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Chapter 66

SPECIMEN CONVERSATION WITH AN AVERAGE NATIVE GEORGIAN--WE LEARN THAT
SHERMAN IS HEADING FOR SAVANNAH--THE RESERVES GET A LITTLE SETTLING DOWN.

As the train left the northern suburbs of Savannah we came upon a scene
of busy activity, strongly contrasting with the somnolent lethargy that
seemed to be the normal condition of the City and its inhabitants. Long
lines of earthworks were being constructed, gangs of negros were felling
trees, building forts and batteries, making abatis, and toiling with
numbers of huge guns which were being moved out and placed in position.

As we had had no new prisoners nor any papers for some weeks--the papers
being doubtless designedly kept away from us--we were at a loss to know
what this meant. We could not understand this erection of fortifications
on that side, because, knowing as we did how well the flanks of the City
were protected by the Savannah and Ogeeche Rivers, we could not see how a
force from the coast--whence we supposed an attack must come, could hope
to reach the City's rear, especially as we had just come up on the right
flank of the City, and saw no sign of our folks in that direction.

Our train stopped for a few minutes at the edge of this line of works,
and an old citizen who had been surveying the scene with senile interest,
tottered over to our car to take a look at us. He was a type of the old
man of the South of the scanty middle class, the small farmer. Long
white hair and beard, spectacles with great round, staring glasses,
a broad-brimmed hat of ante-Revolutionary pattern, clothes that had
apparently descended to him from some ancestor who had come over with
Oglethorpe, and a two-handed staff with a head of buckhorn, upon which he
leaned as old peasants do in plays, formed such an image as recalled to
me the picture of the old man in the illustrations in "The Dairyman's
Daughter." He was as garrulous as a magpie, and as opinionated as a
Southern white always is. Halting in front of our car, he steadied
himself by planting his staff, clasping it with both lean and skinny
hands, and leaning forward upon it, his jaws then addressed themselves to
motion thus:

"Boys, who mout these be that ye got?"

One of the Guards:--"O, these is some Yanks that we've bin hivin' down
at Camp Sumter."

"Yes?" (with an upward inflection of the voice, followed by a close
scrutiny of us through the goggle-eyed glasses,) "Wall, they're a
powerful ornary lookin' lot, I'll declah."

It will be seen that the old, gentleman's perceptive powers were much
more highly developed than his politeness.

"Well, they ain't what ye mout call purty, that's a fack," said the
guard.

"So yer Yanks, air ye?" said the venerable Goober-Grabber, (the nick-name
in the South for Georgians), directing his conversation to me. "Wall,
I'm powerful glad to see ye, an' 'specially whar ye can't do no harm;
I've wanted to see some Yankees ever sence the beginnin' of the wah, but
hev never had no chance. Whah did ye cum from?"

I seemed called upon to answer, and said: "I came from Illinois; most of
the boys in this car are from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and
Iowa."

"'Deed! All Westerners, air ye? Wall, do ye know I alluz liked the
Westerners a heap sight better than them blue-bellied New England
Yankees."

No discussion with a Rebel ever proceeded very far without his making an
assertion like this. It was a favorite declaration of theirs, but its
absurdity was comical, when one remembered that the majority of them
could not for their lives tell the names of the New England States, and
could no more distinguish a Downeaster from an Illinoisan than they could
tell a Saxon from a Bavarian. One day, while I was holding a
conversation similar to the above with an old man on guard, another
guard, who had been stationed near a squad made up of Germans, that
talked altogether in the language of the Fatherland, broke in with:

"Out there by post numbah foahteen, where I wuz yesterday, there's a lot
of Yanks who jest jabbered away all the hull time, and I hope I may never
see the back of my neck ef I could understand ary word they said, Are
them the regular blue-belly kind?"

The old gentleman entered upon the next stage of the invariable routine
of discussion with a Rebel:

"Wall, what air you'uns down heah, a-fightin' we'uns foh?"

As I had answered this question several hundred times, I had found the
most extinguishing reply to be to ask in return:

"What are you'uns coming up into our country to fight we'uns for?"

Disdaining to notice this return in kind, the old man passed on to the
next stage:

"What are you'uns takin' ouah niggahs away from us foh?"

Now, if negros had been as cheap as oreoide watches, it is doubtful
whether the speaker had ever had money enough in his possession at one
time to buy one, and yet he talked of taking away "ouah niggahs," as if
they were as plenty about his place as hills of corn. As a rule, the
more abjectly poor a Southerner was, the more readily he worked himself
into a rage over the idea of "takin' away ouah niggahs."

I replied in burlesque of his assumption of ownership:

"What are you coming up North to burn my rolling mills and rob my comrade
here's bank, and plunder my brother's store, and burn down my uncle's
factories?"

No reply, to this counter thrust. The old man passed to the third
inevitable proposition:

"What air you'uns puttin' ouah niggahs in the field to fight we'uns foh?"

Then the whole car-load shouted back at him at once:

"What are you'uns putting blood-hounds on our trails to hunt us down,
for?"

Old Man--(savagely), "Waal, ye don't think ye kin ever lick us; leastways
sich fellers as ye air?"

Myself--"Well, we warmed it to you pretty lively until you caught us.
There were none of us but what were doing about as good work as any stock
you fellows could turn out. No Rebels in our neighborhood had much to
brag on. We are not a drop in the bucket, either. There's millions more
better men than we are where we came from, and they are all determined to
stamp out your miserable Confederacy. You've got to come to it, sooner
or later; you must knock under, sure as white blossoms make little
apples. You'd better make up your mind to it."

Old Man--"No, sah, nevah. Ye nevah kin conquer us! We're the bravest
people and the best fighters on airth. Ye nevah kin whip any people
that's a fightin' fur their liberty an' their right; an' ye nevah can
whip the South, sah, any way. We'll fight ye until all the men air
killed, and then the wimmen'll fight ye, sah."

Myself--"Well, you may think so, or you may not. From the way our boys
are snatching the Confederacy's real estate away, it begins to look as if
you'd not have enough to fight anybody on pretty soon. What's the
meaning of all this fortifying?"

Old Man--"Why, don't you know? Our folks are fixin' up a place foh Bill
Sherman to butt his brains out gain'."

"Bill Sherman!" we all shouted in surprise: "Why he ain't within two
hundred miles of this place, is he?"

Old Man--"Yes, but he is, tho'. He thinks he's played a sharp Yankee
trick on Hood. He found out he couldn't lick him in a squar' fight,
nohow; he'd tried that on too often; so he just sneaked 'round behind
him, and made a break for the center of the State, where he thought there
was lots of good stealin' to be done. But we'll show him. We'll soon
hev him just whar we want him, an' we'll learn him how to go traipesin'
'round the country, stealin' nigahs, burnin' cotton, an' runnin' off
folkses' beef critters. He sees now the scrape he's got into, an' he's
tryin' to get to the coast, whar the gun-boats'll help 'im out. But
he'll nevah git thar, sah; no sah, nevah. He's mouty nigh the end of his
rope, sah, and we'll purty' soon hev him jist whar you fellows air, sah."

Myself--"Well, if you fellows intended stopping him, why didn't you do it
up about Atlanta? What did you let him come clear through the State,
burning and stealing, as you say? It was money in your pockets to head
him off as soon as possible."

Old Man--"Oh, we didn't set nothing afore him up thar except Joe Brown's
Pets, these sorry little Reserves; they're powerful little account; no
stand-up to'em at all; they'd break their necks runnin' away ef ye so
much as bust a cap near to 'em."

Our guards, who belonged to these Reserves, instantly felt that the
conversation had progressed farther than was profitable and one of them
spoke up roughly:

"See heah, old man, you must go off; I can't hev ye talkin' to these
prisoners; hits agin my awdahs. Go 'way now!"

The old fellow moved off, but as he did he flung this Parthian arrow:

"When Sherman gits down deep, he'll find somethin' different from the
little snots of Reserves he ran over up about Milledgeville; he'll find
he's got to fight real soldiers."

We could not help enjoying the rage of the guards, over the low estimate
placed upon the fighting ability of themselves and comrades, and as they
raved, around about what they would do if they were only given an
opportunity to go into a line of battle against Sherman, we added fuel to
the flames of their anger by confiding to each other that we always "knew
that little Brats whose highest ambition was to murder a defenseless
prisoner, could be nothing else than cowards end skulkers in the field."

"Yaas--sonnies," said Charlie Burroughs, of the Third Michigan, in that
nasal Yankee drawl, that he always assumed, when he wanted to say
anything very cutting; "you--trundle--bed--soldiers--who've never--seen
--a--real--wild--Yankee--don't--know--how--different--they--are--from
--the kind--that--are--starved--down--to tameness. They're--jest--as
--different--as--a--lion in--a--menagerie--is--from--his--brother--in
--the woods--who--has--a--nigger--every day--for-dinner. You--fellows
--will--go--into--a--circus--tent--and--throw--tobacco--quids in--the
--face--of--the--lion--in--the--cage--when--you--haven't--spunk enough
--to--look--a woodchuck--in--the--eye--if--you--met--him--alone. It's
--lots--o'--fun--to you--to--shoot--down--a--sick--and--starving-man
--in--the--Stockade, but--when--you--see--a--Yank with--a--gun--in--his
--hand--your--livers get--so--white--that--chalk--would--make--a--black
--mark--on--'em."

A little later, a paper, which some one had gotten hold of, in some
mysterious manner, was secretly passed to me. I read it as I could find
opportunity, and communicated its contents to the rest of the boys.
The most important of these was a flaming proclamation by Governor Joe
Brown, setting forth that General Sherman was now traversing the State,
committing all sorts of depredations; that he had prepared the way for
his own destruction, and the Governor called upon all good citizens to
rise en masse, and assist in crushing the audacious invader. Bridges
must be burned before and behind him, roads obstructed, and every inch of
soil resolutely disputed.

We enjoyed this. It showed that the Rebels were terribly alarmed, and we
began to feel some of that confidence that "Sherman will come out all
right," which so marvelously animated all under his command.

John McElroy