Colonel Lyon’s Letters.
Bellefonte, Jackson County, Ala., June 5, 1864.— We left Stevenson yesterday morning at eight o’clock, in the midst of a very heavy rain, and reached this point, 14 miles distant, at sundown. We had several hard showers during the day, but the boys did not seem to mind it much. It rained all night, and until about nine o’clock this morning, which makes the roads very muddy; so I concluded to lay over today, especially as it is Sunday. We move at sunrise tomorrow morning, and it will take us two days to reach our destination, which is about thirty miles from here. We have 800 men and 20 teams, and make quite a little army.
The country over which we marched yesterday was tolerably level and looks not unlike our oak openings in Wisconsin, though the soil is generally thin and poor. The road was bad in places, and we were detained several times by wagons breaking down or getting stuck in the mud. We learn that the roads are better ahead, and the mud is drying rapidly this afternoon. The whole route is a desert, made so by our armies. Fences are destroyed, and nearly all the plantations are deserted. Many of the houses have been burned down, and there are no growing crops.
The Adjutant and I rode into Bellefonte last night ahead of the regiment, and such a picture of utter desolation as the place presents I have seldom seen, even in the South. The village is the county seat of Jackson county, and was once about half the size of Elkhorn, Wis. Its situation is not unlike that of Elkhorn, being built on level ground around a public square, in the center of which once stood a fine court house. This court house was burned down the day the 13th marched through here last September, and in consequence of that coincidence we were charged with burning it; but it was not so, and I indignantly denied the charge and demanded the proof. It has not been produced. At that time there were many citizens here. Now they are all or nearly all gone, and every building is nearly destroyed. This was done by General Sherman’s army last winter. The frames and roofs and brick walls are standing, but the siding has been torn off, partitions broken down, floors ripped up, and doors and windows all carried away or destroyed. The fences, too, have disappeared, and the whole site of the town, gardens, dooryards, public square, and every place except a narrow track in the center of the street, is covered with a rank growth of weeds.
When we came in a dead silence brooded over the place. There was no sign of life except two half-starved, poorly clad women, slowly making their way through the deserted streets on two lean and hungry-looking donkeys; and a solitary cow feeding upon the weeds by the roadside. It looked like a fit home for owls, and bats and serpents, and it was difficult to realize that it was ever the abode of man. Yet riding about the town we find many evidences of the taste and refinement of the former inhabitants. The ruins of what were once beautiful flower gardens are frequently met with, and blooming among noxious weeds we found roses and other flowers in great profusion, which in variety of coloring and brilliancy of tints excel anything we ever see at the North.
The people are fugitives in the South. They are all bitter Secessionists, and they are now reaping the terrible fruits of their great crime. In a frenzy of unholy passion they sought to destroy our Government, to tear down the glorious fabric of liberty, which was our common heritage, and lo, their homes are a desolation, and they and their wives and children, like Cain of old, are wanderers and vagabonds in the earth. Like Cain, too, when they think of their mansions destroyed, of the ruin that reigns where once they dwelt, of the peace and prosperity and happiness they once enjoyed, they may well exclaim, ‘Our punishment is greater than we can bear.’ And now, having indulged in a little highfalutin, ‘merely to show you,’ as Josh Billings says, ‘that I ken du it,’ I will come down to matter of fact things and inform you that the peaches are as large as butternuts, and the country is full of them. Blackberries are nearly full grown and turning red; raspberries and cherries are ripe, but scarce.
It will be several days before I can get another letter to the postoffice for you.