When the federal general, Blunt, occupied Fort Smith late in 1863-4 and General W. L. Cabell retired from the city to Devil's Backbone, 18 miles distant, the intermediate territory became the raiding ground of both armies. A family named McSweeney lived near the public road, about half way between the two places. It was composed of a widow, her two daughters, Mattie and Mollie, aged about 18 and 12, respectively, and a son, Peter, aged about 20. The last named was in Cabell's brigade. Miss Mattie visited Fort Smith twice a week at irregular intervals, according as her escort, a young federal lieutenant, could arrange for an absence. She was under suspicion at Blunt's headquarters, but confidence was placed in the detective powers of the lieutenant.
One instance of her tact will be narrated out of several. On this occasion there seemed to be something on the lieutenant's mind which he was anxious to get off. There was two things on Miss Mattie's mind, tin cups and frying pans. News had been brought to her from Cabell's camp that tin cups and frying pans were badly needed. The gold that had been concealed for months in soldiers' belts was brought forth, so that there might be no delay on the score of money.
On this trip Miss Mattie stopped at the home of the writer's father, where his sisters and other ladies quickly arranged to make the purchases, as it would not do for Miss Mattie to buy the articles. In a few hours everything was secured and deftly fastened to her underclothing. Miss Mattie had made a special request that a negro driver would take her home, the lieutenant riding on horseback as an escort until the pickets were passed. What was the horror of all concerned when the buggy was driven up by the lieutenant!
Could it mean that a discovery was made? Captured as a spy would mean death to her and imprisonment to all concerned.
A hasty council of war was held by the ladies and they came to the conclusion that there was nothing to it. One of the ladies went to hold the horse and the another induced the officer to enter the house for a lemonade, while the others were transferring the tin cups and frying pans to the other side from where he would ride. How the young lady got well fixed in the buggy before the officer came out, how they passed the time so that there would be no jimgling and how her little sister effected a ruse by which Miss Mattie was enabled to make a safe alnding are all matters of local history.
Another kind of heroism was brought into existence when it became necessary in the eyes of the federal commander to send the wives of Confederate soldiers or sympathizers beyond the lines. An officer would come to the house with an old negro woman. The trunks, traveling bags and even the clothing worn were to be searched for contraband goods. The main point of the lady friends of the refugees was to cajole the officer, mollycoddle him, and get the negro woman drunk. The residence of the Miller family, one of whom, Miss Adelaide, married Wm. M. Fishback, governor of the state at one time, was a favorite place of departure. The ladies would never give out the secrets of those occasions, and it was not for many years safe to do so, but it is known that midst the sadness and sorrows of farewells there were interesting events.
John C Breckenridge tells the following joke at the expense of Humphreys Marshall of Kentucky, who would have been a promising candidate for president of a fat man's club:
When General Pegram was preparing to march into Kentucky, Marshall warned him not to come, and finally sent word that any troops that attempted to enter Kentucky would have to pass over his dead body. Pegram replied:
"The feat that you suggest would be too much to expect of my artillery, but if I find the obstacle in the way, I will be compelled to tunnel through."