This is the seventh chapter to Robert Carden’s story. Chapter 7 covers his long furlough and the 257 miles to return to his unit.
After we were put across the river we started on our way and got along all right until after we separated. I left him within about two miles of his destination and cut across to strike the road from his town to Holly Springs. I was making good headway till I looked ahead and saw a squad of cavalry coming my way, so I went back from the road a little distance and laid down until they had passed. I went on some distance when I ran right into a company of Rebel scouts. They never took any particular notice of me and I continued on my way. They had left one fellow on picket and when he saw me he inquired my business there and I told him I was on a furlough from old Joe Johnston’s army, and pulled out my papers for his inspection and this satisfied him.
I had no further trouble and went on. That night I stayed at the home of a widow and the next morning arrived at Holly Springs.
I inquired around for my aunt and was told that she was down the railroad the way I had come, about twelve miles. On inquiry I found some of my relatives of whom I had heard but had never seen, and visited them.
It got out around town that there was a Rebel in town from Tennessee, and about the second day after my arrival a man came to me and asked what part of Tennessee I was from. I told him and found that two of his boys were in my company. He told me to make his home my headquarters and to make myself at home. The next day another man asked me where I was from and he was born and raised in my country and I knew his people well. Gen. Marcus J. Wright’s sister sent for me and I took dinner with her. I was in Gen. Wright’s brigade.
After spending about a week in Holly Springs and having a big time, I concluded to start on my way to see my aunt. I got ready and boarded the train. The engine was a small mule hitched to a handcar and the engineer a boy about ten or twelve years of age. When we got to the top of a grade the boy would take the mule out and we would make good time down grade when we would stay around until the boy and mule would catch up with us and hitch onto the train again and we followed that kind of travel until we landed at our destination. The fare for the trip was $10.
After inquiring around I found my aunt was about seven miles out in the country so I started out on foot. I had not gone more than three or four miles when I ran up on a Rebel cavalryman. He asked what I was doing there and I showed him my furlough and that satisfied him. While I was walking along I found a currycomb, one of the kind you can buy for five cents now and he asked me what I would take for it. As I was broke I told him I would sell it for a dollar, and after a good deal of parleying he gave me a dollar for it. I found my aunt this time and stayed with her quite a while.
I had a good time here and attended a number of dinners and parties where I had a fine time with the girls.
My furlough had about expired and I began to figure on my return. My aunt had cooked a lot of good things to eat, and I was to start the next morning. Along some time in the night a neighbor came and said there was a lot of Yankee cavalry within two or three miles of us. While I was up in this north Mississippi country the pesky Yankees had run out from Memphis and destroyed the railroad that I had come over and instead of returning the same way I had to cut across the country to the Mobile & Ohio railroad, about fifty miles.
I started real early and looked back often to see if the Yankees were coming and traveled thirty-five miles that day. I stopped over night with a widow lady and started out early next morning. I struck up with a lot of soldiers returning to the army. They had a spring wagon and I had to pay them $10 to get to ride with them. My aunt had given me $60 to bear my expenses and we finally arrived at Tupelo, Miss. And found we were cut off on that railroad too.
The bunch held a consultion and decided that the only thing that could be done was to cut across the country in the direction of Selma, Alabama. We would march twenty or twenty-five miles a day and put up two at a place. I think there were six of us, and no one would charge us for lodging. I remember that another fellow and myself put up at the house of a professor who was running a big school and he had two nice girls. They told me if I would stay and go to school it would not cost me a cent.
We went on from day to day until we struck the end of a railroad and camped at the depot. We cooked sweet potatoes with pine knots and we made up between us not to pay any fare on the train.
Some time in the early morning we boarded the train and when the conductor came around I was the last one he tackled. I noticed that he made them all pay, so when he came to me I told him where I had been, about being cut off from getting out of Northern Mississippi and that I was busted. To my surprise he said “All Right.”
After we had got under good headway I noticed that a couple of ladies just opposite me were nearly tickled to death at something about me. I examined my clothing to see if any buttons were off or any of my clothing was unbuttoned and finding nothing wrong concluded as I was the laughing stock I would go into another coach. In passing out I looked in a mirror and right there I saw what tickled the ladies. I hardly knew myself for in cooking the potatoes with pine knots the smoke had settled all over my face till I looked like white people do in a negro show, white around my eyes and mouth and the rest of my face as black as a negro.
We arrived at Selma some time before noon and boarded the first boat for Montgomery but passed our regiment on the river some time in the night, bound for Selma. I did not find this out until we arrived at Montgomery and found some of our company officers who had been left there to bring up the stragglers. I then got on a boat and went back down the river to Selma. I will say here that in making the trip from Holly Springs to where we boarded the train was 257 miles that I traveled on foot.
-Compiled by Leonard Martinez and originally from the memoirs of Robert C. Carden.