Autobiography Of Thomas Withers Caskey
by T.W. Caskey
Written Two Months Before His Death
It is my purpose to give a brief record of my ministerial life from 1840 to 1895 in three parts-the first from 1840 to 1855; the second, from 1855 to 1875; and the third, from 1875 to 1895. The first, embracing fifteen years, was one of struggle and trial to keep soul and body from dissolving their connection; the second, embracing twenty years, was one of success and triumphs; the third has been considerably mixed up. The first period was the beginning, the second was the middle, and the third is the ending. I will strive to give a fair account of each.
I took to myself a wife before I reached the legal age of manhood. She was a poor orphan girl, with a cultivated mind and a pure heart—a graduate of a first-class college. I was looked upon as a fast young man, bidding fair to come to a bad end. I must confess that that opinion was well founded. I was uneducated, undisciplined, headstrong, self-willed, and of a passionate temperament. I had been free from parental restraints and home influence from the age of sixteen, at which time I left the quiet farm life for a life in a county town, and became an apprentice boy to learn the trade of a blacksmith. I served for three years, working from daylight till dark during the summer months, and till nine o'clock at night in the winter. If we worked later than nine, we received twelve and a half cents per hour. We often worked till eleven when pressed with work, every night in the week, and then spent an hour on the street in all sorts of mischief that the minds of boys could conjure up.
I finished my term of service at the age of nineteen. I received my board and clothes, and was to have received a full set of tools for carrying on my trade, but these I did not get. I packed up my expensive wardrobe in a sack, stuck a stick through the string tied around the middle, and traveled footback from Tennessee to Mississippi, and set up in life for myself. I overseed for a time, and could have made a fortune, as the wages were high and the payments certain; but the slaveowners did not feed and clothe as I thought was right, and wanted their slaves worked too hard. Wild and bad as I was, I still had a conscientious conviction as to what was right, just and humane. I quit the business, refusing a thousand dollars a year with not a cent of expense, and went back to my trade.
As heretofore stated, in 1839 I got a Methodist wife, and, as not stated, the same year I got Methodist religion. The wife was a grand success; the religion, a grand failure. But I got it, as all others do who are run through the proselyting machine of their own inventing—that is, by believing that my sins were pardoned. Faith in this proposition, and not faith in Christ, produces that transition of feeling which is called "getting religion," and this feeling is taken as proof of pardon. Well, I was just a great theological and psychological fool, as all the others who make this absurd blunder. The very feelings obtained by believing that we are pardoned, and that can be obtained in no other way, are taken as infallible proof of the truth of the proposition by which the feelings were begotten. One or the other of the things is bound to be true. Either a person gets this feeling by believing that he is pardoned, or unpardoned he gets shoutingly happy by believing that he is condemned. The latter would be insanity run mad. To take the happy feeling as proof of that which created it is no better. This would be to put the cart before the horse, to raise the stream above its fountainhead, to make the creature greater than the Creator. Such is orthodoxy, but I am indulging in philosophizing on feeling instead of recording my experience.
I came through at a camp meeting, and manifested my feelings in the usual manner of that time by shouting long and loud, and throwing my arms around all who came within my reach without regard to age, sex, or previous condition, color excepted. My brother-in-law was a local preacher, and it did not take him and the circuit rider and presiding elders long to find out that I possessed three qualifications for a preacher for those days and times—scriptural ignorance, intemperate zeal, some degree of impudence, and a good pair of lungs—four instead of three. I was called on to pray in public, speak at our love feasts, and assist in leading the class at our class meetings. The discharge of these duties suggested to them that I was the sort of stuff out of which preachers are made, and insisted that I should be put through their preacher-making machine, ground out, cast into their mold, labeled, licensed, and sent out on a circuit.
This led me to examine our doctrine and discipline—a thing I had not thought of before. I took up the "Discipline" and imagined myself a Methodist preacher. Doctrinally, I found questions innumerable which I could not answer. Turning to the Book of books, I found no answer there. In theory I could not understand how a man could be justified by one thing, and when it came to practice, it took four things. In theory it was by faith only; in practice it was by repenting, believing, loving, and praying. I did not understand it then, nor do I now; nor do they, or anyone else. Not to specialize farther, I found our government to be an ecclesiastical despotism without scriptural authority, and un-American. When my examination closed by comparing the two books, I threw the "Discipline" overboard.
Having weighed the creed in the balances and found it wanting, if I abandoned Methodism, whither was I to turn, and where was I to go? I could not remain with them, and the creeds of others were, if possible, worse. Wife said to me: "Why not examine the Scriptures for yourself? We are commanded to search the Scriptures, to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. Our 'Discipline' says that whatever cannot be proven therefrom, or is not clearly deducible or inferable from them, is not binding on us." She had a small Cruden's Concordance. This I took and collated all the Scriptures said on the subject of faith with these questions in my mind: (1) What is it? (2) How do we get it? (3) What is its design? (4) What is its effect? These all being answered by the Scriptures, I passed to repentance with the same questions in my mind, and settled them to my own satisfaction at least, and at that time I was laboring to satisfy my wife and myself only.
I next examined the order in which they were to be obeyed. This being settled, I passed to the third subject—that of baptism—with the following questions: (1) Who are scriptural subjects of baptism? (2) What is the scriptural mode, as we then called it? (3) Who may baptize? (4) What is its design, or why should we be baptized? I reached the conclusion on all these, from which I have not swerved a hair's breadth up to the present time. On spiritual influence I had not thought, and nothing knew, except the popular theory of abstract influence, superadded power, or direct impact to enable the sinner to exercise saving faith. This subject I did not examine till some years after I began to preach.
In my investigation with regard to the order in which these commands were to be obeyed I reached the conclusion that the Scriptures clearly taught that faith was first, repentance second, and baptism third. The theory of all pedobaptist parties was that baptism was first, repentance second, and faith third. Some difficulties here presented themselves to my mind. How, I asked myself, can a man repent without faith? I thought then, and still think, that it is an impossibility, unless the laws that govern the mental and emotional nature of man are annihilated, together with the law of God in revelation, as well as in the nature of man. . . .
The creation of this dogma created another thing not bargained for. It created the necessity for transposing the divine order, and necessity knows no law. They were compelled to bring repentance this side of faith. They could not place it the other side, unless they taught the saved to be sorry that they were pardoned. This, however, would not be more absurd or hurtful than the doctrine itself. Having already shown the conflict between their theory and practice, I need not pursue this thought any further. Their theory says justified by faith only, their practice says by four things—repenting, believing, loving, and praying; and then they have doubts about it after doing three more things than their theory demands.
I now resume the line of thought on which I was touching. Having reached my conclusions on these things, I presented some of my difficulties to my brother-in-law. He had a small library; I had none. Among his books were Clarke's "Commentary," Wesley's "Notes and Doctrinal Tracts," and one volume of Henry on "The Acts of the Apostles." These I carefully read on the mode (so called) of baptism. Instead of being convinced by the strength of their arguments that they were right, I was convinced by their weakness that they were wrong. . . .
Well, I was about as deep in the mud as they were in the mire. Instead of wasting my time pouring over the pages of these writers, worrying my mind and distressing my heart, had there been someone there to baptize me, I could have settled the matter in half an hour, as I afterward did. Was it to do over again, I would say to my wife: "Let us go down to the creek; you baptize me, and I will baptize you." All Christians have a right to baptize. My wife was a Christian, and inherited the right, as all Christians do. It is a birthright. It never was an official act. I have debated this subject many times, and I have yet to meet the man who would debate it the second time. Other issues I have debated three or four times with the same man.
When I developed my views to my brother-in-law, he said: "That is full-grown Campbellism." For the first time this word fell on my ears. I had never heard of this ism before. Said I: "What is that?" He replied: "It is baptized infidelity." I said that I did not know that infidels baptized at all. He then gave me the history of it as far as he had learned it. I found out afterward that he knew no more about it than I did, and those from whom he got it knew as little as either of us. He had never seen or heard one of those who were thus stigmatized, nor had his preaching brethren who were his informants ever heard one of them. I said to him: "If what I have stated to you is what they preach, I would go a long distance to hear one of them, and I did. I did not then know that any man living believed what I then believed.
A few days after this, two of what they called "Campbellite" preachers, traveling on horseback through that part of the state, stopped at a neighbor's house to get their dinner and their horses fed. This neighbor had a brother who was a member of a small church called "Campbellites," "New Lights," "Schismatics," "Heretics," "Baptized Infidels," etc. This I learned afterward. The village at which this small squad had organized was some thirty-five miles from the place where I had set up my blacksmith shop. My neighbor, Captain Darden, had learned something of these people through his brother. I had been there but a year, and knew nothing of this or any other church bearing these names. Captain Darden, learning that they were preachers of his brother's sort, requested them to stay and preach at his house that night, and to this they agreed. He then sent a Negro boy with the announcement through the settlement. His house was large, but the curiosity was larger. The house was full to overflowing, not even standing room left. Heads filled the windows, while the bodies to which they were fastened were outside. Old Brother John Mulkey, from Kentucky, preached an hour and a half, followed by Brother Allen Kendrick with half an hour. Brother Mulkey was in his eighty-sixth year; Brother Kendrick was, I suppose, about thirty, perhaps not more than twenty-five, and boyish-looking except in height. An invitation was given. Captain Darden, his wife, and three or four others who had tried for years to get religion at the mourners' bench, went forward and made the confession required. I arose and asked them to preach at my house the next night, which they did. The house was crowded, as the night before. It was impossible for me to get where they stood. Brother Kendrick preached, followed by Brother Mulkey. They went over the ground which had claimed my undivided and critical investigation for months previous. When the invitation was given, I arose and said: “I do believe with all my heart that Jesus is the Christ, and demand baptism at your hands!' Others did the same, to the number of twelve. The next morning we were baptized. My wife was not in condition to be baptized, but was baptized some months afterward by Brother Darden.
At this time we knew nothing but faith, repentance, and baptism. They told us that it was our duty to meet on every first day of the week to study the Scriptures, to sing and pray, to exhort one another to love and good works, and to honor the Savior's death and resurrection, keeping the day in memory of his resurrection, and partaking of the loaf and cup in memory of his death. They advised us to meet at our houses in the afternoon, as this would not interfere with our going to the other churches in the forenoon, and this for a time we did.
Here is where these preachers made a great mistake, and one which I made for years after I began to preach—a mistake which has been repeated by hundreds of preachers, and is yet repeated by some. The cause is seriously retarded by both. Had these brethren remained, they could have organized a church of perhaps two hundred members, and could have taught and trained them in the work of the Lord, but they had an appointment ahead of them and must go on. The church in that vicinity numbered over two hundred, made up of mixed material. Many could not tell when they were pardoned, others did not believe they were pardoned at all, and others had no religion enjoyment either in the preaching or other religious services. They were simply holding on for fear of dying and going down to ruin. Some had apostatized, having lost their faith in their pardon. At least two-thirds of this church could have been "taught the way of the Lord more perfectly," and made to rejoice in the full assurance of faith and the hope of eternal life. They could not have been hurt by the change, and in this life they would have been filled with joy and peace. All gloomy doubts and misty fears would have vanished as darkness before the rising sun, and they would have died in hope of reaching the better land.
I had no idea at that time of leaving my church. On the following Sunday I took my accustomed seat among the saints—if not saints in light, it was among the saints in darkness. The circuit rider did not preach, but spent an hour in a tirade of abuse and misrepresentaton, bitter invectives and denunciations against the preachers and what they preached, and against all those who believed as they did. He called on my brother-in-law to offer prayer, and the prayer was in keeping with the harangue that had preceded it. When he arose from his knees, I arose to my feet. He commanded me to be seated and be silent, raised his hands, and dismissed the audience. I requested them to resume their seats, which they did, the preacher included. I will not repeat what I said, but, to use a cant phrase, I did a big job of skinning. From that time on for about six months we had a lively time every Sunday; for as we had two local preachers, we had preaching every Sunday. They could not turn me out, and I would not get out. I was the Ishmael in the church; every man's hand was against me, and my hand was against him. My wife's relations ignored us socially; and finally I told them that if they would give me a letter indorsing my religious character, I would withdraw from them. They wished to know what I wanted with a letter. I replied: "To silence the tongue of slander. You dare not slander me while I am one of you; but as soon as I sever the connection, you will say that I was always a hypocrite." They gave me the letter, and we parted.
The first Sunday after the preaching brethren left us we met at the house of Captain Darden, this being the most central and largest one belonging to any of the little band; and here began my preaching life. We did not call it preaching then, but it was preaching, or I have never preached yet. I read an appropriate portion of the word and commented on it after singing and prayer. I did this because I was the only one who could or would do so. We then broke the loaf, sang a hymn, and went out. In a short time some of our less prejudiced neighbors requested us to meet in a large schoolhouse near by. This we did, and soon our house was full every Sunday evening. Brother Darden soon mustered up courage enough to offer prayer and deliver a word of exhortation. This state of things ran for about two years, during which I made no effort to proselyte anyone.
The community was not wanting in wealth, and contained quite a number of intelligent and well-educated people with whom my wife had associated before we were married. When we were invited out to dine or take tea after our marriage, as we frequently were, I soon found out that the conversation ran on subjects that I knew no more about than a goat did of geometry. I was like the boy the calf ran over—I had nothing to say. They talked of philosophy, poetry, science, and art. Their conversation was addressed to my better half. I found myself dwindled down to the position of junior partner in the matrimonial firm, and a silent partner at that. This stung my pride. When we had a dining, where the guests were more of a mixture, we would form two parties on the principle that "birds of a feather flock together." Those of us who had studied and practiced horse-ology, poker-ology, and all the other games of card-ology, showed off our knowledge to each other, while the other party showed off their knowledge of the ologies contained in books. They took no interest in ours, and we took none in theirs. I chafed under this state of affairs, and I soon determined that I would neither play second fiddle to my wife nor dance at the barefooted reel when it came round. I devotedly loved my wife, greatly admired her knowledge, and was very proud of her; but still like a caged eagle, I beat my wings against the bars of ignorance in which I was caged and resolved to break them. I had received but fifteen months' schooling, extending from the age of six years to between fifteen and sixteen. The last six months I went to school I worked an acre of cotton of mornings, evenings, and Saturdays to pay my tuition and get me some Sunday clothing, and walked four miles barefooted over rocks to do this.
With me, to resolve was to do. My wife had some books, I borrowed some, and some I bought. I worked in my shop in the summer from daylight till dark; and for six months, including the winter and part of the fall and spring, from daylight till nine o'clock at night. When my day's work was over, I would go to my house, eat my supper, turn a chair down against what was called the "jam" in the old-fashioned fireplace (chimneys made of sticks and clay), placed a pillow on the back of the chair, lie down on the floor with my head resting on the pillow, and then by the light of a pine knot in the fireplace study for two hours. My work during the day being purely mechanical to a great extent, and therefore requiring but little thought, I would thoroughly digest during the day my two hours' reading of the night before. I studied history, ancient and modern, sacred and profane, logic and rhetoric, and dabbled some in the ologies. I studied English grammar, my wife helping me over the hard places.
After I went to evangelizing, I bought a book and tried my head at Latin grammar. It was my habit to read on horseback, and in this way I read thousands of pages. So I waded into my Latin grammar, got lost in Big Black Swamp, missed my dinner, traveled ten miles out of my way, which gave me a ride of fifty miles to fill my appointment, got there just as the audience was gathering, and got no supper till after preaching. If there is any sense in Latin, I failed to find it, and was so disgusted that I threw my book into the first creek I crossed the next morning, and thus bade adieu to dead languages. I speak but one, and that was taught me by my black mammie, who was from the coast of Guinea. She had forgotten her native tongue, except to count to ten. This, too, I learned from her, and I have found it useful in my debating life. In replying to Greek and Hebrew criticism from pedant preachers who could not read and translate a single verse in either, I would offset them by counting ten in Guinea, thus impressing the audience with the fact that they knew as much of one as of the other; and so we would make a dead fall of it, and I would be bothered no more with that which neither they, nor I, nor the audience knew anything about. These studies were kept up for about two years while I continued at my trade-studying the Scriptures and preaching as I learned. Of course I expected no pay, and in this I was not disappointed.
Near the close of 1842 I followed the wife of my boyhood days to her last resting place in a lonely grove amidst the sighing pines. Standing by her grave, I made a solemn vow that so long as I could keep soul and body from parting company I would devote my life to preaching the gospel of God's anointed Son. That vow I have secretly kept, till now I can preach no more. These are the saddest words I have ever written, or ever expect to write. The hand of earthly fortune has been held out to me, earth-born fame was not beyond my reach, and military power was within my grasp. These temptations were strong; but, thank God, they moved me not. I sold my shop and the tools of my trade, and turned away from that to a higher and holier work. Other hands would now my bellows blow, other hands would make my anvil ring and light up the darkness of the night with showers of sparks from the heated iron; but the memory of these, I felt, would cling to me through life. Long as it has been since, and many and varied as have been the scenes through which I have passed, the clanging of the anvil, as 'tis wafted on the soft breezes of the night, has a fascination for me yet. I quit hammering iron into the shape I wanted it with an iron hammer faced with steel, and went to heating and hammering the souls of men with the fire and hammer of God's word (Jer. 23: 29), but found out by sad experience that hot iron yielded to the blows of the hammer more readily and could be worked into the proper shape much easier than the cold souls of men.
I started out as an evangelist with the promise of $250 a year from a country church some sixty miles from where I had been living. I think their idea was that if the Lord would keep me humble, they would keep me poor. How well the Lord succeeded, I know not; that they succeeded, I do know. Churches were then, "like angels' visits, few and far between—thirty, sixty, and a hundred miles apart If you made inquiry for a Christian church, you would never find it. I went where I pleased, stayed as long as I pleased, and preached as I pleased. I traveled and preached three years before I read a line from any of our own books and papers—not because I could not, but because I would not. I had been badly fooled by great men, which was their fault; but if I permitted great men among us to fool me the second time, the fault would be mine. I said just what the Bible said, and nothing more. I determined to examine all subjects for myself, unbiased and uninfluenced by what others said. In after years I studied the subject of church organization and government.
Originality of thought was a leading element of my mental organization, and the course which I pursued cultivated it. To this I am indebted for all that I am, or will ever be. Occasionally a little of the old leaven would get into my sermon, when some old elder of a church who was free born would call my attention to it; and as I was teachable, that would be the last of it. On one question I differed from the elders and members of the church that sent me out, and also from their preacher, the venerable William Clark, of Jackson, Miss. They wanted me to be ordained by the imposition of hands, but I refused. We discussed the question for several hours. I alleged that I had been preaching for two years. If without authority, then I had been sinning all these years; if with authority, then it must be from a higher source than any or all churches. I claimed a divine right to do any and all things 'that any other Christian could do, male or female, bond or free; that it was a birthright; that the administration of baptism was not an official act; that Paul baptized, not as an apostle, but as a Christian, citing in proof his own language to the church at Corinth. Some of these Corinthians got it into their sapient heads that baptism was more valid when administered by Paul, others by Apollos, and others still by Peter. Paul set his apostolic foot down on all such tomfoolery, and held them quiet till he could get common sense enough into their heads to enable them to understand that all that was needed to help a man to obey this command was a little common sense and physical strength enough to perform the act "decently and in order." Paul inherited the right when he was raised out of the water, and could have baptized others before he changed his clothes.
They made no effort to meet these facts, but said: "Suppose we refuse to license you to preach unless you are ordained by the imposition of hands?" I replied: "I suppose I will do as I have been doing for the past two years—go ahead and preach. I do not suppose that the imposition of your hands, or any other hands, will put any knowledge into my head, or purity into my heart, or money into my pocket; and with me a ceremony that does none of these things has no meaning and is of no use." Without entering on the reason why it was ever done? I pass on. They then asked me what I desired to do. I said: "I am going among strangers, and I want an endorsement of my Christian character, and a statement that you have faith in me that I will preach what you believe. Should I differ from you on any vital subject connected with the scheme of redemption, my self-respect will cause me to sever my connection with the brotherhood as an organization, though still united with them in heart." I have always had but little respect for a preacher who sails under false colors. It smacks too much of the wolf in sheep's clothing.
During the four years following, I traveled far and wide, preaching day and night, making the mistake of not staying long enough in one place and of sending appointments in advance. I baptized hundreds where there was no church, and added hundreds to weak churches scattered over the state (Mississippi). Fortunately or unfortunately, I was drawn into a debate by a church at Oakland, Miss., with a talented Methodist preacher who was an experienced debater. I was but a clerical three year-old calf that had grazed alone on dry grass. I was satisfied that I got badly butted off the track; but our people were satisfied, and so were theirs. The debate was conducted pleasantly; and if no good was done, no harm resulted. Ten years afterward, in passing through Memphis, I found my old opponent in charge of a church in that city. I called to see him, and said to him: "I am convinced that ten years ago you got me under. Since that time I flatter myself that I have acquired some debating sense, having conducted some twenty debates in these ten years. I now desire that we try again." He laughingly replied: "I most respectfully decline. I am content with the laurels won ten years ago, and am not inclined to have them wilted by the same hands that twined them around my brow." His name was Singleton J. Henderson. . . .
At the end of four years I married my present wife, near Gainesville. Ala. She was a widow and the mother of two little boys, age twelve and ten years. She owned a Negro woman, which her father had given to her when the girl was six years old. This woman was the mother of a boy and girl about the same age as my wife's children. I divided my time from 1845 up to 1849 between Alabama and Mississippi, organizing some four churches at Gainesville and in the surrounding community, which numbered from fifty to one hundred fifty members each. I traveled on horseback between Gainesville and Jackson, Miss., a distance of two hundred fifty miles, preaching at night in the county sites along the road, swimming creeks to meet my appointments, baptizing and going on to my next appointment without changing my clothes. I never baptized in my shirt sleeves, nor out of my boots or shoes, and I could not carry a change of clothes.
My trips covered about one month each. Often on reaching home I could spend only two days, and never more than a week. My compensation was $500, out of which I had to pay traveling expenses. My readers will wonder how I supported two women and four children on such a meager salary. I answer: I did not support them at all. My better two-thirds supported herself and the children, aided by her faithful servant, whom she had raised from her sixth year, and who was more of a companion than a slave. We lived on chickens and eggs, milk and butter. Her garden, dairy, poultry yard, and pigpen gave us an abundance. We could have fared sumptuously every day and Sunday too, had it not been for the edict of that universal tyrant, and more than universal fool, public opinion, which decreed that none but Negroes and poor white trash, as the Negroes called poor people before the war, should sell chickens, eggs, or butter. We, being neither Negroes nor poor white trash—God knows we were poor enough, but not trash—could sell none of these things. If I had had as much sense then as I have now, I would have sent a hired, trusty Negro man to Aberdeen on his own hook to sell them as his own. I could have supported two families such as ours, and thus dodged the iron scepter of this relentless tyrant. One year my wife raised five hundred chickens, and of course had eggs by the bushel. We fed the Negro children on them, and gave away the surplus to our neighbors who either could not or would not raise them. Our two weeks' fall basket meeting caused many of their heads to be wrung off, and helped us to dispose of them.
During the four years I preached in that portion of the state, aided by other preachers, the home church, Palo Alto, grew from twenty-six to three hundred fifty, and no "poor white trash" in it. The church was worth not less than $1,000,000. Within an area of three hundred miles we built up ten other churches, embracing from thirty to two hundred members. My salary, as I have already stated, was $500. It is due to the home church to say that they would have paid me more and sustained me among them had they not entangled themselves in a cooperative work without the knowledge to run the machinery. The conventions were composed of delegates from the churches, some of which were located in the black lands where wealth abounded, others in the sandy lands where poverty flourished. To the prairie farmer a dollar looked as big as a dime, but to the piney-woods farmer it looked as big as a cart wheel. As a matter of course, the piney woods were in the majority and fixed the amount of pay. I was offered $1,500 to preach for the church in Jackson or Port Gibson, with permission to hold meetings for destitute churches, for two months of each year, which would increase my salary to $1,800. I offered to remain and evangelize in that large field (Palo Alto) for $1,000, but was voted down.
My children were needing schooling, and I was barely making ends meet. I had baptized two-thirds of those who tabled the resolution offered by the home church delegates to give me the $1,000. Their ultimatum was $600. You may imagine the agony of soul which it caused me. I had baptized more than one thousand in that field of labor. The most successful years of all my preaching life, so far as additions are concerned, had been spent in that field. I resigned in sorrow and disgust, accepted the call from the church at Jackson, and never regretted it. That church was liberal, faithful, and true for six years, up to the time of the war. One year after I left, that large and wealthy church (Palo Alto) withdrew from and broke up the cooperation. Churches were going down as rapidly as they had been built up. They wrote to me to come and hold a protracted meeting. I went and preached for them ten days and nights, and added thirty by confession and baptism. They offered me $3,000 to resign at Jackson, become their "pastor," and hold meetings for destitute churches. I declined their liberal offer.
This closes the first chapter of my preaching life. The trials and struggles for bread and meat were ended forever.
I became pastor of the church in Jackson. Miss. January 1, 1855. I served that church up to 1861, preaching for it three Sundays in each month and one Sunday for a congregation in a wealthy community in Yazoo County, some thirty-five miles from Jackson. The church at Jackson paid me $1,000 a year, and the other church, which I built up, $500. They allowed me two months in which to hold protracted meetings for destitute churches and at favorable points where there were no churches. During these years I increased the number of members in Brandon, and built up a church of sixty members at Hebron, five miles from Brandon in a wealthy farming community. There were three churches represented in that community—Baptist, Methodist, and Disciples—neither of them being able to build a house of worship. Those not members of any church would not aid any one of the parties to build for itself alone. They said: "We want preaching every Sunday, but each of you can give us only one. Unite your means and build a union church, and we will make the balance up. At the same time we will build a female college which will reflect credit on the neighborhood, and we can then educate our daughters and small boys at home." This met the approbation of all concerned. I, as high priest of Jackson Royal Arch No. 6 laid the cornerstone of each, and the buildings went up, and yet stand, and have proved a blessing to all parties.
The buildings completed, we appointed a union meeting, to be represented by a preacher from each religious body. We met and preached alternately for ten days and nights. To each preacher was then assigned a Sunday and the week following. Should he desire to protract, the preacher whose Sunday and week followed gave him his time, and the courtesy was reciprocated. Each organized a church and added to the number of its members. There was not a discordant note heard during all the years that I remained in that part of the state. Some one of our preachers occupied the time allotted to us. We were careful not to tread on each other's theological corns. As the rooster said to the horses when shut up in the stable with them, "Gentlemen, let us be careful not to tread on each other's toes," so we were more careful than we would have been had the building belonged to any one exclusively. I most heartily commend this plan to all country and village bodies of professed Christians.
During the months allowed me for holding protracted meetings I made an average of $300 a year, which raised my yearly salary to $1,800. Some of my Negro children whom I had raised had become producers, and relieved me of some of the burden of supporting so many non-producers. Most of them had grown up in the yard with my own children. My wife often nursed them at her own breast, while her Negro woman, of whom I spoke in the preceding chapter, often nursed our own children. In all my relation to slavery I bought only two Negroes. I was compelled by circumstances to part one Negro woman from her husband. His owner would not sell him, nor would I sell her. She remained unmarried two years, and grieved so much that it excited our deepest compassion. She said she would never marry, if she had to separate again. I told her that it should not occur. She married again, and again I changed my locality. I owned a Negro man really worth more than her husband. His owner, knowing the status of affairs, made me pay $400 difference between them. Her husband died during the war. My nephew, for whom I was guardian, owned the wife of a Negro man that the owner was compelled to sell. He came to me, and the two, husband and wife, cried me into buying him. The reward I got for that act of kindness was that in less than a year he availed himself of the emancipation proclamation and left for parts unknown, so that I saw him no more.
My faithful servant had died at the age of thirty-five, leaving ten children—the oldest a boy nearly grown, the next a girl not quite old enough for a cook. The woman whose husband I had bought, I had kept hired out, and knew but little about her except that she was a Negress of good taste, cleanly habits, and a good cook. She was hired by the month; and when the month was out, wife installed her as a cook, and she cooked for us one year. I have known many thieves, both white and black; but of all I ever knew, she was head and shoulder above them all. By years of practice she had reduced it to an exact science that defied detection. She had not been long in our house before she had keys that fitted all the locks on the premises. She made it a rule to gather up keys of all sorts wherever found. It was then the custom to lay in a year's supply of groceries through our commission merchant in New Orleans. From these she would steal in such small quantities that it would not be missed, as one candle at a time, one teacup of sugar, and so of everything, even of the beefsteak she fried for breakfast and which her mistress had never seen. In a word, she levied a contribution on everything that lay within her reach.
Our faithful cook, whose loss we deeply deplored and over which we and the children shed many tears, had been so strictly honest that we suspected nothing of the new one till our eyes were opened by her many thefts. No anti-slavery man has any true conception of the attachment existing in a family of the two races in such a household as ours was. Our children called their mother "Miss Bettie" and our cook "Mammie." They call her that yet. I have stood by the open graves of the millionaire, and of those whose brows have worn the wreaths of official fame; but for the first time the flowing tears and the swelling grief choked my voice when I attempted to speak of the humble, faithful, Christian slave who slept the sleep that knows no waking till the resurrection morn. My readers will kindly pardon this digression.
The remuneration I received for buying the husband of the other woman to keep them from being separated was that in one year she stole and fed to the servants of other families not less than $300 in provisions. The pay she got was that her husband ran off and left her in less than a year. In that one year I lost by the death of my cook's husband $1,400; by the absquatulation of the thief's husband, $700; and by her stealing, $300. As to the loss by the death of the faithful one, dollars have no meaning. So that often in the midst of seeming prosperity we are in the midst of adversity.
In the second year of my pastorate I bought a house and lot, for which I paid $1,600. I put about $1,000 on the premises in the way of improvements. The second year of the war I sold the place for $4,000 when Confederate money was as good as gold. I had no use for money, and deposited it, so that when I needed it, it would be on hand. The time came when I needed it very bad, but it was not money. When Congress passed the funding law, I put that with other thousands into Confederate bonds, and what became of them it is needless to say. I was compelled either to sell or rent my house. Two years before the war began, a friend of mine owned a fine farm in fifteen miles of Jackson. He had land, but not hands enough to cultivate it. My Negroes were accumulating on my hands; and as I had no land, we formed a partnership, each feeding and clothing his own Negroes, I furnishing as many horses and mules as he had, and paying him for superintending my hands. The ditching and opening of more land, putting up some needed buildings, and repairing old ones, paid for the rent of the land worked by my Negroes. This went on for two years harmoniously and profitably to both parties. It was highly satisfactory to my slaves, for up to that time they had been scattered and hired out to different persons, and some of them had not been well treated.
The election of 1860 came off, and Abraham Lincoln was chosen as President by the abolition vote. Not long after, the tocsin of war sounded throughout the sunny Southland, and the cry, "To arms, to arms, for your country, your altars, your friends, and your native land!" was heard. The secession ball in motion was set, and began to roll and rolled on and on till it crushed the hands of those who caused it first to move. It may be of some interest, at least to Mississippi readers, to have a true history of the inauguration of that fatal movement, and to it I will devote a few pages. Before doing this, however, I will finish giving the reason why we sold our city property. My nephew, for whom I was guardian, owned some Negroes, all of whom were women and children. My partner enlisted in the army, and so did my nephew at the age of seventeen. I was in the field, there was no white person on the place, and I was compelled to move my wife and children to the farm.
The people in Mississippi were divided into two parties: the Union party, led by Bell and Everett; and the State Rights party, by Breckinridge and Lane. In the city [Jackson s.d.h.] the State Rights side predominated. A mass meeting was called, and after much discussion it was resolved that a committee of fifteen be appointed to consider the whole matter and advise as to what was best to be done. In courtesy to the minority, the Bell wing were to have eight and the Breckinridge wing seven. No prominent politician was to be placed on the committee. It was to be a movement of the people. We met, and after examining the subject in all of its phases, as far as we were able, it was agreed that two of our number be selected, whose duty it should be to draft resolutions which were to be submitted to a mass meeting in the State House the following night. Judge Wiley P. Harris and myself were chosen. I presume that the reason why I was chosen was that I was the most nonpolitical member on the committee. I had never taken any part or interest in politics, had never voted for a President till the election just passed, when I voted for Breckinridge. We met and discharged our duty.
The resolutions were written by Judge Harris, with an occasional suggestion from me. Of him, nothing need be said. His reputation is too well known. If there is any honor due, it is his. If any dishonor, no man living or dead would bear it more heroically than he. Of the resolutions, I will say nothing except of the last one of the series. The Judge and myself were both the confidential advisers of Governor Pettus, and had been from the beginning of the trouble. We were, therefore, thoroughly posted with regard to the movements of South Carolina. It was the desire of the Governor of that state that Mississippi should take the initial step. Governor Pettus feared to risk his state as parties then stood—not that he or we had any doubt with regard to the almost universal desire to secede; but a great number were in favor of calling a convention of all the Southern states, and of all walking out together by a cooperation of states. The overwhelming majority, however, were in favor of each state acting in her own capacity as a sovereign, and going out of the Union on her own responsibility. What we feared in adopting their plan was that while there was no Union sentiment avowed, we did not know how much might be covered up under the cloak of a cooperation of states. We feared that said convention, instead of cooperating us out, might cooperate us in. There were also other reasons; but I am not arguing the question, I am simply giving the facts.
Had we not feared to trust their plan, and had all the Southern states agreed to secede, there would have been no bloodshed. The war was inaugurated by the North and the South being mutually deceived by lying editors on both sides. The North vastly overestimated the strength of the Union element in the South; the South as greatly overestimated, not the numerical strength of the believers in the doctrine of state sovereignty in the North, but in the strength of their backbone to stand up to their conviction. They betrayed us and themselves, and are mainly responsible for all the blood and tears which were caused to flow, for all the sighs and groans, for all the deaths and broken hearts caused by the fratricidal strife, "Beast" Butler leading the van.
But I have wandered from the resolutions, the last of which was in these words: "The fate of South Carolina shall be our fate." The meeting assembled in the legislative hall. There was no standing room for half that came. The leading lights of the state were there. The bench, the bar, the pulpit, the press, and the political rostrum were all represented. The great, grand, good, and lamented Lamar was there. In all that assembly of giant minds, but one alone grasped the situation, and that was Ex-Governor A. G. Brown. All the others never dreamed of war. They relied on the State Rights democracy, who had all their lives contended, and had gone on record by their votes, that a state had a constitutional right to withdraw herself from the compact—to be judged of her own grievances, first to seek redress, and if not granted, then to secede if she desired to do so. The sentence uttered by Lamar in his speech before that great gathering will ring in ears of many a reader of these pages: "I will pledge myself to drink every drop of blood that is shed by this act of secession." This was received amidst thunders of applause. No more popular sentiment ever fell from the lips of a man. Ex-Governor Brown remained silent at the time, but privately to his confidential friends, among whom I was numbered, he said that peaceable secession was a Utopian dream. Afterward, in addressing the assembled Legislature, he quoted the maxim, "In time of peace, prepare for war;" and added, "We are standing on the brink of a volcano, on the verge of such a war as has not been fought in all ages past." How true his prediction, how keen his perception, let history tell!
Thus the ball was set in motion so far as Mississippi was concerned. For the truth of these statements the reader is referred to the files of the Mississippian, edited at that time by the Hon. Ethel Barksdale. Both wings of the party took the stump, to use a political phrase, after the resolution passed submitting the question to the people. Prominent politicians and others were put in nomination for the convention. It was the desire of my brethren, who were all what were known as straight-out secessionists, that I should vacate the pulpit except on Sundays and take the field. I did so, and met the cooperative candidate on the rostrum as long as the campaign lasted. The struggle resulted in an overwhelming majority for separate state action. When the convention assembled, so few had been elected on the cooperative ticket that when the vote was had, they did not vote at all. A resolution was offered to make it unanimous by a rising vote, and all arose except one man. He had the nerve and felt conscientiously bound to vote "no," as he had been elected by a cooperative constituency, and his vote stands on the journal of the convention solitary and alone. He was the first man to raise a company for the war, and was elected captain and afterward colonel. How high he ascended on the military ladder, I do not now remember. I allude to Colonel Thornton, of Brandon, Miss. I do know that a truer man than he lived not, and a braver man never unsheathed a sword. He survived the war, and is living yet so far as known to me.
When the war became a fixed fact, our state treasurer resigned his office, and raised a company of the wealthiest and best-educated young men in the city [Jackson.]. He was chosen captain; and when the company was merged into a regiment at Corinth, he became a colonel. The Attorney General and myself both canvassed the state and helped to talk our people out of the Union. We were among those who would shed the last drop of blood coursing through their veins, fall back and burn everything between them and the advancing foe, die in the last ditch, be driven into the Atlantic Ocean and drowned beneath its onrolling billows, rather than submit. We said with the immortal Henry: "Give me liberty, or give me death." I was in earnest, and remained so. He was at the time, no doubt, also in earnest; but he never gave them a chance to give him death or a sleep beneath the ocean waves. I did; and if I could have had my way, I would have died in the last ditch, or my body would now be slumbering in the deep sea. When he said to me one day, "Doctor, what are you going to do?" I replied, "General, it is too late to ask that question. We have crossed the Rubicon; we have burned the bridge behind us; and we would lose, and justly too, the confidence and respect of our people, and, worse than all, our own self-respect, should we falter now. To me the last ditch would be a bed of flowers, or the bottom of the deep a bed of eider down, compared to such recreancy as this."
I had promised the boys, many of whom were members of my congregation, and the few elderly men with them, who composed Company A, that I would be the chaplain of their regiment. In compliance with this promise, after declining the chaplaincy of two other regiments, I went to Richmond, where, at the request of the men through their colonel, I received my commission from the Secretary of War and joined the command at Manassas Junction. This was the headquarters of General Beauregard, for whom I never entertained much respect, either as a military chieftain or as a man. In this respect I stood almost alone, but after developments proved that I was not far wrong.
My duty as chaplain extended no farther than preaching; any other thing done was voluntary on my part. I took upon myself various other duties, such as taking charge and control of our regimental hospital. The surgeon had the entire control of the hospital, but at the request of Dr. Holloway I relieved him of all care, except the administration of his medicine. The nurses were detailed from the various companies. The captains usually did not like to detail their best men. There would always be enough men in every company who were worthless for all camp and drill duties. It was more trouble to get work out of them than it was worth when it was done, for it was usually only half done at the best. The physician would send a requisition for a number of men needed. The colonel would send it to the captain, each of whom was to furnish his quota. Each captain called for volunteers—one, two, or three, as the case might require; and in nine cases out of ten the most worthless man or men in the company would step out—men that would eat what was prepared for the sick, drink the whisky prescribed for them, and then sit down at the card table and play poker while the sick men were calling for water or begging to have their faces washed, their heads combed, or their clothes changed, the poor fellows being too feeble to do these things for themselves. The doctor did not have his office in the hospital, which was nothing but a tent; and if he had, his duty to the sick would have prevented him from looking after the cooking, clothing, bedding, and nursing.
The colonel was also anxious that I should take charge of all these things. I told him I would do so on one condition—that he would issue an order to all the captains to detail such men as I selected; that these men be placed under me to be retained, dismissed, or sent to the guardhouse as a punishment for the nonperformance of duty; otherwise I would have nothing to do with it. He complied with my request, and I chose men who would in my judgment do all they could from principle and from sympathy with the suffering. I chose one to see to the preparation of the diet prescribed, and to see that the patient ate just what was prescribed. Ladies sometimes came in and almost killed some of my patients by stuffing them with goodies. I did not choose a cart driver or a carpenter for this duty, but a man who had run a first-class restaurant before the war. I selected another to superintend the cleanliness of the clothing and bedding of the sick, and of the floors if we occupied a house.
These reported to me daily any insubordination or neglect of duty. For insubordination they were dismissed. For gross neglect of duty I gave them thirty-six hours' solitary confinement in the guardhouse, without bread or water, and sent them back to the camp. The result of this was that when the Seventeenth Regiment, under Colonel Featherstone, had lost eighteen men, and that under Colonel Barksdale nineteen, ours, the Sixteenth, had lost only three, and yet we were encamped within sight of each other. Those regiments had chaplains, but they did nothing but preach and visit their church members. Their surgeon left the nursing to the nurses. Neither of them paid much, if any, attention to them. I visited each of the hospitals, and took in the situation. I described it to their commanders at their headquarters, but I will not describe it here. I draw the mantle of charity over it. Their position was new, and so of the surgeons and chaplains. In fact, the whole machinery was new, and ran roughly, and with much friction. Suffice it to say that I saw brave men dying, not only from disease, but from homesickness.
I made another condition when I took the responsibility of trying to save the lives of my fellow soldiers that the colonel was to visit the hospital daily when other duties permitted, pass between the bunks, and utter a few words of cheer and comfort to the men. He promised that he would do so, and he faithfully kept that promise. I said to him what I afterward said to Colonels Featherstone and Barksdale when I called at their headquarters and drew a faithful picture of their hospitals. I said to them: "Your negligence is killing the men. They have left fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, wives and children, and those to whom they were affianced, besides state and home and friends, to follow their country's flag upheld by your hands. They find themselves sick nigh unto death on a hard and dirty mattress, with faces unwashed and unshaven, and hair unkept, the stimulants prepared for them going down the thirsty throats of brutes in human form, and the food prepared for them to eat going the same way.
Editors Note —Deleted Section Here – containing information about the terrible conditions connected with the camp hospitals— We seek that section to add here. It was excluded when printed in the pages of the Gospel Advocate in 1948 because its detail was deemed too strong for readers.
Thus neglected, on you alone they had to depend for their protection and their rights; and you failed them in their utmost hour of need. When disease reaches a crisis, as all dangerous diseases do, when nature and medicine are doing their best to win the fight for life, it requires but a feather's weight to tip the scale. The influence of mind over matter tells the ghastly tale. 'Tis death. The man feels that he is treated worse than savage beasts treat their own kind. Homesickness gathers around his laboriously throbbing heart, it ceases to beat, the brave and patriotic soldier is dead; and God will hold you accountable."
Their faces kindled with the rush of angry blood to the brain, but my age and calling prevented a harsh reply. Colonel Barksdale said: "Are you not presuming on your cloth a little too far?" I replied: "It is a duty which I owe to my cloth, as you call it, a duty I owe to you and your men, and to your and my government, a matter more painful for me to utter than for you to hear. Tell, me, Colonel, why you have lost nineteen and Colonel Featherstone eighteen, while Colonel Burt has lost but three?" The flush of anger faded from his face, he hung his head, and, rising from his seat, he grasped me by the hand and said: "From my heart I thank you. You are the bravest man among us all. It was want of thought on my part. I will set the matter right." The same in substance passed between Colonel Featherstone and myself. Both of them adopted my plan, and our losses were about equal afterward.
In addition to my hospital duties, I would get some of our sick into private families where they could enjoy social life. Apart from singing, praying, and preaching on Sundays, and our nightly prayer meeting, taking care of the sick, comforting as far as I could the dying, and burying the dead, I would get pugnacious. The old Adam would overcome the new. I would shoulder a gun and go with Company A into the fight. I do not think I killed anyone or broke any arms, but I tried to break as many legs as I could. Had all done as I did, I do not think there would have been many killed, but the number of artificial legs would have been greatly multiplied. I never could see any sense, common or uncommon, or humanity either, in killing a man in battle or breaking his arm. If you kill him, he is left on the field to take care of himself. If you break his arm, he can walk off unaided. If you break his leg, it takes two men to pack him off, and they take care not to pack themselves back till the fight is ended. I commend this mode of fighting to all who wish to amuse themselves by shooting each other.
The time of simply playing soldier was drawing to a close. We had been living in luxury, like horses up to their eyes in clover-wood hauled by the cord for cooking, vegetables were abundant, chickens and eggs plentiful, milk and butter equally so, and all as cheap as could be asked. Indeed, we felt almost ashamed to take them at the price at which they were offered. This feast of good things came to an end. The day came when the sun cast his rays of light upon the field of fight, and brave men on both sides periled limb and life for that which they believed to be the right. I enter not into any description of the struggle of the day, except that in which I was an actor, and that for the reason that it was more of a comedy to excite laughter than of a tragedy to bring tears, had it not been that valuable lives were lost.
Colonel Longstreet, in command of a brigade, was holding a ford on Bull Run. General Jones was in command of the brigade of which the Sixteenth Mississippi Regiment, commanded by Colonel Burt, and the Seventeenth, commanded by Colonel Featherstone, formed a part, also the Fifth South Carolina. The regiments were full, excepting the absentees and the sick. We numbered about twenty-five hundred. General Beauregard sent an order to Colonel Longstreet to attack Sherman's battery of eight pieces of artillery, supported by six thousand infantry and one thousand cavalry. The same order was sent to General Jones, who was guarding another crossing about two miles distant. The attack was to be made simultaneously from both points at 2 P.M. From some cause the order was countermanded as to Colonel Longstreet, and also General Jones. General Beauregard, however, failed to duplicate his courier to General Jones, and what became of the one sent, whether he deserted, was captured, or killed, was never known. We were up to this time mere lookers on, while the conflict was raging in all its fury around the stone bridge. From an elevation we could see the couriers dashing at full speed in all directions—riderless horses madly rushing over the field—the lines swaying to and fro like the waves of a tempest-tossed ocean. Occasionally the line would be broken as when a wave dashes against a rock, is hurled back, and another oncoming wave fills its place. So the lines on each side surged to and fro, at one time broken and then reinforced, till a charge was made and the other side gave way. The roar of cannon, the rattle of small arms, the gleam of the swords in the flashing sunlight, the dust and din and smoke of battlefields, have a fascination that must be seen and heard and felt to be appreciated. It cannot be described.
But the hour of action soon came for us. We were armed with muskets—a ball and three buckshot. At a distance of seventy-five yards we could break legs innumerable; at one hundred yards, a barn door would have been perfectly safe. No reconnoiter of the ground had been made. We had no artillery. We promptly moved on time, forming our line of battle in a ravine running across an old field about a mile in width. We supposed that the battery to be taken was about four hundred yards from the ravine, in which our battle line was formed, under cover of an elevation. I presume the conclusion was reached by General Jones that the battery was on this side of another ravine. We could see a few large trees and many small ones whose tops were visible over the elevation in front of us. We were ordered to march in common time till we reached the level ground, and then to charge with fixed bayonets; and such a charge, my countrymen, was never made since time was young and the world was a babe, and never will be again till time dies of old age. It was not at a double-quick, so that the distance could be observed and lines straight; it was a blind, maddened rush forward, as though pursued by the furies, every man making a beeline for the place where the treetops were waving in the breeze. The men were yelling and firing their guns, and there was as much danger of death in the rear as in the front. Poor Eddie Anderson, a nephew of President Davis, was mortally wounded by one of our own men, and died that night.
As soon as we appeared above the elevation under which we formed, they opened on us with their artillery and six thousand minnie rifles. The shot and conical shell plowed up the ground like some newly-invented infernal machine. They would ricochet and plow it up again, and then bury themselves in the ground. We lost some killed and many more wounded, the number not remembered. It was fortunate for us poor fools that the battery was far away from where we thought it was, or few would have been left to tell the story of that fearless and foolish charge. Our loss was while we were passing over the level ground which was but a short distance till it declined toward the second ravine, ranging from twenty to forty feet in depth, in some places perpendicular, in others more so. It was overgrown with some large trees, many small ones, bushes and briars innumerable, and had a six-rail fence running along the brink. Here we were saved from their death-dealing fire. They could not depress their guns, but continued to plow up the ground in our rear. Up to this time I had not fired a single shot. I could see nothing at which to shoot. Although the men were blazing away all along the line, I was armed with a Colt's rifle, double-cylinder, eight charges for each, one of them in my gun, the others in my pocket, and two navy sixes in my belt. I was standing near a large tree. The saplings and bushes were so thick that I could not see their line. I did not think of the big tree, but learned more sense afterward. I stepped down a few paces where there was an opening; and as I passed the corner of the fence, a grapeshot struck the top rail, shivering it into kindling wood. Thinks I: "You saved your long legs by that move."
I passed through the opening and saw their lines about six hundred yards from where we were. I delivered five shots, but shot low. There were three long-range guns in the brigade, and somebody killed three of the Federals and wounded some others. Suddenly the firing ceased on our side. I paused and looked to my right. Not a man was visible. I quit firing and faced-about. The order had been given to fall back, but I had been so deeply interested in trying to break some of their legs—I thought they had no business to be there—that I did not hear the order. It had been promptly obeyed by the men. They went, and did not stand on the order of their going—not much. It was every man for himself, and the Yankees or his brimstone majesty take the hindmost. I was mad all over and clear through. I shouldered my rifle and marched down the hill as stubborn as a mule. A conical shell came shrieking over my head, plowing up the ground about twenty feet in front, and another passing to my left, the wind of which I thought I felt. I thought it was folly for me to show so much pluck where there was no one to applaud; so I quickened my pace, jumped down into a ravine six feet deep, struck a dogtrot, and soon reached the brigade. Everything was confused and mixed up—colonels and captains and other officials rallying their men and getting them into line beyond a skirt of timber to guard against an expected cavalry charge.
I looked across the old field toward our camp from which we had marched to the place where the fight and the footrace had just come off. I saw the rear of a line of men—how many in number, I know not-just passing out of the old field into a narrow wagon road which ran for fifty yards through a chaparral of bushes and briars so thick that a rabbit would have left his fur running through. I found out that these men, belonging to no particular regiment or company, when the order was given to fall back, outran the others and got mixed up together. When the officers halted their men and formed them into line again, these men, supposing that they were all going back to camp, did not wait for orders, but onward went their own way. I called the attention of the officers to this retreating column. Their reply was: "We can't help it; we must get our own men into shape." Seeing the adjutant of the Fifth Carolina Regiment sitting on his horse, I stepped up to him and asked him to overtake these men and bring them back. His reply was: "I tried to stop them, but they are as deaf as adders." "Dismount," said I, "and give me your horse, and I will bring them back." Mounted on his horse, I dashed across the field and overtook their rear just as they were entering the narrow road that passed through the thicket. I called on them to halt, but to this they paid no attention. I rode rapidly round the thicket, and at the terminus threw my horse across the road, his head in the bushes on the one side, his tail in those on the other. I drew one of my six-shooters; and when the three in front came within ten feet of me, I leveled my pistol and called out: "Halt! I will bespatter these bushes with the brain of the first man who moves a step farther!" They threw up their hands and said: "Don't shoot!'' In a few words I explained the situation and made an earnest appeal to their patriotism and state pride. They faced-about, and in double-quick time, with a rebel yell, went back and found their places in the newly-formed lines.
A courier had been sent with a flag of truce to the battlefield to ask permission of the enemy to let us care for our dead and wounded. I found the officers anxiously awaiting the return of our flagbearer. Just as I got there he came up and reported that the field was as bare of men as the palm of his hand. And here comes in the comedy, or, more correctly speaking, the farcical part of the program. While we were forming our line of battle they received a telegram to limber up and make for Centerville in all haste. They could not retreat till we were repulsed. They waited till we charged upon level ground, and then opened fire as described. All this occurred in less than twenty minutes. While we were tumbling downhill in confusion worse confounded, they were traveling toward Centerville, much worse scared than we were. The fight ended at the stone bridge. The panic had set in, and the Bull Run races were open to all who desired to enter for the stakes.
One major resigned a few days after this, and the regiment kindly tendered me the office for what they called an act of heroic bravery on the field of battle. I thanked them, but declined the honor. I said to them: "My more than brother and bosom friend of thirty years' standing would give me any office that I could fill, but I hold an office higher than any that he can give. I would not exchange it for the crown of a king, nor for the presidency of a republic." I was called "the fighting parson" from that time till the close of the war.
Seventy Years In Dixie Illustration Of The "Fighting Parson"
An Excerpt From Seventy Years In Dixie, Chapter 28: Story Of The War
The story of the war would hardly interest the reader. It has been told so often that nothing new remains to be said. It was a gloomy time in Dixie. Only those who lived through those troublesome times in the South can ever know fully what the war really was. I shall, therefore, hasten over that, to me, ever painful period in the "Seventy Years in Dixie." I have no desire to linger upon the memories of the war. Many mistakes were made, vile sins were committed, and not a few deeds of love were done which show the divine nature that is in man all the brighter because of the darkness and gloom of the environments.
During the war I did what I thought to be my duty, but when I was mustered out of service, I shed bitter tears of defeat and disappointment over the grave of "the lost cause," and solemnly resolved to fight no more. War is a terrible thing. The life of a soldier was not calculated to increase my piety. My environments in the army were not at all favorable to the development of the better elements of my nature. Fighting, as a regular occupation, is a bad business every way. It calls out all the latent meanness in the human species. It can never be defended or excused on any other ground than as a choice of evils, and in the light of my experience I am disposed to hold that it is the last choice a man should make.
I enlisted in the army as a preacher of the gospel, and was assigned the duty of a chaplain. It was the hardest place to fill in the whole army. I was expected to cut my sermons to fit the pattern of our occupation as soldiers. It was a hard thing to do. It was expected that my preaching, prayers, and exhortations would tend to make the soldiers hard fighters. It was difficult to find even texts from which to construct such sermons. I soon discovered that I would have to close my Bible and manufacture my ministerial supplies out of the whole cloth.
Some of my preaching brethren told the soldiers, in their sermons, that our cause was just, and that God would fight our battles for us. I never did feel authorized to make any such statements. I believed our cause was just, of course, but I could see as clear as a sunbeam that the odds were against us, and, to be plain, I gravely doubted whether God was taking any hand with us in that squabble. I told some of the preachers who were making that point in their sermons that they were taking a big risk. I asked them what explanation they would give if we should happen to get thrashed. I told them such preaching would make infidels of the whole army, and put an end to their business, if we should happen to get the worst of the fracas. I wanted to do my duty as a preacher in the army, but I did not want to checkmate the ministry in case we should come out second best in the fight. I think a preacher should always leave a wide margin for mistakes when it comes to interpreting the purposes of God beyond what has been clearly revealed in the Scriptures. It is not good policy for a one-horse preacher to arbitrarily commit the God of the universe to either side of a personal difficulty, anyhow. I told the soldiers plainly that I did not know exactly what position God would take in that fight. So far as I could see, the issue was a personal matter between us and the Yankees, and we must settle it, as best we could, among ourselves.
It was not difficult to see how this line of argument led me away from the true spirit of the ministry, and thoroughly aroused within me a desire to fight. It became clearer to me every day that one good soldier was worth a whole brigade of canting chaplains, so far as insuring the success of our army was concerned. If I must preach to others so as to make them good fighters, why not give them an object lesson on the battlefield myself? My premises may have been wrong, but my conclusion was certainly not illogical.
So I asked for a gun, took a place with "the boys," and was dubbed the "fighting parson." At Bull Run I stopped the fragments of a stampeded regiment at the muzzle of a revolver, and I led them back into the fight. I have no idea how I looked; I do not want anybody to know how I felt. The imagination of the artist is wholly responsible for the illustration of that scene in my eventful career. I have made no suggestion; I offer no protest; I ask no explanation; I attempt no defense.
I have no evidence that I ever killed or wounded anyone during the war. I sincerely hope I never did, and deeply repent the bare possibility of such a thing. I want no fratricidal blood on my hands. As I now stand trembling upon the verge of the grave and look back over the dreary years of an unprofitable life, I weep over my many blunders, look trustingly to God for mercy, open wide my arms to a sin-cursed and sorrow-burdened world, and in the tenderest love for all and with malice toward none, say: "We be brethren." The war was a mistake and a failure. All wars are mistakes and failures. They may sometimes be necessary evils; but if so, it is only because a man's wickedness makes evil necessary. A heart weariness and soul sadness no pen can describe come over me when I think of those dark days of bloody war with their tiresome marching, wasting disease, cold, hunger, and consuming anxiety.
I pass now to the last year of the struggle. Most of our slaves had left us. My nephew owned two women. One of them had two grown children—one a boy, the other a girl who had one child. The boy went to the Federals. We concluded to dissolve the partnership, of which I have previously written, and quit farming. This was in the spring of the last year. The previous winter, I sold to the government eighty-three hogs averaging two hundred pounds. When we divided assets, I sold corn, fodder, peas, potatoes, horses, mules, wagons, and all my part of the cattle that would do for beef. My other cattle and my stock hogs I sold, retaining nothing but two of my best milch cows. I then removed to Meridian, Miss., so that my wife and children could be under the protection of her youngest son, who was the express agent at that place, and had been from the beginning of the war. My health failing, I was transferred from field to post duty, as chaplain of the hospitals, of which there were two. I was there with wife and four children, two of the daughters of my cook, one of them with two children, the other single, and four of my cook's smaller children, ranging from twelve down to four years—fifteen in all. One of my fine cows killed herself eating meal in a soldiers' camp, into which she had made a burglarious raid. It was a Federal soldiers' camp. The bottom of the Confederate tub had fallen out, the hoops had fallen off, and the staves were scattered around loose like the fellows' milk. I sold the other cow for forty dollars; and my wife's oldest son had given her some time during the war, twenty dollars in gold—just enough "mit a tight squeeze," as the Dutchman said about Jake Snider's getting to heaven—to bring us back to Jackson.
When I reached Jackson, I was houseless, homeless, and penniless; but, thank God, not friendless. A dear old wealthy sister in the Lord, a widow and childless, was much attached to me and mine. In order to keep us near her farm, eight miles from Jackson, she gave me a fine plantation with an elegant dwelling and all needed outbuildings within one mile of her residence. It would have sold for fifteen thousand dollars before the war. She gave for it seven thousand dollars in gold. Fatal gift. I could not get old clothes for preaching. All hands flat broke! I was in a worse condition than the Indian preacher. When asked how much he got for preaching, he said, "A suit of old clothes." "Poor pay," said the inquirer. "Poor preach, too," said the Indian. I could not even get that, for each one had to wear his own suit of old clothes. I felt that the time had come when I was released from my vow. I could no longer keep soul and body together. I decided to go to the practice of law. I had baptized a leading lawyer in 1856, Judge George L. Potter. The Sunday after he was baptized, he led in prayer. He soon developed into a first-class preacher, preaching on Sunday and practicing law through the week. He continued this till he went to his reward. I rode into the city, and proposed a partnership. He said as a general rule he was not partial to partnerships. Neither am I except with a woman as a wife. He asked if I proposed making law the business of my life. I said: "I desire to use it to support me in preaching. I want you to do the office work, prepare the cases, and hunt up the authorities. I will aid you in the pleading. In the interim between court terms, I will hold protracted meetings, and we will both preach on Sundays. Our partnership will be for time and eternity. Whatever good I may do, if any stars are added to my crown of rejoicing, I will ask the Master to give one-half to you." He said, "I will do it."
A few days afterwards I rode into the city to close the agreement in writing that there might be no legal difficulty in case of the death of either, when I received a letter from the church in Memphis inviting me to hold a meeting for them. I went and held a meeting of ten days. At the close of the meeting, which was satisfactory, the church gave me a call and fixed the compensation themselves at twenty-five hundred dollars, which was much more than I had dreamed of, as fifteen hundred dollars was about the highest salary paid in the South previous to this time. I served them acceptably for two years, beginning in September, 1866. Memphis was at that time on the biggest boom I had ever seen. Northern capital poured in by the millions. The prices of houses and lots, either for sale or rent, were simply fabulous. The boom lasted until the summer of 1868, when the bubble burst. There was a collapse. Happy were they who made ends meet. Many strong houses went under. The church owned fine property on Linden Street. The house was in an unfinished state, and they were paying ten per cent on three thousand dollars. I advised them to dispense with regular preaching till the opening of the fall business, when they would see how the cotton crop had turned out. They took my advice, unfortunately for me; but perhaps fortunately for them. The cotton crop was large, and the price was good. Business revived; and by the first of the next February they had paid off their debt and were able to call a preacher.
In the meantime I had accepted a call from the church in the city of Paducah, Ky. The church there had not been able to agree on a preacher for two years, and was declining. I had held a meeting for them in the summer of 1867, and harmony had been restored. They gave me a unanimous call at the same salary which I had received in Memphis. I served them for two years. Being too far removed from my planting interest, I returned to my plantation in Mississippi, and was called by the state convention to serve the churches as State Evangelist. This I did for two years at a salary of two thousand dollars a year. Thus you see that in six years I was paid fourteen thousand dollars.
During all this time, I paid no attention to my farm, leaving it to the management of another. For reasons not necessary to mention, my bankers, J. and T. Green, let me have all the money I wanted at ten per cent per annum, although their usual per cent was one and one-half cent per month. They had instructions to cash all checks drawn by the gentleman who managed my farm. I paid some of my hands wages; others worked on shares. We had to furnish provisions and clothing, deducting cost of the same from their share of the crop. They would dress. I settled with our merchant for dry goods and provisions monthly. At the end of each month, the manager would gather up all accounts, and draw a check for the amount. The bollworm struck the cotton crop two years of the eight that I ran the plantation. The Negroes who worked on the shares would find that their share of the crop would not pay me what they owed, and would then walk deliberately off and hire to my neighbor, leaving the cotton in the field. I would then have to pay one dollar per hundred pounds to have it picked out. The idea of raising hogs and sheep had become obsolete. To raise a calf till it became a cow was equally absurd. If you could save your milch cows from slaughter, you were fortunate. Nine planters out of ten failed within three years. The larger the farm, the worse for the planters. My family lived on the farm with the exception of one year.
My bankers and I had had no settlement since the beginning of the war. In the fall of 1874, finding that I had thrown into the farm, outside of all that was made on it, at least ten thousand dollars of the fourteen thousand I had made in six years, I called for a final settlement, and found that I was due the bank eleven thousand dollars. I said to Joshua, his brother having died in the meantime: "I am smashed. I turn over, after I sell the cotton crop which you shall have, the entire plantation with all that is on it." He said: "Will you not reserve your homestead?" Said I: "Not a foot of it. I doubt if you can dispose of it all and save yourself from loss." He said: "I cannot, but I will do the best I can with it, and never ask you for a dollar. You are an honest man, and have done what not one in a hundred would have done." He disposed of it in parcels for nine thousand dollars, and afterwards failed for over one hundred thousand. His son, who had become a partner, speculated in railroad stock and caused the failure. A nobler man, or a more honest man, than Joshua Green never lived in the state.
When my hirelings learned that I was going to leave the state (Mississippi), they said: "Mars Tom, doan go; we will stay with you.'' I said: "That is just the trouble; you will not run away from me, and I must run away from you." So my brethren of the North will from this time please remember that this, "the best government the world ever saw," has compelled me to work all my life for the Negro. The Negroes of mine set free by the emancipation proclamation were, with the exception of two, raised by me mainly in towns and cities, and cost me money. They had just begun to be a source of revenue, when, if they did not take wings and fly away, they just walked off on a pair of African feet. I then tried to make money with them as freedmen, but the Freedman's Bureau and other abominations in the way of ill-advised legislation, such as taxing the cotton, which the Supreme Court decided unconstitutional, but the government took good care not to refund the tax—such things, I say, demoralized the labor and wrecked the planting interests of the South for years. Thousands of Northern men, as well as myself, lost their all on Southern plantations in those days. Had I never seen a Negro face—or his foot, either—I might have been in affluence today.
But I desist, lest it may be thought that I entertain unkind feelings toward that grand and good man who set my Negroes free, and toward those who had the boon of freedom thrust upon them. No man has a higher regard for Abraham Lincoln than I have, and no one mourned his untimely death more than I did. The South had no truer friend than he; and as to the Negroes, no man, North or South, had a more kindly feeling for them, and none greater cause for that feeling than I. My sainted mother died in giving me birth. My humble cradle was rocked by a dusky hand. The first tears that fell on my face were from the black eyes of a sable daughter from the coast of Guinea, stolen in her sixth year from her native land. She was my black "mammie" till her death, which occurred when I had reached the age of eighteen. No mother ever loved her first-born babe more devotedly than she loved me. My sainted slave, as already stated, nursed all my children. They love her memory, and ever will. I paid at least in part the debt of gratitude I owed to her by caring for her four younger children, aged from twelve to four years. They were to me a dead expense. My adopted state (Mississippi) owes to her Negro citizens a debt of gratitude which she can never repay. When the Legislature was composed of radicals white and Negroes black, the latter had at the ballot a majority of twenty thousand. A bill was passed calling a convention to change the Constitution of the state, one clause of which disfranchised all who had sympathized with the rebellion. We called upon our former slaves to come to our rescue, and nobly did they respond to the call. The diabolical thing was voted down by a majority of seven thousand, and our state was saved.
A few lines more, and I am done with this part of my life. The sainted old sister who gave me the plantation also paid a note of mine in the bank of four thousand dollars. She took to her home and heart my two little boys when they were left without a mother, and became a mother to them. They were two and four years old. The youngest was killed soon after by a fall from a gentle horse. The older she cared for, reared, and educated. Although he knew he would inherit the most of her large estate, he decided to be self-sustaining and chose the medical profession. She sent him to the Medical College in New Orleans. In the dissecting room he contracted typhoid fever and came to my house in Jackson. He was too dangerously ill to reach his home eight miles in the country. He passed over the river of death in the full assurance of Christian hope between the age of twenty-one and twenty-two. His death almost broke her aged heart. She was the most devoted friend I ever had. The name of Mrs. Mary Wells is enshrined in the hearts of my entire household. They will teach their children to call her blessed.
This closes the twenty years from 1855 to 1875, written December 8, 1895.
In entering upon the last and perhaps least interesting part of the history of my preaching life, it may be necessary to give a word of explanation. Having run my plantation from 1866 to 1874, my fellow citizens, the free Negroes, succeeded in eating up my plantation and all that was on it and all they ever made, and ten thousand dollars besides that I had thrown in. I turned the whole outfit over to my bankers, not even retaining my homestead, and then lacked two thousand dollars of making them whole.
I determined then to leave Mississippi, and follow the star of empire, which seemed to be wending its way Westward. I announced to my fellow citizens, the darkies, that I had decided to explore the "Lone Star State"; and if I liked it, to emigrate. Against this they entered their most solemn protest. They said: "Mars Tom, we will stick to you, will not hire to anyone else, not even to a Yankee; we are not going to leave you and run away from you." I said: "Boys, I appreciate your loyalty to me, but there lies the trouble. You will not run away from me, so I must run away from you, or together we will starve to death. I am broken under the burden." I arranged my business and cut stick for the empire state, leaving Jackson early in 1874.
Having resigned my work in Mississippi as state evangelist, I left for Texas to explore the state, about which the reports of those who had traversed her almost endless domain differed widely. I thought there must be something wonderful in the state, and I would see for myself. I passed out of Mississippi into Arkansas, and on through toward Texas. At every depot, villages were springing up like Jonah's gourd, and many of them lasting about as long. I remember but a few of them, and they were not far from the Texas line. They were composed in the main of a post office; depot; one, two, or three dry goods and grocery store; and a number of doggeries called “saloons.”
One of the places at which I stopped was called Hope. I do not suppose I would remember it but for an amusing incident that occurred after preaching. There were no churches at that time along the line of roads. All monkey shows, political meetings, and preaching were held and done in the depot building. In trying to show the power of faith, I used one illustration that was too classic for at least one of my audience. I said that faith, like the proud bird of Jove, fixed its eyes on the midday sun, spread its broad pinions, and soured aloft until its golden plumage mingled with the sunlight of heaven. It happened that a saloonkeeper whose name was Jove had an owl. In walking away from the depot in the dark, a young lady and her escort were just in front of me. She said to her lover, for such he seemed to be: "How could that stranger have learned anything about Jove and his owl? He only arrived on the morning train." The gentleman walking by her side explained to her the allusion to the eagle which was called the bird of Jove by the Greeks. Poor girl, if she only knew of the many hearty laughs this old man has taken at the hour of midnight when thoughts that were mightier than the eagle's pinions chased slumber from his eyes, she would thank God for ignorance that gave birth to her question.
I passed on from Hope to Fulton, which was then the terminus of the road. Two stages were then running from Fulton to Texas. These carried the United States mail, and as many males and females besides as could get into or on top of them. It was the fortune or misfortune of three passengers to be just in time to be late at the ticket office. They told us that a construction train ran for the first time to the corporate limits of Texas, and would charge but half as much as the stages. We, of course, boarded the construction train, knowing nothing of Texas weather. It was in the month of April, and we were dressed in spring clothing. Just after crossing the river at Fulton there came what I afterward learned was called a "Texas norther." The wind blew the snowflakes into our faces as fast and thick as the feathers ever flew from the hand of a woman picking her geese. Each of us had a blanket, and we huddled together and made the best of a bad bargain as we could. I thought then, and yet think, that it was rather a cool reception to the "Empire State." We reached Texas however, without the loss of life or limb.
In reaching the limits of the state, we reached the limits also of the construction train. I paid a colored fellow citizen twenty-five cents to carry my gripsack to the nearest hotel, which was not far, as there was only one in the place. You would not have discovered that it was a hotel had it not been for the sign, over the door, which read: "Entertainment for Man and Beast." We found by sad experience that the words on the sign applied only to the latter, and not to the former. On inquiry we learned that we could not get either supper, or lodging, or breakfast; that all the rooms were full to overflowing; and that previous guests had cleaned the platter for supper. As we intended leaving on the twelve-o'clock train for Dallas, this did not incommode us much; but how to pass away the time from eight to twelve was the problem to be solved. So we sat in what was called the "office," by a red-hot stove, till that longed-for hour arrived. I sat between a window on my right and the red-hot stove on my left, the one side almost frozen, the other almost scorched. A more unpleasant half night I never spent. The inhabitants were composed chiefly of pine stumps, pine logs, and pine brush piles, the latter largely predominating. Cabins were being numerously built in all directions, about every third one being a saloon. We left the place with thankful hearts, and reached Dallas by two o'clock the next day.
I rambled over different parts of the state for four
months, lectured on various phases of infidelity, held a few protracted
meetings, and one camp meeting (which I closed with profound disgust).
The brethren promised me that they would never hold another on the same
plan. It made slaves of their wives and daughters for ten days. It cost
them seventy-five dollars for barbecuing their cattle, hogs, and sheep,
which went down the throats of hordes of worthless loafers who loved
barbecued sheep better than God and Christ and heaven. Cowboys gathered
in from twenty miles around, lassoed out their horses, ate and slept in
the tents or camps, and behaved as bad as they could to avoid being
arrested. This fear alone prevented them from breaking up the meeting.
They came near making the attempt, and would have done so, but they were
told that twenty old Confederate veterans were armed to the teeth with
their six-shooters, the writer among them, headed by a fearless
constable, and all pledged to stand by each other to the death. They
were also told that if they made the attempt and resisted arrest alive,
they would be arrested dead. The same crowd had broken up a Baptist camp
meeting a few miles from where ours was held. They had lived on the meat
and bread and on the labor of the sisters, had lived and slept in the
tents for ten days and nights. They learned the meeting would close on
Sunday night. They got some home loafers to promise to help them break
up the meeting, drive me from the pulpit, and have a glorious row on a
grand scale. But for once they waked up the wrong passenger, and left
the ground quietly before the shadows of night appeared.
There was another large class in the country, made up of members of various churches and of no church at all, who would come two or three miles in wagons, fathers, mothers, and a string of children, and others who lived nearer would come on foot. These would all get to the ground in time for breakfast, remain for dinner and supper, and then leave for home before the night service. I baptized twenty-three of them, but, with few exceptions. I fear they were drawn more by the desire for the feast of beef and mutton than by their love for God.
I rambled over thousands of miles of Texas prairies. Texas piney woods and all sorts and sizes of woods, encountered all sorts of climate, all sorts of soil, water of all sorts and no sort at all, and saw all sorts of people of all sizes and colors, without regard to previous or present condition of age, sex, or color, and some of them without regard to future condition. There were some who feared neither God, man, nor the devil. Only one thing they feared, and that was that they might accidentally tell the truth and astonish their consciences, or happen to do right, for which they would have to do penance the balance of their worthless lives. Others were doing the very best they knew. How far I traveled the first four months, or in what direction, I knew not. I have no geographical sense, and not much of any other sort. I went from place to place, from church to church, in what direction I cared not, and do not know that anyone else cared. I only wanted to avoid going over the same ground twice. Texas is so everlastingly large that I found that I would not be able to go over her once, unless I outlived old father Methuselah.
I spent most of my time, as I have intimated, in lecturing on the various phases of infidelity. This was something new under the sun, at least under a Texas sun. I found no house in town, city, or country which would afford standing room for the audience after the first night. The voluntary contributions averaged one hundred dollars per month, independent of railroad bills. I returned to Mississippi, remained at home one month, and went back to Texas. I rambled four months more in other parts of that little state, went through the same program, and received about the same compensation. I could go to the same cities and towns and deliver the same lectures. My audiences would be no larger the second night than the first. I have delivered as many as six, and many were turned away for want of standing room.
My readers may think that this is strange, and may not understand the reason why this is so. They are two in number. First, as much depends on the manner of saying a thing as on what is said. You have doubtless heard different persons tell the same anecdote. When told by a man full of humor, who throws his whole soul and mind and heart into it, you can see the fun of it sparkling in his eyes, dancing with mirth in his face, and you can almost hear his heart laugh. You partake of his emotions, and have to hold your sides lest they split in twain. Another tells the same, but in vain you try to find where the laugh comes in. Well, it does not come at all. Instead of you nearly killing yourself with laughing he has killed the anecdote.
This reminds me of the lamented Jefferson Davis, with whom I was as intimate as with a natural brother for almost half a century; and a purer man lived not. He had no more taste for an anecdote than a goat has for music. Such was the purity of his thought and speech that I never heard him utter one word that could not have been spoken in the ears of the most refined, cultivated, and pure-hearted woman that ever lived. They might have been spoken, leaning against the great white throne, and angels would not have blushed to hear them. If there was a profane or an obscene word in any incident he might wish to relate, or a double entendre, or a word that might be vulgarly construed, he left them all out. A very amusing anecdote was going the rounds among the class of men that enjoy telling and hearing and laughing at such things. When told by some, it was invariably followed by a hearty laugh. In a crowd of gentlemen one day, Mr. Davis told the same with as much dignity and in as pure English as if he had been addressing the United States Senate or the Confederate Congress, leaving out all cant phrases, all profanity, and all obscene expressions. The result was that even courtesy would not get up a sickly smile. He seemed surprised, and as we walked on together, he said: “Brother Caskey, I laughed heartily when I first heard that anecdote told, but there was not a smile seen when I told it.” Said I: “Brother Davis, no man can get up a laugh even with a lever power when you eliminate from the anecdote all the profanity, obscenity, and slang phrases that belong to it and constitute so large a part of it. These left out, there is nothing to produce a laugh.” Then said he: “If this be true, I tell it no more, nor any other where the laugh depends on such things.” I give this to illustrate the fact stated: that the effect desired to be produced depends often more upon the manner in which anything is told than on the thing itself.
Most of those lectures I afterward embodied in “Caskey’s Book.” Suppose I stood before the same audience and read one of them. Two-thirds of the audience would wish that I would quite before I got half through. When I delivered one of these in St. John’s Church, in the city of Galveston, the largest one in the city, there was not even standing room vacant. The hearers forgot, or perhaps did not know, that they were leaning forward on their seats, eyes sparkling, many mouths half open as though they heard through their mouths, faces flushed as the face of a sixteen-year-old girl when the first lover’s kiss was imprinted on her virgin lips. Their smile was as rapturously happy as here; they felt like saying, “Go over that ag’in,” and that is the way she felt.
There is a vast difference between sixty and eighty years. Your best thoughts uttered then, which drew admiring crowds and reached down into the pockets of even the closefisted, you may repeat now and not get enough to pay a hotel bill. Alas, "how are the mighty fallen!" "How are the weapons of war perished," which I once used with triumph against infidelity, converting hundreds to the truth which I defended against the assaults of the infidel hosts! How the daughters of music are laid low! They are silenced like the strings of the harps of the daughters of Israel when their captors asked them to sing one of the songs of Zion. Their hearts were too sad to sing, and they said: "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" And they "hanged their harps on the willows," and sat down and wept. So when my captor, old Father Time, lays his hand on my brow and says, "Give us one of your grand, distinctive lectures against infidelity, the enemy of God and man and all good; let us hear your clarion voice one time more; let us see the flash of your piercing eye, the flush of your cheeks, the scornful smile of your lips, while your foot stamps upon your slaughtered enemy and with your long, strong arm and outstretched, open hand you sweep away with a fierce gesture the very ghost of your slain foe as it fled from the fallen body," I can only say: I now have to use my feet to stand on, my hands to hold to the pulpit to keep from falling, my voice I have to suppress, the fires of youth are to smoldering embers turned, the youthful blood that flushed my face comes sluggishly through the veins and slowly flows back to the heart. Memory oft calls up the days that are past and the years that have fled, and then unbidden tears gather into my eyes that they can return no more. The power to move the emotional nature of men and women has departed with the dreams of youth to return no more. Neither sighs, nor prayers, nor tears can bring it back again; but the Father's will be done, not mine.
I finally decided to move to Texas, and accepted a call from the church at Sherman, seventy in number, strong in faith and abounding in good works, largehearted, and liberal-handed. They paid me one thousand dollars a year for three years. My family being six in number, my own children to be educated besides a niece of mine who was living with me and going to school, I found that my salary did not pay my expenses, and I went to the bar in 1877. I practiced criminal law for six months, and defended eight cases indicted for murder, five of whom were acquitted and two sent to the penitentiary for sixty-five years: These two were Negroes. On the first trial the verdict was guilty, the penalty death. I made application for a new trial, which was granted, and the verdict annulled. On the second trial the verdict was murder in the second degree, and the penalty was imprisonment in the penitentiary for sixty-five years. Again I appealed for a new trial. I argued the application before Judge Gaines. The first trial was before Judge Hall. Judge Gaines overruled my motion. I appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court sustained the ruling of the lower court, and my dusky clients went to the felon's cell.
I mention these facts only to show that I did all I could for my clients, for which I got not one cent. I was appointed by the court to defend in the lower court. There my duty ended. I voluntarily pleaded for a new trial, and, failing, took the case to the court of last resort. This has been my motto all through life. On it I have acted through all the years of the past, and shall continue to act upon it in all the years to come, whether at the anvil, on the rostrum, in the pulpit, at the bar, or on the battlefield. Whatever I did, I did with all the power that I possessed, and never gave up the ship until she sank. I never gave up until the last shadow of hope had fled. In all departments I tried to excel, tried to win the race. Though I often failed, I never became discouraged. I say nothing of any other cases pleaded by me. The leading lawyers with whom I came in conflict said that I had missed my calling—that I was a natural lawyer.
At the end of the six months the church raised my salary, and I left the bar. I served them three years and a half. All was peace, prosperity, and unity. Learning that some desired a change of preachers, I resigned. I never asked who they were, nor why. It was something new under the sun to me. It had never happened before. For the next three years I evangelized, and made enough to purchase a house and lot. Wife and daughter took a few select boarders, which aided much in defraying expenses. I sold my house and lot for fifteen hundred dollars in cash, and bought a farm, four miles in the country, for my sons. I gave my note for fifteen hundred dollars, payable in twelve months. The boys put most of it in wheat. There came a drought, and they made six bushels per acre. It took all I made preaching to cover expenses. They made no corn—it never silked; and they planted but a few acres in cotton. The next year there came a glut of rain at harvest time. They saved seven bushels per acre, and that was so badly damaged that it sold for eighty down to forty cents per bushel. All I made evangelizing thrown in did not cover expenses. I could not pay one dime. In the meantime I had put four hundred dollars on the place in buildings and fencing. The man from whom I bought the place purchased the mortgage. When offered for sale, there was not a bidder except himself. The times were such that not a man in town or country could have bid five hundred dollars for a place worth four thousand dollars.
I had insured my life for five thousand dollars in the old Ætna Life Insurance Company in 1867, and had paid nine premiums, amounting to thirteen hundred dollars. When I paid ten, I would be entitled to two and one-half per cent on the five thousand dollars as long as I lived; and at my death my wife would get the five thousand dollars. The last premium was one hundred thirty dollars. I could not have raised it by a mortgage on a five-thousand-acre farm. I offered to transfer the policy to a brother beloved, an elder while I was pastor, and worth more than one hundred thousand dollars; to hold till I could raise the money. He said: "I could not raise the amount if the policy was my own instead of yours. Thus dropped forty-three hundred dollars. This was the fourth time that I was left without a dollar and in debt more or less each time.
The first was from 1837 to 1840: After these years bending over the anvil from daylight till dark, I had on hand thirty-seven hundred dollars in notes and accounts, had bought and paid for a Negro man, owned a fine span of horses and a rockaway, some cattle and hogs. Everything was on a credit. No such thing as cash payment was known. At the end of the years I went to Port Gibson, Miss., gathered up all my accounts for material to run my trade, and made a note with two securities. At the close of the year I paid one-third of the note with interest, and so of the second and the third. The crash came, and out of thirty-seven hundred dollars I could not collect the seven hundred. I turned over all I had to my endorsers. One of them took my Negro at the hundred dollars more than I paid for him. I was left flat with my wife and two babes—one three years old, the other one year old—and one thousand dollars in debt. I saved my endorsers, and the debt I worked out in two years.
The second time was when I got back to Jackson after the close of the war with a cash capital of fifty cents. The third time was eight years afterward, when I had sunk the plantation given me and all I had received for preaching during that time in my effort to make something by farming with the freedmen. To sum the matter up in a few words: first, by a financial crash which broke all hands and the cook; second, by the war; third, by free Negroes; and, fourth, by Providence. I decided to stay broke, and broke I am, and am determined never to be anything else. I have briefly recapitulated some things to impress upon the minds of my preaching brethren to have nothing to do with farming unless they can do the work themselves, and then they should not go in debt for the land, but wait till they can pay cash for it.
My first meeting in Texas was in Dallas; the second, at Fort Worth. At the close of a ten days meeting the Baptists got up a debate between W. M. Price, of the Mehtodist Church, South, and myself. I afterward debated with him at Cleburne and Dallas. I debated with Elder Sledge, of the Baptist Church, twice at Woodbury and a Alvarado; with Jerrell, of the Baptists; and also with Price, of the same church, and with Weaver, of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After some time, Kilgore pitched his Seventh-Day tent in the town of Terrell. He called it the "Gospel Tent." It was much tent, but little gospel. It was well seated and well lighted up within but inside the man all was darkness. He preached nearly two months, and induced between thirty and forty to spend Saturday in worshiping and Sunday in plowing. He called Saturday the Sabbath. The other preacher; called Sunday the Sabbath. He kept the seventh day; they kept the first day. Both made the same mistake in thinking they were under Moses, instead of Jesus; under the law, instead of the gospel. Both relied on the fourtth commandment. His opposers had the wrong day, and have it yet according to their own ground. They feared to meet him in debate, but would review him in their pulpits. This gave him the desired opportunity to come back at them and handle them without gloves. This he did, and broke their necks as short off as a Dutchlander’s pipestem. Most of those who were keeping Saturday and working Sunday were members of churches.
I received a letter, signed by seven preachers, requesting me to come and meet Kilgore in debate. This was the first I had ever heard of this thing calling itself the church. Of its origin, doctrines, and practices I was as ignorant as Peter, James, John, and Paul. I went to the history of all denominations, to encyclopedias, lexicographers, ecclesiastical and literary works, but could not find the thing at all. The propositions had been settled by the pastors of the local churches. I took the first train; we met in a few-hours, and we debated five days and nights. When we struck the Sabbath question, I showed that the fourth commandment was not the law now governing the Christian world. I proved beyond a question that the facts stated in Gen. 2: 2,3 did not constitute a law at all. Neither angels nor men were commanded to keep it. No instructions were given as to how to keep it or why it was to be kept. The record simply says that in six days God made the heavens and the earth, and rested on the seventh, day. and, sanctified it. The command to keep it, how it was to be kept, who were to observe it, and the reasons why, were not given for twenty-five hundred years. God gave the law of the Sabbath to Moses when he met him on the holy mount. It was made a part of the constitution of the Jewish nation. God then gave the reasons for keeping it, and told how it was to be kept. The reasons were two: First, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Ex. 20:11). Second, “And remember that thou was a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by stretched out arm: therefore the Lord they God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” (Deut. 5:15).
It was given to the Jews, and the Jews alone. "It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever." says Jehovah for the reasons given. Sunday was given to Christians, and to Christians alone. That which was said in Genesis was simply a statement of facts as to God himself and the seventh day, without a single element of law in it without a command, without telling any man what to do, how to do it, or what it is to be done for, without reward or penalty. But I am arguing the question instead of giving the history of the debate.
Suffice it to say that the debate ended pleasantly, and resulted in the death of Adventism, brought from Michigan by a Michigander. It had its origin at Battle Creek. I said I wished they had sent a Michigan goose with him. Her cackle would have been as sensible as his, and more Musical. The next day, like the Arab, "he folded his tent, and silently stole away." The members soon returned to their places in the churches. The few who would not, left for parts unknown. Within one year there was not a shadow of them left. The people paid me seventy-five dollars, and said: "Follow him to Rockwall, stick to him, drive him and his ism out of Texas, and we will foot the bill." I followed him; but he refused to debate. I reviewed his sermon on the Sabbath. This scotched his wheels. He removed his tent to Plano, without creating a riffle at Rockwall. Instead of the pastors sending for me as soon as he pitched his tent; they waited till he began breaking into their ranks. Then I received a letter from six preachers, asking me to come and kill the pestiferous thing, which I did. They paid me fifty dollars. He announced that he would debate with me no more. I replied: "That is the only sensible thing you have said since you have been in the state. I advice you to get out and take your ism and all your inferior brethren whom you boss with you to some other latitude. You shall not remain in Texas." He left the state. I met a few of the smaller fry and reviewed them, driving them from place to place, till Texas was rid of them, I do not know of a preacher or church of their order in the state.
I debated with a Christadelphian near Rockdale. At Fannington, Mo., I debated with a Cumberland Presbyterian, who denied that immersion is baptism. He is the only man I ever met who had the courage to take this position, and, as a Yankee would say, “I guess he never tried again.” I debated with Dye, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, at Coldwater, Miss. while I was pastor at Fort Worth. This was the only debate I ever had where both parties felt whipped—the Methodists, that they had gotten such a poor debater to defend their cause; the Disciples, that they had brought me five hundred miles, in as hot weather as I ever felt to meet him, when within ten miles they could have found at least three preachers who, were his superiors as debaters, among them Elder W. A. Crum, who since that time has turned him under more than once. I had some other minor debates and informal brushes that time has effaced from the tablets of my memory.
In early preaching life I was brought into conflict with the various phases of that hydra-headed monster, infidelity. I would cut off one head with the sword of the Spirit, and two would come up in its place—Romanism, atheism, spiritualism, and agnosticism. I also encountered Judaism in the person of Rabbi Brown, of Georgia. He declined to debates, but hurled Judaism against Christianity in two lectures in the Cumberland Church at Sherman. The pastor said that I must review him, which I did. I followed him to McKinney and thence to Dallas. I wrote him a note, telling him that I intended to follow him and expose him till he left the "Lone Star State." He left the state and returned to his home, in Atlanta, Ga., and Texas has been troubled no more with rabbis, except local ones who never assail Christianity. This occurred in the early part of my preaching life in Texas in 1874.
In 1856, the second year of my pastorate in Jackson, Miss., spiritualism struck the city like a cyclone, and made sad havoc and destruction of the intellectual and moral natures of men and women, both in the church and out of it, as the recent cyclone that struck St. Louis did of physical life and property. The whole city simply went mad—preachers, lawyers, doctors, judges; bar, press, pulpit, and people. A large book published by Judge Edmonds, United States Senator Talmadge, and M. D. Dexter, was the textbook. It was found in the offices of the legal fraternity by the side of Blackstone, in« the physician's office by the side of his medical books, not on the pulpit by the side of the Bible, but in the preacher's library, and it was fast turning the Bible under. Seances were in session every night all over the city not even excepting Sunday night. Mediums were of all sorts, sizes, sexes, colors, and ages. One of the best mediums was a sable daughter of Africa; as black as a crow: and as stupid as a donkey. Marvelous things were done and many marvelous lies were told. A man had to have a steady rest on which to lay his spiritualistic gun, a keen and piercing eye, unshaken nerves, and a tender conscience if he came within six inches of the bull’s-eye of truth. I examined the book loaned me by a prominent lawyer and an elder of the Christian church, who said to me that if I would read it without prejudice I would gladly embrace it. I carefully and critically examined every page—spent one week’s time, every day till twelve o’clock at night. I announced from the pulpit and in the Monday-morning papers that I would deliver a series of lectures against the humbug, beginning Monday night. The church was filled to overflowing, doors and windows full of heads, and many went away who could not even see inside the house. I proposed to divide time with anyone who would defend this newborn ism. To this there was no response. I lectured three nights with facts, arguments, wit, humor, and ridicule. I killed the things so dead that it never resurrected so long as I remained in the state, and I do not think it has been up to the present day. This is the 9th of June, 1896.
In the third year at Sherman there came a spiritualistic lecturer from some Northern state—a fine specimen of physical manhood, large head and full of brains. His style was grave and dignified, somewhat senatorial, with full, round voice; and an accomplished speaker. If he had not been a preacher of that foulest humbug ever hatched out of the egg laid by the hen of sin and begotten by the devil, he would have been a gentleman. He soon ran Sherman off her legs—had large audiences every night, with fifty cents admission. He came out in the daily papers, challenging the clergy of the city to meet him in debate. He affirmed that spiritualism paralleled the Bible. I had resigned my charge of the church on the Sunday night before he made his entre, and was helping my sons plow in their wheat, and, of course, paid no attention to his challenge. In the next morning paper it was renewed, and he added that the clergy were afraid to meet him, as they were at all other places. In the next issue of the paper there appeared a request, signed by twenty leading citizens, preachers included, for me to meet this recognized champion of spiritualism in debate. I rode in and had an interview with the leader of their hosts, for they were many and rapidly increasing. I told their leader that I would have nothing to do with the affair, except to meet their champion when all things were ready. I knew they would apply for the Cumberland Church, it being the largest in the city, and the Methodist the next. I went to the pastors of each and told them to refuse the request; that things would be said not in harmony with a house of worship; that it would not be a serious and dignified debate, but the opposite. Application was made and refused. The only chance left was the courthouse, which was in an unfinished condition, only one term of court having been held in it. They went to work improvising seats, providing for lights, etc., which cost them not less than $50 and a hard day's work.
The night of the debate came, as all nights will. The spiritualists of Denison; the hotbed of that and all other isms of a diabolical origin, were there in full force. The editor of the paper there was an infidel and against all truth. They chartered an express car and came up jubilant, feeling sure of a grand victory over Christianity and the Bible. A moderator was selected simply for the purpose of keeping order. There was no standing room vacant. Wilson opened with a speech for one hour. He mad a grave, dignified, and masterly speech on his side. I followed with an hour, and such a speech was never heard before nor since and will neve be heard again. Many of the audience had heard me in debate. I had some reputation as a fair and conscientious debater, depending on my facts and arguments for success. Imagine their surprise when I made my opening sentence. I had always treated my opponent as an equal. I was compelled to do so by the rules laid down in Hedge's logic, if not by inclination. In this thing we had no rules. Otherwise I could not have met him. One of the rules compels me to recognize my opponent as equally honest as myself and equally sincere in his investigation of truth. Under this rule I had refused to meet two preachers with whom I had formerly debated, finding them dishonest, insincere, unscrupulous, caring nothing for truth, but everything for victory.
My first remark was to denounce him as the prince of humbugs, and his ism as senseless and soulless and begotten of the devil. Ridicule, wit, humor, denunciation, and sarcasm made up the speech and filled up the hour. I was often interrupted and had to wait for the cheering and laughter to subside. The moderator had as well been chosen to keep order in a theatre while a first-class comedian was getting off the most amusing farce found in Shakespeare or any other writer. In fact, he joined in the fun. I ought to have charged fifty cents admission fee, and the next night I would have filled my pockets. If success consists in reaching the end proposed, I never made a greater success in all my debating life. If completely demolishing an opponent and his dogma is success, then I succeeded without a single argument and without a reason given. For the first time I learned how much easier it is to play the fool than try to be wise and how much more enjoyable it was for the time it lasted—easier to act the clown and the buffoon than the dignified gentleman, and how much more the people enjoyed it. If I believed that this world was all there is of life, you would never hear of me acting anything but the fool. Oh, would I not laugh and grow fat and fill my pockets of bigger fools than I?
One or two things will give my readers an idea of the manner in which the farce was played. In his speech the next night he denounced me as a clown, a buffon, and a fool. In my reply I acknowledged the corn, as the can phrase is, but threw the blame on him. I said that I had to handle a foolish subject advocated by a fool; and if I attempted to handle the subject and the man any other way except that of a fool, I would be a greater fool than he; that to treat this subject with dignity would make dignity more foolish than folly itself—would prove that the age of miracles had come to earth again.
I told him that he should lecture no more in Texas; that he had as well take up his gripsack and take the other end of the road; and, stop not till he crossed the line. He had his posters up for Waxahachie for the next night. I told him that I would be there and review him the following night; that I would get as many fools to hear me as he did to hear him; that we would fill our pockets and empty their heads, but they should at least enjoy some fun; that I would follow him, sticking closer than a brother or anything else except his sins. He took me at my word and turned up in Nebraska. I heard a year after that, that he was dead. It was his misfortune and the misfortune of all the lecturers among them that they did not die in innocent infancy. This ism has not disturbed Sherman from that day to this.
Some few years ago, in passing through Sherman, I found two professors at the Brinkley Hotel. They had rented the parlor in which to organize a class to instruct them how to prevent themselves from ever bing sick, and how to cure others who were sick. They called it “Christian Science, or Mind Cure.” What amisnomer! There is no science in it, nor cure either, except to cure hysterical women and deprive weak-minded men of what little common sense they ever had. If sickness crept upon them during their sleeping hours, a few waking thoughts and you are as healthy as a fat Berkshire pig. Master that science and you need not die at all, need never feel a pain or ache. . . . The professor announced that he and his wife would more fully develop their science in a lecture to the ladies in the parlor of the hotel on that afternoon at four o'clock, and invited the clergy of the city to be present. Brother Dimmit of the Christian Church and Dr. Moore of the Presbyterian Church were the only two who honored the occasion with their presence. Twenty-four ladies were present, mostly middle-aged, many of them mothers, all of them wives or widows, and all of them church members, some of my own sisters among them. He delivered his lecture and his wife hers.
At the close of the lecture he said that if there was anything in it not understood, he would take pleasure in answering any question in explanation, provided the question involved no controversy. I waited for one of the pastors to speak, but they remained silent. I saw at a glance the cunning Yankee trick, and said to him: "Professor, if you will tell me what question I can ask that will not involve controversy, I will ask it. I see through your trick. If we ask no question, the ladies will conclude that we have no objection to offer, and, therefore, agree with you. If we ask a question that you cannot answer, you will say that it involves controversy, knowing as you do that we could not ask a question that does not. That card will not win in this game. I presume that you would like to get your science, falsely so called, before as many people of the city as possible and in as little time, as you are on expenses and time to you is money. Announce a lecture in the courthouse for tomorrow morrow night. The house will be full. You can address hundreds instead of twenty-four women and three preachers. I will occupy the same length of time in exposing this most pernicious humbug it has been my misfortune to meet in all my reading or hearing." He said: "I am opposed to controversy." I replied: "You are not singular in this. I have met many who had no faith in what they taught, or no faith in their ability to get anyone to believe in it. I see that I will have to run this race alone. I will review you tomorrow night at the Christian Church. If you desire it, I will divide time with you.
I lectured to a crowded house. Monday came. He to Denison had gone, she to Brinkley parlor. Four ladies met out of the twenty-four. The class she organized not. He failed in Denison. They left Texas wiser, if not happier, than when they came. Sherman has not been troubled with such cattle since. But this same delusion is running the plowshare of ruin through the churches in the city of Memphis.
I think Texas is indebted to me for driving from her land the host of false teachers who have filled her borders as locust filled the land of Egypt—Rabbi Brown, the preacher of Judaism; Wilson, the Spiritualist; Kilgore, the Adventist; Bunty, the Christadelphian; and, last and worst, the professor of "Christian Science," which is neither Christian, nor science, nor cure.
So closes the history of my preaching life in Texas for twenty-two years. I am now able to speak each night and twice on Sunday. This is written June 20, 1896.
Note: Caskey died on August 10 of that same year. — The info above appeared in a number of issues of the Gospel Advocated between February and November of 1948. J. Roy Vaughn was editor at that time, and felt that the brotherhood would be greatly helped by reading about the work of T.W. Caskey.