The Condition of Slaves
Chapter 61 (November 24, 1864 – December 11, 1864)
We passed some of the most beautiful homes between Atlanta and Milledgeville, where the old Southern planters lived like kings, and where the slaves in many cases seemed to have good homes provided for them. Their houses were generally one and a half stories high, built upon a nice street and not so far from the planter’s own home. Here an overseer was placed over these poor people. Here too families were separated. These unfortunate people were placed upon the auction block and sold like cattle in the market and a slave’s great dread was that of being sold and sent to Mississippi. We cannot realize the heart aches and fears when father or mother was separated from their families.
How happy these people were when Sherman’s army arrived, and they came to meet the “Lincum’s,” as they called us. One old gray headed fellow said: “Thank the Lord. Thank the Lord, uens was a long time a comin’ but you came at last.” These poor slaves could not realize what freedom was. They had an idea that freedom consisted of lying down on the sunny side of a barn and kicking up their heels.
The calaboose or jail was a small one-story building where the darkies were placed when they had committed any offence. Here they received their punishment, which consisted of whatever the overseer saw fit to give them.
The picking of 40 pounds of cotton was considered a day’s work. Whatever number of pounds they lacked, they received for each a lash. The funniest freak of nature we ever saw, was a family of some eight or nine children black as tar with red hair. The mother had black hair but the father we did not see. We found a slave pen with about 300 colored people, men, women, and children, who had been imported shortly before our arrival. We could not understand a word they said. These were to be sold at auction soon, but Sherman’s army put a stop to the sale and many of them went with us on the march.
When the army arrived at Savannah, it was said that 12,000 darkies, who had left their masters, were with our corps. These were sent to the government rice fields at Beaufort, South Carolina. We marched along a pike between Milledgeville and Savannah. The mile posts had strokes or niches cut in the posts side by side so the darkies could tell how many miles they had traveled.
Every regiment was supposed to send out 50 men each to do the foraging (remember, not stealing but foraging) for the balance of the marching column. This had to be done under a competent officer. The camping place for the night was made known to the officer before starting on this very risky business, and many were captured by the enemy. The rebel cavalry were close by us all the while, in the advance of us and in the rear.
We had to have a rear guard with several pieces of artillery and in this manner they would follow us until we encamped for the night. We were all cautioned not to wander away from our commands as many stragglers were picked up by the enemy and never heard from again. Company G lost none and none were sick on this entire march of 287 miles.
The foragers would bring in turkeys, geese, chickens, and everything that was good to eat and plenty of it. Nearly every one of us had a live rooster strapped upon his back, and of all the rooster fights! As soon as we halted a few moments the roosters would have to come down from their perches (the knapsacks) and fight. As soon as the bugles sounded the forward the game cocks were gathered up and placed upon the knapsacks again, when it was amusing to see them flap their wings and crow, for they seemed to enjoy it as well as we did.
On the march Captain Watson, of the 66th Ohio regiment, also a brigade staff officer, stopped at a small house along the road and upon entering found two men of the 5th Ohio regiment standing beside a bed upon which lay a sick old man. Beside the bed was a small table upon which was his medicine. These two inhuman wretches had nearly filled a tumbler with the different medicines, and were trying to force the poor sick man to take it. Just then the Captain came upon them and placed them under arrest. The writer with a guard took them in charge and reported to General Geary, when we encamped in the evening. What was done with them I don’t know. The captain said: “If I ever find anything as cruel as that again I will shoot the parties committing the outrage.”
Some distance below Millegeville we struck the low and sandy part of Georgia. This part of the country has many swamps. These had to be waded or pontooned, and oftentimes we had to cross after night. We were right in the heart of the pine forest. Pine knots were gathered and fastened on a stick and set on fire. These gave us light in crossing and made it a first class torch light procession. In many places the roads were very bad, it required corduroying. This was done by cutting sapplings and getting fence rails and throwing them across the road, without any ground thrown on. Then the “Git up” of the drivers and the teams passed over.