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Lett Settlement & the Civil War

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African Americans in the Civil War

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Othias Lett - Civil War Veteran

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Civil War Veterans Meigs Twp. Muskingum Co. OH

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Morgan Visits Lett Settlement in 1863

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?

By Jimmy Lett

"Papa, papa, come quick." Aquilla Lett following behind two mules pulling a plow was trying to finish plowing the last acre of land before darkness set in; turned to see his daughter Susan running towards him. She was shouting and desperately waving her hands in an effort to get his attention. He pulled on the leather throngs strapped across his shoulders to bring the mules to a stop.

Soon, she was beside him. "Papa, mama sent me to fetch you. You haf ta come quick. There are some white men on horseback riding toward the cabin. Papa, they have guns and rifles, and they look like they are ready for war. Mama thinks they might be some trouble." Aquilla hurriedly unstraps himself from the reins around his body and removes his rifle from its hand stitched leather holster strapped to the side of one of his mules before starting at a run for the house. The mules followed along behind them, dragging the plow across the freshly cut rows of dirt, they soon veer off, heading toward the barn.

He reached the house minutes before the men arrive and order his family to go in the cabin and prepare themselves for a gun battle. He stays to face the men alone. Aquilla had received many threats from his neighbors after winning his battle in court to keep his kids in the public school. Now he and a few other Negros from the settlement were in a dispute over voting rights. Some of his ‘good’ neighbors had already burned the schoolhouse down that had been built on his brothers’ property. If it was a fight they wanted, then a fight they were about to get. He cocked the hammer back on his rifle. He figured to get the leader before he went down.

The men, riding as if the devil were chasing them, soon rode up to where he was standing. There were at least twenty of them. Aquilla knew that he didn’t stand a chance. The leader spoke, "Howdy neighbor, I’m Brigadier General John Morgan. My men and I have been ridin for quite a spell, the horses are tired and my men are hungry and plain wore out. I’d be mighty appreciative of any hospitality you could afford us. Mostly a place to bed down for a few hours and what ever meat you can spare us."

Aquilla looked them over; they certainly were not any neighbors that he had ever seen before. From the dust on them, it was obvious that they had been riding hard for a long time. Their horses were dripping with sweat, and if he was a General, they weren’t wearing any uniforms. Even so, his accent left no doubt as to which their allegiance was to, the Confederate Army.

Aquilla spoke, "We don’t get many strangers around here, it’s just me and my family. We don’t have much but we would be most glad to share what we got. There’s a barn out back; you should find enough hay to feed your horses and a stream down behind it a few yards. Don’t think we got enough food to feed everyone, but you’re welcome to kill a few chickens for meat if you have a mind to." "Don’t worry about my men eating, they just need a place they can set a campfire. I reckon we’ve got enough beans to go around. That chicken sounds mighty good to go long with it. We need to get an early start in the mornin. We still got a lot of ridin to do."

Aquilla called for his family to come out, now seeming more at ease. "My name’s Aquilla and this is my wife, Elizabeth and my daughter Susan. We’d be honored if you would take meal with us after you get settled General." "Well thank you sir, I’d be right pleased to accept. We don’t see much southern hospitality up here. Are you a southerner sir?" Aquilla looked up at him and said, "General, hospitality is not a trait restricted only to the south. We take pride in doing what we can, whenever we can." "Well spoken sir. I’ll knock some of this dust off of me and after, I shall come callin." At that he tipped his hat at the ladies, and rode off to the barn with his men following behind him.

Aquilla and his family retreat to the inside of the cabin and he warns them to be very careful about what they say at dinner to the General. They were Confederate soldiers and he knew that their lives would be in danger if they were to guess their heritage. They hid anything in the shack that might give them away as being Negro. Elizabeth and Susan start dinner and Aquilla leaves for the barn to unstrap the mules and oversee the killing of chickens.

Henry, Aquilla’s son, was away fighting the war for the Union Army. He had volunteered for service in hopes of being assigned to the 104th U. S. Colored Infantry to serve under his cousin, Major Martin R. Delany. Him being the first and the only Negro field officer in the United States Army and achieving the rank of Brigadier General. Henry had instead been assigned to the 102nd U.S.C.T. They had not heard or received any news about him for several months. Margaret, his oldest daughter had married and had long ago moved off with her husband. Susan would follow when her husband returned from fighting the war. Aquilla told his family not to mention either of them, as it might lead to more questions.

Aquilla had heard rumors about a man named Morgan who had been terrorizing the northern settlers. He and his men setting fires to their property and stealing what they could as they traveled. While Morgan seemed to want to pass himself off as an officer and gentleman, Aquilla wasn’t fooled by his friendly manners. If this man was whom he said he was, he wasn’t anything more than a murderer and a thief. And now, he had come to Meigs County.

After returning to the house, he again warns his family to act natural and take a back seat to the conversation with the General at dinner. It would be best if they left all the talking to him. Aquilla couldn’t help but wonder why Morgan just didn’t kill them and take what he wanted. It was obvious that they were in fact, quite defenseless. But he realized that the night wasn’t over and neither had they left. Aquilla knew that this dinner was about to be the most important meal they had ever eaten, and General Morgan, a guest they could just as well do without. An hour later, they heard a knock on the door, he had arrived.

"Come in General," Aquilla said after opening the door. "Susan would you be so kind as to take the General’s hat?" Susan immediately moved to take the hat the general had reached out to her. She hung it on a peg imbedded in the wall behind the door, and walked back to what she was doing at the wood burning stove. "Come, have a seat at the table," Aquilla says to him pointing at a log stool at the end of a wooden table placed in the middle of the floor. Aquilla and the General both move to take seats at opposite ends as Morgan greeted them. Elizabeth and Susan hurry to set large pots of food on the table beside them. After awhile, the men start to talk.

"It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted a woman’s cooking. I surely do appreciate you inviting me to take meal with you Mr. ah…" "Lett," Aquilla immediately offers him. "Yes, Mr. Lett. You have a nice farm here. My men and I appreciate your hospitality. It’s sure southernly of you." Aquilla begins the interrogation, "What brings you so far from home General, if ya don’t mind me askin?" "The war sir, and southern honor. We’re headed for St. Georges Creek and our destiny. The rest of my men will be waiting there. Are you familiar with the place sir?" "Yes, it’s not far from here; we don’t get many news bouts the war way out here. How is the fightin going sir?"

"You can expect a southern victory now that we’re here. I aim to teach them Yankee’s a lesson they will never forget. Since I’ve been here in the north I have run across a few good white people who share the southern views on this here slavery issue. You know that Lincoln of yours is wantin to free all the nigga slaves. Such a thing is totally absurb. You can do what you want with them up north, but the south is ours. Can’t no man tell us how to run it. Lincoln has even resorted to givin niggers guns and uniforms so as to fight against us whites."

"We have been forced to arm our own darkies. Our niggers are happy to fight for the south but they know they were born to be slaves, not soldiers, that’s why God put them on this here earth. They’re put here for white’s to take care of them. You know they can’t think for themself. Personally, I hate all of them. In my opinion the only good nigger is a dead nigger. They bear a lot of watchin. When I catch one of them all dressed up in those fancy Yankee uniforms, I make him wish he was back on the plantation fore I kill em. You know you could have a much better place here if you had a few slaves of your own to work the land. Tell me sir, how do you stand on the issue?"

Aquilla saw it coming. He looked at his wife and could see the concern on her face. She attempted to change the subject. "General let me fix you another plate of vittles. Why I declare, the way you done ate that first one, you must still be plenty hungry." "Why thank you ma’am. I have been ridin for a spell. But I’d rather think that my hunger was due to your good food, why it taste as good as any food I’ve ever eaten." Elizabeth thanked him for the compliment and got up to take his plate to refill, Morgan again turned his attention to Aquilla, eyeing him and silently waiting for an answer.

Aquilla carefully gathers his thoughts before speaking. "Well general, at the risk that I might rile you, I am honor bound to speak the truth. I have heard many sides to this here war. Some say that the Negro is less intelligent than animals and should be treated that way, and yet others believe them to be God’s people and as such, should have the same rights as any white man. There are very few slaves here in the north and as you well know, Ohio doesn’t cotton to slavery. My family and I have strong religious beliefs and as such, we don’t believe that any man, regardless of color should be treated less than human."

Looking the General squarely in the face, he continues, "We have never had the desire to possess anymore than what we can get from the blood and sweat that we ourselves give. This was my father’s land and he too worked it without slave labor. We are able to support ourselves quite fairly on what we reap. I’ve been able to pay my taxes and see to it that my daughter gets an education. We’ve had our problems but on the most part, this was peaceful country before the war came along. If I had a stable full of slaves, it seems to me, I would just be invitin more work on myself, and more mouths to feed. Like you said, they would bear a lot of watching and tending as you point out, all Negro’s being dumb and all."

Aquilla glanced at his wife and daughter, and cast them a faint smile. He then turned his attention to the visitor. "General, we are but simple people, and as such, our needs or simple. There will never be any room on this farm for slaves of any color."

Morgan stared at him for a long time before saying anything. Aquilla looking intensely at him could see his face go through many emotions from angry to embarrassment. Finally he looked around the table and set his eating utensil down on the plate.

"Well sir, I guess you are reflecting the views of a northern state and as such, I cant’ expect you to know the hearts and minds of true southerners. I might say that talk like that could get you killed where I am from. However, as a southern officer and gentleman, it’s not my duty to war with northern white farmers. Maybe after we win this war, you will all come around to our southern way of thinkin. I am most appreciative of your honesty, but I guess it’s about time I rejoined my men. We’ll be wantin to get an early start."

At that he rises from the table. Susan nervously rushes to get his hat. After placing it on his head, he turns to look at Elizabeth, "Ma’am I want ta thank you for the meal. My men and I will be ridin out fore long."

He then turns to Aquilla, also standing and prepared to accompany him to the door, and says, "Mr. Lett, it’s a shame that you are not a southerner. Your honesty is indeed a virtue. Especially when it comes at a time when it could cost you your life. It’s been my pleasure sir."

He takes another look at Elizabeth and Susan, tips his hat to them, "Ladies," he then turns and walks through the door that Aquilla has opened for his exit. The door closes on silence.

They awake a few hours later to the sound of horses racing hurriedly off into the darkness of early morning. The men riding fast, as if the devil were chasing them.

In July of 1863 after several raids in Kentucky and Indiana, Morgan’s raiders crossed into Ohio. Several columns of Union Cavalry pursued them. On July 19th, two Union brigades attacked Morgan near Buffington Island at St. Georges Creek.

During the night, Morgan and about 400 men escaped encirclement by following a narrow woods path. The rest of his force surrendered. They continued east and north, attempting to find a safe crossing over the Ohio River.

With several columns of Union Cavalry in hot pursuit chasing them through Meigs County and into Columbiana County, Morgan passed through Salineville, riding down the railroad toward Smith’s Ford. Turning onto the new Lisbon Road, Morgan’s raiders were finally cut off. Morgan surrendered.

During this raid, Morgan and his men captured and paroled about 6,000 Union soldiers and militia, destroyed 34 bridges, disrupted the railroads at more than 60 places, and diverted tens of thousands of troops from other duties.

In all of the battles that Morgan’s raiders waged against the Blue Army in that area, only 25 Union soldiers were killed. Out of the 1700 men riding with General Morgan, the death toll among his ranks would number 1264 men. Even with all of his efforts, it was a Union Victory.

Early in July of 1863 Morgan’s raiders had visited the fist all Negro settlement in the United States and had left without killing a single person. Wouldn’t he also have been surprised to find out that he had sat down to a table and had eaten dinner with the very people he hated, a Negro, and had mistaken him for a southern gentleman. Soon after his capture, John Hunt Morgan escaped from the Ohio State Penitentiary, where he was being held as a prisoner of war.

He was killed by Federal troops in Greeneville, Tennessee, on September 4, 1864. Morgan, unarmed, was defenseless and desperately pleading for his life when Private Andrew J. Campbell of Company G of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry raised his carbine, aimed, and fired. The General fell forward on his face, dying instantaneously.

The bullet struck Morgan squarely in his left breast, turned downward, passed through his heart, and exited through his left shoulder blade. He crashed down on a cluster of gooseberry bushes and gradually slipped to the ground.

"The man began shouting, "I've killed the d--d horse thief." One of Morgan’s officers fell to his knees beside him, crying: "You have just killed the best man in the Southern Confederacy."

When Morgan's body was being carried from the town, it "was held on the front of the saddle by the rider."

Lieutenant Colonel John B. Brownlow of the Federal 9th Tennessee Cavalry said, "I had the pleasure of seeing the lifeless carcass of their fallen chief...with his body thrown on the neck of his horse, his head and face covered with blood. I pointed the men of the 9th to the corpse, assuring them it was the veritable John Morgan. They made the welkin ring with shouts of applause."

After parading Morgan's body through Greeneville, he was taken to General Gillem's headquarters on the outskirts of town. The rider presented the corpse to the Federal officers and then flung it from his saddle into a rain-swollen ditch, observing: "There he is, like a hog."

The treatment of his corpse after his death at the hands of white people was not any different than the treatment Morgan had shown to the corpses of the many unarmed Negroes he had killed during his campaign.

The South would later complain to the North about their treatment of their favorite sons’ corpse, and the fact that he was shot down like a dog in the street, ‘defenseless.’

It is written that you will reap what you have sown. One might conclude that this is the fate that befell John Morgan. While he may have lived like a white man, he died like a nigger.