Black History Month and “Civil War Memory”
by Bill Vallante
As in the case of the word “Heritage”, I suppose you’ve got to be southern to understand the meaning of this phrase. Come to think of it, the only folks I’ve ever heard use it are Southerners!? Nelson Taylor Densen’s very colorful narrative epitomizes “Blood in the Fight”. His words give a good picture of the sentiment – as well as some of his interesting views about life in general. Oh, and by the way, Nelson was a Southerner!
Nelson Taylor Densen, Texas, (The Slave Narratives)
"I was fourteen years old w’en Texas seceded, an w’en dey went ter de war my Master Mr. Felix Grundy went ter fight de Yankees, He was in General Hardemans Brigade an was in two or three battles den he cums back ter Texas on a fourlough an w’en dat is out an he goes back I goes with him as his body guard. De first firing he was in New Mexico, den he was transferred ter Louisiana an I was wid him.
"I was sixteen years old by dat time an I kin remember de way hit all was at de battle ob Mansfield, April 9, 1863. We was camped on de Sabine rivers, on de Texas side, an de Yankees on de other side up a little ways, I kin remember de night befo’ how de camp fires looked, hit was a quiet night an de whipperwills er callin’ in de weeds, we was expectin de attack an ter keep us cheerfull we sing, "Tenting Ter Night on de Old Camp Groun’," an’ den we sing, "Just befo’ de battle, Mother, I am thinking most of you, While upon de fiel’ we’re watchin’ Wid de enemy in view. Comrades brave are roun’ me lying, Filled wid thoughts of home an’ God, For well dey know dat on de morrow, Some will sleep beneath de sod.
"We could see across de river de Yankees, an could hear dem, de night so still. In de hush befo’ de battle every man was thinking of his mother, wife and fambly. W’en de bugle sounded taps, every head was bowed in prayer, I kin best describe de attack wid de last verse of song I has jes told yer dey sing. "Hark, I hear de bugles soundin’, ‘Tis de signal fer de fight, Now, may God protect you, Mother, As he ever does de right, Hear de "Battle Cry of Freedom." How hit swells upon de air, Oh, Yes w’ell rally roun’ de standard, Or we’ll perish nobly there.
De Yankees sung de Battle Cry of Freedom, as dey charged on us an we could hear de band er playin’ hit as dey cum, but hit jes made our boys fight de hardest, den we sing dis song, "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, de boys are marchin’. Cheer up comrades dey will cum, And beneath de starry flag, We shall breathe de air again, In de freedom of our own beloved home.
"Dey cum on an’ on, an dey fights. Lord how dey fight’s! I is a stayin’ close ter my Master. I is jes as wild as any fer our boys ter win, yer can hear de clash of de bayonet w’en dey git gray uniforms as dey stood dey groun’ an dey went down befo’ dey would retreat, "In de battle front dey stood, W’en de fiercest charges was made, An’ dey swept us off a hundred men an more, But befo’ we reached dey lines, Dey was beaten back dismayed, An’ we heard de cry of victory o’er an O’er.
"De rebels, our boys in de grey, win’s an captures ’bout er thousan’ Yankees, after dis de Yankees was mos’ of dem taken ter help General Grand at Richmon’ an General Sherman on his march ter de sea.
"De Captain of de company we was in at de battle of Pleasant Hill (near Mansfield), was John Dick Morris, dis company was organized near Marlin, Texas, was called Company B. General J. G. Walker was de District Division Commander, dey was made up in dis company from de town of Marlin an de country, among dem Captain Carter of Cameron was wounded in de battle we was in. "At Yellow Bayou de commanding officer of de brigade we was in was General Banks. Tom Green was killed at Blairs Landin’ on Red River an General Hardeman took Tom Green’s place.
"Bout de last of de war de Yankees commenced ter use de nigger’s dat had run away ter dey lines fer soljers. I don’t know much ’bout dat, but I does know dat de slaves dat was left at home ter look after de wimmen an chillun dat mos of dem stayed an’ kept de work on de place in de crops up an helped ter take keer of de ole men an de wimmen an chillun, dat dey was a whole lot more dat helped ter dis day dey was dat run away ter de Yankees.
"De most of de slaves was happy on de plantations, an dey looked on de war like dis, dat de white man was er fightin’ fer his principles, at least de ones dat understood did. I has seen so much in my long life dat I feels dat God is more an more de Great Ruler, an dat hit all works out fer de best…..
"I knows dat de old order has changed. Men now must be rich, it seems ter be powerful, once hit was not so. Once men held themselves more dearly dan dey held dey possessions. In de days of Ante-Bellum de attitude was fine an bright an glorious, folks believed in de virtues of truth, chastity, an’ chivalry. Dey seem new ter be old fashioned words, whar is de chivalry dat dey lived in de days which yer is writin’ about? Does dey help ter protect de wimmen like dey did in de days of old? No, dey worl’ of finance will take away er womans home jes de same as er man’s. Whar is de demand fer virtue? In de ole days de ole time southern gentlemen demands dat his wife be virtues er he would not marry her, does dey de dis now? No, sad ter say hit looks as if de loose wimmen are de ones dat is preferred.
"Whar would dey grandmothers say ter dem smokin? Yes, de ole fashion way is out ob date, de curtain of smoke swept away, hit seems, de beauty of de past, de sound of de spinning wheel was lost in de machinery of a later day, jes as de stately minuet was lost in de jass dances of dese day’s.
"I hopes dat in de great windup dat in de words of de ole song hit will be dat "His truth will go Marchin’ on." "Mine eyes have seen de glory of de cumin’ of de Lord, He is tramplin’ out de vintage whar de grapes of wrath are stored, He Hath loosed de fateful lightnin’ of His terrible swift sword, His truth is marchin’ on.