Confederate Veteran
June 1905

VIVID WAR EXPERIENCES AT RIPLEY, MISS.

[C. M. Cole, of Memphis, Tenn., sends a letter written by his mother to "Cousin Blanche" in Franklin, Tenn. It was never seen by the person to whom addressed.]

RIPLEY, MISS., November 2, 1862.

My Dear Cousin Blanche: While sitting here by the fire this quiet, calm, holy Sabbath morning (how unlike the stormy days so lately passed!) it occurred to me to redeem the promise I made in my last to mother that I would write to you next. I avail myself of the thought with some comfort, if not with gladness; for, O cousin, I have so much to tell. Just one short year ago the month of October was made a happy one to us by your and our dear motherís visit. A bitter contrast, indeed, the month just past presents. We little thought then that our quiet, isolated little town would be the theater of war, with every one of its grim horrors enacted in detail here in our midst, except an actual battle, and within the sound of hundreds of cannon. It is a long and sad story, cousin, and I close my eyes and press my bewildered head in the effort to bring back sense enough to enable me to tell it to you. You have no doubt heard and seen from the papers of our attempt upon Corinth and its miserable failure. "The half has never been told you," cousin; and it never will be told, for it would take every drop of the blood that has been poured out like water and a page as broad as the blue sky itself to write and contain a true history of the wrongs endured by this unhappy people. I can tell only what we have seen and suffered. I wrote mother a long letter, or sort of journal, giving some account of our experiences the past summer. Though bad enough, it was as but a tame preface to what has followed; and to relieve myself, at the risk of boring you with a long, stupid letter, I must tell you the whole story. The unhappy events of the last five weeks have so burned into my heart and brain that it will be a relief to tell somebody. I can yet thank God, though peace and liberty are no longer ours, we yet possess our lives and usual health.

First, to begin with, you must know that on the 28th of September Van Dornís and Priceís armies met here, "forming a junction" to march on Corinth with the intention of driving the enemy from their stronghold. Their armies, some twenty-five or thirty thousand, lay encamped in and around Ripley two days, sweeping everything that was to eat, that could be bought for love or money. Cornfields and cribs, potato patches and gardens, meat houses and pantries suffered to the last point of endurance. (We little thought that worse was in store for us.) You who live in a rich country, overflowing with the necessaries and comforts of life, can form but little idea of the evils attending the march of a large army through a poor country, though that army be our friends. They left many of their sick here in hospital (Mrs. Sandfordís house, between ours and Mr. Davisís, you know). Some of them were sad cases, over whom I shed the heartiest tears of sympathy that I ever shed in my life. They commenced fighting at Corinth on Friday, I think, and on Saturday harassing rumors began to reach us of the repulse of our army, and on Sunday nearly all day long the heavy boom of countless cannon reached our ears and aching hearts, keeping us in the most painful suspense, yet hoping that all was not lost, as they were still fighting. But Sunday night brought the fearful certainty of our defeat, when we were awakened at one oíclock with the heavy tread of cavalry and baggage wagons on their retreat, and by morning the town was full of soldiers, some wounded, all famished and begging for something to eat, if but a piece of bread, and alas! all retreating before the pursuing enemy.

Cousin, this was terrible, and my heart was nearly breaking, but it had not come to the worst yet. All that miserable morning we were cooking to feed famishing men, when some officers of Van Dornís staff arrived. (I forgot to tell you in the right place that Van Dorn and staff made our house their headquarters when on their way up to Corinth, and resumed their old quarters on their return.) And one of the officers advised papa to move his family from town, as it was probable that Van Dorn would make a stand here and give the pursuing enemy a fight. This alarm spread, and now began a scene of terror and confusion indescribable. Many fled from town, I and niy children and eight of our negroes hurriedly packing what valuables we could get into our one wagon and buggy. Some of us riding, most of us walking, we bid a tearful and despairing adieu to our dear home.

O cousin, can you for a moment picture to yourself my feelings when I turned to take "a last, fond look," as I then thought, at the sweet home on which we had lavished so much of all that love of comfort could crave (that a limited purse would allow), thinking but to return and find it in ashes or at least sacked and gutted by a brutal enemy? I looked back again and again, but could not see my poor, deserted home for the blinding tears; and, to add to my distress, Sister Martha and family were undecided about leaving. and I left them harassed with suspense as to their fate. I left papa and Willie to follow at last, when all hope was gone; also to "do the honors" to Gen. Van Dorn and staff, who arrived shortly after I left. I also left Mary and George (two of the servants, you know) for the same purpose, who were to fly, too, at the last moment for safety.

Van Dorn gave papa to understand that he would not make a stand here, that there was but little danger of a fight in our immediate vicinity, and advised him to send for me to come home, as it was far better for me to be here. So he sent Willie in the night out to Mrs. Embreyís, where had taken refuge, to tell me to come home, which I did early Tuesday morning; and well, indeed, it was for our dear home that I did. When I got within a mile of town, my heart sank when I saw the Yankee pickets, and I exclaimed to Bettie: "God help us; all is lost." We got home in safety. Not so Willie and Charlie, who were two or three hundred yards behind. The ruffians (the road was lined with them out to where the pickets were) halted Willie and made him take off his new boots and hat and sent the poor boy home almost crying in his helpless rage, bootless and hatless.

The Yankees had got in town about midnight, close on the heels of our retreating army; in fact, but three or four hours behind them.. Well, indeed, it was for us, as I said before, that I got home as soon as I did; for not more than fifteen minutes after some of the ruffians entered the house, and, on seeing me, they turned short and went out saying: "This is not the place we thought it." They evidently came to pillage. They pretend that they are allowed to pillage only houses deserted by the family. We soon found out the difference between a tired and famished friendly army and a tired, famished, infuriated foe. The ruffians came into the kitchen, demanding with frightful oaths that we should cook for them : and cook for them we did, until Mary and I were both "broke down" and could do no more, threats and oaths notwithstanding. Cousin, I know I shall be swelling my letter to an almost unpardonable length when I tell you of the trials and indignities that we were subjected to during five miserable days that we were held in "durance vile" by the enemy. But tell it I must, and I claim your sympathy and forbearance. Did you ever read Coleridgeís "Ancient Mariner?" I, like him, would stop a "wedding guest" and compel him to listen to my story.

I now come to a part of my story, cousin, so horrible that my fainting heart almost stands still when I recall it. Our retreating army left here in hospitals large numbers of wounded (I do not recall how many) without medical attention or provisions and but few nurses. The care of the poor fellows fell heavily on the few in the distracted state of the town, Sister Martha and myself principally, we being the nearest. We did the best we could for them, sent them clothes and bedclothes and cooked for them, hut the Yankee ruffians would often snatch it from the stove before it was done.

I seized a moment one day when none of the ruffians were in my house or yard and ran down to the hospital to see if I could not do something for the poor fellows, and O, my God, may I never more behold such a sight! The two rooms were crowded; the bare, hard, blood-stained floor was so nearly covered that I could scarcely pass between their miserable pallets. A few were on cots. Here lay a poor fellow shot through the lungs, every breath he drew almost a death pang, there a poor little smooth-faced, curly-haired boy only seventeen years old, with his knee and arm shattered, moaning piteously; some with their arms just cut off, some with their legs off, others wounded in every imaginable part. I spoke a few trembling, horrified words to sonic I passed, until I came to a poor boy shot through the bowels, who was in his last agonies, and giving vent to his dying thoughts in broken words and moans, and none to listen to him. I could brave it no longer, my womanís heart failed me, and I sank on the blood-begrimed floor by his side, crying fit to kill myself, offering such words of sympathy, comfort, and consolations as rose to my lips irons my full heart. O, I thank God that he at least was "willing and ready to die, trusting and believing in Godís mercy," and glad to give his life to "such a glorious cause." These were his trembling, broken, dying words.

Some of the poor fellows entreated me to take them to my house, which we did as soon as our Yankee masters would allow us, as they had to be paroled before they could be re moved. We took three with their nurses, making five-one sick and two wounded. Two got well enough to leave in a week or ten days; the other, badly wounded in the shoulder, lingered three weeks after he was wounded, and died at last, poor fellow, leaving a family of ten children near Florence, Ala.

The citizens that remained in town took the poor fellows from the hospital as fast as possible, until nearly every house is now a "private hospital." Many died at the hospital. I saw five poor fellows taken out at one time on a litter to be buried in one grave, unshrouded and uncoffined, and scarcely even a "martial cloak around them," unless their poor, soiled blankets be called such. I was seized with another fit of crying at the dismal sight, for which I was laughed at by a squad of Yankee brutes that were standing at my gate. Several have died in private houses, some have left for their homes, others will die or linger out a maimed, miserable existence. Of all the sad phases of war, this is the most horrible I know; yet others approach it so neatly in horror that it is hard for such sufferers as we have been to decide.

I have heard of some things even worse than wounds and death. And now, cousin, while the memory is still fresh and my very pen burns to write it, listen to me while I tell you of some of the wrongs and indignities heaped upon this little rebellious town by our enemies. They broke open every store in town, of course, ruining and destroying what they did not take of!. The square was strewn with goods; even the fence around the courthouse was festooned with rnuslins and tarla tans. They robbed the meat houses and pantries, leaving sonic families without a mouthful to eat. They took all the corn and fodder, took every horse worth the taking, shot down our cows and hogs wherever they found them, leaving them to rot and fill the atmosphere, already polluted with their hateful breath. ĎWorse than all, they entered houses and addressed coarse and indecent language to women (thank God! I did not suffer this), and in two well-known cases offered worse insult still. Are wounds and death worse? They completely gutted houses that had been left by families too timid to stay.

I will give you Mr. Huntís (Ellen Roganís father, you know) as an example. They broke up the furniture, took off every article of bed clothing, clothes, and goods, cut open the beds, scattering the feathers, broke up the china and table ware, ruined the piano and sewing machine, heaped unmentionable filth on the bureaus and mantels, poured lard and messed it all over the floor, and did everything else that their diabolical ingenuity could invent. They treated some families in the country that were at home just as badly. I will give Judge Roganís as another example. They took everything they had in the world to eat and wear--bedclothes and goods that the family had laid up--and they went two days without anything to eat, and afraid to go out after it. His two daughters spent one night in the woods, fearing for their lives and for their honor. The Yankees took off three or four hundred negroes from the town and vicinity. Scarcely an owner but lost some. Many had been sent off down South the day before the Yankees got in. "Our loss" in that respect was our gain, for every soul on the place was sincerely rejoiced when old Nelse (our "boss" negro, you know) took his departure for Yankeedom. Mr. Davis lost none, having sent off those he suspected of being unfaithful.

The last night of their stay in this place was the climax of our miseries. I havenít words to express the horror of that night. ĎWe suspected late in the evening that we were to have a bad night of it, from the conduct of some of the brutes, and papa and I concluded not to go to bed and to keep lights burning, determined that we would not be "caught napping" when our fate came, whatever it was. The first "warning note" came about eleven oíclock, when it was presumed, I suppose, that innocence and helplessness ought to be asleep. A womanís screams smote upon our ears, scream after scream for ten minutes at least (it seemed an age to me), then all was still. We knew not whether help had come to the poor sufferer or that some dread crime had been committed and the victim silenced. Midnight passed and all was yet still, and hope began to whisper that villainy was satiated, and that we, Sister Martha, and her helpless daughters would escape. Not yet. Again the despairing shrieks of a woman and her children reached us from another part of town, and again and again during that long, long night these screams were heard. O, my God! were they all brutes that their officers would not or could not prevent these out rages? A nameless dread seized me, and I shook and shivered with an ague. Our glowing fire could not warm me. O, cousin, can you imagine how frightful all this was? for I am utterly unable to tell it.

Well, our turn came at last, and papa had made up his mind to submit quietly, if possible. The ruffians knocked at the door (or rather "lumbered") and demanded admittance. Papa opened the door and asked to know their business. One raised his pistol and ordered him to stand, while the others proceeded to sack the house; but we were pretty well pre pared for them, and they found but little to reward their pains. After rummaging and pulling out the contents of every trunk, drawer, box, and satchel, one of them placed his pistol against papaís breast and demanded his purse and watch. Papa meekly "forked" his purse over, with twenty-five or thirty dollars in Confederate bills (he had stocked it for them, and was afraid to offer less), and politely informed them that he had no watch; hadnít worn one in ten years. They annihilated him with curses and threats, and demanded to know if that was all his money, what he had done with it, and if there was not a gold watch in the house. Then my poor, dear, good, honest papa told the first untruth I ever heard him utter.

Fifty dollars would cover our losses on that night, and glad, indeed, was I to escape so lightly. But no money could hire me to undergo such another night of fear and dread. When they left, I went to the door and listened anxiously for the alarm from Sister Martha, for I knew she was alone am-nd had been kept in such nervous terror for the last five clays and nights; but I could i-not hear her, and in a few minutes she sent one of the negroes for Willie and one of our soldiers we had here (one of our hospital nurses) to come and stay with her until morning. The ruffians had been there and tried to break in, rousing her from sleep, but she screamed so and got the servants all up that tine rascals thought it bet ter to let her alone. Poor Sister Martha, she too, like me, had feared the worst. I should not have suffered so that night had I known that mere robbery was all that I had to fear; but I had seen and heard so much of their lawless deeds and worse threats that we knew not what to fear.

Cousin, I could fill a dozen pages with my own individual wrongs and indignities, and I long to do so, but I fear you are long since worn out with my loquacity. We suffered enough, you may be sure, but not so much as many of our friends and neighbors. In a property point of view papa lays his damages at nearly four thousand dollars, but I fear this is but a "first installment." It nearly kills me to have to endure the coarse, bullying ruffians stalking into my house, making all sorts of demands with oaths and threats, not but that I have the courage to answer them sometimes as they should be, as I could give you some amusing instances. This got to be so unbearable one day that I went to old Rose crans himself to implore (?) his protection, and I tell you I made a most moving appeal; but he is an old ruffian him self, and I shall never waste any more of my "eloquence" on such. He answered my demands promptly enough for the time by sending a guard who went straight off again as soon as they had cleared our premises. He also answered me politely enough, as much so as he could answer a Rebel; but I listened to him talk (not to me for a quarter of an hour. and I "set him down" as an uncivilized old Hessian, as he really is. Enough of him.

December 28, 1862.

Nearly two months ago, my dear cousin, I laid downs this long letter, thinking I would reserve this sheet to tell you how we were doing up to this time I should meet with an opportunity of sending it to you. None has yet offered, and the "spirit moves" me to continue my story to the present.

The Yankees still continue to dash in, capturing citizens, straggling soldiers, horses and mules, and, what is worse, the scanty supply of provisions that we got with so much difficulty. Several weeks ago the notorious Col. Lee and his jayhawkers came down upon us in the "dead of night," surrounding every house, creeping stealthily around and peeping in at the windows. I could not but think of the stories of the early settlers and their Indian foes. They made a clean sweep of citizens, horses, and mules that time, took our last remaining horses (and i-not a horse in towns to go to mill on), and took all our flour, meal, and meat, except enough to last two days. The most of our meat was hid where they couldnít find it (hush). They took ten bushels of potatoes that we had just bought. It is not worth while to get provisions of any kind, and we donít keep much, you may believe.

You will have heard before reading this how Van Dorn, with three or four thousand cavalry, dashed into Holly Springs about a week ago, capturing eighteen hundred Yankees. He burned up three million dollarsí worth of arms, stores, clothing, blankets, etc., after supplying his men with boots, blankets, blue coats and pants, and fine arms. We heard the explosion of the magazine here, shaking the houses and rattling the windows over forty miles off. It was a good blow, well laid on; but alas! we have had to suffer part of the penalty. Van Dorn, after burning bridges, tearing up the road, destroying stores, etc., returned through our devoted town on his way back to the main army. It was no retreat, for he had accomplished what he was sent to do; but close on his heels came the Yankee bloodhounds, wreaking vengeance on our devoted heads, innocent and unresisting women and children being the sufferers from their cowardly hands. They of course bring no supplies when on these raids. They boastingly state in their correspondence with the Northern papers that they "subsist on the enemy," but donít tell that they take the bread from women and children (for the men are long since gone), and also the only means to make more-- the horses, stock, and negroes. They, as usual, took our scanty supply of food and made us cook it, Christmas Day as it was. They came and demanded quilts and comforts. I told them I had none that I could spare. They answered insolently: "It makes no difference about that; go and get them too." I almost cried that I had to give my nice comforts to such swine, and I had none but nice ones. The officer with this party told papa that he had understood there was not a Union man in town. Papa told him: "Not one that I know of."

Do you not wonder that they have never arrested papa? If in time past my ambitious heart was troubled that he did not aspire to high position and influence, I now at least have my compensation. He "pursues the even tensor of his way," and commands the respect of even his enemies, demons as they are, by his rare truth and honesty. But the storms of the last twelve months have not left him unscathed. He has been sick in body, as in mind, all summer. He is old, gray, bent, and disheartened. Poor papa, he shares the universal dilapidation that has settled on everything that meets the eye--deserted houses, broken windows, burnt fences; and occasionally a seedy, half-famished, frightened human being threading his way through the ruins completes the picture of desolaton. A sad one, cousin, but "oíer true"

I try to think sometimes that we have not suffered more than other border towns, but as far as we can hear or know no other place has suffered so much. Perhaps they mean to make an example of us by stamping out with booted heel and bayonet the fires of patriotism that burn so "sturdily" in this rebellious little town. But they will have to take Herodís plan and strangle the very children in the cradles first. That they are fast coming to. They already need only the torch and tomahawk to put their cruel warfare on a level with that of the savage Indians.

Well, cousin, here I am at the end of my third or fourth sheet--I donít know which-- and I have filled them all with one subject. Indeed, thereís little else to tell of, surely little that is good, though I donít mean to be ungrateful. We are alive, we are well, God is above us, the sun yet shines, hope is yet within us and trust in God, and our cause has not deserted us. We have a little store, too, stowed away in dark corners and holes, like the squirrels (even which God does not for get), to keep the wolf hunger from our door. We have too what so many in this wretched country have not--warm, comfortable clothes for ourselves and children. Neither do we have the misery of seeing those near and dear to us suffer, for Sister Martha and her children are alike well supplied. Ought we not to be grateful? I am grateful, He knows. But surely we have suffered enough.

Dear cousin, this letter is shamefully long, I know; but if you never read it in the world, one of my objects at least will be accomplished. I have lightened my heavy heart by pouring out the story of our wrongs. Somebody will read it and give me my "meed" of sympathy, and who more heartily than my warm-hearted, noble-minded little cousin?

Contributed by Joe Mercer


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