Columbia, S. C.
In March, 1865, after repeated messages had reached us from the Negroes on our Lexington place, mother and I accomplished the trip from the extreme eastern side of the town of Columbia, through the desolation and ruins left by Sherman, and reached our people, to see after their needs as well as we could.
The Yankees had robbed the mill place of everything horses, corn, and all the meat which had not been hidden by the overseer LeCones a man disqualified for the army, and therefore in our service. All the provisions left were pea-vines, cured with the peas on them. The Negroes knew that LeCones had hidden enough meat and lard to supply their present necessities; but he refused to give them anything.
Columbia was eleven miles distant, and the river between. The Negroes sent messengers from time to time to report the overseer to mother; but as there was no way then to cross the Congaree, Sherman having burnt the bridge, all she could do was to tell them everything would be done as soon as the mill could be reached by her. ” ‘Taint no use to tell him nothin’, miss; he ain’t gwine do nothin’ ‘cept you come yo’self,” said the last messenger.
The Yankees entered Columbia the 17th of February. I think it was about the middle of March, or perhaps sooner, that, the ferry being established, my mother and I borrowed Mr. Bostick’s carriage (the one carriage then owned in Columbia), crossed the river, and drove thirteen miles without meeting a creature. After getting out of the city, and arriving at the Berry Creek mill, we found LeCones gone for the day. This compelled us to stay all night, for we found the tale of the Negroes to be true they had nothing to eat, and the astonishment was that they had not risen in a body and robbed LeCones’ house, in which they knew the meat to be secreted. Mother and I went into every barn, house and storage place, except his, and found concealed some jars of lard, and a gun. These we sent to Columbia by the carriage, which had to return without us, leaving us eight miles from the only white men we knew of on that side of the river the two old Messrs. Kinsler, sixty-eight and seventy years of age. I was myself twenty-five, and not easily daunted; but I would not wish to repeat the experience of that trip.
At sundown, LeCones returned. Mother and I had established ourselves in a cabin, having nothing in it but the loom, where the cloth had been woven for the Negroes. Upon this was placed a tick, supplied by Lyddy (good old Nick’s wife), who took it from her own bed, washed it clean, and filled it with straw, as soon as we knew we were to stay all night. Mother and I sat in the doorway, for the fireplace smoked; and there LeCones met us. The interview was stormy, he claiming everything, and justifying this by accusing us of not paying his last dues. We answered that these had been offered to him, in Confederate money, which he had refused to take. The surrender had not taken place; therefore, the Negroes were our care, and we had gone to their assistance when they came to us in their trouble, and believed in our promise to do all we could for them. The quarrel was between a desperate man, with a wife and five children, and two ladies, who had their slaves. We were willing to share as a gift, but to accord nothing as a debt, and we demanded the meat, which he denied having concealed. The first of the talk was between mother and himself, but when he accused her of unfair dealing, I took it up. I told him many things, and that he needn’t expect to frighten us; that only a coward could act as he was acting; that I had met Sherman’s bummers, but never one more unmanly than he was, nor more impertinent, etc.; that on the morrow he was to leave, and that the hidden meat should be left behind. Well, after a time, I ordered him to go, for “we would stand no more.” He rose and went off to his own house, which was quite near our cabin.
I had left my pistol at his house. I sent Lyddy for it. She returned, telling me LeCones said he wouldn’t give it. I sent again, and instead of sending it, he came himself, bounding from his house (he was six feet tall) towards mother and me (still sitting in the doorway). His right hand was in the breast of his vest, and it looked as though he held a pistol. My mother sprang up, crying, “Mr. LeCones, don’t shoot.” I, too, rose. Putting my hand on my mother’s shoulder, I cried, “Stand where you are, sir” and he stood, whether at my order or not I do not know; and I continued pointing my finger at the man. “Mother, have no fear; he is a coward of cowards; he would not dare to shoot.” Meantime, LeCones said, from where he stood, “You shall not have your pistol till you give me my gun.” He had accused us of having the gun in the loom house, although I had told him we sent it by the carriage. I replied, “That pistol I will have this night.” Drawing my mother into the house, I shut the door in LeCones’ face.
The Negroes’ quarters were quite a distance away. Leaving mother with Lyddy, I walked to these quarters in the darkness, found old Abram and Charles Prioleau, told them to be very quiet, not to excite any alarm, but find me a pencil and paper both of these were scarce in those days. After much rummaging in cracks and crevices, by the flame of a lightwood splinter, an old envelope was found which had enough white left to allow of two short notes being written one to Mr. Bostick, at Columbia, telling him if he heard nothing of us in the next twelve hours, to come and look for us; this, Abram was to take to the river, and use the first chance to take to Columbia; the other was sent by Charles to the Messrs. Kinsler, telling them to “come at once to us.” Nothing could be written, and the messengers did not know anything. We had to be very careful, lest a spark might light up Negro passions and blaze in unprotected homes. (We had no light but from a lightwood knot.)
Mother lay down on Lyddy’s tick in the loom, and I waited in a chair by her till about one o’clock a. m.; then we heard voices, and then a knock, and the two old gentlemen came in. Had they been angels they could not have been more welcome; we were again in touch with the outside world they were so gentle, so calm, so reassuring. They went to LeCones’ house. We could hear the knock and opening of the front door, and their coming out to a log between the two houses; then Lyddy would creep out and come back and report; she couldn’t hear much, but enough to tell us LeCones was getting toned down. At last the gentlemen came to us, pistol in hand, and bearing the abject apologies of LeCones, and the confession that he did take as much meat as he could store in the loft of his house, and we could get it all on the morrow.
The next day there was a clearing out which was pathetic and funny too. Mother lent LeCones our one wagon, packed tight with pea-vines, some of the restored bacon, a big jar of lard, such pans and cooking utensils as could be spared, and any amount of kind words and good wishes for his wife and children. The last we saw of the LeCones was on this wagon, topped by his wife and five children, and driven by one of our hands. That night we slept in the overseer’s house, after the Negroes had scoured and cleared it. Next day, we returned to Columbia.