- Army Correspondence: May 27, 1865
Army Correspondence: May 27, 1865
By Chaplain Turner
May 15, 1865
Christian Recorder: May 27, 1865
MR. EDITOR: - Having seen that your columns were gorged with correspondence, I have become somewhat delinquent in what I hitherto regarded as a duty, obligatory under the most pressing circumstances, which was to keep up a weekly communication with the Recorder. Ever since you raised the Recorder from its sepulchral confinement, I have endeavored to support you and your measures for its perpetuation to the best of my ability. And now, as the paper has become indispensable to the public, and is daily growing in its wide-spreading interests, thus bringing to its aid the patronage of the best minds, both as subscribers and literary contributors, I feel that the time has nearly, if not entirely arrived, when acute minds and abler pens can be substituted for mine.
I have been often told, under the subterfuge of a dry joke, that my letters to the Recorder, for the last five years, were written in view of personal aggrandizement. But, unfortunately for them, these parties were generally composed of that fastidiously squeamish class of persons, who have neither the ability nor the moral courage to encounter public criticism, and for whom I care no more than I do for the cackle of a hen, or the brain of a mule. I have to pull straws to the side which I hate the most, the devil, or those self-conceited timberheads. One is the base of hell, the other is the plague of the earth, and you might as well try to get honey out of a horseshoe, or music out of an elephant, as to try to get any good out of either. I make these remarks, regardless whether there are any preachers guilty of the act or not. But it is a lamentable fact, that in the very crisis that demands all the energies, gifts, attainments, natural or acquired, and every other qualification tending to give fitness and suitability, in shaping public sentiment, developing the capacities of the contrabands, moralizing our soldiers, whose unbridled lives, for the past four years, have almost buried them headlong into the vortex of irrevocable profanity, vulgarity, and impoliteness, that men, who would disdain to be called foolish, will idle away their abilities, straining at gnats and swallowing camels. But for fear I may be somewhat flaw-eyed too, and disposed to hatch mole hills into mountains, let us turn to another subject.
About the 29th ultimo, our division left Raleigh, NC, and took up our march for Goldsboro. Passing leisurely through the country, we had a pleasant time observing things under their natural exhibitions, than when we were proceeding towards Raleigh; for on our march there, it was next to impossible to see a male rebel, as they were mostly concealed in the woods. But on our return to Goldsboro, the men had come out of their private retreats, and could be seen standing in their yards, and sitting in their piazzas.
Arriving at Smithfield, we found the bridge burned, and Sherman’s pontoons all removed; thus subjecting us to the very disagreeable necessity of wading the river, which in some places was chin deep, but as this had become a familiar job, those who had no horses, went in clothed or nude, just as they chose to take it. I was much amused to see the secesh women watching with the utmost intensity, thousands of our soldiers, in a state of nudity. I suppose they desired to see whether these audacious Yankees were really men, made like other men, or if they were a set of varmints. So they thronged the windows, porticos and yards, in the finest attire imaginable. Our brave boys would disrobe themselves, hang their garments upon their bayonets and through the water they would come, walk up the street, and seem to say to the feminine gazers, “Yes, though naked, we are your masters.”
Shortly after our arrival in Smithfield, one of our sergeants called my attention to a colored lady, whose child a rebel women had hid. I immediately started for her sacred premises, and having entered her piazza, in company with the sergeant, colored woman, and a few others, the following conversation ensued: “Have you got this woman’s child?” “No! Her master carried it off.” “Where is her master, as you call him?” “He is gone to the country.” “What did he carry the child away for?” “Because he wanted to.” “Did he not know the child belonged to this woman?” “Yes! But if it is her child, it is his negro. You Yankees have a heap of impudence. What are you meddling with our negroes for? You may think the south is conquered, but she has surrendered to superior numbers. But, sir, you are sadly mistaken.” “Stop, stop!” I replied, “I don’t want anymore of your rebel parlance. You are not too good to be hung, and you had better dry up, or you might get a rope around your neck in short order.”
At this stage of our dialogue, one of the General’s Staff rode up, and she began to tell him a long story about me, weaving in a lie here, and a lie there. But he soon silenced her, by saying: “Oh, well! He has a right to say what he thinks proper! Madame, I want to know why this child is not given up!”
So she proceeded to chit chat the subject with him, and having heard as much as my stomach could digest at once, said I to the officer, “It is reported that the child is hid in town, but she says her husband has taken it into the country. I now propose, as he has five children standing here, that we take one, to be held as a hostage, until the colored child is returned to its mother.” The words had barely left my mouth, before such a running, crying, and squealing took place among the children, that my indignation melted down into laughter. The very utterance of these words frightened the children nearly to death, and made the mother tremble. At this juncture, learning that the General had taken the matter in hand, I left. But look at the inconsistency, they could not feel the colored woman’s grief, yet when the same pill was offered to them, they were frightened into fits. To have taken one of their children, would have been pronounced, by the slave oligarchs, an act of fiendish cruelty, but for them to perpetrate the same crime on a poor colored woman, was only an inconsiderable circumstance. If a few of our Northern slave advocates had the tables thus turned upon them, it would materially change the tone of some of their brutal sophistry, as well as morally improve that remonstrating gibberish, too often used to stay the designs of an administration, whose ultimate purpose seems to be the upbuilding of an depressed people.
Having, however, arrived at Goldsboro, the second brigade (General Duncan’s) was assigned to duty in that city, while the others were placed in such positions as the state of things required. My regiment went into camp on the suburbs of the town, where they still remain.
Goldsboro is said to contain about 1,200 inhabitants, two-thirds of whom are colored. There are several fine buildings in the place, encircled by spacious yards, shade trees, flower gardens, and etc. The houses built especially for the colored population, stand far back in the rear, which makes the principle approach to them through massa’s front gate, enabling him in other days, to sit back in his big armchair, and propound all the interrogations which might suit his fancy before letting you pass. But thank God, those days are now numbered among passed events. When these colored dignitaries, known as United States soldiers, step by in Uncle Sam’s paraphernalia, the only sentence that greets their ears is an invitation to take a seat.
This being a city from which numerous railroads branch out, it has become the rendezvous of returning rebel soldiers. The cars, for the past few weeks, have been thronged with them, from the armies of Johnson and Lee, presenting in their appearance, every imaginable aspect, from ragamuffins to ten-toed dandies. Some strut around town, assuming as much air as an old turkey gobbler with a dozen gills. Down street a party will start, who are once officers, wearing, as a waning memorial, the dying vestige of a played out confederacy, in the shape of an ideal uniform. But they proceed only a short distance before they meet another party of gentlemen, whose black faces seem to glisten in the rays of the sun, their caps whirled over on one side of their heads burning the rebels own narcotic, under the appellation of segars, and puffing in dense fumigations, with heads thrown back, and eyes elevated so high, that they seemed to say, I wouldn’t look down if I were wading through greenbacks. The rebel party steps to one side, and onward goes the negro van, looking neither to the right nor left. But the rebel party stops and looks back at these magic lords, swaggering on in their exultance conquest, and seems to be musing as to whether they are actually in another world, or whether this one is turned wrong side out, until they finally resume their equilibrium.
I am happy to inform you that Chaplain Hunter has begun, and is carrying on, a great work in this city. His regiment having been assigned to do provost duty, and having his quarters in the Courthouse, he is in a favorable position to use his gifts and graces among our people. He has, therefore, taken possession of the Methodist church, formally used by the white congregation, except the gallery, which was appropriated to the colored, and in it has commenced a school, which numbers nearly four hundred. It is entirely taught by the chaplain and several young men on his regiment. And, although it has only been in existence for two weeks, it is better conducted than many I have seen in two years. There are few men who take more pride in training children than Chaplain Hunter: besides, his extensive experience peculiarity fits him for this work.
There’s also a glorious revival of religion going on in the same church, which is also under the auspices of the Chaplain. I have given him all the assistance I could under the circumstances, but shall lay claim to no part of his glorious reward, when God pays off his laborers in the coin of eternal life. The altar is nightly thronged with penitent souls, seeking the pearl of great price.
Rev. Dr. Deems of the M.E. Church South, called upon the Chaplain yesterday, to ascertain the relation of this church to its former conference, and to see if the Chaplain intended to hold on to it. I did not hear the conversation entirely, but heard enough to satisfy myself of the fact, that the Chaplain, in the most humorous manner, and with that significant air of dignity which is so peculiar to him, looked the late exponent of Southern rights in the face, and in the mildest language possible, wrote out his epitaphical dirge, and sung the funeral ditty quite chagrinly, to the once pompous, but now blighted chop-fallen of fancied imagination. If I were Dr. Deems, I would inform Jefferson Davis about hunters conduct, and have my revenge, if I had to climb a greasy pole or swallow a bologna sausage.
Large crowds of soldiers are leaving daily on furloughs, but it is unpleasant for many to be compelled to go without money. My regiment has received no pay for ten months. I cannot help but find some fault with the government about this. If our soldiers were paid regularly, they would not grieve so often about their wives remarrying, and claiming an excuse that they were compelled by actual necessity. While I do not regard it as any apology at all, but, if anything, an aggravation of their disgraceful treachery, for which no soldier should receive an apology, nor pardon the wretches, if they were to shed enough bloody tears to wash Mt. Vesuvius from its burning crater to its cindered base, yet these long intervals between paydays, subjects our gallant heroes and their families to a thousand inconveniences. But I do not think the chief authorities are at fault in the matter. I believe it is the oversight of paymasters.