1861: A Different Kind of War

“Don’t worry, Son. They don’t know what they’re doing.” My mother told me this after my master beat me for defending my little cousin, Anna. My master, John White, treated all of his slaves like dirt. You see, Anna was supposed to make sure Mrs. White’s baby didn’t wake up the mistress. But Anna is a child herself. I happened to walk into the master’s house when I heard Mr. White yelling at Anna. I quickly rushed in to see what was going on.
“Anna, are you okay?”
“Get out of here Joseph. I’m the master here, so you better not make me say it again.”
“Don’t worry Anna, it’s all gonna be okay.”
“I said get out of here, Karl Joseph Brown!”
I knew when the master said my full name, I was about to get a beating. I really did not want a beating for two reasons. Number one: it was going to hurt. Number two: he seemed way more angry than usual. I decided to ask what was going on.
“Sir, what did Anna do wrong?”
“She let the baby cry and woke up my wife! She is gonna get a beating worthy of any slave!”
“I’m sorry Sir, but you are not going to lay your hands on Anna.”
I’m not sure what to think of myself. I was either being brave or completely stupid. I’m usually what people call “A Scaredy-Cat” but I like to call it extra cautious.
“Joseph. Come with me. Now!”
Oh boy! I knew I was in for it. My master dragged me outside and flung me to the ground. Whack! The cat’s tail whip ripped the flesh on my back like it was paper. It’s claws sunk deep into my back and ripped chunks the size of walnuts. While he was doing this, I tried as hard as I could not to cry. I was seventeen, and my dad, Daniel, told me to always stay strong.
I began limping all the way back to my shack, but I didn’t make it. The pain was just too excruciatingly unbearable. It felt like being stabbed a thousand times a second with a hunting knife. I was about 100 feet away from the shack, and I fell flat on the rough ground and everything went black.
Next thing I knew, I was lying on the kitchen table face down. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I heard both my parents and my younger sister, Ruth, running around saying, “I’ve never seen anything more gruesome in my life!” and, “This is gonna hurt a lot.” Comments like that do not sit well with me. Then I felt some sort of liquid being poured onto my wounds. My back burst into a bonfire. I felt the flames eating away at my flesh. I couldn’t hold back the tears as they streamed across my face like a rushing waterfall. The world turned blacked again.
I woke up laying face down on my bed. I tried to look around the shack, but even the slightest movement made my back feel like shattered glass was being forced into my skin. I heard someone walk into the shack; it was Ruth. She came to my bed and helped me sit up. It took a while, but I got used to the pain.
“Here, have some water. You’ve been asleep for thirty hours.”
I choked on my water. Thirty hours? It felt more like five minutes.
“Ruth, help me stand up. I need to find Momma.”
I found both of my parents working on the cotton plantation. It was about noon, and the sun was shining bright. It was always hot and muggy during the day. That’s what happens when you live and work on a cotton plantation/farm in South Carolina during the middle of August.
“Joseph, do you feel ok?”
“I’m alright. What did I miss when I was asleep?”
“I’m sorry son. Your uncle Jefferson tried to run away. He’s gone now.”
My heart sank to my stomach. I didn’t know much about the world outside of what was around me. The only things I knew about the outside world was that there was no slavery in the North, and something I learned recently of something called the Great Comet. Uncle Jefferson was gone. But I kept wondering why he had tried to run away.
I worked as best I could till sundown, and my family and I went back home to our shack. We all sat at the kitchen table silently. I was the first to speak up.
“I’m gonna run away.”
“Joseph! Are you crazy?”
“No momma, I’m gonna be free.”
I didn’t know where all this was coming from. I just felt angry and determined. So I said it again.
“I’m gonna run away.”
“Daniel, are you hearing your son?”
“Yes I am. And I’m going to help him as much as I can.”
My brain short-circuited. My father wanted to help me? I wasn’t sure I had heard what he said. I looked down at the table. I was gonna be a free man! Then reality hit me in the head like a twenty-pound weight. My father spoke once again.
“The master is going to town two days from now on Saturday. That could be a good chance for you to escape.”
My family didn’t work on Saturday because we were Seventh-day Adventists. Our master let us have Saturday off as long as we worked on Sunday. So we planned it all out. I would sneak out before dawn on Saturday, but I would have to leave right after the master leaves. I would take all my belongings—which wasn’t much—with as much food and water as I could carry while still being mobile. I would follow the road all the way to town. But the problem was I had no idea was after town. I had never been there, and it was a death trap for runaway slaves like I would soon be. But I knew I had to risk it, for myself and for my family.
I woke up before dawn, and I was scared. I was most likely about to die. I said my goodbyes to my family and it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. And then it was time for my escape.
I made it off the plantation relatively easy, and I was on my may to town. I felt a feeling I have never felt before. Loneliness. I was completely alone walking to my death. I just kept walking.
It was sundown, and I had made it to town. I wasn’t sure what to do, and I wasn’t sure who I could trust. I snuck around town and discovered a road that led all the way to Pennsylvania. I would just follow the road to freedom. So I started on my way to the road when it all went terribly wrong.
“Karl Joseph Brown, I’m going to kill you!”
My master found me! I took off running deep into the forest. I heard dogs barking and saw beams of light tracing their way towards me. I’ve never been more scared in my life. I kept running deeper and deeper into the forest, tripping on roots and bumping into trees. The light from the lanterns slowly faded away into darkness. I slowed down, completely exhausted. My adrenaline started to go down. But then my brain started thinking. If Master Smith stopped chasing me, then why do I still hear the dogs?
Suddenly, I was blinded by freshly lit lanterns and attacked by three dogs. My master had tricked me! And now my end was here. Teeth sank into my legs and arms as I frantically tried to get away. I was able to get two dogs off me but the third one sank it’s teeth into my thigh. Then it went for my throat. I had one burst of energy and I caught the dogs mouth with my hands and broke its jaw. I was pretty strong from working all day in the fields six days a week. I turned only to see pistols pointed at me. I did the dumbest thing ever. I turned around and ran as fast as I could. BANG BANG! Somehow, I wasn’t shot and I managed to get away with my life.
I sat down on a log and prayed to God.
“Thank you Lord for delivering me. Please help me Lord. I’m scared and hurt. I put my trust in you.”
I laid down on the leafy ground and somehow fell asleep. I woke up the next day and immediately checked my injuries. I had tons of scratches and bites, which I could handle. But I had one deep gash in my thigh. I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I bandaged it as best as I could by ripping one of my shirts into strips. I then went to find the road again. It took about forty- minutes, but I was finally back on track. I was a little slow, but I made good progress. I took two breaks a day for food and water. I would sleep on the ground while covering myself with a blanket my sister had given me. This lasted for a week. But then, my food supply was almost out. I had made it to the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. And I had no clue what the heck was going on.
I found a small town, but I could see many slave traders in the town. I knew I had to be careful, but I needed food and water. So I waited until sundown and I snuck into the town. I was walking by a shoe store when somebody grabbed me by my shoulders and pulled me inside some place. I turned around and I almost had a heart attack. It was a short white girl, dressed in odd clothes. I didn’t know what the clothes meant but later I found out she was a Quaker.
“Who are you! What’s going on! Where am I! How did you pull me from the street!”
“Ssshhh! You can trust me. Want some dinner?”
I felt awkward eating with a white family. They all stared at me, 4 of them. A mother, a father, a daughter, and a son. I had sort of met the daughter, and I would never know any of their names.
“How old are you. Are you with anyone?”
“I’m seventeen and I’m alone.”
“We’ll get you to wherever you need to go. We don’t believe in slavery, so we help all the escaped slaves as much as we can. And we are here to help you.”
I wasn’t sure whether to hug all of them or cry. I could make it. Maybe I wouldn’t die. They cleaned my wounds and gave me a room to sleep in. We left in the morning, me hiding under hay, in a cart, on the way to Pennsylvania.
We made stops every now and then, but not too many as we had to reach certain checkpoints each day. The father of the family had friends who took care of us and gave us shelter at night, and we made good progress. I just went through the motions of hiding under the hay and being ready for anything. Next thing I knew, we had made it to Pennsylvania. I was ecstatic! I was a free man at last! I thanked the Quaker father and went into town. Everything was different. I could do what I wanted, I finally felt safe! But I was alone, only having God with me.
I walked for a while, not sure what to do next. I found a newspaper and was astonished at what I read. War was erupting between the North and the South. The South even had their own flag, called the Confederate Flag. I needed to find a way to let my family know I was alive, and the only way I could do that was to join the Union Army.
Works Cited
Kelly, Martin. “Issues That Arose Between North and South Caused a Civil War.” ThoughtCo, 8 Jan. 2018, www.thoughtco.com/top-causes-of-the-civil-war-104532. Web. January 20, 2018.
Weber, Jennifer L., and Warren W. Hassler. “American Civil War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 15 Jan. 2018, www.britannica.com/event/American-Civil- War. Web. January 20, 2018.
Drake, Samantha. “Slave Codes.” Slave Law, 2016, www.shacklesofyesterday.org/slavery- laws.html. n.d. Web. January 21, 2018.
Simkin, John. “Runaway Slaves.” Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Educational, spartacus- educational.com/USASrunaways.htm. n.d. Web. January 21, 2018.
Vaicikonis, Kristina. American Civil War. Chicago, IL, World Book, Inc, . 2011. Print.