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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Memories of the Civil War and slavery

Strickland grew up hearing stories about the Civil War from his two grandmothers. He retells some of those stories here, adding a little of his own commentary along the way and showing the development of a cultural memory of the war by many white southerners. He also discusses the relationship he believed had existed between his ancestors and their slaves.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ralph Waldo Strickland, April 18, 1980. Interview H-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

My Grandmother Strickland, some of that land was given through a land grant before the Civil War. It was given her through a land grant. Some of the land, she bought for twenty-five cents a acre, and some of it she give fifty cents a acre. That was before the Civil War. My Grandmother Strickland was born 1830. She was an old Civil War woman. I used to hear her relate, when she was a young girl, there were still Indians lived all around through that country over there. All up and down those streams, there'd be little Indian huts when she was a real young girl. She used to talk about it. I believe I was seven years old when my Grandmother Strickland died. She was eighty-eight years old when she died.
LU ANN JONES:
What other kinds of stories did she tell you? Did she tell you about the Civil War?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
She sure did. Absolutely. I was going to tell you a real good story about on my mother's side. On my mother's side, my Grandfather Dickerson, Captain William E. Dickerson, he was a captain in the Confederate Army. He was on General Lee's staff. My Aunt Lula Maxwell in Augusta, Georgia, she's got a autobiography framed in gold of my grandfather, her father, my mother's father. My grandfather, William Dickerson, she's got a autobiography of his tenure of service. Every battle he participated in and everything. He was on General Lee's staff, he was a captain, a staff officer for General Robert E. Lee. All that Antietam, Gettysburg, and Harper's Ferry, when Lee surrendered to General Grant at Gettysburg—what courthouse was that?
LU ANN JONES:
Appomattox?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Appomattox Court House, General Grant granted General Lee's officers to keep their mounts and their swords, their side arms and small arms—pistols and swords—my Aunt Lula Maxwell has got my Grandfather Dickerson's, all of that down at Augusta, Georgia. She's got his Whenever General Lee surrendered to General Grant there at Gettysburg, he allowed them to keep his side arms and his pistol and his mount. Well, my Grandfather Dickerson rode a horse. He lived down here in Troupe County, Georgia, was his home place. He rode a horse. But when he come through down here, he stopped down here in Sumter, South Carolina, and he met Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The Southern Confederacy had a bunch of gold, and Aaron Maxwell, my first cousin down in Augusta, he this, and this is authentic stuff I'm telling you, every bit of it. The officers met Jefferson Davis down here in Sumpter, South Carolina. They divided. He gave my Grandfather Dickerson a great big hat full of gold. It was coin gold. The British furnished the southern Confederacy that money to fight that war. They were on our side. He went on back down to Troupe County, my Grandfather Dickerson did. Jefferson Davis—the Union army was in pursuit, trying to capture him—he run off down here in Cuba. The Union army, that's where they captured him. Captured him down here in Cuba. They brought him back here, and he stayed in the Federal penitentiary for two years. After two years, they gave him a pardon. He went out in Nebraska on a ranch and lived twenty years after the Civil War. That's Jefferson Davis.
LU ANN JONES:
Did your grandmother who also lived through the Civil War, did she tell you stories?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
That's right. My grandmother Dickerson, she was a doctor. She was, we are English. I'm a direct descendant of William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, on my mother's side. They came from Harlem. My grandmother Dickerson was a great, tall woman, and she relayed it all. Sherman, he's the man that burned Atlanta, he camped at my grandfather Dickerson's estate a week, a part of his army down in Troupe County, Georgia. I'm talking about my grandfather Dickerson on my mother's side. Sherman camped at grandma Dickerson's place for a week, his army did. Old General Sherman, he's the one that invented this "scorch the earth" policy. Whatever his army couldn't eat and couldn't use and that they took with them, they burned the rest of it. Whenever he left Grandpa Dickerson's estate there, there just wasn't a thing in the world. They burned. There wasn't a livestock or nothing. The first two or three years after the surrender there in '65, they like to starve to death. They had a real hard time. I heard my Grandma Dickerson say she gave seventy-five dollars for a box of matches, and there wasn't but about four, five, or six matches in that box. That was Confederate money that was absolutely no good.
LU ANN JONES:
How did she manage without her husband there?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
When Grandpa Dickerson left Jefferson Davis down here in South, he rode that horse on back to his homestead.
LU ANN JONES:
What did she do during the war?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
She was a widow woman. She had some children. My two aunts, my Aunt Lula and my Aunt Emma, and my Aunt Corrie was born just before Grandpa went off to the Civil War. When he come back, then my mother was born, and then she had Uncle Ed and my Uncle William. My Grandma Dickerson had two sons, then she had one more girl, Myrtle Maxwell. Myrtle Maxwell is the mother of Bertram Maxwell and all these furniture companies all around. They've got fifty eight furniture stores. They're worth forty-three million dollars, Dunn and Bradstreet. That's been twenty five years ago, Dunn and Bradstreet. That was on my mother's side. That was her sister, her brothers and sisters.
LU ANN JONES:
Was it on the other side of the family that your grandmother was born in 1830.
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Yeah, that's right. My Grandma Strickland, she was born in 1830.
LU ANN JONES:
What kinds of stories did she tell you about growing up? Do you remember?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
She said, when she was a young girl, she used to talk about the Indians lived all through that Chambers County in Alabama. All through the country there would be Indians. She grew up, and she was a Hudson before she got married to Grandpa Strickland, that's on my Grandfather Strickland's side. Old fashioned woman, she'd sit out there on the porch. She had two mill rocks—I used to go up there when I was just a little boy. She died when I was seven years old.—She had two big mill rocks on the front door, we'd go up there and Grandma Strickland would be sitting up there in the rocking chair. She had a clay pipe and a great big old long cane to the stem. She'd sit up there and smoke her pipe, puff her clay pipe. That was fashionable back them days. She raised her own tobacco. Back then, the people in the country, they didn't have much money, and they raised their own tobacco.
LU ANN JONES:
Did she ever tell you any stories about the Civil War?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Not a great deal. Not too much. She had a brother, my Uncle Tom Hudson, he was in the Civil War. He wasn't an officer, he was some kind of enlisted man. But Uncle Tom Hudson, he had his musket rifle, he had his bullet mould, he had a powder horn, and he had his uniform—a Confederate uniform that he saved and kept. I remember when I was just a little bit of boy going to his house and seeing all that. That old musket rifle, and that old bullet mould, powder horn, and a few other things that he had back them days.
LU ANN JONES:
Your wife says for me to ask you about the cow your grandmother had?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Yeah, my Grandmother Dickerson. When Sherman's army camped at my Grandmother Dickerson's estate, when he left there, he didn't leave nothing, but they had a slave girl. They heard that his army was coming, and this slave girl stole this cow and took it off down there on that Chatahoochie River, and hid out. Kept that car hid out until Sherman's army left there, and then whenever they left, she brought that cow, and that's the only livestock that they had on the whole plantation—that milk cow—they plowed that milk cow with some kind of old wooden plow. They cultivated some corn and stuff. He took all the meat and everything. My Grandma Dickerson they'd take the salt out of the smoke house and kept the meat in the smoke house. They'd run water through that salt in order to drip some of the salt. That's how they'd get some salt try to help season up stuff. They'd like to starve to death, the first four or five years. Those were carpetbagger days, right after the Civil War.
LU ANN JONES:
Did you say the slave girl took the cow, or did your grandmother tell her to take it?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
That's right, she did. Grandma Dickerson tole her to do it. That was done purposely. No, she didn't steal it. Just to to speak, she stole it. She just slipped that cow off down on that Chatahoochie River and kept the hid out. They hid that cow out until Sherman's army left Grandma Dickerson's estate.
LU ANN JONES:
That was about a week, right?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
That's right. A whole week. They brought that cow back, and that's what they used. They milked her, and plowed her too in a plow. They like to starved to death. They sure really did have a hard time. The first four or five years after the Civil War.
LU ANN JONES:
How many slaves did they have?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
Grandpa Strickland had twenty or twenty five slaves he owned. He owned Uncle Joe Post, was one of them. After the Civil War, some of those slaves took my Grandpa Dickerson—I'll tell you something else. They talking about going to church, my Grandfather Dickerson used to dress his slaves up and take them to church with him every Sunday. They had a great big place built up in the back of the church, and that's where those slaves would sit back up there in the back of the church. He'd take them to church with them. He borned the children. My Grandma Dickerson was a doctor. She had a big old—it come from England—had a big old doctor's book, and it was that thick. She got all her information and her guidance. Anything she run across she didn't know about it, she got this doctor's book. She borned the children for them.
LU ANN JONES:
Had she had any medical training, or did she just learn it herself from the book?
RALPH W. STRICKLAND:
She didn't go to medical school, she just learned it through practical experience. She could midwife, deliver children, and stuff like that. They borned their children