My earliest recollection is of a time when I must have been less than two years of age. I had been asleep lying on the floor under a table which was against a wall on one side and one the other a table cloth reached nearly to the floor, making it quite dark under the table. I could hear people talking but the voices all seemed strange. I was frightened and I soon let people know about it. I next remember being held on some woman's lap who was bathing my face in cool water. Next my mother came into the room, and when someone said something she laughed and took me in her arms. I didn't see anything to laugh about but I remember thinking that everything was now all right.
I also recall when I was perhaps 2 ½ years of age and standing in front of our home and seeing two men in a buggy drive hurriedly by on the public road. There was a gentle slope south toward the road, which ran through a clearing of about 40 rods (600 or 700 feet) with heavy timbers at each end. This is the most vivid picture in my memory. The horses were well matched (sorrel or bay) with white striped faces. They were going fast and I remember the driver was urging them on.
Of course I did not think it through, but I felt that they were after someone or perhaps trying to escape pursuit. It was in the time of the civil war, and while I did not understand anything about it, I had a sense or feeling of the tenseness of affairs. I remember that I had a sort of feeling that this pair of strangers and their flight across my world that was at that time bounded by the forests on each side of the small clearing had come from a world unknown to me and entered another that I knew nothing about. It appeared wonderful at the time and it made an impression that I never forgot.
Another incident a little later I can date to July 1862 when I lacked 3 or 4 months of being three years old. Mother had two brothers in the Union Army, and her oldest brother, who lived in Texas had been drafted into the Southern army. One of my uncles, Daniel Parker Martin, about 17 years old, lived with us; and another uncle (my Mother's brother) was with us so much that he seemed a member of the family.
I remember one day a man in blue clothes with shiny buttons came to the house and uncle Jeff was with him. He too was but a boy in his early teens. There was not much said for a while, but the air was electrically charged. Finally, Mother said, "Jeff, I suppose you have decided to join the army." He said, "I guess I have already joined."
Of course, I would not remember the words of this conversation if I had not heard them repeated. But I distinctly remember the tones of voice and the tenseness of feeling with which the conversation was conducted.
An older brother of my mother was already in the army, and her oldest brother who had moved to Texas before the war had been drafted by the Confederates.
She asked the soldier, who appears to have been a recruiting officer and who was an old acquaintance of the family, if he couldn't find enough men to fight the war without gathering in the young boys. She said more, much more, to the same effect. I don't remember my father saying anything. It wasn't necessary. And the soldier friend said very little.
After he and uncle Jeff went away, uncle Parker said to Father, "If you don't mind, I believe I will go over to Lilly's and stay over night." As he walked out through the orchard, Mother said, "That is the last you will see of him." Father, who was his guardian, said, "Oh, No! He would not go to war without telling me." But he did.
To complete the story of my mother's two older brothers (outside of my early recollections):
Uncle Levi was taken prisoner and sent with a number of other members of his company to the prison at Tyler, Texas. Uncle Jeff had been taken at the same time, but either on his way to the prison or just after they arrived, he made his escape, and by travelling at night and hiding during the day, he got back to the Union lines.
But the most interesting part of the story is that Uncle Sam was at the time and for a while after, one of the guards of the prison. One day he ran onto one of the North Okaw boys who told him that Uncle Levi was in the prison. They had several meetings while Uncle Sam remained a guard.
Uncle Levi made no effort to escape but remained in the prison about one year, until the close of the war. He said that while prison life was hard, the boys were not specially mistreated. The Texas soldiers who made up the guards were not fanatical Southerners. Many of them like my uncle were natives of the North and some of them were ardent Union sympathizers. My father used to say after the war that Sam was the most uncompromising Republican in the family. However, he remained in Texas where his partisanship was ineffective.
I do not remember much about the war. I sensed a tenseness of feeling that prevailed, but I do not remember that much was said about it.
My mother, doubtless because she had a brother in both armies, hated the war intensely and detested the "Secessionists" and the "Abolitionists." She spoke both names with a sort of hissing sound, and I pictured them as kinds of monster. She thought that both were equally to blame for bringing on the war. I never heard her utter any criticism of Lincoln, but the name of "Jeff Davis" was anathema. She probably thought that as the abolitionist agitators and the Seceshers had started the war, Lincoln could do nothing else but fight it through.
I have a slight recollection of a few shadowy incidents of war time. My father and his nearest and most intimate neighbor did not belong to any of the political clubs of the time. All during the war there was a regiment (or portion of a regiment) of soldiers stationed at Mattoon. The political sentiment in Mattoon was overwhelmingly republican, but most of the surrounding territory in Coles, Moultrie and Shelby counties was strongly democratic. This was especially true in East Nelson Township and the west half of Whitley. East Whitley was more evenly divided.
In 1863 and the early part of 1864, there was a rather bitter feeling between democrats and republicans – both sides suspected the other. What was known as the "Copperhead" organization had some adherents, although the membership was not large in Moultrie County. The irritation was increased by a few night raids by the soldiers, who visited democratic homes collecting guns and some times taking the men to Mattoon to be questioned.
We were never disturbed, but I remember one night someone tapped on a window and then said the soldiers were out on another raid. Mother was alarmed, but Father said there was no danger. He stepped outside and listened awhile before going back to bed. Later I was told that one night Father and Uncle Jim Hostetler kept vigil at a point where they could watch both their homes, but I knew nothing about it at the time.
Neither of them belonged to any club or political organization, and neither did any wild talking, so that none of the spies would have had anything to report to he Mattoon camp. So there was really no danger of their being disturbed.
These raids were always made about midnight and very naturally were much resented. No one was ever prosecuted, and no charges were ever made.
In the summer of 1863 there was in central Illinois a man who claimed to be a Copperhead official who called himself "Colonel Powderhorn." Some of the democrats suspected him of being a rebel agent, and his actions seemed to point that way, especially when he proposed the purchase of a supply unit.
Failing to form any sympathy for a plan of armed resistance, he finally went away and it was not long afterward that it was learned that he was a government spy. He seems to have been an honest investigator, and his report seemed to have put an end to the night rides of the soldiers.
I remember when Uncle Parker came home just before Christmas in 1864. He had served about 17 months without a furlough. He had 30 days leave, which was later extended, and he did not go back until he went for his discharge.
The next definite recollection is the assassination of Lincoln, which we probably heard in a day or two. I remember a woman who sometimes helped Mother with her work (the woman's name was Susan Bullick). When Mother told her, she said, "I'm glad of it." Mother said a plenty to her, and I think changed her mind about it.
One gift that Mother had was the use of plain speech. There was never any doubt of her meaning. One of her nephews said long afterwards, "When Aunt Rachel thought that anything needed to be said to anyone, she did not hunt around for someone to say it; she just said it herself."