Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clio and My Aunt Bertha – A family in Civil War Marion/Perry County

No, this isn’t another blog about my family! It is, however, about a family that lived in Marion/Perry County during the Civil War.

Over the holidays, I was able to purchase for the MMI Archives from Ebay (through my friend, Nick Picerno, in Virginia) a small volume entitled Clio and My Aunt Bertha,by John T. Winterich. Privately printed in 1942 in New York City (Marchbanks Press), the little 25-page booklet is actually a reprint of an article which appeared in the October 31, 1942, issue of the Saturday Review of Literature.

Clio and My Aunt Bertha (1942) by John T. Winterich. (Credit: MMI Archives)

John T. Winterich, a bibliographer and bookman, relates the memoirs of his Aunt Bertha Winterich, who grew up on a small cotton plantation in Perry County, Alabama, near Marion, during the Civil War. Bertha’s memories include the plantation’s only slave, Uncle Steve, visits to her father from Confederate General Edward Cary Walthall and a Captain Kouraysh (spelling?), who distilled whiskey locally, and of soldiers secretly burying something on the family’s plantation.

MG Edward Cary Walthall (1831-1898), C.S.A., gallant officer of the Army of Tennessee who distinguished himself – among other battles - at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in the battles around Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1863. (Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Aunt Bertha’s father (John Winterich’s grandfather) went off to war three times to serve the Confederacy, but each time he returned home due to ill health. Bertha mentions the shortage of coffee and other food stuffs, and how dietary shortages and other imbalances led to the deaths of two of her siblings, John and Marie, both babies.

By the end of the war, Aunt Bertha tells of a “parade” of battle-worn Confederate soldiers trooping past the Marion Female Seminary. A childhood friend, Frances Sellick, climbed up on one of the stone posts to watch the passing soldiers:

“It was a tatterdemalion company that passed, plodding along at ragged route step – one-armed men, one-legged men, men with matted hair on their heads and matted clothes on their backs, listless men, dazed men, battered human driftwood washed up beyond reach of the ebbing tides of disaster. Suddenly a ragged, bearded fellow broke ranks and rushed toward the stone post on which Frances Sellick was sitting. He reached up, grasped her in his arms, ran back into formation with her. Her screams echoed back down the road as the line wound on – echoed back, Aunt Bertha is sure, even after the bedraggled veteran had been able to convince Frances that he was her father.”

Were these troops returning from the war as a unit, or could at least some of them have been patients of the Breckinridge Military Hospital at Howard College (MMI) departing for home (especially, the amputees)?

Marion Female Seminary in Marion, Alabama, where Nicola Marschall taught. He is credited with designing the first Confederate flag and the first Confederate uniform. (Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Finally, Bertha relates how her father’s ill health forced him to sell the plantation to a Mrs. Day at the end of the war. He had also been swindled out of his cotton crop by an unscrupulous cotton broker in Selma. The family – which originally came from Georgia by way of Prussia (Germany) – then moved North to Hoboken, New Jersey, to join relatives!

Question? With only one slave (Uncle Steve), how were they able to harvest their cotton and get it to market? Use of slaves from other plantations? Family members and hired hands?

P.S. Clio, of course, is the Muse who sings of famous deeds and who restores the past to life. Aunt Bertha tells some whoppers herein, including the one about the hoopsnake which sticks its tail in its mouth and rolls like a bicycle tire toward its victim!