here and there, lone chimney-stacks, "Sherman's Sentinels," told of homes laid in ashes. The infamous wretches! I couldn't wonder now that these poor people should want to put a rope round the neck of every red-handed "devil of them" they could lay their hands on. Hay ricks and fodder stacks were demolished, corn cribs were empty, and every bale of cotton that could be found was burnt by the savages. I saw no grain of any sort, except little patches they had spilled when feeding their horses and which there was not even a chicken left in the country to eat. A bag of oats might have lain anywhere along the road without danger from the beasts of the field, though I cannot say it would have been safe from the assaults of hungry man. Crowds of soldiers were tramping over the road in both directions; it was like traveling through the streets of a populous town all day. They were mostly on foot, and I saw numbers seated on the roadside greedily eating raw turnips, meat skins, parched corn—anything they could find, even picking up the loose grains that Sherman's horses had left. I felt tempted to stop and empty the contents of our provision baskets into their laps, but the dreadful accounts that were given of the state of the country before us, made prudence get the better of our generosity.

      . . .

      Before crossing the Oconee at Milledgeville we ascended an immense hill, from which there was a fine view of the town, with Gov. Brown's fortifications in the foreground and the river rolling at our feet. The Yankees had burnt the bridge, so we had to cross on a ferry. There was a long train of vehicles ahead of us, and it was nearly an hour before our turn came, so we had ample time to look about us. On our left was a field where 30,000 Yankees had camped hardly three weeks before. It was strewn with the débris they had left behind, and the poor people of the neighborhood were wandering over it, seeking for anything they could find to eat, even picking up grains of corn that were scattered around where the Yankees had fed their horses. We were told that a great many valuables were found there at first,—plunder that the invaders had left behind, but the place had been picked over so often by this time that little now remained except tufts of loose cotton, piles of half-rotted grain, and the carcasses of slaughtered animals, which raised a horrible stench. Some men were plowing in one part of the field, making ready for next year's crop.

      . . .

      About noon [the next day] we struck the Milledgeville & Gordon R.R., near a station which the Yankees had burnt, and a mill near by they had destroyed also, out of pure malice, to keep the poor people of the country from getting their corn ground. There were several crossroads at the burnt mill and we took the wrong one, and got into somebody's cornfield, where we found a little crib whose remoteness seemed to have protected it from the greed of the invaders. We were about to "press" a few ears for our hungry mules, when we spied the owner coming across the fields and waited for him. The captain asked if he would sell us a little provender for our mules, but he gave such a pitiful account of the plight in which Sherman had left him that we felt as mean as a lot of thieving Yankees ourselves, for having thought of disturbing his property. He was very polite, and walked nearly a mile in the biting wind to put us back in the right road. Three miles from Gordon we came to Commissioners' Creek, of which we had heard awful accounts all along the road. It was particularly bad just at this time on account of the heavy rain, and had overflowed the swamp for nearly two miles. Porters with heavy packs on their backs were wading through the sloughs, and soldiers were paddling along with their legs bare and their breeches tied up in a bundle on their shoulders. They were literal sans culottes. Some one who had just come from the other side advised us to unload the wagon and make two trips of it, as it was doubtful whether the mules could pull through with such a heavy load. The Yankees had thrown dead cattle in the ford, so that we had to drive about at random in the mud and water, to avoid these uncanny obstructions. Our gentlemen, however, concluded that we had not time to make two trips, so they all piled into the wagon at once and trusted to Providence for the result. We came near upsetting twice, and the water was so deep in places that we had to stand on top of the trunks to keep our feet dry.

      Safely over the swamp, we dined on the scraps left in our baskets, which afforded but a scanty meal. The cold and wind had increased so that we could hardly keep our seats, but the roads improved somewhat as we advanced, and the aspect of the country was beautiful in spite of all that the vandalism of war had done to disfigure its fair face. Every few hundred yards we crossed beautiful, clear streams with luxuriant swamps along their borders, gay with shining evergreens and bright winter berries. But when we struck the Central R.R. at Gordon, the desolation was more complete than anything we had yet seen. There was nothing left of the poor little village but ruins, charred and black as Yankee hearts. The pretty little dépot presented only a shapeless pile of bricks capped by a crumpled mass of tin that had once covered the roof. The R.R. track was torn up and the iron twisted into every conceivable shape. Some of it was wrapped round the trunks of trees, as if the cruel invaders, not satisfied with doing all the injury they could to their fellowmen, must spend their malice on the innocent trees of the forest, whose only fault was that they grew on Southern soil. Many fine young saplings were killed in this way, but the quickest and most effective method of destruction was to lay the iron across piles of burning cross-ties, and while heated in the flames it was bent and warped so as to be entirely spoiled. A large force is now at work repairing the road; as the repairs advance a little every day, the place for meeting the train is constantly changing and not always easy to find.

      . . .

      

Conclusion.

      

      Here the record ends, amid the gloom and desolation of defeat—a gloom that was to be followed ere long by the still blacker darkness of Reconstruction. Yet, I would not have the reader draw from its pages a message of despair, but of hope and courage under difficulties; for disaster cheerfully borne and honorably overcome, is not a tragedy, but a triumph. And this, the most glorious of all conquests, belongs to the South. Never in all history, has any people recovered itself so completely from calamity so overwhelming. By the abolition of slavery alone four thousand millions worth of property were wiped out of existence. As many millions more went up in the smoke and ruin of war; while to count in money the cost of the precious lives that were sacrificed, would be, I will not say an impossibility, but a desecration.

      I do not recall these things in a spirit of bitterness or repining, but with a feeling of just pride that I belong to a race which has shown itself capable of rising superior to such conditions. We, on this side of the line, have long since forgiven the war and its inevitable hardships. We challenged the fight, and if we got more of it in the end than we liked, there was nothing for it but to stand up like men and take our medicine without whimpering. It was the hand that struck us after we were down that bore hardest; yet even its iron weight was not enough to break the spirit of a people in whom the Anglo-Saxon blood of our fathers still flows uncontaminated; and when the insatiable crew of the carpet-baggers fell upon us to devour the last meager remnants left us by the spoliation of war, they were met by the ghostly bands of "The Invisible Empire," who through secret vigilance and masterful strategy saved the civilization they were forbidden to defend by open force.

      To conquer fate is a greater victory than to conquer in battle, and to conquer under such handicaps as were imposed on the South is more than a victory; it is a triumph. Forced against our will, and against the simplest biological and ethnological laws, into an unnatural political marriage that has brought forth as its monstrous offspring a race problem in comparison with which the Cretan Minotaur was a suckling calf; robbed of the last pitiful resource the destitution of war had left us, by a prohibitory tax on cotton, our sole commercial product; discriminated against for half a century by a predatory tariff that mulcts us at every turn, from the cradle to the grave; giving millions out of our poverty to educate the negro, and contributing millions more to reward the patriotism of our conquerors, whose imperishable multitudes as revealed by the pension rolls, make the four-year resistance of our thin gray bands one of the miracles of history; yet, in spite of all this, and in spite of the fact that the path of our progress has been a thorny one, marked by many an unwritten tragedy of those who went down in the struggle, too old, or too deeply rooted in the past to adapt themselves to new conditions, we have, as a people, come up out of the depths stronger and wiser for our battle with adversity, and the land we love has lifted herself from the Valley of Humiliation to a pinnacle of prosperity that is the wonder of more favored sections.

      

      

Source: Eliza Frances Andrews, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865 (1908.)

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