The Old Confederate’s Story: Chapter 16

This is the sixteenth chapter to Robert Carden’s story (the fifteenth chapter is missing). This chapter discusses Reconstruction in Tennessee, the indignity of Union rule and the rise and purpose of the Klan.

When I got home there was just one mare on the place and she was two years past and that was the stock I made the first crop with.

After my return home the negroes had a stock of fodder which they had hid in the woods that had not been taken. The only kind of plow I had to do the breaking up of the land and the cultivation of my crop was an old “bull tongue” plow. Some of our people had to go forty miles to get corn to make a crop with and for bread. When I returned and started my crop the negroes all wanted to start out for themselves, which they did. I offered my negro man a 30 acre piece of land but he refused the offer and the whole batch started out on their own resources except a negro girl who lived with our family until her death only a few years ago.

We suffered many privations during those years. Our women had to wear homemade clothing. The first suit I had after my return was homemade. My mother spun the thread and then wove it and a neighbor lady made the suit. My over coat was made of a Yankee blanket, but we made out that way until we could do better. When anyone was lucky enough to have bacon they had to hide it to keep the Yankees from stealing it. Some would hang it in the tops of the trees in the summer and some would put it in an ash hopper and cover it with ashes.

I have been trying ever since the war to find the Yankee that took a family pie my mother was cooking on the fire place. I don’t want to hurt him but simply to shake hands with a good forager. Mother was cooking the pie and watching it very closely, and this Yankee was watching her. He finally walked into another room and returning told her that a soldier was going through a bureau in another room. My mother went in to see about it but no one was in the room. When she returned the fellow was going out of the gate with oven, pie and all. After the cavalry had gone on, my mother went up where they had stopped to feed and got her oven. I would like to hear from that fellow if he is living. It is not too late to apologize for the trick he played.

Some time after I had returned from prison and the war had ended and Rebel soldiers commenced passing on their homes. The reconstruction set in. Gov. Brownlow, the military governor of the state set in to reconstruct us old Rebels and try to make good citizens out of us. He would appoint three good union men to run our county business. Our county got three very good men to act as commissioners who did reasonably well with the people. The governor appointed a son-in-law of President Johnson from East Tennessee to be our circuit judge and he appointed a little Yankee carpetbagger to be our attorney general and the way they run our courts was a sight. Judge Patterson was very near deaf. I remember on one occasion a Rebel lawyer got up to make a speech in a certain case and in starting out made the remark to the jury that the old thing sitting as judge was a deaf old fool, and everybody in court laughed. The judge leaned over the desk with hand to his ear and asked what was the matter and the lawyer turned around and said “Just a little levity, Judge,” and proceeded with his argument.

Everyone summoned as a juror was asked under oath whether he was a Ku Klux or not. A Ku Klux could not sit on a jury if they knew it. They never found a Ku Klux but there was plenty of them in the county.

Every white man that was old enough to vote had to have a certificate from one of Gov. Brownlow’s appointees before he could vote but the negro would vote, and a good republican could vote every one of them and the same is done to this good day. Every man, white or black, has to have a poll tax receipt before he can vote, and the negroes generally wait until about election time in order to get some good republican to pay his poll tax and there are some low down whites that do the same. That kind of voter ought to be barred from voting.

After several years we all got things in shape so we could vote and you ought to see the carpetbaggers retire, and the most of them have been taking back seats ever since. We finally got to be good citizens and have been attending to our own affairs ourselves.

After the negroes got their freedom it made awful fools out of them. That is what brought the Ku Klux into existence. We had to have something like that to handle them. When a company of the Klan wanted to scare them they would go to a negro house in the night with the scaryest clothing imaginable and call for a drink of water. The negro would bring out a dipper and the Ku Klux would drink and call for more and keep calling for more and keep calling for more and keep calling, then he would finally ask for the bucket full and he would then tell the negro that was the first drink he had since he was killed at Shiloh. Negroes are very superstitious and they would lay very low after that. The Ku Klux would whip one once in a while. I knew of their whipping mean white men too. There was a white man living in this county who was so mean and stingy that he would not buy his daughter books to go to school or clothing to dress her decently. Well, the Klan went to see him one night and told him they would be back in a week and if he did not have things in shape they would attend to him. He told them they need not return as he would get the necessary articles at once, and he did.

There was an old couple of white people living near me, each being over 80 years of age. I called to see them one morning while they were eating breakfast and I saw some of the little negroes go to the table while the old folks were eating and grab a handful of fried eggs. It was not long after that the Ku Klux called and whipped a couple of the ring leaders. I never heard of any more complaints against the negroes. The threshing they received seemed to make good citizens out of them.

– Compiled by Leonard Martinez and originally from the memoirs of Robert C. Carden.