There is a heroism that seldom reaches the light of history, but it is nevertheless just as lofty, just as genuine, as that displayed at Thermopylae, Yorktown, the Alamo-the heroism of women during a great, fierce war.
A tithe has never been told of the deeds of daring, the brave defenses, the ministries of mercy, performed by the women of the South during the terrible war between the states. I say South because she is the land of my cradling, and her lot was mine during the long four years of cruel strife-a time when frequently it was a costly struggle even to exist. In those days women and little children lived indefinately without visible means of support, sometimes not seeing a dollar for months, or if they had the means, in large portions of the country there was almost nothing to be had. Much of the time they subsisted upon the simple fruits that grew wild, cornbread, sorghum molasses and sassafras tea without sugar or cream.
Were there crops to be made, women made them; were fences to be built, women must build them. They raised houses, rolled logs, went to mill, not with two fat sleek horses for a team, but more likely the family cow and a big calf yoked together. It was women that killed hogs and beeves, and in the absence of these brutes, women shouldered guns and went hunting or fishing. In the absence of physicians (and there was a dearth of them for a long period), women practiced without leave or license, sometimes with greater success than some college men with diplomas to recommend them. But more pathetic still, it sometime fell to woman's part not only to offer the final prayer in behalf of the dying and close the sightless eyes, but with her own hands, aided by other women to dig the grave, make the rude pine coffin, and after reading the burial service to fill the grave, mark the place with a simple board, then leave his body to nature and his soul to God.
But for a single deed of unsurpassed heroism, I recall a most thrilling incident in the life of a young lady, Miss Mat Barrington of north Arkansas. She lived with her aged mother a few miles from Fayetteville, which town was at this time occupied as a post by the Federal troops. A scouting party from the post had gone out into the country on the pitiless mission of harassing and plundering. At the home of Mrs. Barrington they swept everything in the smokehouse and emptied the larder. The last article was a bag of coffee ("Lincoln coffee," as it was known in those days). A broad-shouldered soldier seized upon this when the daughter raised complaint. She said: "I have stood by and watched you take all the rest without objecting, but the coffee my old mother needs above everything else, and I ask you to leave it." The soldier gave no heed to her request, but snatched up the bag and was making for the door, when she rushed for an iron poker and dealt him such a blow that he fell limp to the floor. As soon as he could recover himself he fled from the house leaving the coffee behind.
In a brief time the story of her deed reached the ears of friends in the remoter Dixie. The boys in gray at once voted that such a splendid triumph should not go unrewarded, and in due time there came to her a most magnificent saddle horse, with a tribute to her bravery.
The lady still lives, doubtless with her brown curls all silvered and wearing another name, but without the power or inclination to get away from the story of the bluecoat, the bag of coffee, the poker and the saddle horse.