Interviewer: C. S. Murray
Person Interviewed: William Rose
Location: Edisto Island, South Carolina
Going Down To Die
Story Told By Ex-Slave
Boss Man, you talk about de brave soldier who been in de last big war and how dey look death in de eye and spit on him. I ain’t see dat war. It been ‘cross de water. But I know sump’en ’bout de Civil War. I been young lad when de big gun shoot and de Yankee pile down from de north.
Talk ’bout being brave. De bravest thing I ever see was one day at Ashepoo junction. Dat was near de end of de war. Grant was standing up before Richmond; Sherman was marching tump-tump through Georgia. I was a stripling lad den and boy-like I got to see and hear everything. One day more than all, de overseer sent my pappy to Ashepoo junction to get de mail. I gone ‘long wid him. Seem like I jest had to go dat day.
I member dat morning well. When I get to de junction de train start to come in. What a lot of train! De air fair smoke up wid dem. They come shouting in from Charleston, bound up-country.
I stand wid my pappy near de long trestle, and see de train rock by. One enjine in front pulling one in de back pushing, pushing, pushing. De train load down wid soldier. They thick as peas. Been so many a whole ton been riding on de car roof. They shout and holler. I make big amaze to see such a lot of soldier—all going down to die.
And they start to sing as they cross de trestle. One pick a banjo, one play de fiddle. They sing and whoop, they laugh; they holler to de people on de ground, and sing out, “Good-bye.” All going down to die.
And it seem to me dat is de most wonderful sight I ever see. All them soldier, laughing light, singing and shouting dat way, and all riding fast to battle.
One soldier man say in a loud voice: “Well, boys we going to cut de Yankee throat. We on our way to meet him and he better tremble. Our gun greeze up, and our bayonet sharp. Boys we going to eat our dinner in hell today.”
I turn to my pappy and ax him how can man act like dat when they going down to die. He answer me: “Dat ain’t nutting. They n’use to dat. Ain’t you know soldier different?”
But I say: “Pappy, you hear dem talk ’bout eat dinner in hell?”
He answer me back: “They been in de army ‘long time. They don’t study hell anymore.”
De train still rumble by. One gang of soldier on de top been playing card. I see um hold up de card as plain as day, when de luck fall right. They going to face bullet, but yet they play card, and sing and laugh like they in their own house … All going down to die.
De train pull ‘cross de trestle. I stand up and watch um till he go out of sight ’round de bend. De last thing I hear is de soldier laugh and sing … All going down to die.