Jottings from Dixie

by Norm Winick
Stephen F. Fleharty may not have been a significant figure in American history but his writings now hold a place in the history of the Civil War. Two Galesburg men, Phil Reyburn and Terry Wilson, have compiled all of Fleharty's 55 columns written for two Rock Island newspapers into a most enjoyable book, Jottings from Dixie, published by the Louisiana State University Press.

Jottings from Dixie coverFleharty, from Mercer Co., mustered into a unit at Knoxville and went off to war in 1862. He sent back dispatches recounting his travels, the boredom and the casualties and the battles faced by the 102nd Illinois Infantry. His columns discussed the culture of the south, the horror of war and his reactions to some of the places they visited.

A few examples can be illuminating. In February of 1864, while camped at Lavergne, Tenn., Fleharty and a few others took a day trip to the Hermitage, home and burial ground of Andrew Jackson, near Nashville. While they found the home just as Jackson had left it, Fleharty told of the man watching over it: The old negro is 75 years of age, and his wife is 80. They revere the name of ''Old Massa,'' as they call General Jackson. His picture-- half obliterated by the ravages of time - hangs on the wall of their hut, and beneath it is another-- calm, resolute face, bearing the impress of indomitable determination-- the portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

''That is Old Massa Linkum,'' said the old woman; ''he seems to be doing great things, but some says not, yet I likes him mighty well.''

'Do you like the master you have now as well as you liked old Master Jackson,'' asked one of the party.

'Ah! Lor' bress your soul,'' replied the old woman, ''it[']s mighty hard to find a better 'Massa' than 'Old Massa' was; and our Massa what we has now don't think the blacks is free, either.''

Thereupon the old man straightened himself up and declared:

'As for dis chile, I'se g'wine to stay where I is de balance ob my days. Dese niggahs what's runnin' away from der Massas had better stay at home.''

The old woman did not argue the case but her remarks showed plainly that her mind was imbued with that vague desire which impels these poor creatures to leave their compfortable [sic] homes in pursuit of a phantom-- for the negro's dream of liberty will never be realized in this country.

There has apparently been no innovating improvements or changes on any part of the premises since the General died-- The small gates-- one on each side of the main entrance-- have a time worn appearance-- indeed, seem gradually crumbling to dust. It would be sacreligious [sic] to replace them by new ones.

After passing a pleasant hour at the Hermitage we mounted and set out for camp.

In March of 1964, on a trip back north, Fleharty describes his first views of Galesburg: The sun had mounted but a few degrees in the heavens when we caught sight of the spires and minarets that marked the locality of the College city. Old Lombard loomed up grandly on the right, and classic Knox was visible on the left. We felt that we were at home, and a few minutes later received a joyous welcome beneath the paternal roof.

Time seems to make but few changes in the appearance of Galesburg. The only public building erected since we were last there, is the Universalist Church, which is by far the most beautiful church edifice in town. A number of very good private residences are in process of erection, but the city has grown very slowly since the war broke out.

In passing through the streets we were frequently reminded of a remark made years ago, by a friend on visiting the place for the first time. Said he: ''In geographical parlance Galesburg is remarkable for two things,-- its many beautiful girls and its numerous niggers.''

The superior educational advantages of the place have populated it with bevies of young ladies from all parts of the State, and they are almost universally pretty.-- [W]e were told that a soldier possessed superior advantages in cultivating the good will of the fair ones of Galesburg; and friends in Dixie will readily apprehend that we felt ourselves completely at the mercy of bright eyes and bewitching curls, and we attribute our escape from immolation upon the altar of matrimony to the fact that no one of the fair damsels had the audacity to propose [.]

We like Galesburg. Its citizens have received a high standard as an educated community, and to live in its precincts is to become imbued with a more refined appreciation of the beautiful in art and nature.

And a month later, he wasn't quite as impressed with Cairo: Few towns in the Union have been more perseveringly abused by travelers than this-- and I might add that few are more deserving of abuse. Notwithstanding all the diatribes of traveling bohemians, the revilers of the city have however, failed to sink it; the place is still above water-- barely. In conveying my impressions of the appearance of Cairo I feel inclined to liken it unto a country town which has suddenly become an important business point and has not had time to assume becoming dignity. The place has a chronic dilapidated appearance. The buildings are generally of an inferior order; the sidewalks are most wretched, and everything seems to indicate that the inhabitants have held themselves in readiness to evacuate the town at a moment's warning. The resident population does not exceed five thousand. Probably for every individual in the place there may be numbered fully five hundred rats. It is astonishing to go on shore in the evening and witness the numbers and audacity of these little marauders. It is more surprising that such sagacious animals will select such a miserable locality as a place of residence. It is said that they follow civilization, but I am inclined to think that they scented the wrong track in this instance.

As a business point, Cairo, at this time, presents a lively appearance. Business men are reaping a harvest of wealth from the soldiers who are constantly landing at, and embarking from this point. Aside from the desire to accumulate wealth there is nothing in the world to impel a man to emigrate to Cairo.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website May 20, 1999

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