In April of 1861, there was the wildest excitement in Augusta, Ark., when the first company of mounted rifles was being formed. Manly hearts burning to go to the defence of the country, and yet yearning anxiously for the loved and defenseless ones they must leave behind them. Wives, mothers, sisters, and sweethearts struggling bravely to conceal their own bitter heartaches, that they might strengthen and cheer their dear ones, for the hard duties that lay before them. But there was neither time, nor opportunity for any sentimental indulgence of any of these feelings; the most strenuous activity was imperative.
Women must be taught the use of fire-arms that theymight be able to defend themselves and their homes. Their first awkward efforts proved the occasion of much grim mirth, while some soon became good marksmen.
There was no government to supply clothing for the soldiers, so the merchants furnished material, and women gathered in numbers to cut and make the grey uniforms and knitting socks became the pastime and rest-work of busy fingers in all the odd minutes.
But as we look back, all this seams but pleasure compared with what followed. Orders soon came for "All volunteers to report in Little Rock." Now, the romance is all gone, and the fearful realities are upon us. We must make them a flag, and it must be presented in due form. In the presence of an immense crowd, our gallant boys clothed in their grey uniforms and mounted on their war steeds were reined up in line before a stand from which a frail girl, trembling with emotion, after an address full of martial fervor, patriotism and confidence in the courage and heroism of the brave hearts before her, handed the flag to the standard bearer.
Upon receiving it, he made a short chivalric reply and every hat went up and every throat hurrahed for "the courage of our women and the sacredness of our Cause." Then galloping from this portentous scene, all were soon engaged in preparations for the final parting on the morrow.
As the boat upon which the troops were to embark steamed up to the wharf, friends and relative crowded around our heroes and who shall tell of the anguish that wrung those hearts in that last parting? The picture of that boat, as she rounded the bend in the river, the boys' caps and handkerchief waving, some singing and others shouting, every attitude giving expression to the depth of their emotion, still stands out in bold relief upon memory's tablet and refuses to be effaced by the occurences of more than forty years.
I shall not open the pages of memory that tell of the bitterness that followed. There were no mails to bring tidings from the loved ones, and harrowing rumors were continually reachingus of their sufferings and privations, so that we were forced in many ways to feel that the "horrors of war" were upon us.
Tho' some distance from the seat of war, we were often subjected to visits from small bodies of troops, sent on some mission by one or other of the contending armies.
The first rumor of the enemy's coming struck terror into every heart. We feared everything, but escaped, this time, with only the loss of any and everything they could eat, wear or carry off.
On one occasion, when our Capt. Rutherford and his men had been giving the enemy considerable trouble, they sent a small body of troops to surprise and capture them. Coming up on the opposite bank of White River and finding no means of crossing over into the town, a number of the most reckless and daring among them doffed every article of clothing, swam the river and with shameless effrontery, paraded our strees in an absolutely nude state. Instantly every door and blind was closely shut; curtains drawn; and the whole town was as still as death.
A negro man was hastily despatched to warn them no to approach too near any dwelling for the women of that town were well armed and well drilled in the use of firearms. The faithful negro adding in his own persuasive way "And I tell you gemmans, if you step your foot in one of dem yards, you won't neber hab no more use for cloes."
They gave full credit to this kindly hint and at once recrossed the river and we heard of them no more, and our hearts went up in a hymn of praise to our God for this special deliverance.
Another trying time was when Curtis's army came thro our town. My mother still had with her the negro man mentioned above (her carriage driver in slave times) to whom - by the way, let me just here pay a well-deserved tribute. During all the years of the war, he seemed to feel that he was duty bound to work for and protect his mistress and her family. He regularly brought to her all his earnings; and was as loyal, in every way, as the truest and noblest son, or brother could have been. He was at once sent to the General's headquarters for "a guard" and with a request that he permit some worthy officer to board with us during his stay in our town. He sent us quite a polished pleasant gentleman, Capt. of an Indiana Company
This proved a boon to us, for he not only treated us beautifully, but saw that we and all we had, were carefully protected from depredations and indignities to which others were subjected. When the command moved on and left our town, there was a rumor that they had found us to be such fire-eating rebels that stragglers had been ordered to remain behind and burn the town that night. We had no men, but the women held a council and we decided to form ourselves into a police force and patrol the town all night. This we did; walking our several beats as faithfully, if not as fearlessly, as any city police. Whether or not the rumor had been baseless, we never knew, but our town was not burned.
Once the dreaded cry "The federals are coming" caught a wounded confederate soldier "Laying up for repairs" in my mother's home. What to do we knew not. There was no chance to get him out of town. We knew there were some in town who would inform on us; then, of course, would follow a thorough search of our home and premises. So, after a hurried consultation my pale face and wasted form (being just out of a severe spell of sickness) suggested a way out of our dilemma. Earnestly praying God's blessings on our plan, we decided to arrange one room as for a very sick person. We arranged a table filled with medicines and other sick room paraphernalia; stationed a nurse; darkened the room; and placed the wounded soldier between the mattress and beather bed; then put me to bed, arranging the feathers to conceal the unnatural bump in that bed.
We tried to keep the whole house in a hush to awe them into not making the search if possible but they were not so easily turned aside. They bluntly stated "They had orders to search this house and they intended to search it." We could not even prevail upon them to spare the sick room, tho we entreated with tears (which were no in our plans.) They filed in, peered everywhere; even under the patient's bed and punched, with their bayonets, every suspicious looking object, then quietly left the room; leaving me trembling with fear-my fears being mischievously aggravated by hearing much bemuffled whispers "You are sothering me to death" and many like remarks, coming from the hiding place of our wounded Reb, ere my mother considered it safe to let him out.
But by God's blessing on our effors, onemore soldier was spared to fight to the end of the war and is now a wealthy and prominent citizen of Shreveport, Louisiana.
Just one more incident and I will close. When the Fitzhugh fight occurred the Yankees were still trying to capture or wipe out Capt. Rutherford's command. Having failed in all previous attempts, then sent a gunboat up from Helena with a force of about four hundred fighting men aboard. They landed at Augusta, sent out their troops, leaving the crew and a few officers in charge of the boat. These officers entertained themselves during the day by calling on young ladies. Being in use as a female academy at that time, our house was especially attractive to them. They were very courteous and polite; "hoped we would pardon them, but they were very anxious to make the acquaintance of some of the Southern girls." We didn't dare repulse them but discouraged their attentions by our manners and the assurance that we felt only bitterness towards their cause and their armies. They met all this with the most patient, forbearing politeness, telling us those feelings were very natural now, but after a while we would feel differently. This so exasperated us that when they begged for music, we told them we know only Southern war songs, and to the request, "Then sing them for us" we selected the bitterest we knew, throwing all the spirit into them that was then almost bursting our hearts. They not only listened very kindly, but seemed really to enjoy our "rebel" songs. But soon the fight was on. We could hear the firing and we very excitely and confidently told the: Now you will have to go, for our men will whip or capture all your troops." They hooted at such a thought but very calmly and gallantly bade us goodbye and started for the boat, and before they reached the wharf, their men came flying in, hotly pursued (as they thought) by the victorious "rebels." And very soon Their gunboat was steaming down stream. This was too good a chance, we just couldn't resist the temptation to sing, with wildest enthusiasm, "We'll hurl the Yankee crew from the land we love the best."
Now it happened our house and Academy wasnot two hundred yards from the river, so we were in full view, and this volume of song, triumphantly welling up from ten or fifteen young ladies was more than the defeated Yankees could stand, so they turned loose their cannon us. But the river was narrow and the banks were very high, at that point, so their balls only cut some of the highest tree tops.