Thomas Lewis

In this interview, the interviewer recounts in the first person Thomas Lewis’s memories of the Civil War and his mother’s interactions with Union soldiers. 
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…Once when I was a little boy, I was sitting on the fence while my mother plowed to get the field ready to put in wheat. The white man who owned her was plowing too. Some Yankee soldiers on horses came along. One rode up to the fence and when my mother came to the end of the furrow, he said to her, “Lady, could you tell me where Jim Downs’ still house is?” My mother started to answer, but the man who owned her told her to move on. The soldiers told him to keep quiet, or they would make him sorry. After he went away, my mother told the soldiers where the house was. The reason her master did not want her to tell where the house was, was that some of his Rebel friends [people supporting the Confederacy] were hiding there. Spies had reported them to the Yankee [Union] soldiers. They went to the house and captured the Rebels.

Next soldiers came walking. I had no cap. One soldier asked me why I did not wear a cap. I said I had no cap. The soldier said, “You tell your mistress I said to buy you a cap or I’ll come back and kill the whole family.” They bought me a cap, the first one I ever had.

The soldiers passed for three days and a half. They were getting ready for a battle. The battle was close. We could hear the cannon. After it was over, a white man went to the battle field. He said that for a mile and a half one could walk on dead men and dead horses. My mother wanted to go and see it, but they wouldn’t let her, for it was too awful.

…Once they sent my mother there [to the nearest small town]… She saw a flash, and something hit a big barn. The timbers flew every way, and I suppose killed men and horses that were in the barn. There were Rebels hidden in the barn and in the houses, and a Yankee spy had found out where they were. They bombed the barn and surrounded the town. No one was able to leave. The Yankees came and captured the Rebels.

I had a cousin named Jerry. Just a little while before the barn was struck a white man asked Jerry how he would like to be free. Jerry said that he would like it all right. The white men took him into the barn and were going to put him over a barrel and beat him half to death. Just as they were about ready to beat him, the bomb struck the barn and Jerry escaped…

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Thomas Lewis1857 (approx. 80)Estella R. DodsonUnknown
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Bloomington, ININKY
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Civil WarSpencer County, First Person, Witnessed Extreme Cruelty, Union Troops, Klan/Mob Violence, Hired Out