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Porch Tales    


Martha Belle Remembers A Civil War Story from 1864

By Pamela J. Bradley




My people’s been in these hills so long now that I know stories goin’ back to before my mommy was born. Mommy's name was Emily Elizabeth. Her mommy used to say that before Emily Elizabeth was born some a them Civil War soldiers returnin’ from what they called  “The War Between the States” ransacked their house. For meanness!  They took food and blankets and ever thing the family was savin’ for the baby that was comin’ and threw it over the side a the mountain - little embroidered dresses and even the cradle. Scared my grandma to death to have them soldiers breakin’ into her house but at least they didn’t hurt nobody. Them soldier boys had just set out to pester people. 

After the soldiers run off, my Grandma¹s older children had to collect what they could of the little clothes from down the side a the mountain. 

All the vandalizin’ was because none of the East Tennessee men was for Fightin’ on the side a slavery. Most people around here believed that slavery was wrong. Nobody should be made to work like a dog, no matter what color they was.  The Confederates took to callin’ the East Tennessee men  “Lincolnites” and “Unions Sympathizers.”  And there was lots a  bushwackers from both sides a the Civil War that would attack any feller in these parts - Confederates believin’ we was goin’ against our own state a Tennessee by not wantin’ to fight for slavery and Union men returnin’ home believin’ we must be for slavery since we was livin’ in the South.

There was no peace to be had!  Our men was set on fire, some of ‘um, for no reason or run right through from one side to the other by a bushwacker with a bayonette. One old man had a soldier run at him as he stood on his own porch one mornin’ and gouge out one a his eyes. It was all for meanness! Nobody knew which way to turn back then. Men took to hidin’ under their own porches and even inside hollow logs when the Confederates sent that mean ol’ General Zollicoffer through our county to wipe all “Lincolnites” off the face a the mountain. Mommy said about 5,000 of our men folk was taken to a prison in Knoxville and lots of ‘um even died there in the name of not believin’ in slavery.  I can’t even imagine the hard times they seed back then! 

My grand daddy never come home from the Civil War. He was a union soldier, killed in the fightin’ before Emily Elizabeth was ever born. Them was terrible times Mommy used to say. Times a people havin’ nothin’ – not even food nor clothes.  The farms was tore up and most of the houses was burned to the ground durin’ the war and after the war. 

They said back then that if you never saw your Daddy you had powers a Healin’ people. My mommy, Emily Elizabeth, had them powers, let me tell you. Ever time there was a new baby born in the mountains its family would travel to our house to have Mommy look at it. She could prevent diseases from happenin’ to babies and she could cure some of the things that would bother babies like thrush in their mouths or colic. I remember her cure for thrush was to breathe into their mouths. I seen it work too. A lot a people believed in her powers a healin’. She had them powers even into her nineties and would always drop ever thing she was doin’ to take time to look after the babies. 

Mommy didn’t have no schoolin’ but I remember ever one sayin’ what a smart woman she was. When I was a youngun she would sell eggs and milk for extra money . She figured out her own way a keepin’ track a how many eggs she sold. Her notchins was all over the door frames a the hen house. Weren¹t no body gonna cheat Mommy. 

I didn’t much get to go to school neither. When schools come to Morgan County it weren’t till about the year 1893 or 94. I went, but not for long, and I didn’t learn much there. Our school was called the White School House. I remember just where it stood. People still call where it stood the White School House, even though it ain’t been there for ages. It burned down long ago. Probably burned down by some a the school boys who got the most whippins! I remember I went up to the third grade. They only had but three grades and I didn’t like it at all.  I didn’t like leavin’ home early in the mornin’ with a lard bucket packed with my lunch in it. We didn’t have much for clothes back then and we had no shoes most of the year. And it was a awful long ways to school! 

I’d get there and right after the pledge to the flag I’d raise my hand and make out like I needed to go to the out house. I’d just wander around outside till they all come out for recess or for lunch. I just hated learnin’ in that school. It was loud and the other children acted crazy.

But now, on Fridays, we had to stand up and recite what we had memorized. I Didn’t mind that too bad. 

And I still remember all them rhymes now, clear as I did then.  “Baby bye, there’s a fly. Let us watch it. You and I. There it goes. On its toes. Tickling baby’s nose.” And all them finger games about your Mammy’s knives and forks, and about the buzzin’ bees. And my multiplication tables and how to recite the alphabet backwards. That wasn¹t much learnin’ was it? But that was all we had.

Pamela Bradley, an East Tennessee native, is working to complete the coming of age tales of her 1962-63 school year spent in the hills at the home of her great grandmother. Pam writes about life in a small coal mining town.

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© 2003, Pamela Bradley, All Rights Reserved