A Yankee Drummer for Dinner

BANG! BANG! BANG!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The steady beating rang out across the rural countryside.

The year was 1863. My great-great-great-great grandparents lived deep in the heart of the Confederacy, somewhere in the piney hills of Catahoula Parish in northern Louisiana. They were dirt poor, just simple farmers trying to work hard just to get by, certainly not wealthy land and slave owners.

The man of the house, George Washington Allbritton, had gone off to fight in the Civil War. He left his wife, Sarah, behind to care for their 12 children.

Early on this cold December morning, Sarah awoke to a noise.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Over and over, the sound continued, steady as a heartbeat. And the one thought racing in Sarah’s mind was that this must surely be the sound of Yankee drums.

Sarah quickly woke the children.

Hurry with your chores! Milk the cow and gather the eggs, and come right back inside!

Sarah tried not to panic, but the drumming continued as she cooked their biscuits and bacon for breakfast. As they bowed their heads over the meal, Sarah silently added an additional prayer that the Yankees wouldn’t come by their house today.

By mid-morning the drumming sounded louder. Sarah instructed her children to hide their meager possessions.

Wrap the family Bible in the quilt made by my mother, Maggie. Then you take it and bury it in the garden, Tom. Take all our corn meal, flour and dried salt pork, and hide it in the barn underneath the wagon and cover it with some hay, Ben. Hurry children! We don’t want the Yankees to take our things!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Shortly after noon, Sarah was feeling frazzled from the constant pounding of the drums. Hardly a minute passed without hearing the beat reverberating throughout the hills surrounding their home. She sent the older boys to turn the old milk cow and the chickens loose.

We will not give the Yankees any of our hens for their supper tonight!

Later in the afternoon the sounds of a wagon could be heard, coming over the road. Swiftly, Sarah rushed all the children, from the youngest to the oldest indoors. She stood just inside the doorway of their small log home. Finally, after an eternity, a horse and wagon came into view.

What a relief! It was just her brother Martin. Perhaps he was already on his way over to warn her and ensure that she and the children were safe from a Yankee raid. Sarah ran outside and flagged him down.

“Martin! Do you have any news of the Yankees?”

But to Sarah’s astonishment, Martin was unaware of any Yankees marching in the area. In fact, he hadn’t heard any drumming noises all day, though he could certainly hear the steady beat now!

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Martin listened closely for several long minutes. Finally he said, “Sarah, has that drumming sounded just like this all day?”

“Why, yes, it has. There might be an occasional small pause, but mostly it’s been steady since early this morning.”

“Well, it’s not getting any closer. I don’t think you need to worry about Yankees, but we do need to find the source.”

So Sarah and Martin took a walk around the farm, and there behind the barn they found an overturned barrel. Trapped underneath was Sarah’s Yankee drummer … a chicken trying to peck it’s way out.

As the sun sank low, Sarah sighed a sigh of relief as she stood in front of the stove to cook their supper. She sent the girls up to the garden to retrieve the family Bible, wrapped in her mother’s quilt, and the boys went out to find the old milk cow.

And later that evening, they bowed their heads and with thankful hearts said grace … before they ate their Yankee drummer for dinner!

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The above story is a mostly true account of a family story from my great-great-great grandparents, George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah Cassells Allbritton.

Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.
Photo of George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah during their later years of life.

This version of the story was written by my son Joel, who wrote it to be used as a narrative speech in a class he was taking last fall. He did use some writer’s liberties and changed a few of the details.

For example, when George Washington Allbritton left his wife Sarah to go fight in the war, only 2 of their children had been born. The remaining 10 were born after the Civil War had ended.

George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children.
George Washington Allbritton and his wife Sarah with 11 of their 12 children. We descend from their daughter Minnie, who is the last woman on the right on the back row.

Additionally, we don’t know if Sarah’s brother Martin came by to help her figure out it was a chicken under a barrel instead of a regiment of Yankee soldiers … but we do know that she did have a brother named Martin Van Buren Cassells.

Other than those two details, the story is true. Sarah did hear a steady beating and hid much of their treasured items, before realizing the sound she heard was just a chicken beneath an overturned wooden barrel.

Battle Ground of Memories

My tiny hometown with a population of barely 500 inhabitants is rich in history.  Among our claims to fame is the fact that Harrisonburg, Louisiana is the second oldest town in Louisiana.  Many believe it is the oldest, though there is no paperwork to prove it and so the little village must settle for secondary honors.

Additionally, in the mid-1800’s Harrisonburg nearly became the state capitol, losing by a narrow margin to Baton Rouge.  At that time, it was a bustling trade center with several thousand residents. It was located right along the Ouachita River with easy access to the Mississippi River and the large port in New Orleans. Roads passing through Harrisonburg connected with the Natchez Trace in Mississippi and the El Camino Real in Texas, making it relatively easy to travel throughout the area by wagon as well.  But in later years, the railroad would miss Harrisonburg altogether,  and as a result the town would begin to slowly decline.

And last, but not least, it was site of a  battle during the Civil War. There in the hills surrounding Harrisonburg was Ft. Beauregard, a stronghold for the Confederate soldiers. In 1863, four Union gunboats came by on the Ouachita River. From their position high on the bluffs, the Confederate soldiers spent four long days successfully protecting the inhabitants of Harrisonburg from the Union attack. The Union gunboats eventually left, leaving nothing behind except a hole made by a cannonball in the Methodist Church.

 

Battle of Ft. Beauregard Re-Enactment
Battle of Ft. Beauregard Re-Enactment

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When I was growing up, one of the highlights of each fall was the Re-Enactment of the Battle of Ft. Beauregard. We would delight to see men dressed as Confederates and Yankees fighting in the streets and then up in the hills around the town, sounds of rifles and cannons reverberating in our ears.

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One year a Confederate soldier fell during the battle. Apparently he was an actor at heart, for he writhed around on the ground, clutching at the wound. First he rolled to his left, and ended up in a pile of fresh dog poo. Seeing where he was lying, the dying soldier continued his act and rolled over to his right, where he soon discovered lived a large number of ants. The poor soldier soon decided he was not dying after all, and had enough strength to removed himself from that area altogether.

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With many of the re-enactors, it was popular to carry fake blood to make the wounds seems more realistic.  So one year we were stunned to find out that the Yankee soldier who we thought was doing such a great job of acting wounded truly was injured when his rifle backfired. It wasn’t fake blood after all!

But nearly 20 years ago, the town stopped holding the re-enactment.

You can’t imagine my delight when my mother announced that there would be another re-enactment. Immediately, I made plans to take my five children so that they might have an opportunity to experience something from my childhood as well as enjoy a living re-enactment of Harrisonburg history.

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I’m glad I did … as it was definitely a weekend of fond memories and a weekend of making new memories, too.

Some of my kids watching the battle unfold along the streets of Harrisonburg.
Some of my kids watching the battle unfold along the streets of Harrisonburg.

Please … stay tuned for a retelling of a Civil War lore from my own family history, one that I was reminded of as I shared stories and history with my children over the weekend.  It’s one that always draws a laugh!