Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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Through Some Eventful Years

May 15, 2016

Through Some Eventful Years by Susan Bradford Eppes

May 15th, 1866.—We did not stay as long as we expected and Sister Mart came home with us. Night before last we were sitting in the parlor and Captain Houstoun was sitting outside, on the porch talking to the doctor, who attends the plantation. The Captain has a low voice but the doctor has a loud, rasping voice, which carries far. We could not avoid hearing him if we had wished to do so.

“Yes, Captain,” he said, “this case is the worst case of confluent small-pox I ever saw in my life. You can hardly tell he is a human being; he is just a mass of corruption.”

When Captain Houstoun returned to the room I asked where this case of small-pox was? He made light of it and called the doctor “a calamity howler,” but before I slept I had looked up Fannie, Sister Mart’s black mammy, and found out from her that the sick negro was in a cabin very near the house in which we were staying.

That was enough. No rest for the Captain until he made arrangements for us to leave the next morning. Bright and early we went to Gainesville, where we waited for the train to take us home.

Last spring a battle was fought in the streets of Gainesville between General Dickinson’s men and the Yankees. The doors and windows of the dwellings are still full of holes from the musket balls and splintered wood-work showed where the artillery had showered shot and shell. The citizens showed us where the branches had been cut from the trees by these same balls. The hotel where we waited had been the centre of the attack and was sadly in need of repairs, both to wood-work and glass.

Leaving Gainesville behind us, we gladly welcomed the “iron horse” which would take us back to Tallahassee. There was a stop at every little station and at one of these a stout young man in farmer’s clothes almost lifted into the car, a feeble old woman. She was dressed in black calico, with a bonnet of the same, and she was weeping bitterly.

As the man turned away, after kissing her goodbye, he said, “He’ll meet you at the depot, Mother, I writ him you was comin’.”

Again we were on our way, the poor old woman continued to sob. When lunch time came, I fixed as tempting a lunch as I could and, pouring a glass of port wine, I took it to the end of the car, where she was sitting and asked if she would not have some dinner?

Her poor old face was red and swollen and her voice trembled as she said, “Thank you, but I don’t feel like I ever want enything to eat no more.”

Are you sick ? I asked.

“No, I ain’t sick in the body, it’s my heart is sick,” she replied.

“Try to eat just a little bite,” I begged, “and drink this wine, it is not strong and it will do you good.”

“Jis to please you chile,” she said, but appetite was lacking and her efforts to eat were soon over. “Suppose you tell me what is troubling you, maybe I can help,” said I.

“No, no,” she sobbed. “You nur nobody can help, they is hanged my baby, my dear baby, what never done nothing to nobody.”

I was shocked beyond measure and my first thought was that I had found a lunatic, but her next words told the whole dreadful story.

“Chile, ain’t you read the papers ?” she cried. “Don’t You know how them devils hung poor Mrs. Surratt and my boy, my baby boy? The papers call him Lewis Payne, but that warn’t his name, he tuken that name so he couldn’t be caught up with. When Conscription fust come and my oldest son went in the army and wore the gray clothes, I mourned and cried but pretty soon he deserted and after he hid around a while, he went to the Union men and he tole ’em he couldn’t noways fight but he would work for them if he could get a safe place. Them men sent him up North somewhere and he done pretty well.

“All this time my baby boy was growing bigger and bigger and I knowed soon the conscriptors would be a takin’ him, so I writ a letter to the Yankee general an’ tole him he could have my baby son if he would let him work in a shop. Soon some of the blue-coats come and got him an’ they said I must remember his name was Lewis Payne and his home would be Washington City and he hadn’t ever been in Florida. I promised all this and I was so satisfied because I had kept him out of the Confederate Army. I thought it was such a smart thing to do, and now, they have killed my chile—they hung him with a rope. They said he had plotted to murder President Lincoln. My baby chile, who never had the heart to hurt nothing.”

I found myself crying with this poor mother, she was old and ignorant, she had tried to cheat her country and this was her reward.

The train slowed up, another man closely resembling the first, boarded the train. He took the weeping woman in his arms, kissing her wrinkled face and murmuring words of comfort, but is there any comfort for such self-reproach as hers ? I will probably never see her again but I shall not forget.

I did not write of these happenings in my diary because it was heart-rending and such a blot on the history of any country. Some day when reason resumes her sway, even the perpetrators of these cruel and useless murders will blush with shame for their own ignominy. The reckoning will not come here on this earth, but what will be the verdict when they stand before the bar of God? I am sorry I saw this broken woman but I wish I could remember the real name of her murdered son. She told me but I cannot recall it. All the way home I thought of her and I am debating whether to tell Father and Mother of her or not. It has made me feel dreadfully. I wept, for Anna Surratt was refused even the scant comfort of bidding her mother goodbye.

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