She was only five years old when she crouched in the root cellar with her mother and siblings while the Union Army destroyed Atlanta. The baby was still a toddler and they didn’t yet know that their father, a gunsmith, had been killed a few miles away in Jonesboro, GA.


With them was a black man. I suppose he was a slave but that was never mentioned in the story. His name was Luther and this is as much his story as my great-grandmother’s.


They had hurriedly entered the cellar at the first sight of the soldiers and just hoped that they hadn’t been seen. They had no time to gather any belongings but weren’t too worried because of the food that was stored there. The adults and older children wouldn’t starve even if they had to stay there for a long time but the baby was a different matter.


After many hours of quiet Luther opened the door a crack to see that the garden was trampled and the house was demolished. There was no sign of the chickens or the cow. They did their best to silence the baby who was very hungry as Luther slipped from the safety of the cellar and vanished into the darkness without a word.


I’ve often wondered what the family thought at this time. Did they think he had run away or did they know he would return? In a few hours there was a knock on the cellar cover and Luther presented the family with the return of their cow and a story.


He had found the Union encampment a few miles down the road where he waited until they were asleep. He had already spotted the cow tied to a tree along with some other livestock collected from other families. He slipped in and untied the cow and then noticed his hat on the ground very near a Union soldier asleep near the fire. This hat was Luther’s only possession other than the clothes he wore and he couldn’t stand to leave it there, even though he knew he was taking a chance getting so close to the soldier. He was surprised when he saw the soldier open his eyes but did not call out an alarm, allowing him to return with both cow and hat.


This story was not told by my great-grandmother who was still alive when I was a child. I remember asking her to tell me about when she was a little girl and her answer would be that she was never a little girl. Now I wonder if she really didn’t remember or if she didn’t want to think about it because it was so painful.


The story was actually told by one of her older brothers to my mother and is one of the few stories I ever heard from that time.






Amazing story made very real to me Patty!

Thank you so much for sharing. Family stories make history come alive.
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