Many scenes and incidents of my childhood seem written in indelible letters on my brain. Of these, the civil war period has perhaps the most conspicuous place. In truth, I set out on life's voyage under rather sad though thrilling circumstances, since I sat at the feet of my father, and heard his talk to my mother and brothers of war. War! why, what did it mean? I listened breathlessly and in silence to those somewhat excited conversations, nearly every one taking part in them, having some reason to advance or solution to offer, until I slowly and laboriously grasped the thought that for some cause all the men in the entire country had fallen out, had quarreled and forthwith had taken guns and swords in their hands with which to slay one another. In this aspect the struggle appeared in my childish eyes. But ere the four weary years which intervened between 1861 and 1865 had passed, even the children in that part of Arkansas in which I lived, knew but too well the meaning of war, and became familiar, too, with its attendant sorrow, suffering, privation and death.
My father, Major Edward W. Wright, lived in 1861, in Union county, Arkansas, not far from the little village of Lisbon, and about sixteen miles from El Dorado. The adjacent country was made up of quite a goodly settlement of wealthy planters. When the war fairly opened, very nearly all the able-bodied men in it forthwith entered the Confederate army.
Thus it fell out that all that portion of Arkansas was virtually left without a man capable of bearing arms, the aged men, women and children, and the negroes, alone making up the remaining population; nor was it long before these noncombatants faced conditions which had never before existed. For the blockade cut off supplies of all kinds to a great extent, and the capture of New Orleans effectually shut out even the necessaries of life. But some time prior to this latter event, indeed I may say quite soon after the greater part of the men had gone to swell the number of Confederate soldiers, the women of Union county had shown themselves entitled to bear the honorable and worthy names of Spartan wives and mothers. The call of duty found them ready, nor were they daunted in the presence of danger.
The entire county presented a scene of remarkable activity, in which woman was the commanding figure. In the household, in the workshop, on the plantation, the hand of woman was displayed; and woman's mind directed nearly every undertaking, great or little. Perhaps on the different plantations was her work more highly appreciated and more beneficial for here with their own hands, aided of course by slaves, the women raised supplies, not only for the subsistence of their immediate households and those dependent upon them, but also for the armies of the Southland. So long as the troops were in the state, little difficulty was experienced in getting provisions and articles of clothing to them, but when the army was beyond the Mississippi, many obstacles were encountered, some of which it was found impossible to overcome.
It must not be imagined that the production of these supplies was accomplished without vast trouble, and many hardships. Yet withall there was no faltering on the part of these heroic women. What tongue or pen can portray or describe the sacrifices they made, the sufferings they endured in the dark days of 1862 and 1865? I feel inadequate to the task of attempting at best a feeble recital of their lot at that particular time, yet I shall try to record, or at least give a glimpse of some things they accomplished under circumstances that must have tried the stoutest heart, the loftiest courage.
My information was given me some years ago, nearly all of those who supplied it having long since gone to their eternal reward; and I have treasured it both for the memory which it embalms as well as its value to the future historian. From it I learn how the country comprising and surrounding the home of my childhood was almost in a day transformed from a land of opulence and luxury, a land "flowing with milk and honey," into a section where care and toil took up their abode, and where the very trees, shrubs and flowers were prized not so much for their beauty, fragrance and appearance, as for their medicinal qualities, or their power to supply, though in the slightest degree, food or raiment for human kind.
The uniforms for the first company of Confederate soldiers that left Union county were made by women who met at El Dorado, where nimble and willing fingers, though unused to that sort of work, quickly fashioned the cloth which a tailor had cut into garbs for the soldier boys. And this was only the beginning, since thenceforward this and other kinds of labor was carried forward altogether by women. Looms, tanneries, spinning wheels were kept busily employed, the most of the products thereof being sent to the army, though in various shapes and guises. A common purpose inspired all, wealth, station, rank, being forgotten in the desire to aid the Confederacy. Plants and shrubs heretofore of little value suddenly became of the greatest use. Boneset, Horehound, Mullen, each had its particular sphere at that time. But the Poppy was of the highest benefit. The seed was sown generally in the garden; when the plant reached a certain age, an incision was made in the stalk with a sharp knife, and the sap oozed out in the form of a gum, which was dried and used in lieu of opium. It was put in boxes or small packages and sent to the various hospitals. Indigo was likewise largely cultivated, and was employed in dyeing cloth. Beef tallow was held in high esteem, especially by those who like my mother, were so fortunate as to own a pair of candle molds, for a supply of candles was extremely desirable. The more general way of supplying light for the household was to take several yards of wicking, which had been spun soft, doubled and twisted, wax it and soak it in turpentine, then take a bottle, wind the wicking around it, leaving a little at the top to be lighted, and as it burnt down, pull the wicking up. Scores of women sewed by this sort of light, making clothing for the soldiers and for members of their household, and thought themselves lucky.
But the contents of the boxes which were sent from time to time to the soldiers in the field, showed more clearly the result of women's labor, and the various expedients which changed conditions had forced them to adopt. For the box contained many suits of jeans, home-made blankets usually made from carpets taken from the floors of parlors and sitting-rooms, shoes of various sizes, home-made handkerchiefs, pin cushions filled with pins and needles, sewing thread, towels, soap both to use in washing face and body, and also to put in the soldiers' socks to prevent the feet from blistering while on a long march, boxes of different kinds of salves, corn cob pipes with bits of cane for stems, sacks of red pepper for seasoning food and also to put in soldier's shoes or boots to keep his feet warm, scores of black balls made of bees-wax with which to color white thread, rice, home-grown, and husked in a mortar made from a tree whose length had been burnt into a cone-shaped hole, the pestle composed of a piece of wood with nails driven in the end. There was something for every member of the company, no one being overlooked or forgotten. And each box had many rolls of linen for bandages made from bed linen, and lint scraped, oh, how carefully, from table linen and pillow cases. Aside from these things there were socks, underclothing, and scores of smaller articles, all of which were of use and value in the camp. Nor must forget a stock of stationery, made of all kinds and colors of wrapping paper, dingy and brown perhaps, but nevertheless very acceptable to the soldier to whom it was sent; and with it were goose quills for pens, and many bottles of home-made ink. Furthermore, there were boxes specially prepared for the sick and for the hospitals, containing many delicacies, such as coffee, tea, and other things that had been stored away with all a miser's care for just such purposes, that is to say for the sick and wounded soldiers. These boxes were usually sent by wagons to Camden and thence to Memphis, from whence they were forwarded to their destination. Later when the federal authority gained control of the last named place, other sources were found whereby to reach the Southern army. For until the last the women never ceased their labors, though hardships and privations encompassed them about.
I have only touched on a portion of the part which the women of Union county Arkansas, played in the dark and trying days of the Civil war. But I most sincerely trust that this imperfect sketch may give some conception, however feeble, of the heroism, the self-sacrificing spirit which inspired the women of the section of the state of which I have written; and that coming generations may recall their labors, sufferings and sacrifices with just pride and profound reverence.
Headquarter's Seventeenth Army Corps, Provost Marshal's Office
Vicksburg, Dec. 27, 1863
The following named persons, Miss Kate Barnett, Miss Ella Barnett, Miss Laura Latham, Miss Ellie Martin, and Mrs. Mary Moore, having acted disrespectfully towards the president and government of the United States, and having insulted the officers, soldiers and loyal citizens of the United States, who had assembled at the Episcopal church in Vicksburg on Christmas day for divine services, where the officiating minister prays for the welfare of "the president of the United States and all others in authority," are hereby banished and will leave the Federal lines within forty-eight hours, under penalty of imprisonment.
Hereafter all persons, male or female, who by word, deed or implication, do insult or show disrespect to the president, government or flag of the United States or any officer or soldier of the United States, upon matters of a national character, shall be fined, banished or imprisoned, according to the grossness of the offense.
By order of
Lieutenant-Colonel, Provost Marshal, Seventeenth Army Corps