Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings/A Story of the War
A Story of the War
When Miss Theodosia Huntingdon, of Burlington, Vermont, concluded to come South in 1870, she was moved by three considerations. In the first place, her brother, John Huntingdon, had become a citizen of Georgia—having astonished his acquaintances by marrying a young lady, the male members of whose family had achieved considerable distinction in the Confederate army; in the second place, she was anxious to explore a region which she almost unconsciously pictured to herself as remote and semi-barbarous; and, in the third place, her friends had persuaded her that to some extent she was an invalid. It was in vain that she argued with herself as to the propriety of undertaking the journey alone and unprotected, and she finally put an end to inward and outward doubts by informing herself and her friends, including John Huntingdon, her brother, who was practicing law in Atlanta, that she had decided to visit the South.
When, therefore, on the 12th of October, 1870—the date is duly recorded in one of Miss Theodosia’s letters—she alighted from the cars in Atlanta, in the midst of a great crowd, she fully expected to find her brother waiting to receive her. The bells of several locomotives were ringing, a number of trains were moving in and out, and the porters and baggage-men were screaming and bawling to such an extent that for several moments Miss Huntingdon was considerably confused; so much so that she paused in the hope that her brother would suddenly appear and rescue her from the smoke, and dust, and din. At that moment some one touched her on the arm, and she heard a strong, half-confident, half-apologetic voice exclaim:
“Ain’t dish yer Miss Doshy?”
Turning, Miss Theodosia saw at her side a tall, gray-haired negro. Elaborating the incident afterward to her friends, she was pleased to say that the appearance of the old man was somewhat picturesque. He stood towering above her, his hat in one hand, a carriage-whip in the other, and an expectant smile lighting up his rugged face. She remembered a name her brother had often used in his letters, and, with a woman’s tact, she held out her hand, and said:
“Is this Uncle Remus?”
“Law, Miss Doshy! how you know de ole nigger? I know’d you by de faver; but how you know me?” And then, without waiting for a reply: “Miss Sally, she sick in bed, en Mars John, he bleedzd ter go in de country, en dey tuck’n sont me. I know’d you de minnit I laid eyes on you. Time I seed you, I say ter myse’f, ‘I lay dar’s Miss Doshy,’ en, sho nuff, dar you wuz. You ain’t gun up yo’ checks, is you? Kaze I’ll git de trunk sont up by de ’spress waggin.”
The next moment Uncle Remus was elbowing his way unceremoniously through the crowd, and in a very short time, seated in the carriage driven by the old man, Miss Huntingdon was whirling through the streets of Atlanta in the direction of her brother’s home. She took advantage of the opportunity to study the old negro’s face closely, her natural curiosity considerably sharpened by a knowledge of the fact that Uncle Remus had played an important part in her brother’s history. The result of her observation must have been satisfactory, for presently she laughed, and said:
“Uncle Remus, you haven’t told me how you knew me in that great crowd.”
The old man chuckled, and gave the horses a gentle rap with the whip.
“Who? Me! I know’d you by de faver. Dat boy er Mars John’s is de ve’y spit en immij un you. I’d a know’d you in New ’Leens, let lone down dar in de kyar-shed.”
This was Miss Theodosia’s introduction to Uncle Remus. One Sunday afternoon, a few weeks after her arrival, the family were assembled in the piazza enjoying the mild weather. Mr. Huntingdon was reading a newspaper; his wife was crooning softly as she rocked the baby to sleep; and the little boy was endeavoring to show his Aunt Dosia the outlines of Kennesaw Mountain through the purple haze that hung like a wonderfully fashioned curtain in the sky and almost obliterated the horizon. While they were thus engaged, Uncle Remus came around the corner of the house, talking to himself.
“Dey er too lazy ter wuk,” he was saying, “en dey specks hones’ fokes fer ter stan’ up en s’port um. I’m gwine down ter Putmon County whar Mars Jeems is—dat’s w’at I’m agwine ter do.”
“What’s the matter now, Uncle Remus?” inquired Mr. Huntingdon, folding up his newspaper.
“Nuthin’ ’tall, Mars John, ’ceppin deze yer sunshine niggers. Dey begs my terbacker, en borrys my tools, en steals my vittles, en hit’s done come ter dat pass dat I gotter pack up en go. I’m agwine down ter Putmon, dat’s w’at.”
Uncle Remus was accustomed to make this threat several times a day, but upon this occasion it seemed to remind Mr. Huntingdon of something.
“Very well,” he said, “I’ll come around and help you pack up, but before you go I want you to tell Sister here how you went to war and fought for the Union.—Remus was a famous warrior,” he continued, turning to Miss Theodosia; “he volunteered for one day, and commanded an army of one. You know the story, but you have never heard Remus’s version.”
Uncle Remus shuffled around in an awkward, embarrassed way, scratched his head, and looked uncomfortable.
“Miss Doshy ain’t got no time fer ter set dar an’ year de ole nigger run on.”
“Oh, yes, I have, Uncle Remus!” exclaimed the young lady; “plenty of time.”
The upshot of it was that, after many ridiculous protests, Uncle Remus sat down on the steps, and proceeded to tell his story of the war. Miss Theodosia listened with great interest, but throughout it all she observed—and she was painfully conscious of the fact, as she afterward admitted—that Uncle Remus spoke from the standpoint of a Southerner, and with the air of one who expected his hearers to thoroughly sympathize with him.
“Co’se,” said Uncle Remus, addressing himself to Miss Theodosia, “you ain’t bin to Putmon, en you dunner whar de Brad Slaughter place en Harmony Grove is, but Mars John en Miss Sally, dey bin dar a time er two, en dey knows how de lan’ lays. Well, den, it ’uz right long in dere whar Mars Jeems lived, en whar he live now. When de war come long he wuz livin’ dere longer Ole Miss en Miss Sally. Ole Miss ’uz his ma, en Miss Sally dar ’uz his sister. De war come des like I tell you, en marters sorter rock along same like dey allers did. Hit didn’t strike me dat dey wuz enny war gwine on, en ef I hadn’t sorter miss de nabers, en seed fokes gwine outer de way fer ter ax de news, I’d a ’lowed ter myse’f dat de war wuz ’way off ’mong some yuther country. But all dis time de fuss wuz gwine on, en Mars Jeems, he wuz des eatchin’ fer ter put in. Ole Miss en Miss Sally, dey tuck on so he didn’t git off de fus’ year, but bimeby news come down dat times wuz gittin’ putty hot, en Mars Jeems he got up, he did, en say he gotter go, en go he did. He got a overseer fer ter look atter de place, en he went en jined de army. En he ’uz a fighter, too, mon, Mars Jeems wuz. Many’s en many’s de time,” continued the old man, reflectively, “dat I hatter take’n bresh dat boy on a counter his ’buzin’ en beatin’ dem yuther boys. He went off dar fer ter fight, en he fit. Ole Miss useter call me up Sunday en read w’at de papers say ’bout Mars Jeems, en it hope ’er up might’ly. I kin see ’er des like it ’uz yistiddy.
“‘Remus,’ sez she, ‘dish yer’s w’at de papers say ’bout my baby,’ en den she’d read out twel she couldn’t read fer cryin’. Hit went on dis way year in en year out, en dem wuz lonesome times, sho’s you bawn, Miss Doshy—lonesome times, sho. Hit got hotter en hotter in de war, en lonesomer en mo’ lonesomer at home, en bimeby ’long come de conscrip’ man, en he des everlas’nly scoop up Mars Jeems’s overseer. W’en dis come ’bout, ole Miss, she sont atter me en say, sez she:
“‘Remus, I ain’t got nobody fer ter look arter de place but you,’ sez she, en den I up’n say, sez I:
“‘Mistiss, you kin des ’pen’ on de ole nigger.’
“I wuz ole den, Miss Doshy—let lone w’at I is now; en you better b’leeve I bossed dem han’s. I had dem niggers up en in de fiel’ long ’fo’ day, en de way dey did wuk wuz a caution. Ef dey didn’t earn der vittles dat season den I ain’t name Remus. But dey wuz tuk keer un. Dey had plenty er cloze en plenty er grub, en dey wuz de fattes’ niggers in de settlement.
“Bimeby one day, Ole Miss, she call me up en say de Yankees done gone en tuck Atlanty—dish yer ve’y town; den present’y I year dey wuz a marchin’ on down todes Putmon, en, lo en behol’s! one day, de fus news I know’d, Mars Jeems he rid up wid a whole gang er men. He des stop long nuff fer ter change hosses en snatch a mouffle er sump’n ter eat, but ’fo’ he rid off, he call me up en say, sez he:
“‘Daddy’—all Ole Miss’s chilluns call me daddy—‘Daddy,’ he say, ‘’pears like dere’s gwineter be mighty rough times ’roun’ yer. De Yankees, dey er done got ter Madison en Mounticellar, en ’twon’t be many days ’fo’ dey er down yer. ’Tain’t likely dey’ll pester mother ner sister; but, daddy, ef de wus come ter de wus, I speck you ter take keer un um,’ sezee.
“Den I say, sez I: ‘How long you bin knowin’ me, Mars Jeems?’ sez I.
“‘Sence I wuz a baby,’ sezee.
“‘Well, den, Mars Jeems,’ sez I, ‘you know’d ’twa’nt no use fer ter ax me ter take keer Ole Miss en Miss Sally.’
“Den he tuck’n squoze my han’ en jump on de filly I bin savin’ fer ’im, en rid off. One time he tu’n roun’ en look like he wanter say sump’n’, but he des waf’ his han’—so—en gallop on. I know’d den dat trouble wuz brewin’. Nigger dat knows he’s gwineter git thumped kin sorter fix hisse’f, en I tuck’n fix up like de war wuz gwineter come right in at de front gate. I tuck’n got all de cattle en hosses tergedder en driv’ um ter de fo’-mile place, en I tuck all de corn en fodder en w’eat, en put um in a crib out dar in de woods; en I bilt me a pen in de swamp, en dar I put de hogs. Den, w’en I fix all dis, I put on my Sunday cloze en groun’ my axe. Two whole days I groun’ dat axe. De grinestone wuz in sight er de gate en close ter de big ’ouse, en dar I tuck my stan’.
“Bimeby one day, yer come de Yankees. Two un um come fus, en den de whole face er de yeath swawm’d wid um. De fus glimpse I kotch un um, I tuck my axe en march inter Ole Miss settin’-room. She done had de sidebo’d move in dar, en I wish I may drap ef ’twuzn’t fa’rly blazin’ wid silver—silver cups en silver sassers, silver plates en silver dishes, silver mugs en silver pitchers. Look like ter me dey wuz fixin’ fer a weddin’. Dar sot Ole Miss des ez prim en ez proud ez ef she own de whole county. Dis kinder hope me up, kaze I done seed Ole Miss look dat away once befo’ w’en de overseer struck me in de face wid a w’ip. I sot down by de fier wid my axe ’tween my knees. Dar we sot w’iles de Yankees ransack de place. Miss Sally, dar, she got sorter restless, but Ole Miss didn’t skasely bat ’er eyes. Bimeby, we hear steps on de peazzer, en yer come a couple er young fellers wid strops on der shoulders, en der sodes a draggin’ on de flo’, en der spurrers a rattlin’. I won’t say I wuz skeer’d,” said Uncle Remus, as though endeavoring to recall something he failed to remember, “I won’t say I wuz skeer’d, kaze I wuzzent; but I wuz took’n wid a mighty funny feelin’ in de naberhood er de gizzard. Dey wuz mighty perlite, dem young chaps wuz; but Ole Miss, she never tu’n ’er head, en Miss Sally, she look straight at de fier. Bimeby one un um see me, en he say, sezee:
“‘Hello, ole man, w’at you doin’ in yer?’ sezee.
“‘Well, boss,’ sez I, ‘I bin cuttin’ some wood fer Ole Miss, en I des stop fer ter wom my han’s a little,’ sez I.
“‘Hit is col’, dat’s a fack,’ sezee.
“Wid dat I got up en tuck my stan’ behime Ole Miss en Miss Sally, en de man w’at speak, he went up en wom his han’s. Fus thing you know, he raise up sudden, en say, sezee:
“‘W’at dat on yo’ axe?’
“‘Dat’s de fier shinin’ on it,’ sez I.
“‘Hit look like blood,’ sezee, en den he laft.
“But, bless yo’ soul, dat man wouldn’t never laft dat day ef he’d know’d de wukkins er Remus’s mine. But dey didn’t bodder nobody ner tech nuthin’, en bimeby dey put out. Well, de Yankees, dey kep’ passin’ all de mawnin’ en it look like ter me dey wuz a string un um ten mile long. Den dey commence gittin’ thinner en thinner, en den atter w’ile we hear skummishin’ in de naberhood er Armer’s fe’y, en Ole Miss ’low how dat wuz Wheeler’s men makin’ persoot. Mars Jeems wuz wid dem Wheeler fellers, en I know’d ef dey wuz dat close I wa’n’t doin’ no good settin’ ’roun’ de house toas’n my shins at de fier, so I des tuck Mars Jeems’s rifle fum behime de do’ en put out ter look atter my stock.
“Seem like I ain’t never see no raw day like dat, needer befo’ ner sence. Dey wa’n’t no rain, but de wet des sifted down; mighty raw day. De leaves on de groun’ ’uz so wet dey don’t make no fuss, en I got in de woods, en w’enever I year de Yankees gwine by, I des stop in my tracks en let un pass. I wuz stan’in’ dat away in de aidge er de woods lookin’ out cross a clearin’, w’en—piff!—out come a little bunch er blue smoke fum de top er wunner dem big lonesome-lookin’ pines, en den—pow!
“Sez I ter myse’f, sez I: ‘Honey, youer right on my route, en I’ll des see w’at kinder bird you got roostin’ in you,’ en w’iles I wuz a lookin’ out bus’ de smoke—piff! en den—bang! Wid dat I des drapt back inter de woods, en sorter skeerted ’roun’ so’s ter git de tree ’twixt’ me en de road. I slid up putty close, en wadder you speck I see? Des ez sho’s youer settin’ dar lissenin’ dey wuz a live Yankee up dar in dat tree, en he wuz a loadin’ en a shootin’ at de boys des ez cool es a cowcumber in de jew, en he had his hoss hitch out in de bushes, kaze I year de creetur tromplin’ ’roun’. He had a spy-glass up dar, en w’iles I wuz a watchin’ un ’im, he raise ’er up en look thoo ’er, en den he lay ’er down en fix his gun fer ter shoot.
“I had good eyes in dem days, ef I ain’t got um now, en way up de big road I see Mars Jeems a comm’. Hit wuz too fur fer ter see his face, but I know’d ’im by de filly w’at I raise fer ’im, en she wuz a prancin’ like a school-gal. I know’d dat man wuz gwineter shoot Mars Jeems ef he could, en dat wuz mo’n I could stan’. Many’s en many’s de time dat I nuss dat boy, en hilt ’im in dese arms, en toted ’im on dis back, en w’en I see dat Yankee lay dat gun ’cross a lim’ en take aim at Mars Jeems I up wid my ole rifle, en shet my eyes en let de man have all she had.”
“Do you mean to say,” exclaimed Miss Theodosia, indignantly, “that you shot the Union soldier, when you knew he was fighting for your freedom?”
“Co’se, I know all about dat,” responded Uncle Remus, “en it sorter made col’ chills run up my back; but w’en I see dat man take aim, en Mars Jeems gwine home ter Ole Miss en Miss Sally, I des disremembered all ’bout freedom en lammed aloose. En den atter dat, me en Miss Sally tuck en nuss de man right straight along. He los’ one arm in dat tree bizness, but me en Miss Sally we nuss ’im en we nuss ’im twel he done got well. Des ’bout dat time I quit nuss’n ’im, but Miss Sally she kep’ on. She kep’ on,” continued Uncle Remus, pointing to Mr. Huntingdon, “en now dar he is.”
“But you cost him an arm,” exclaimed Miss Theodosia.
“I gin ’im dem,” said Uncle Remus, pointing to Mrs. Huntingdon, “en I gin ’im deze”—holding up his own brawny arms. “En ef dem ain’t nuff fer enny man den I done los’ de way.”