WITH SABRE AND SCALPEL THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SOLDIER AND SURGEONby JOHN ALLAN WYETH
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THE chief purpose of this volume is to record from personal observation something of the social, economic, and political conditions which prevailed in the South before, during, and immediately after the Civil War. It was my good fortune to have been born and reared in a section where the wealthy landed proprietors and slave-owners, the poorer whites, and the negroes came together.
What is written of the delightful society of the aristocracy of the old South at Huntsville would apply to hundreds of other communities of that period below "the Line." It was only possible with the institution of slavery, and with the downfall of the Southern oligarchy it disappeared, never to be repeated. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, Wythe, Monroe, Mason, the Randolphs and Lees were among the products of that unique civilization. "There were giants in those days."
In my native county the poor whites greatly outnumbered the rich slaveholders and their slaves. The negroes baptized them contemptuously as "poor white trash." They were poor, comparatively speaking, but they were not trash. The vast majority were uneducated, many could not read or write; but they were as a class far from being ignorant, for they were "good listeners" and close observers of current events. My father, whom they made at first county and later district judge, was idolized by these simple people,
and I fell heir to their affectionate guardianship. By the time I was fifteen years old I believe I was personally acquainted with every one of these families in our county. Their homes were chiefly in the uplands or foot-hills or coves or in the sparsely settled plateau of Sand Mountain. The houses were of logs, some hewn, many of skinned poles, and some so primitive that the bark was left on. The roofs were of rived boards, not nailed, but held in place by split logs laid on as weights and reinforced here and there by stones. Some of the floors were of puncheons, others of planks; and not infrequently the kitchen, smokehouse, and other added shelters had for flooring the sandy earth. As might be inferred, their lives were simple, and in general they were obedient to law. They were, however, high-strung and quick to resent an affront, and their too ready appeal to the rifle and the hunting-knife in the settlement of personal differences was the chief exception to their common acceptance of the authority which the court-house represented. Very rarely, far back in some remote fastness, an occasional mountaineer, who gathered inspiration from the sun which curved over his head each day without seeming to pay much attention to human regulations, or from the free air which the preacher told him "bloweth where it listeth," would conclude that the government at Washington had no right to prescribe in what form the corn which he raised with his own hands and on his own land should ultimately be marketed, and would proceed to distil it into whisky by the light of the moon. I shall never forget the feeling which was evident as one of these mountaineers remarked to me: "Your pap put me in jail once for moonshinin', but I never blamed him fer it. We all knowed he was a good man and done what he thought was
right." These poor whites were in the main religious, belonging to the Baptist or Methodist persuasions, and were much given to "protracted meetings," revivals, and exhortations to secure conversions, which latter was defined as "comin' through."
They dressed with extreme simplicity, usually in cotton or woolen stuffs, raised, spun, woven, and tailored at home. The mild climate made it possible to go for at least nine months without shoes, and the one pair of brogans for the year was usually put on at Christmas. The young children and boys to about the sixteenth year wore in summertime nothing but a single garment made like a long shirt, which came down to near the ankles and was slit on each side as high as the knees to allow freedom in walking
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