A story in a "Letter to the Editor from a Rebel Prisoner"
from Harper's New Monthly Magazine's "Editor's Drawer"
Well, it is useless to repine. I cast my lot with the cause I considered to be right, and to that cause my life shall be devoted. But that is not pertinent to the purpose I have in view. I sat down this morning not to moralize, but to offer some contributions to the friend of my prosperous days—the Drawer. Fable tells us of a precious stone extracted from the toad’s head: will you reject a good thing from the bands of a loathsome rebel?
The only property I have saved from the general wreck of my estate was that which I prized the most highly— my library, and in it are twenty bound volumes of Harper’s Magazine and the first thing I will do, “when this cruel war is over,” if I survive it, will be to send for all the subsequent back numbers up to date. My books were saved by a political enemy but a personal friend. John Pine and myself resided for many years in the same village, in the western part of Missouri—a section of country that has witnessed the most outrageous horrors of all this war. John and myself always differed in our political views, but were all along bound to each other by the truest friendship. On the commencement of this war I was, of course, a rebel; my friend, as naturally, stuck to the old Union, and is now a big radical of our State. When General Price came up with his victorious army from Wilson Creek my friend John concluded it would not he pleasant for him to stay at home and make the acquaintance of the chivalry. So he left, first sending over to my house, for safe keeping, his horses, mules, carriage, wagon, etc., and other personal effects not convenient to carry away with him. Every thing went smoothly for a while; but when it became evident that we had to fall back transportation was an important item, and parties were detailed to press from the Union citizens every thing that would facilitate a “change of base” in the shortest possible time. Some busy-body reported to General Price that I was concealing and protecting the property of a “rank Unionist,” which the army stood particularly in need of; and forthwith I was ordered to appear at head-quarters to answer the charges. In those days of the rebellion’s incipiency in Missouri the general commanding investigated all such matters himself, and disposed of them in a summary manner. On appearing before “old Pap” he at once informed me of the charges brought against me, and asked me if I did not have at that time in my possession certain horses, mules, harness, wagons, etc., belonging to one John Pine. Being taken completely by surprise, I promptly answered in the affirmative; but, on a moment’s reflection, and before the General could issue an order relative to the case, I added, “The property you mention, General, did belong to this man Pine, but that Abolitionist owed me a large debt, and I had to take it or nothing; and I would like to keep it to secure myself.” This rejoinder was successful, and I was permitted to keep the property.
Not long after this the “ruthless invader” who fought “mit Sigel” marched upon us, and we made a “brilliant strategic retrograde movement” upon the Arkansas mountains. On the eve of my departure from my dear old home—alas! for the last time—I sent to Pine’s house all his property, together with my own library, paintings, etc. The invader came, my house, outhouses, fencing, etc., were burned, and my family turned out in the night with only their sleeping clothes. Time rolled on, and Missouri remained in the possession of the “Gamble militia;” and the personal property of the rebels was confiscated without process of law, but in accordance with the timeworn maxim that “to the victors belong the spoils.” My friend Pine resumed business and prospered. His prosperity, as is always the case, excited the envy of some, who, to injure or annoy him, reported to the provost marshal that he was concealing and protecting the property of a notorious rebel. Upon this John was immediately arrested and tried, He plead Not Guilty, and denied all knowledge of the charge. Hereupon a witness was introduced, who testified positively that he had seen in Mr. Pine’s house some “several volumes of Harper’s Magazine, and other books, with the name of Dr. J. F. Smith, a noted rebel, formerly of that place,” and which he knew did belong to said Smith; also “some paintings, etc., belonging to the same person, now in the rebel army.”
“What have you to say to that, Mr. Pine? “said the provost.
“Why, if that’s all,” he blandly replied, “I can easily explain it to your satisfaction. The books, etc., were Smith’s, I admit; but he owed me a large debt, and when the — rebel ran away I had to take that trumpery or nothing.”
And that “rejoinder” saved me my dumb but most excellent companions.
Smith, Dr. J. F., "Editor's Drawer", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 28, Issue 164, January 1864, page 282, New York: Harper and Brother's
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