CHAPTER XXXIX

CONCLUSION

THE fiendish and heartless conduct of a large number of the people of the South towards Union men during the war, and especially the unlady-like demeanor of rebel women at New Orleans and other points, is a matter that has passed into history. In few places were the women more abusive to those of Union proclivities than the female portion of the inhabitants of Greenville, Alabama. While passing through this town, on her return from Andersonville to New Orleans, Clotelle had to encounter the fierce ill-treatment of these chivalrous daughters of the South. There were, during the rebellion, many brave and generous women, who, in the mountains and lowlands of Alabama, gave aid to Federals,--soldiers and civilians,-- in their wanderings and escape from the cruelties of the traitors. One of these patriotic women was arrested while on a visit to Greenville for the purpose of procuring medicine and other necessaries for sick Union men then hid away in the woods. This large-hearted woman--Eunice Hastings--had her horse taken from her, robbed of the goods she had purchased, and, after experiencing almost death at the hands of the rebel women, was released and turned out penniless, and without the means of reaching her home in the country; when Clotelle, who had just arrived at the dilapidated and poorly kept hotel, met her, and, learning the particulars of her case, offered assistance to the injured woman, which brought down upon her own head the condemnation of the secesh population of the place. However, Clotelle purchased a fine horse from the landlord, gave it to Miss Hastings, who, after securing some articles for which she had come to Greenville, left town under cover of night, and escaped further molestation. This act of kindness to a helpless sister at once stirred up the vilest feelings of the people.

"The worst of slaves is he whom passion rules."

As has already been said, there was nothing in the appearance of Clotelle to indicate that a drop of African blood coursed through her veins, except, perhaps, the slight wave in the hair, and the scarcely perceptible brunettish tinge upon the countenance. She passed as a rebel lady; yet the inhabitants of Greenville could not permit sympathy with, and aid to, a Union woman to pass unnoticed, and therefore resolved on revenge.

"Revenge, at first though sweet, Bitter ere long, back on itself recoils."

Clotelle's person, trunks, and letters were all searched with the hope and expectation of finding evidences of a spy. Nothing of the kind being found, she was then rigorously interrogated as to her sympathies with the two contending armies. With no wish whatever to conceal her opinions, she openly avowed that she was a Union woman. This was enough. After being persecuted during the day, she was put in charge of a committee of rebel women for the night, with a promise of more violent treatment on the morrow. The loyalty of the negroes of the South, during the severest hours of the rebellion, reflects the greatest possible credit on the race. Through their assistance, hundreds of Union men were enabled to make their escape from prisons, and thousands kept from starvation when on their way to the Federal lines, or while keeping out of the way of rebel recruiting gangs. They seldom, if ever, hesitated to do the white Unionists a service, at the risk even of life, and, under the most trying circumstances, revealed a devotion and a spirit of self-sacrifice that were heroic. No one ever made an appeal to them they did not answer. They were degraded and ignorant, which was attributable to the cruel laws and equally unchristian practices of the people of the South; but their hearts were always open, and the slightest demand upon their sympathies brought forth their tears. They never shunned a man or woman who sought food or shelter on their way to freedom. The goodness of heart and the guileless spirit of the blacks was not better understood by any one than Clotelle; and she felt a secret joy at seeing all the servants in the Greenville hotel negroes. She saw from their very looks that she had their undivided sympathies. One of the servants overheard the rebels in a conversation, in which it was determined to send Clotelle to the county town, for safe keeping in the jail, the following day; and this fact was communicated to the unfortunate woman. The slave woman who gave the information told her that she could escape if she desired.

Having already been robbed of every thing except the apparel upon her person and some money she had concealed about her, she at once signified to the black woman her wish to get out of the reach of her persecutors. The old worn-out clock in the narrow dining hall had struck one; a cold rain was patting upon the roof, and the women watchers, one after another, had fallen asleep; and even the snuff-dippers, whose dirty practice creates a nervousness that keeps them awake longer than any other class, had yielded to the demands of Morpheus, when Aggy, the colored servant, stealthily entered the room, beckoned to Clotelle, and both left in silence.

Cautiously and softly the black woman led the way, followed by the "Angel of Mercy," till, after passing down through the cellar with the water covering the floor, they emerged into the back yard. Two horses had been provided. Clotelle mounted one, and a black man the other; the latter leading the way. Both dashed off at a rapid pace, through a drenching storm, with such a pall-like darkness that they could not see each other. After an hour's ride the negro halted, and informed Clotelle that he must leave her, and return with the horses, but that she was with friends. He then gave a whistle, and for a moment held his breath. Just as the faithful black was about to repeat the signal, he heard the response; and in a moment the lady alighted, and with dripping garments, limbs chilled to numbness, followed her new guide to a place of concealment, near the village of Taitsville.

"You is jes as wet as a drownded rat," said the mulatto woman, who met Clotelle as she entered the negro's cabin.

"Yes," replied the latter, "this is a stormy night for one to be out."

"Yes mam, dese is hard times for eberybody dat 'bleves in de Union. I 'spose deys cotched your husband, an' put him in de army, ain't dey?"

"No: my husband died at Port Hudson, fighting for the Union," said Clotelle.

"Oh, mam, dats de place whar de black people fight de rebels so, wasn't it?" remarked Dinah, for such was her name.

"Yes, that was the place," replied the former.

"I see that your husband has lost one of his hands: did he lose it in the war?"

"Oh no, missus," said Dinah. "When dey was taken all de men, black an white, to put in de army, dey cotched my ole man too, and took him long wid 'em. So you see, he said he'd die afore he'd shoot at de Yanks. So you see, missus, Jimmy jes took and lay his left han' on a log, and chop it off wid de hatchet. Den, you see, dey let him go, an' he come home. You see, missus, my Jimmy is a free man: he was born free, an' he bought me, an' pay fifteen hundred dollars for me."

It was true that Jim had purchased his wife; nor had he forgotten the fact, as was shown a day or two after, while in conversation with her. The woman, like many of her sex, was an inveterate scold, and Jim had but one way to govern her tongue. "Shet your mouf, madam, an' hole your tongue," said Jim, after his wife had scolded and sputtered away for some minutes. "Shet your mouf dis minit, I say: you shan't stan' dar, an' talk ter me in dat way. I bought you, an' paid my money fer you, an" I ain't a gwine ter let you sase me in dat way. Shet your mouf dis minit: ef you don't I'll sell you; 'fore God I will. Shet up, I say, or I'll sell you." This had the desired effect, and settled Dinah for the day.

After a week spent in this place of concealment, Jim conveyed Clotelle to Leaksville, Mississippi, through the Federal lines, and from thence she proceeded to New Orleans.

The Rebellion was now drawing to a close. The valley of the Mississippi was in full possession of the Federal government. Sherman was on his raid, and Grant was hemming in Lee. Everywhere the condition of the freedmen attracted the attention of the friends of humanity, and no one felt more keenly their wants than Clotelle; and to their education and welfare she resolved to devote the remainder of her life, and for this purpose went to the State of Mississippi, and opened a school for the freedmen; hired teachers, paying them out of her own purse. In the summer of 1866, the Poplar Farm, on which she had once lived as a slave, was confiscated and sold by Government authority, and was purchased by Clotelle, upon which she established a Freedmen's School, and where at this writing,-- now June, 1867,--resides the "Angel of Mercy."


BACK