The Story of Ephraim Robinson (Part 15) by Bill Vallante

There is something quite poignant about Ephraim Robinson’s story but for the life of me I just can’t put down into words why I get a lump in my throat whenever I read it. Despite being thankful that he was free when the war was over, his heart was with the South and he had showed no regrets about his service to her. I guess life’s choices aren’t all that simple?

(Note – the term “Federal” early in the narrative, is an obvious mistake on the part of the interviewer, most likely resulting from either a typo of sorts, or, misunderstanding the person being interviewed. Many black southerners pronounced the word “Confederate” as “Federate”, which might have led the interviewer to believe that he was saying “Federal” – the pronunciation of the word fooled me as well when I first began reading the “Narratives”).

Ephraim Robinson, Mississippi, (The Slave Narratives)

His young "Marster", Captain Allen Morrison of the Federal Army, had carried a young Negro slave as his body-servant to Virginia, and he did not behave so well. So when a friend of the soldier was coming home on furlough, Captain Morrison sent him back home to his father and asked him to send him the boy, Ephriam, to be his waiting boy. Ephriam was anxious to go as he wanted to see things, so his mammy, who was a home-servant, dyed some dove-gray homespun, and his mistress cut out and made him a suit. He remembers the pants having a stripe on the legs.

He remembers changing trains some place in Alabama and riding on the train for many days with the friend of his captain. He also recalls that, at the end of the journey, they were met in a covered cart with two wheels drawn by a red mule and carried into the wilderness to the camp. He was very tired after his trip, and it was many days before he was able to be of any service to his "Marster." But, after that, he did all of his errands, kept his boots shined, and pulled up his boots at night with the aid of a bootjack.

Ephriam claims to have seen the result of two battles, and he says that he saw soldiers in blue piled up, killed in enemy position, and so the same was true of the soldiers in gray. He remembers helping to load carts of arms and legs that army surgeons had removed at the hospitals in order to save lives. These legs and arms were later buried by colored helpers. When asked if he wished to see the Union Army win, he said, no, and that he did not believe they could win wich such men as his "Marsters" fighting them.

At the time of the surrender he was in Culpepper, Virginia. He said that the Southern soldiers cried like babies, and that he cried, too. Later, however, he realized that he and his parents were free, and when he got back home he was glad. His parents stayed right on, as the family had always been kind to them, but as he got older he went off to make money for himself. That was why he came to the city of Vicksburg. He does not know what year he came here, but he says it was not long after the war.

Black History Month & ‘Civil War Memory’ – The 32 Part Series

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