J. E. Chamberlain.

Cotton stealing. A novel online

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" When shall we send him away ? "

" Not yet. I may be able to use him. Let him
remain until our return. How many bales of cotton
have you ? How many have you burned ? '*

" Five hundred after they took Memphis. I have
one hundred and fifty in the cane, and there are a
thousand bales of Confederate States Cotton back
from the slough."


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"Are they marked ? '*

"Yes. C. S. A. on the heads. I gave them to
the government to secure the foreign loan."

" I wish they were safe in New York, and the
money in the hands of our Committee. Leette, if
you only had all your own well sold, you would be
worth a quarter of a million in gold. What folly to
bum a pound ! What a mistake ! Leette, you shall
not lose everything. You may go with me. But,
Leette, 1 am a Union man within the Federal lines.
Until you have taken the oath — '*

" Must I take that oath ? *'

That iron-clad oath ! Which sounds loudest in .the
ear of the recording angel — the spoken words of the
Union oflScer, who repeats the comprehensive words
to which the indignant, hot-eyed, red-faced chooser
of two evils simply nods ; or that inward hope, wish,
prayer, curse, bursting out of the heart-passion on
the wings of a long breath, entering eternity with
this definition : " I have sworn. If I keep the oath
may I be damned ! "

"A thousand times, Leette. I have, and am none
the worse. The Federals know me as a good Union
man." These words came from La Scheme's lips
with a hiss. " I do not associate with rebels inside
of their lines. I should not go near you until you
are Union. Never recognize me. If you are intro-
duced, treat me as a stranger or beneath your notice.
We must not know each other at first, that we may
most aid our success." ^

"Where shall I stay? When shall I see you?


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What shall I do?"

" Stop with your friend, the Judge."

" They are Union."

" The very place. Their daughters are true. Be-
sides, you must mislead even them. In the delicate
business in which we are engaged, one's own friends
cannot be relied on, — should be trusted only in ex-
tremity. Deceive your own, and your enemy must
be double sharp to see what a friend fails to discover.
Act like an enemy, so as to be hated by a friend ;
you may save life, — ^may save your country. I can-
not tell when I shall meet you ; nor what there will
be to do. Yes ; you may sell your cotton. Not
much; begin with five bales, — do not offer more.
Can you sell five bales ? "

"I know I can."

<< I must go and see our captain, who saw me
through the Helena affair. I have business and in-
structions for him. Be ready to go when I return."

"Yes; and I will say good-bye to my Yankee
husband. I must hide him out of the captain's
way. I should never see him again if his men took
him prisoner a second time."

She went out to see the corporal, and La Scheme,
shaking his head, said after her departure, " Leette,
Leette, you have too much heart. That good soul
of yours haa too much love. I must crush it out ;
must set it on fire with the demoniac which lies in
your nature. That Yankee is too true, too pure,
and must be renu>ved. The captain will see that
done. I have delicate work before me. What can


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I do ? Wait, — let events decide and interpret
them; lead others to the meaning I would have
them believe. Oh, what a glorious power ! — to see
into, read through, the souls of others. I know
men ; I anticipate their words. If I only had op-
portunity, I could direct this war, govern this new
empire, and succeed, — which is more than I believe
Jefferson Davis will do. What a confounded fool he
makes of himself sometimes ! " With a brain teem-
ing with such thoughts and ideas. La Scheme went
out from Leette to seek the headquarters of the
guerilla chieftain.


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The guerilla band was a motley mixture. Few
made more than pretentions to a uniform. Thej
possessed a marked uniformity in one particular —
dirt. Originally, their garments had been white:
that is, white as the cotton fibre carded by the coarse
hand-cards of the negroes; spun by their coarse
fingers into coarse yarn which had been coarsely
woven by a coarsely constructed loom, and then cut
and sewed by a coarse needle, without bleaching
or other finishing process, — white as such unwashed,
hasty construction could produce. Some boasted a
slightly increased finish, being the addition of a
tawny, butternut color, from a decoction of oak, wal-
nut, or other bark. This uniform possessed the essen-
tial quality, durability ; already outlasting any ma^-
chine manufacture, and promising shelter from rain,
and sunshine, night and storm, for more than one
season to come. Night as well as day-dress, blanket
as well as over-coat, duster in the thick clouds of a
skedaddle, tent in the hasty, improvised bivouac of
the canebrake ; accustomed to the floor of the log


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cabin, the plantation mansion, the slave's quarters,
or the baked soil — ^not the stony, sandy New Eng-
land, not the rich, black alluvium of Connecticut's
meadows, not Western prairie, but the red oxide of
the corroded Arkansas, or the turbid mud whicli
melting torrents of the big Muddy has laid in layers
throughout the lower Mississippi bottoms. In this
respect, all the regulars were regularly uniformed.

Another striking uniformity of the Tom, Dick, and
Harry of this wild region, is vice. Lazy, ruffianly
men, who eat whisky, drink whisky, live on whisky
when they can get it, on its substitute, corn, when
they can not. Scum of both armies, with all a sol-
dier's faults, with none of his virtues. Thieves, who
would plunder, though at the risk of life. Brave
devils, who had the blood of murders coagulating on
their souls, boasting in the exploit, and calloused to
remorse, exulting in their wolf-hyena-life ; carrion
birds, not all buzzard, since they had degenerated
from the eagle; possessing all the ferocity of the one,
while they digested all meat of friend or foe, with the
horrible appetite of the other. This is the genuine

Another part of this band, gave it dignity and
character. These were planters. Every citizen was
enrolled with the proper authority, and assigned to
the commanding officer, who had power to order them
into active service. They called themselves home
guards. Plantations, slaves, and families could not
Ee left absolutely manless. Some must oversee the
labor which produced the subsistence for the army in


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the field and the people at home. Yet^ all must be
organized for self-defence and personal protection.
The captain, major, or colonel, generally knew his
section, gleaned the poor, and desperate with whom
he engaged in the active duties of conscripting, and
waged the common guerilla warfare ; while he favored
the rich, granting them exemptions, and never called
them save on important occasions, when numbers
were essential, or their presence' was necessary to in-
spirit or to check the regular band, which went into
danger, took the heavy blows, and were of no par-
ticular account if they were killed.

On this occasion, notice of an expedition from
above, had been received and transmitted by South-
ern sympathizers. The captain had ordered every
man in his company to meet at this place, armed.

Rapidity of communication among a united peo-
ple, even in remote and sparsely populated districts,
is marvelous. In this section of the South it was
conducted by women. The news was obtained from
headquarters by the means of secret emissaries — pro-
slavery men who visited the saloons and ofiices, and
learned from clerks, with most unexplainable facil-
ityi every movement ; men, so well posted, that they
could guess all they could not buy with the ofiicial
seal and stamp affixed. A plate of butter, a load of
wood, a harmless female, conveyed the word outside
the lines. Southern women ride on horse-back.
Once on horseback, by short cuts — devious paths in
swamps and canebrakes ; tracks on the levee, when
direct ; by dry beds of streams ; by the public road,


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if near and safe— girls, young boys, old men, car-
ried the report fast ^ animals could go ; so that, it
was often said, no boat could leave Cairo, Illinois,
without her name, character, cargo, destination, and
number of troops, proceeding faster than steam, in-
forming all the bands by telegraph.

Leette was a carrier. Her Janie stood waiting in
the stall, sure-footed, fleet ; dark night or broad noon
made no change in her swift passage through deer
and bear tracks to the station, whence another took
the news, good or bad, direct to rebel headquarters.

The guerilla band were gathering when La Scheme
reached the captain's rendezvous. Before he arrived,
loud tones of a revelling son^ reached his ears.
First came the chorus :

" Drink, men drink,

O drink your fOl to-day ;
For life is bonny, and love is sweet»
And fightiog is our play.**

When the cotton speculator rode up, and was
recognized, a guerilla, sitting astride of a barrel of
old Bourbon whisky, raised up a tin pot and roared
out the following stanza :

*' Oh wine was made for boys and women,—
Old Bourbon is the drink for men ;
When balls and bullets come a whizing,
Give us old Bourbon then."

He repeated the last line and then took a big
swallow and passed the pannikin, which the other


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guerillas took, imitating his swallow, and then joined
in the roaring^horus :

*' Drink, men, drink,

Oh drink your jQll to-day ;
For life ia bonny, and love is sweet,
And fighting is oar play."

"Empty it out, boys, and pass it round." It
came back to the king of the revels, who drew a
spigot, from whence spirted the precious liquor.
" Never mind the canteen. Second verse." Then,
raising his tin goblet, sang :

** Oh peace was made for g^rls and women, —
War, stem old war, was made for men ;
When on the battle-field we're charg^,
Give us old Bourbon then."

Just then a black servant came out of the log
shanty with a broken pitcher to be filled from the
common stock. The non-commissioned officer, who
had the same in charge, put the full dish to the ne-
gro's mouth, spilling the liquor down his throat and
over his big thick lips, while the band yelled out :

** Drink, men, drink,

Oh drink your fill to^y ;
For life is bonny, and love is sweet,
And fighting is our play."

The men passed the can again. There was a cer-
tain method about the whole of this revel ; a sort of
restraint, mixed with a peculiar license, which was


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unwilling to get drunk, though quite ready to be
anything but sober. Short drinks and quick turns
seemed in order. This hindered the darky, who
was awaited impatiently, and called from the shanty.

" Coming, sar," he answered.

Yet the men were in no particular hurry, and the
slave had to await their half-drunken convenience.
The captain — ^master— came to the door, angry at
detention : saw the new arrival, and instantly called
La Scheme. As they went into the house the song
broke out again :

** Old Bourbon whisky's made In heaven ;
Old Bourbon is the drink for men.
Drink Bourbon whisky while we're ^ving;
Dead— drink old Bourbon then,"

" Glad to see you. La Scheme. Tou are the man
we want. We are to have a stirring time. Our
men are getting ready."

" What ? I do not understand. Where did you
get the whisky ? "

"That came through the lines on a drift-pile.
Some of our friends on one of the Memphis pac-
kets. It was well done. We got it several days
ago. I give it to the boys to put them in good
heart. There is an expedition going down the
river. I imagine they have got wind of the cotton
I am watching. Don't I wish they may get it ! "

" How can you prevent it, if they have more men,
—especially when you have no artillery? "

" I will send it to heaven with a i&re-brand, and


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leave them ashes. Trust me to outwit a Yankee.
Sit down and take a drink ; there is plenty of time."
Outside the guerillas were singing :

" Drink, men, drink,

Oh drink your fill to-day ;
For life is bonny, and love is sweet,
And fighting is our play."

Who would think that La Scheme, the Confed-
erate, was at the bottom of this expedition ? That
he had improved his time at Memphis in such a re-
markable manner. Least of all, how could the
guerilla imagine any plot hidden in the mind of a
Confederate like La Scheme ? And if, as was true
to a certain - extent, this cotton was sold to benefit
the South, why did^ not the speculator, like a man,
tell the guerilla captain, and obtain his safe-guard ?
Could La Scheme doubt for a moment which the cap-
tain would prefer to do — destroy two hundred and
fifty thousand dollars, or make one hundred and
twenty-five thousand dollars, — ashes or green-backs ?
Li truth. La Scheme's original plan involved a dis-
closure to the captain ; but his suspicion of an afiec-
tion between Leette and the corporal had changed
the design to that which is soon to be developed.
La Scheme possessed a happy faculty of turning
every accident to the best account. The whisky
and the preparation of the guerillas were moves in
his hands. He had a defined plan, or rather a skel-
eton, of what was to be done at the mercy of circum-
stances ; and his disposition was so well subdued


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that, like the master of the chess-board, the check
of an antagonist was only a false move which ex-
posed and mated his own king. Consequently, La
Scheme was simply their old friend — shaking old
friends with the hand-grasp of warm friendship —
greeting new acquaintances with that cordiality
which intoxicated them with the pleasure of genial
good-fellowship. They drank all round, and enjoyed
the men's chorus heartily, saying "Bully for the
Bourbon,*' as the loud strain, repeated, entered their

* Old Bourbon whisky's made in heayen, —

Old Bourbon is the drink for men.
Drink Bourbon whisky while we're living ;
Dead— drink old Bourbon then."

As if the word " dead " had suggested an idea, he
asked the captain :

'* When do you expect them ?*' ^

'' Any moment. I must send out a scout now.
These men have drank about enough."

Rising from his seat he went out, and gave orders
to a subordinate, which were obeyed by a general
mounting and departure of the band — ^but not before
the precious whisky was brought inside.
. " We do not often get an article as good as that.
One of our side got it particularly for me. It will
not last long ; while it stays let us enjoy it."

The capacity of a corn-fed soldier of the South to
contain whisky, is astonishing, which makes them re-
semble that object of their special hate, a Dutchman


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— on the principle of the arithmetical rule of three,
viz : — as lager beer to a Dutchman so is whisky to a
Johnnie. These soldiers were gentlemen — ^gentle-
men who h^d not seen whisky for ten months, and
they drank with the freedom of soldiers, and the ca-
pacity of an empty two-gallon jug. La Scheme en-
joyed their thirst, for he was too wise to imitate their
example. He, however, absorbed their attention by
his account of Memphis and the army there, and the
state of feeling existing at the North. When their
cups were empty, he warily suggested some hope of
success, or some promise of aid, which filled them
with joy, and called for more fluid to wet it down.
Keeping up their good fellow-feeling, he put them in
that frame of mind which cares for nothing, and
would rather fight than eat. About this time the
lieutenant dismounted and entered the shanty, say-
ing :

" They are here."

" How many V

" One gun-boat and three transports."

" Send for the lower squad ; bring in all the de-
tachments. Are your men all right V*

" Yes. Shall I fire the cotton now, and fire on
them afterwards? we can concentrate then."

La Scheme spoke : " You had better concentrate
now. Ledonc's Point is the best place ; and in case
of a retreat you can have the cover of the levee and
the quarters. You had better not bum any cotton
until you see it is in danger. They may not land
here at all."


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He knew that orders had been issued to gun-boats
to shell, and troops to land and destroy, any planta-
tion which harbored guerillas. What motive had he
for the destruction of Lectte's home ? Was it Cor-
poral Manet ? Certainly he could be otherwise put
out of the way.

" That is the best place," said the Captain, "but
I fear lest the Yankees will land and bum the build-

" I think not," said La Scheme ; " They will not
do that unless we fire on them ; and even then we
would meet them by a good volley, and prevent their
landing. But you know best ; you must take the
responsibility. I would not have Miss Leette's old
home destroyed for the world."

"Mount !" commands the captain; "we have no
time to lose."

The Mississippi river, in its course to the sea, runs
from a direct line with the waywardness of a head-
strong girl. The meanderings of its channel are
similar to the three wonders — too wonderful for the
wise man, Solomon. Often a steamboat, bound up
or down, heads toward every point of the compass
between sunrise and high noon. Many, many times,
between Cairo and New Orleans, the eye can see
over a narrow peninsula to the river below, — a short
mile, or, at most, not more than five ; yet the stream
runs twenty miles around the almost-island to make
that little distance. Such was Ledonc's Point.
Leette's plantation was on the neck, — ^gazing at
both rivers, yet nearer the south than north. La


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Scheme, riding with the captain, contrived to lead
him to occupy the north side, from which the attack
could easily be renewed on the southern side, there
being ample time for riding across, and other prepa-
ration, while the boats were getting round.

Arriving at the place, the guerillas dismounted
and tied their horses in the woods, out of sight of
the river ; then went to the levee and lay down in a
position to command the approach. In the distance,
coming down, were dark clouds of coal-smoke from
Uncle Sam's big chimneys — ^taxes upon future gen-
erations ascending thick and fast into the air ; one'
dollar a moment, this expedition, to be paid by chil-
dren's children as the price of union, liberty, and a
free government.

The gun-boat was not molested, but passed beyond
the point; so the first transport. Each transport
held a regiment of volunteers, who were packed
away in every possible place. On shore, the trees
heard no rustle save the breathing of their own
leaves ; no voice but the twittering of home birds,
who saw no cause for disquiet or wonder in the
watching, waiting forms, so near the color of the
soil as to seem mounds — newly closed graves.
Nearer and more near came the boat. Two com-
panies, detailed to repel attack, were in line of bat-
tle on the roof. At ease ; the nation's soldiers
rested on their guns, for they were tired. No one
had fired on them all day ; nor the previous night,
when they lay at the bank with their pickets out.
The soldiers not on duty were seeking the little corn-


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fort possible; guns were laid along the deck. A
few were watching. The channel came close to the
bank ; the boat drew near. On the other side, the
Mississippi spread its mighty current over a great
bar. The smooth, shining surface spoke of no dan-
ger ; but the pilot knew, if once he left the channel,
the boat would be as bard and fast aground as
Noah*s ark before the flood, or, when the waters
falling, it ran aground on the summit of Arrarat.
What matter if the rest of the world was an ocean ?
The boat could not swim : so on it came in the
current; nearer and more near, until the distance
seemed so short that a biscuit could be tossed on
shore. Still the guerilla would not give the order,

He loved Leette, and could not bring his heart to
endanger her old home ; to bring the house where she
was born to ruin. He hesitated ; while thus poising,
that man who hated Leette because she saved the life
of James Manet caught the eye of La Scheme. The
eye that tells without speaking, caught a look toward
him, then at the house. With a scowl of rage and
hate, the guerilla raised himself, aimed at the pilot*
house, and fired. Listantly, a volley followed ; gueril-
las loading and firing without command, bullets sing*
ing the leaden zip, zip, zip, among the Federal sol-
dier's oars ; a volley taking them by surprise, which
they feebly returned. The next boat was treated to
the same ; but they were prepared, their pilot ran as far
from the bullet-bank as was possible, so disturbing
the guerillas' calculation of distance on the water,


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that the balls fell short and harmless. When this
was discovered, the gang left the upper point, ran to
their horses to be ready for a new attack below, when
the boats came round.

One man lay stiff, and stark, and cold. The guer-
illa who fired without orders. His captain strode to
his side. " God d — ^n your soul to hell, go home ! "
The poor worthless soul rode on a pistol-bullet out
of the sun, out of the woods ; away from the Ameri-
can bottom, with its river — Father of waters — ^its
mighty bosom, sandy, snaggy ; its quaint forests ; its
cane-brake ; its rebellion ; rode faster than railroad ;
as the lightning, to try the realities of the beyond.
How far was La Scheme guilty ? He did not en-
courage him, he did not command : such encourage-
ment, such command, would have met disobedience ;
he onlyjooked " Don't fire, that house belongs to Le-
ette Ledonc," and the guerilla fired, and went to

The boats came round. Now the guerrillas had
the down side. Boom, boom, boom, burst from the
gun-boat ; shell followed shell. The transports landed,
their troops debarked, formed in line of battle, and
charged double-quick upon the foe, — uselessly;
those horrible shells! those infernal gun-boats!
Horses and riders beat a quick retreat ; and when
the infantry were running eager to avenge the assas-
ination of their comrades, the cut-throats of civilized
warfare, were beyond their reach, frightened by a

They found the butternut, and rolled his carcass


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into the river — ^food for cat-fish. Long before this,
La Scheme sought the plantation, at the door call-
ing, "Leette! Leette ! Quick — quick for your

She met him, cool and collected, her eye flashing
fire. «


" The gun-boats — ^the gun-boats !"

" I do not care, Kendal."

" They have been fired into. Don't you hear ?
They will shell your house. Didn't I tell you?
Where is your horse ? They will burn your house
and take you prisoner. Let the corporal go. Save

" He is safe, and so am I, — Sam, get my horse, —
Uncle, take care of the house, or run off, as you
please. — I am going to stay and see it out."

" Leette ! and ruin all my plans ? Oh, Leette !"

She yielded again, and went with him — not a mo-
ment too soon. The gun-boat had the range, and a
shell burst near the quarters. Old Aunty was com-
ing out, and a fragment disemboweled the innocent
burden-bearer — ^wronged from infancy, wronged in
maturity, killed while being righted — ^free by the Pro-
clamation, killed by a fragment of the Proclaimer's
law-enforcer — ^free by the law of God ; gone to hea-
ven where the dead white guerilla could not go.

When the troops came all was as it had been aban-
doned, save that a shell had already fired the man-
sion. They completed the work and left but chim-


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India has its jungle, Mexico and California their
chaparral. Some vegetation never attempts to grow
straight, shuns right lines as nature abhors a vacuum.
Such is the mesquite. The laurel, too, emulates
perfection in crookedness. A generic term exists in
every language, which gives utterance to the idea
obtained by contact with dehse, luxuriant, tangled

Online LibraryJ. E. ChamberlainCotton stealing. A novel → online text (page 14 of 29)