|Beautiful Belmont, Part 44 -- Mose Becomes a Soldier.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 43 -- The Folly of War.
General Benjamin Franlkin Butler, federal commander at New Orleans, had issued orders regarding the enlistment of Negro soldiers, and many thousand of troops were added to the Union forces in this way. They crowded into the city in great numbers and with great eagerness, and many more offered themselves than were accepted. Mose could not stand aside from the stampede, and so also enlisted. His master, Mr. Copeland, had refused to join in the rebellion, and told all his neighbors they were making a mistake.
It is remarkable what love exists in the human heart for freedom -- for liberty. Here was a good, kind slave owner, loved and respected by all of his slaves. Mr. Copeland had always treated them kindly and fairly. Such was his reputation that many unfortunate slaves on the auction block, or discovering they were likely to be sold, had gone to him and begged him to become their purchaser. As a consequence, he had become quite wealthy. In youth he had seen his days of extravagance and riotous living, but blessed with a good wife and daughter, and being one of the wealthy merchants in New Orleans, he had settled down and become a man of force and influence in his community. He had in him a good and generous heart, and was a man well educated and of excellent judgment. In the end, however, the love of liberty in the human breast outweighed every other consideration in the minds of his slaves. All but a few elderly slaves left him and joined the great mass of refugees crowding into New Orleans.
Many of the plantations were depopulated and left desolate by this exodus, with not a soul left on them. Many of these refugees later returned to the more humane among the masters and took employment under the wage system -- or according to a sharecropping system -- after the war. The more inhuman masters were abandoned altogether by their slaves and were compelled to sell out, or were eventually broken up financially.
The Siege of Mobile, 4-11 April 1865
Mose made a good soldier and participated in several hard-fought battles. At the siege of Mobile he was in the bloody charges upon the Spanish Fort and other entrenchments. The assault resulted in the capture of the city, and 5,000 Confederates were driven back to their second line of earthwork defenses. Many of the Confederates were killed in their retreat over the open space between the two lines, and the wounded and dead lay thickly strewn there for days. It was certain death to any who ventured into this intervening space. The wounded were exposed to a boiling sun from noon until nightfall. Many heartrending cries of unfortunate and mangled victims were spread out in full view of both lines.
At a point along the front where Mose fought he saw a Confederate captain and a number of his men make a gallant stand until they were all mowed down. Toward the middle of the afternoon, the captain, who semed unable to move, raised himself up to a sitting position quite frequently, motioning for help from the Confederate line. Two attempts were made by his comrades to rescue him, but each time the rescuers were shot down. This did not lessen the efforts of the wounded captain, who kept raising up in a half-sitting position appealing for help, and then exhaustedly falling back again. He kept crying out for water. Just as the sun was setting, the Confederate line in front was flanked out of position, and the Union soldiers made a rush across this space, capturing the breastworks of the enemy in front.
When Mose came to where the Confederate captain lay, the weakened man unsuccessfully attempted to rise, saying, "Won't you, for God's sake, give me some water?" Distorted as his face was with pain, Mose recognized him instantly. "I will, sir," said Mose, and raising him up to a sitting position and supporting him with his left arm, he with his right hand held his canteen to the dying captain's lips. The officer drank feebly. It seemed he would never get enough. "There," he finaly said, "hold me until I rest a little now, won't you, my boy?" "Yes, sir," said Mose, as with one knee resting on the ground and the other against his back, he supported him while he took his last look at the setting sun. "Give me a little more water," said the captain. Mose offered instead to give him a drink of cold coffee, and the captain nodded his head.
"Hab you any wo'd to send to your friends, Captain Maxwell?" said Mose. With a half-surprised look in his dying eyes, the man turned them up toward those of Mose, and asked, "How do you know I am Captain Maxwell, and who are you?" "I am Mose Taylor, de boy you tried to buy at de Wheeling slave market," said Mose. "But tell me, hab you no message to send to friends?" "No," the dying man replied faintly, "I have no friends."
"Tell me ob my sistah Lucinda. Is she still living?" said Mose plaintively. "I don't know. She escaped from me at Wheeling into Ohio," said Maxwell faintly, as he fell back almost exhausted. His eyes still rested on Mose with an open stare, and by the last rays of the setting sun, Mose saw the life ebbing from them. Suddenly, with a quivering shudder, Maxwell's life left his body. He was desperately wounded in both legs, with another mortal wound in the bowels. Mose laid him gently on the ground, with a knapsack for a pillow, and then passed on to his command.
Mose Returns to Copeland's Plantation
When Mose was mustered out of service, he took a boat at New Orleans, getting off at the Copeland plantation. As he passed from the landing to the farm buildings, everything showed evidence of neglect. The rich sugarfields were covered with mature cane, and choked with a wilderness of weeds. No cultivated ground appeared except a small vegetable patch near the house, and even this was ragged and apparently only half tilled. Mose slipped quietly around the great barn and stables, and of the 70 fine mules that had filled the stalls before the war, not one was left. He passed over to the stable where the fine family carriage horses were formerly kept, but not one was there. His master's old riding horse was the only one left. The cane buildings were empty, and the grinding mills and sugar vats were neglected and rusted. The fine feathered peafowls were no longer to be seen, and of the well-filled barnyard of chickens, there remained only an old clucking hen and a crippled rooster, which was dozing in the shade under a weather-beaten old cart in the barnyard.
Mose passed on to the Negro quarters in the rear of the mansion. Every Negro shanty was deserted, and not even one of the many little children who once played around their doors could be seen. He saw smoke curling up from the chimney of the washhouse, and some freshly washed clothes hanging on the line, and he thought that it was Monday. He crossed over to the building, hoping to just see one of his old slave companions, even if she be only one of the old female house servants. As he came near he saw a woman bending over a washtub hard at work. She raised up to wring out a sheet, and while a sun bonnet hid her face, Mose could see her hands were white.
Mose drew closer, and with hat removed, politely said, "Good morning, mam!" She turned toward him for a moment, then threw up her hands in joy and exclaimed, "Blessed heavens, Mose, is that you?" "Yes, missus, bless your heart, it is Mose, but what are you spoiling your hands in de washtub foaa?" said Mose. "Ah, my dear boy, there is no one else to do it now, and you know we must keep clean," said Mrs. Copeland. "But here, I must tell Mr. Copeland!" And she ran to the house crying, "Mose has come! Mose has come back!" Copeland made his appearance, and grasping Mose by both hands looked into his face.
"Mose," Copeland began, "I told my wife if any of them would come back it would be you. How fine you look in that federal uniform. So you have been in the army? Now, Mose, look around and see what a desolation this war has brought. You know I told these fellows around here they were making a mistake, but they would not listen to me. I told them I would have nothing to do with their rebellion; that it would ruin them, but that if they could stand it, I could, but you see to what it has brought even me. Of all the Negroes that I had there is not one left to hand me a cup of water. There is no money in the country, and all the slaves are now freed, and have either flocked to the cities and towns or gone North. I am thankful for one thing, however, that these fellows around me here who brought on this war and would not listen to reason, and denounced me so roundly, are much worse off than I am, and possibly now see I was right."
Copeland went on to explain that he had some federal money, which he had kept with a friend in the North, and could soon raise a crop except for the fact that there was no one to do the work, even for pay. Mose mentioned that he had seen a number of former slaves in New Orleans, and he knew they were willing to return. He said they were reluctant to do so only because they feared he, Copeland, might be angry with them. Copeland asked Mose to return to New Orleans with him to get them. He wanted to tell them he would be glad to see them all, provide the money for the teams and implements, let them put in a crop on the shares, and pay their expenses while it is growing. Copeland and Mose took the next steamer to New Orleans, returning in a few days with half the former slaves and the necessary mules and implements, and Copeland was one of the first planters in the Mississippi Valley to begin cultivation after the war, with Mose as his foreman.
The end of the war signaled the death of slavery. All great revolutions and changes have their origin with the people. Washington Irving says it is an evidence of civilization when the common man begins to want something. Lincoln's emancipation proclamation was forced by the sentiment and demands of the common soldiers. They quickly saw the remedy and demanded its application. While Lincoln's great sympathetic heart went out to the African bondsmen, and he of his own inclination would have freed them long before, yet he felt he was not the ruler, but the servant of the people, sworn to obey their mandates, and until they called he could not act. He knew that, sooner or later, it must come. He saw already the finger of omnipotence writing the doom of slavery on the hearts and minds of his people, and with the foresight and patience of a sage, he awaited the right moment designed and decreed by that omnipotence.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 45 -- The Road Back to Ohio.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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