In the fall of 1861, my husband, Capt. W H Cleaver, raised a company of cavalry in Homer, Angelina county, Tex. He was in Riley's regiment, Sibley's brigade, and went from Homer to San Antonio, and from there he went on that ill-fated expedition to New Mexico. He never returned from New Mexico. For many long years of anxiety and suspense--many long years of alternate hope and doubt--I watched for his return and listened for some tidings of him, but it was all in vain. I heard he was killed by Mexicans, July 1, 1862, while crossing the Rio Grande. His horse was shot from under him and fell. He fought bravely for his life, standing in the river, until he fell to rise no more.
After my husband's departure from Homer I remained a week or so in Texas, and then returned by private conveyance to my old home in Arkansas, where lived my widowed mother, one sister and two little brothers. My two older brothers joined the army in the beginning of the war, and the third brother, a mere boy, went a little later. My mother, Mrs. Newport Bragg, lived four miles west of Camden, and as a soldiers belonging to both the Confederate and Federal armies were stationed in Camden at different time during the war, we were in the lines of first one army and then the other. When our boys were in possession of Camden it was a gay town, filled with officers, their wives and daughters. So many brave and gallant soldiers with their gray uniforms, the bands playing "Dixie," and "The Bonny Blue Flag," and our loved flag displayed all over the town. Gens. Price and Marmaduke were here. Shelby and his brigade, and many others that I cannot now recall.
We suffered many hardships and privations, but it was all done very cheerfully. Provisions were very scarce, and it was hard to feed our families and our servants, but we always had enough to give to a Confederate soldier. No one who "wore the gray" was ever sent away hungry from my mother's door.
We had no coffee (real coffee, I mean), so had to use various substitutes, such as sweet potatoes, cut, dried and then parched, burnt molasses, parched meal and rye, etc. Our soldiers, who were camped near us for some time, were so good to my mother, who missed her coffee more than the rest of us, that they often saved their entire rations of coffee instead of drinking it themselves and brought it to my mother. Sometimes there would be hardly a teacup of it, tied up in the corner of a much soiled handkerchief, but it was coffee, and we were glad to get it; and after washing it well before roasting it, we enjoyed it very much.
Drugs were very scarce, and we learned to depend on home remedies. For instance, for chills we used tea made of willow bark fodder. A teaspoonful of cornmeal in a little water was taken at intervals, like we do quinine, and strange to say, that often kept off the chill. We learned to do without many things that now are a necessity, and it was cheerfully done, though sometimes the flesh would grow weary and sigh for the "fleshpots of Egypt." There was no sacrifice too great to make for our country and our boys in gray.
In '64, when Steel's army was in Camden, there was a picket fight in our yard. Our pickets were stationed a mile east of us, and had a fight with a detachment of Steele's army. Our pickets fell back into our back yard and took refuge behind the house, outbuildings and large trees. My mother and myself got behind a stack chimney in the dining room for safety, and my sister and sister-in-law, who lived with us, hid in a closet to keep from being hit by balls. A ball did come through a window in the dining room and went into the wall about eight feet from where my mother and I were standing.
While they were camped at the "Two Bayous," the Indians frequently came to our house for something to eat, and enjoyed the lye hominy and sassafras tea that we had to give them. After eating a plate piled up with the hominy, they would pass the plates back, saying "load up, load up," and we did "load up" in a hurry, for we were afraid of them. Hominy among Indians is called Tom Fuller and is a favorite Indian dish.
The feathers they had came out of our peacock fly brush. An Indian saw it one day, and demanded a feather. Of course he got it. Then another cam and still another with the same demand and so on until there was not one left. Perhaps some of the younger generation do not know what a fly brush is. Every Southern household had a brush made of the beautiful iridescent feathers of the peafowl and at meal times in warm weather, a little darky kept the flies off by gently waving it to and fro over the table.
All of our valuables were hidden out from the house and, one of our servants, my mother's foreman, assisted in concealing them. A Confederate captain said to my mother one day, "Madam, you had better send that old man back where your other servants are, for if the Yankees come he will surely betray your confidence." She had so much faith in him, that she call him to her and said, "Billy, would you betray the hiding places of my valuables to the Yankees if they come?"
He replied, "Missus, I don't know, I will have to pray over that, before I can tell you," so he was sent down on Red river where the other darkies were.
We had all of our meat hidden out in the woods in a large pen, and the meat was covered with corn, so we would not be left entirely without provisions if the Yankees came, an we flattered ourselves that it was so securely hidden, no one could ever find the pen. One day three Yankees rode up from the direction of the hidden meat and corn. One of them remained at the gate holding the horses and two came in and asked my mother if that was her provisions hidden in the woods. She thinking they were only trying to find out if she had anything concealed, replied, "no," then with an aggravated, tantalizing look one said, "Madam, if it is not yours we will send out and get it tomorrow," she said, "all right," and at the same time her face turned scarlet and the man said, "Ah, madam, you face betrays you; you are not accustomed to telling untruths," but they did not send for it, as the woods were filled with our soldiers, and they were afraid.
One day when Steele's army was in Camden and our pickets were at our house, there was a poor sick soldier in our barn who sent a friend with a piece of cloth alike on both sides to ask the ladies to make him a pair of trousers. My mother cut them and my sister-in-law and I made them, every stitch being taken with our fingers. He was in a great hurry for them, as he was not presentable, and frequently sent his friend in to hurry us up. Sister J-- took one leg and I the other to make. Finally, they were done except putting together, when we found to our dismay they were both made for the same leg. I was not so neat with my needle as my sister, so my part of the work had to be taken out and made over.
When our men were engaged in battle with Steele's army at Porson Springs we could hear the roar of cannon and small arms and see the smoke, as Porson Springs was not more than seven or eight miles distant. After the battle of Prairie d'Anne, Steele's army came to Camden; it was the 15th of April, '64, a bright, beautiful day, and we could hear the rumble of their wagons, twelve hundred in number, for miles.
After many privations and sorrows, the war closed, and our boys all came home safely. We were without a dollar, our negroes were freed, our horses and mules had either been "pressed" or confiscated. We had no hogs, no poultry except on old turkey hen that had stolen a nest in the woods and so escaped. A Confederate soldier gave us a poor, old mule, before the surrender and for safety we had it tied to a tree in the back yard, but lightning struck the tree one day and killed it, so then we were like so many of our Southern people, with only our land left. But our boys were young and hopeful, and took up the burden of life anew, and have succeeded in making a living.