In 1865, Youth’s Companion printed a series of articles by abolitionist James Redpath, who contributed several pieces from 1865 to 1867. In “Eye and Ear Notes,” he offered readers of the Companion descriptions of Southern incidents before and just after the War: everything from a slave auction to a patriotic May-day celebration. The pieces are surprisingly gritty and often have a raw power.
“Eye and Ear Notes: A Peep Into Slave Life,” by “Uncle James” [James Redpath] (from The Youth’s Companion, August 31, 1865; p. 140)

I was in Atlanta about two weeks shortly after Gen. Sherman captured it. The house I lived in was within the range of our artillery during that memorable siege. There were two hundred and ninety-three marks of shot and shells outside and inside of this dwelling. None of these marks was smaller than a hen’s egg, and through one of them you could have driven a horse and cart. When a shell struck a building before exploding, it went through the outer wall, then through the partition walls, and occasionally right through the whole house, making the hugest rents wherever it hit. They generally, however, exploded inside; and then made terrible havoc. Every room save one in our house had from twelve to twenty marks of the shells.

But I will not stop to describe this house, as I wish to describe what I saw and heard in the negro hut, or kitchen, which was built in the yard.

The shells had hit the negro quarters, too. there were eight marks of them inside. But an old slave mother had lived in it all the time, and had been preserved from all harm.

One day I had written out for friends at home the story of George Ford, a private soldier, who had just escaped from Andersonville, in Georgia, one of the places where our prisoners were so cruelly treated and starved, and sometimes murdered by the rebels. I will copy the close of that letter:

“As I finished this sad tale, I looked out of the window. A wagon load of unpainted pine coffins was passing by, for our brothers, the victims of slavery and its rebellion. I was thirsty, and went into the negro house in the back yard for a gourd to drink with.

“There is an old negress sitting there now, sewing in her kitchen. I asked her a few days ago if her mistress had ever whipped her.

“ ‘No,’ she said, proudly, ‘I never would allow any woman to whip me. It had to be a man!

“ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘did your master ever whip you?’

“ ‘O, yes,’ she said, ‘lots of times; las’ time he stripped me naked and whipped me with a whip till the blood ran down my back. I never done no work for tree [sic] weeks after.’

“I went out again, just now, to be absolutely sure that my memory had not betrayed the facts in the slightest degree. I find that it did not err, but I learned, also, that when the whipping took place she had given birth to fourteen children—all of them then the property of the master who had so cruelly lashed her.

“I told her that I was writing about it, and wanted to have her master’s name.

“ ‘It’s Jeff. Stevens—same ole man that I belongs to,’ said an athletic black woman, who had come in since my last call; ‘and if you’s writing, I’ll show you, God’s truth, something else to write on. Here—’

“She began rolling up her sleeve.

“ ‘Here, I’se a woman that’s been prayin’ for thirty-nine years.’

“ ‘What for?’ I asked her. ‘For the Yankees to come down and free you?’

“ [‘]No, sah!’ she rejoined, excitedly, as she kept jerking up her tight-fitting sleeve. [‘]I never knows nuthin’ ’bout you’s Yankees then; I prays for God to forgive my sins, and thar’s what the ole man did to keep me from prayin’.’

“She showed a mark about the size of half a dollar on her arm, above the elbow, which bore the appearance of a deep burn.

“ ‘What did that?’ I asked her.

“ ‘He tuk the handle of a whip,’ she said, ‘an’ opened it, and put two pound of lead in it, to make it heavier, and tied it up agin, and then struck me wid it on the head and thar. He broke open my head, and the ile (oil) ran out that ere arm for weeks, ’case I wouldn’t give over prayin’.’

“No one who heard this woman tell her story would doubt its truth. Every feature testified to her earnest sincerity.

“The old woman had tried to get me to go down to Decatur, in this State, to take away one of her daughters from old Mrs. Stevens, whom I found to be a helpmate worthy of her brutal husband, Jeff.

“ ‘You see, sah,’ the old slave-mother said to me, ‘Missis says de Yankees never’ll take her away, and she donno ’nuff to come ’way herself. I wouldn’t keer about her, but she’s deaf and dumb; and if I has to go Norf I wants her wid me. I couldn’t bar’ to go without her. Her missus is mighty hard on her. I seen her myself once—when I was sick—get mad at her, and take a shovelful of red-hot coals and throw them at her neck! I seed it my own self, and I had to look ’way, ’case I’s feared I mought kill her.’ ”

The North was deaf to the cries of the slave, but the God of the oppressed heard them in heaven, and sent the plague of the First Born to our nation in order that our eyes and ears might be opened, and that we might let this slave people go. Thanks be to God, we have freed them at last, and lo! the plague has been stayed in our land!

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
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