The Soldier, a Civil War Story

Heavy Metal

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Elite Member
Apr 20, 2020
North Carolina
When my father died, I inherited the home place in Mocksville, near Winston Salem, North Carolina. It was a nice two-story frame house built in the late 1840s by my great great grandfather, Asa Davis. I work in Winston at the newspaper so my wife Mary and I decided to restore the old house and make it our home. We did a lot of the work ourselves, refinishing the floors, stripping wallpaper, tearing out, but we hired professionals to do the plumbing, wiring and cabinet work in the kitchen and bathrooms.

The house was in fairly good condition when I got it, but it hadn't been updated in about sixty years. It was filled with family furniture and the attic was chocked full of stuff. Before we could begin work we had to clear all that out and put it in storage. We had fun going through all the stuff. I didn't want to throw out a thing, my wife Mary, however, wanted to have a giant yard sale. One day when we were cleaning out the attic I had just finished hauling out some old trunks filled with women's clothes from the late nineteenth century. I noticed a board wall that closed off part of the attic over the rear portion of the house. We needed to access all of the attic because we were going to blow in insulation and do some wiring. I took a crow bar and pried off one of the boards, then shined a flashlight in the space and could easily see the rafters over the rear ell which looked n good shape, when I shined it down I saw the space had flooring just like the rest of the attic, which was strange because it was completely blocked off from the rest of the attic. Then the light shone on a small wooden trunk with leather straps across it and a big iron lock. I thought it was strange that a trunk would be hidden behind a board wall, but I was naturally curious, so I took the rest of the boards off and saw that they had been added after the attic flooring was laid. The flooring over the rear ell was an extension of the rest of the attic flooring, someone had walled off that part of the attic for a reason.

With the boards out of the way, I dragged the small trunk out of the space and took it downstairs with the other trunks I hauled out of the attic. I would worry about what was in it later. We stored all the trunks and stuff from the attic in a barn out back.

Months later as we were finishing up the restoration, at Mary's urging we used our spare time to go through the stuff we found in the attic and the house and decide what to keep, what needed to refinished or repaired, and we what could we get rid of. Mary pulled out the little trunk I had found behind the wall in the attic. It was locked and I had no idea which key, of the many I had found in drawers and jars in the house, would unlock it. Mary tried as many of the keys as she could locate to no avail. Finally I took a crowbar to it and forced open the iron lock.

Inside were bundles of letters tied with silk ribbons. There was also a black crocheted purse with a leather bottom, a black Japanned box about twelve inches long, and three inches wide, and two inches deep which was locked, and a string of U.S.A. Civil war era buttons on a pink ribbon with a key at the end of it. I gently shook the box. It sounded like paper or cardboard was inside it that rolled from side to side. Was it money - old deeds, important papers?

Mary picked up one of the bundles of letters and saw the date 1862 on a postal stamp. She opened a letter and saw it was from my great-great grandfather writing home during the Civil War, he was a Captain in the Confederate Army. There were also letters from his son Henry who was killed in Virginia, ambushed by Yankees who shot him in cold blood. My great grand father, Asa’s letters were there, he was an infantry man who enlisted late in the war when he was seventeen. There were other letters, but the majority of them were from the Civil War period. It was a treasure trove. I couldn't believe it.

When we pulled all of the letters out of the trunk I could see it was lined with the same wallpaper the downstairs living room was papered with, a paper that dated from the 1880s.

The trunk did not seem to be deep enough, Mary noticed it first, it was like there was a false bottom in it. I examined it and could find no solution then I took my pocket knife out and scratched around a square outline at the bottom of the trunk that looked like it could have been a lower compartment. When I did this the compartment came free and I lifted it out. It had been papered over when the wallpaper from the living room was glued in the trunk. I think the trunk dated from the time of the Civil War or earlier.

I lifted the square compartment, about twenty inches square and about four inches deep out of the trunk, peeled back the wallpaper and lifted off the top. Inside I found a worn document that was made from pieces of stationery sewn together with a hand made cloth binding, about two inches thick; it was a home-made diary.

The diary was written by a great aunt who lived at the farm during the Civil War. Mary started to read the letters from my great-great grandfather, I read the diary.

My great great grandfather Edward Davis was a captain in the local militia and left for the war in 1862 when he was in his thirties. His wife had died some time earlier leaving my great grandfather Asa, his brother Henry and two daughters, Minnie and Francis. Henry joined the army when he was eighteen in 1862. He was killed in Virginia in cold blood by marauding Yankees. He and a friend had left their camp to get water. They didn't have their weapons with them. Two Yankees robbed them, told them to lay on the ground and shot them in the back of the head. My great grandfather joined the army in 1864 when he was seventeen, leaving Minnie and Francis by themselves on the farm. They had a few slaves, but not many, the slaves worked the fields, the girls took care of the house.

Minnie and Francis never married and lived in the house until they died in the 1920s. Then my grandfather inherited it since he was an only child and both his parents had died during the influenza epidemic during World War I. My grandfather had moved to Winston Salem where he started a small tobacco company, which was later bought by Reynolds. This gave our family some money. He kept the home place in Mocksville, let tenant farmers run the farm and he used the house as a weekend retreat. When he died my father inherited it and he rented the land and the house to tenant farmers. When he retired he and Mom moved to the old house and started to work on it. He died of a heart attack before he could finish the work. Mom moved back to Winston so the house sat empty for several years. I remember coming out to the farm when I was a teenager and riding my motorcycle through the woods. I loved it and had always wanted to move there one day and restore the old house.

The diary was written by Frances Davis and started in the 1850s before the War. She was 21 in 1861 when the War began. Mary and I took the letters and diary with us back to Winston. It was hard to put them down, they were so interesting.

The diary detailed the hardships of living during the time of war, how it became more and more difficult to buy even the most basic goods, and how money became worthless. Frances worried about her father and her brothers. She was very bitter about Henry's death. She said he was murdered and she hated the Yankees for it. She tried to talk Asa out of enlisting, but to no avail. By early 1865 all but one of their slaves had run off, so the women were doing all the house and the farm work by themselves. Then came the entries from March, April, and May 1865.

March 31,1865:

“It is a glorious Spring, but it is difficult to enjoy it with so much darkness around us. Each day brings more rumors. Minnie and I had heard the Yankees were coming east from over the mountains. Then we heard they were headed towards Mocksville on their way to Salisbury. The town is gripped with fear. Everyone is hiding what they have and moving their livestock to the woods. We have no idea when the Yankees will come through, but we know they are coming. They are headed to Salisbury to burn the Prison and cut the main line of the railroad. God help those souls in Salisbury when the Yankees get there and exact revenge for all the prisoners who died there this winter. I have heard the death toll was terrible. But no worse than that at Yankee prisons. What do they expect when their secretary of war stops exchanging prisoners! We don't have the food to feed them all. I am sure they did the best they could in Salisbury. But that will make no difference to the Yankees. They are dogs, all of them. I know they will want to burn the town and kill everyone in it. After hearing about the wanton destruction and senseless killing in Columbia and Atlanta, no telling what they will do here. When will this terrible war be over and Pa and Asa come home again.

Our last slave left today, old Sam, who had worked in the field beside Pappa since he was a boy. I couldn't believe he left, but he did, just like the others. Minnie and I decided to bury the silver in old shoes in the garden. We took Pappa’s portrait out of the frame and I rolled it up and put it in a canister that I hid in a hollow tree in the woods. I also took the cow and the horse into the woods, to hide them. All we can do is pray."

April 30,1865:

"What an awful month, so much has happened, the Yankees came and we have killed one of them. He was a Yankee scout or marauder. He came through April 4, a few days before the others, and was alone. That morning Minnie was in the smoke house taking down what was left of the hams to hide them in the woods, after Sam took the best ones. I was in the kitchen gathering some canned goods in a wooden box to hide them. Then the Yankee came in the kitchen door, with his pistol drawn. He wore a blue uniform, had black hair and a thick black mustache. He was not a big man, but was short and wiry, looked to be in his late twenties. He asked where our gold was. I told him we didn't have any gold. Then he asked for silver. I told him we didn't have any of that either, but he didn't believe me, so he went into the dining room and started to open drawers, pulling them out and letting them crash to the floor, making a big mess. When he didn't find anything there, he walked into the parlor and proceeded to ransack that room, pulling all the drawers out onto the floor, looking for gold or money or silver. From there he walked into Pa’s room, I followed him every step of the way, watching him. After he pulled out the drawers in Pa’s room and found nothing, he turned with his gun pointing directly at me.

"Take your clothes off," he said.

I refused.

He then proceeded to tear my blouse off and pulled my dress down over my pantaloons. He threw me onto Pa’s bed and pulled his pants down. He would have raped me except for sister, Minnie, who slipped into the room while he was occupied. She shot him in the temple with Pa’s pistol as he lay on top of me with his pants down around his ankles.

We knew where there was one Yankee there was bound to be others close behind. We didn't know what to do with the body. Surely the Yankees would kill us if they found we had killed one of their fellows. I thought of burying him in the garden, but sister said what if they poke around the garden and dig up his body. It was then that we decided on our plan.

It pains me to even tell the rest, but here it is. We decided to butcher him like a hog. We didn’t know what else to do with the body. Old Sam had just butchered a hog outside. He did it so he could steal the meat and run away, but all his tools were still there on the butchering table outside the kitchen, beside the hog pen, near the garden.

Minnie and I each grabbed one leg and drug the dead Yankee outside. I wrapped his blue coat around his head so he wouldn't bleed all over the house. Once outside we hauled the body up on the slaughtering table. We pulled his clothes off and burned them in a fire we started under the old iron kettle. Minnie then got the meat cleaver and the butcher knives. The table was already bloody from the hog slaughter. Minnie put water from the well in the iron kettle and put more wood under it.

The soldier was as pale as an alabaster statue as he lay face up on the table. His face, neck and hands were tanned dark from the sun but the rest of his skin was as soft and white as an infants. He didn’t look quite as menacing as before laid out in his altogether. His private part stood at attention like a little soldier, just as stiff as when he tried to force it inside me on Pappa’s bed. After making slits at the armpits and the groin to drain the blood, Minnie cut the head off with a meat cleaver and put it on a stump. She said she didn't like him staring at her while she worked. Then she cut the hands and feet off and threw them in the kettle where the water was boiling. She took a butcher knife and cut him open from crotch to sternum, then reached in and started pulling out his insides, scraping em out with a knife. I picked up the bloody mess as she pulled it out and put it on another table nearby. She told me to chop it up in little pieces with a butcher knife, which I did. Then I put it into the big stew pot. When I finished, I threw the contents of the stew pot into the hog pen and called the hogs. They promptly devoured it as they would any other slop.

Minnie used the cleaver to remove the arms then she put them on the other table where I worked using a cleaver to separate the upper from the lower arms. She then cut out the sternum and cut the ribs away from the spine and shoulder bones and divided them into two slabs, stripping the skin off of them and put them on the other table. She cut out the heart and lungs and put them on my table where I again cut them up and put them in the stew pot for the hogs. She then separated the flank meat from the pelvis, stripped the skin off and laid the flanks aside. She told me to wash the flanks and ribs and salt them down, then hang them in the smoke house.

"This is my present to the Yankees. When they come through and clean out our smoke house, they'll get a surprise.” All butchered up you couldn't tell the ribs and flanks weren't from a hog.

She then chopped up the shoulder bones, clavicle and spine and threw them into the boiling kettle.

Only the lower part of the body was left to deal with. His private part still stood at attention looking odd with only half a body. I decided I wanted it. After what he had tried to do to me in Pa’s bedroom, I figured I deserved it - earned it. I told sister and she had no objection as long I hid it well. I stirred two tablespoons of alum salts into a big pickle jar that I had filled with warm water, until it dissolved. Then I took a kitchen knife and neatly cut out the scrotum. I had an idea about what to use that for later. I put the wrinkled patch of skin in the alum water, then I cut out the testicles, washed them, and put them in a jar filled with vinegar and pickled pig’s feet that we kept in the kitchen. I could see the root of the penis clearly, glistening white with a purple cylinder running down the middle, behind where the scrotum had been. I wanted all of it, so I cut the tendon that connected it to the pubic bone, and cut out the whole thing, root and all. It was still stiff and considerably longer that way. At the end of it the root divided into two parts, the bulb running down the middle. After I removed it, I washed it real good then put the whole thing in the alum water with the scrotum skin in the pickle jar to soak.

Sister and I used the meat cleaver to cut the hams above the knee then cut them away from the pelvic bone. We cut the rump meat away from the pelvis, divided the pelvis and threw it into the boiling pot, putting the rump meat aside for the moment. We separated the knees from the lower legs and threw them into the boiling pot then we put the rump meat and lower legs on the table with the arm pieces.

Minnie stripped the hams of skin, soaked and salted them just like Sam did the hog then hung them up in the smoke house beside the ribs and flanks. We then steaked the arms and calves with the cleaver, wrapped the pieces in cheese cloth and put them in a wooden barrel filled with salt brine in the smoke house. The rump meat we washed and rolled up into a nice roast, tied it with a string, salted it, wrapped it in cheese cloth, and put it in the smoke house.

Minnie picked the head up off the stump by the hair and put it on the table. She then opened the mouth and pulled out the tongue as far she could and cut it off at the root. She put this in the jar in the kitchen with the pig’s feet and testicles. She said she didn't want no ghosts talking to her in the night. I then dug a deep hole in the garden and put the head in it. Minnie put a big rock on top of it and we covered it with dirt. After the water had boiled for some time in the kettle we put the fire out and poured out its contents into a stew pot. I fed the meat to the hogs and we piled the bones on the table. We took the cleaver to the bones and cut them up into splinters, put them in a pan, and scattered them under the boxwoods in the front of the house - bonemeal.

After we were finished we washed the blood off the table. I gathered the brass buttons from his uniform out of the embers in the fire, put them in my pocket and took them inside. Inside we cleaned up the mess in the bedroom and burned the sheets and covers from Pappa's bed.

After soaking his privates in the pickle jar filled with alum water for a few days I pulled the skin down as far as it would go on the penis, stitched it to the shaft then hung it up to dry in the attic among the hydrangea and other dried flowers, being sure it was hid real good.

I then took the scrotum skin and scrubbed it good with lye soap and put it in a jar with a mixture of lime and arsenic sulphide. I decided to make myself a purse, tanning it like kid leather. After letting it sit in the lime solution for a few days I mixed up a paste of alum, salt, flour, egg yolks, and a little vegetable oil, then took a mortar and pounded the paste into skin in for a while, washed it and pinned it to a board to let it dry. When it dried I scraped it with the blade of a knife several times to smooth it out and de-hair it. I then wet it again and stretched it out, pinning it to a board. I worked it good with the mortar, soaked and stretched it a few more times until it became soft as kid leather. Then I crocheted a top to it, the skin being the bottom of the bag, and I dyed the whole thing black.

Sure enough the morning of April 10 our farm was overrun by a whole army of Yankees. At least they had the good sense to wait several days after their first companion came through. They took the hogs and what livestock we had left and cleaned out the smoke house and the kitchen. I saw one of them carry off the jar with the pickled pigs feet in it, sit under a tree and eat its contents in one sitting. They told us they were looking for one of their scouts who had been through earlier and asked if we had seen him. We said, no, of course. One of the soldiers poked around the garden, which was freshly dug, probing into the soft dirt with an iron rod. He ran into a rock or two but nothing suspicious. That night they camped not far from our place and feasted on the meat they had taken from our smokehouse and those of our neighbors.

Sister and I swore we would never tell anybody about our Yankee soldier, not even Pa and Brother if they ever returned home from the war. It was our own little secret.

May 12,1865

The war is over, Lee surrendered, Pa and brother will be returning to us soon we hope and pray. I keep my diary in the secret compartment of the chest under my bed. I took down my little soldier from the attic, where it dried nicely and put it in a Japanned box along with his brass buttons. I keep my little soldier under lock and key in the trunk, taking him out for my amusement from time to time to remind me of that day in April when my sister and I reduced a grown man to his component parts, keeping what was essential, and throwing out the rest. People admire my new black crochet bag with the leather bottom. The only problem was that the bottom didn't keep its shape very well and tended to shrivel up from time to time with use, so I sewed a round piece of cardboard into it and now it keeps its shape nicely.

The diary continued into the 1880s when it stopped. Minnie and Francis continued to live in the house until the 1920s. We couldn't find any other diaries.

I looked at the crochet bag with a new respect rolled the Japaned box from side to side in my hand not sure I was ready to examine its contents.