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: Bill Russell’s Story,” by “Uncle James” [James Redpath] (from The Youth’s Companion, October 26, 1865; p. 170)

I will tell you another of the true stories of East Tennessee that I heard from the soldiers near Atlanta.

One evening last fall, I was at the headquarters of the 5th Tennessee infantry at Marietta, Ga., writing down in short-hand notes the stories of rebel outrages that the officers and men were telling. I paused when the room became too dark for me to write well, and soon noticed, sitting on the window-sill, and looking down on the floor, half moodily (as I thought,) and then, changing his position, standing with his elbow resting on the end of the fire-board, a tall, bony, rather gaunt figure, whose sombre face seemed pale as it was lit up by the fitful, flickering flames of the wood that was burning on the hearth,—a face, thin, long, and with high cheekbones, which, by its expression of subdued and yet intensely painful sadness, had an irresistible attraction for me.

After I had heard one or two of the officers tell their experiences, the gaunt figure turned to me.

“Well, sir,” he said, “if you want to hear my story, I’ll tell it.”

He told it to me, and the next day repeated it. Word for word, as he spoke, I took down his story in stenographic notes. Here it is, in his own homely, but expressive and clear language:

“I lived in Anderson County, East Tennessee, when this rebellion came out, and my father and my brother Samuel lived in Morgan County. I have a wife and seven children, and my brother had five. Two younger brothers lived with the old man. We were all farmers. Father’s farm and brother’s were near together, and they were not a great ways from mine.

“Well, sir, we went into Kentucky, and there went into the service in 1862, in March, at Barbersville. I disremember the day. We went there, and then went with the army to Cumberland Gap. When our troops fell back from there, we went home—father, my three brothers and myself—in September, 1862.

“The rebels was in our county pretty thick, and we stayed round about home, as well as we could; concealed ourselves. We all laid out at night. My father was between fifty-five and sixty years old.

“One morning—tolerable early one morning—two of my brothers were at Sam’s house; and he cut some wood for his wife and little children, and said he was going to go back to Kentucky. He stepped out into the yard, to the little shuck pen, and tuk out some tobacco, and said that was probably the last he would get there.

“He lived at the foot of a mountain, and, after he got his breakfast, he started to go up, and his two brothers went with him. They were bound for the federal army, once more. They went about fifty yards from the house, when, on a sudden, ten or twelve rebels rose up before them, right in the bush. They had guns, and fired right off—a volley. The young boys saw the guns, before the rebels fired, and had time enough to fall to the ground, so that the balls went over them. They then rolled over quick, and got off as fast as they could. After the rebels fired, they ran off, too, so that the boys had time to escape, and conceal themselves. But my oldest brother, Samuel, did not see the rebels till they fired.

“His wife was standing out in the yard, and saw the smoke of the guns. I expect she knew what was the matter—that the rebels had shot at him. Her sister was there with her, and they both ran up to where the firing was, as quick as possible. My sister got there before Sam’s wife did, and when she got to him he was lying on the road, with his gun clasped in his hand. They were making a right smart fuss,* and a rebel ventured back again. He came pretty close by, nigh a high log, and looked over, and hollered out to them:

“ ‘Wimmin, what in the —— is the matter?’

“They told him there was enough the matter. He said nothing, and turned off.

“I was close by, and heard the guns, and I went down to the house myself, then—close by the house, I mean. I saw one of my brothers standing in the road near the house. I called to him. He came out to where I was, and told me what had happened; that I had better get away from there; that they would come back that night, he expected. About the time he spoke that, I was standing near a big tree nigh to father’s house, and I discovered the rebels coming up toward the house. They went right past father’s house, right up to brother Sam’s, which the corpse was in, and wanted to pull his uniform off.

“There was only women in the house. They told my own sister that there was more of us wounded there, and that she might just as well tell them where they were. And they said—‘You’ve got Sam’s gun—you’ve got it somewhere or other.’

“ ‘No, sir,’ she told him; ‘I havn’t got it.’ Says she, ‘I have sent it to my brothers; if you go there you’ll get it, and the contents of it, too.’

“This was in the room where the corpse was lying! One of the men stepped up to it, and put his finger on the largest bullet-hole in the body, and said,

“ ‘By ——, I shot that hole myself!’ This wound was in the left breast; but there was nine other holes in him. Sister and them had a pretty smart quarrel about getting the uniform off, but they left without doing it. She shoved one of them—one of Sam’s own cousins—out of the house, and said he should not put his hand on the body. The house was crowded full of them, rarin’ round, and cursin’ among the wimmen, all over the place.

“When mother was up there—with her son lying a corpse, there—the rebels went into her house, busted open a trunk, and took whatever they wanted—lots of little notions, that father had brought her from Kentucky.

“The captain of this band was Henry Gibson. They were all East Tennesseans—they all lived round in the same county. This happened on the 6th of October, 1862.[”]

This was not the whole of Bill Russell’s story; for, next year, his old father was murdered, also.

Do you wonder that now the loyalists of East Tennessee will not suffer a rebel to return there?

* This unusual description of intense grief I am not at all responsible for; it is from life.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
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