Thursday, May 10, 2012

Over the Fence

One cold evening in Shelby County, Tennessee, after a violent struggle three union soldier’s held her down and raped her—no, raped her and her sister and her mother.
    For Miss Margaret J. Brooks, a resident, had mentioned in   “It felt as if the earth had turned cold,” so she had expressed at the court-martial of the three men.
       “My side felt the cold,” she said, “my life sunk, I was choking as they laid on me, like a tree—trees, one after the other,  in the wind with their icing fingers, I couldn’t move. My sister hid by the piano, I could see her in the mirror by the glowing hearth.”
       As all this was going on, the chimney smoke, hasty shifted into the sky, got dark, and the towns lights came on. The other solders in the field went down and took their bottles of whine and whisky into the whorehouses. 
       “Private Johnston sat on the bed, Company H 2nd New Jersey’s Calvary, 1864, after a violent struggle, and the other two men holding her down, they raped her,” so read the report the judge was  looking at. “Private Snover, took the little sister, but thirteen years old, by the piano, he said to his comrades, ‘She’s cool and fresh,’ and the third private Callahan, whispered, left to right, ‘Pluck her good,’ with real zest and delight.”
       The young sister Mary Melissa said all she remembered, beyond this point, beyond the soldier saying “You do what I wish or else!” was looking at the portrait hanging over the fireplace, the wood along side it, as he ripped her close off, and grabbed her breasts.
       The soldiers had said, “We stayed on night duty for four months, we were glad to get off; we went a little wild.”
       But it was that Callahan who took the mother who was old, in her fifties, hiding in the cellar, with the black private who was already in the cellar,  and at gun point made her lean over the bed railing, and bear her behind—her dress over her back, and violated her by committing rape, reddening her thighs.
       “But how did it all take place? Draw a picture from life” asked the judge, to all three women. Margaret’s  blue irises failing, as if a glass sea was parting, each family member to have a speaking part yet only her able to speak: all wanting to have a racing start, but no faster than the world it matched, and no words coming out but Margaret’s.
       Said Margaret, “I heard a sound outside it was perhaps a distance away, my husband was reading a book, he was a soldier but was operated on for a wound, and I think the three soldiers knew where he lived—he had been part of their company, I said to Jacob ‘They must be in the valley, I hear them drumming,’ Private Johnston had a small drum when he arrived.  Jacob, I prepared his coffee, and he had joked about a friend or enema.
       “Then after a few more minutes, he held tight onto the chair, talking to himself. He knew what soldiers of war were like; he was doing some heavy thinking.  Then I told him, ‘There’s alight afar,’ and I saw a black man and he shinned in the light, and I heard later his name was Private William H. Cole, and I said to my husband, ‘What are they doing with no gear on?’ and he walked back and forth in the hallway, and we are outside of town, and he checked the bedroom, before he went back to his rocking chair, and it looked like he was praying. Then I noticed they left the main road, jumped over a fence, as if not to be seen, and I asked my husband and he said, ‘Perhaps they got orders,’ to go search the church, but I noticed they didn’t stop by the church, they passed it, and they passed the farm fence of  Abel Cornish’s farm. And the black man a very big man, and the other three whites, were per near at the door they jumped over our fence, the Blackman couldn’t he just broke the latch on the fence, and I said to my husband, ‘Don’t leave us now,’ and the colored man went towards the cellar, and the three white soldiers  onto the steps, and I told my husband, ‘Please don’t leave us now, you vowed to protect us, for better or worse!’ and he said, ‘No, I said  I’d love you, and I do, and he took off out the back door, and he left us alone, and  I could hear the heavy feet by the door, there wasn’t enough time to do anything, they wanted everyone in here to know what they wanted: someone said, “We’re are going to poke you all!” and made us all fearful and cry. Then one said, ‘Damn you open the door! We know you’re in there, we’re going to do it to you one-way or another and if he’s in there, we’ll do it to him likewise or kill him.’  And I knew then they were going to ravish us by force, against our will, if not beat us. And when they came in I could see the burning in their eyes.
       “Under the darkness and drunkenness, nothing seems to stir a soldier in heat; they screwed us several times each; it even seemed my husband was a conspirator at the time, now a coward, so I felt at the time, and still do.”
       “Any further testimony,” asked the judge. Then the sheriff came up and told him, Private Cole, who was up for rapping a fifty-year old woman, had escaped.  The judge simply said ‘We’ll, wait on that case,’ and sentenced the other three to be hung.

#907 (4-29-2012)