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Reading 2: The Recollections of Caldonia Ann Borden Brandenburg

Caldonia Ann Borden Brandenburg was nine years old when the Battle of Prairie Grove raged around her family's home on the southeast side of the battlefield. This is her memory of the battle:

On the sixth of December [1862], the first Yankee was in our home, then two more came and started to tear up things. They turned up the foot of the bed and found Pa's saddle bags which had two handles. Ma got hold of one and the Yankee the other. He dragged her all over the room and the baby got scared and screamed so loud that Ma had to turn loose.

One early morning [December 7, 1862] Pa told us to move out as there was to be a battle very soon on our hill. We went to a neighbor's a mile away, taking what we could carry and some food. The battle started on the hill where our house was. We could hear the cannons and see their heads rise up to fire. We hadn't had any breakfast, we were too excited to be hungry. About one o'clock in the afternoon the noise got louder and closer. It occurred to Pa that we were in danger so he rushed us to the cellar just before the shooting started around the [Morton] house where we were. In the cellar there were barrels of kraut, cider and cider vinegar, apples and potatoes, four men, seven women, and eight children.

After dark, it got quiet and we came out of the cellar. There was a dead man across the cellar door, wounded and dying men all around. I can still hear them calling "help - help - help." The men worked through the night helping the wounded. Yankees and Rebels all got the same care. Four died that night. One soldier's leg was just hanging by the skin and the doctor cut it off and threw it outside. It sure was scary and pitiful. Some of us got sick.

Pa sneaked back up the hill and found that our beautiful two-story house that was painted light yellow with green trim, the home that we all loved so much, had been burned to the ground after the Yankees plundered the inside.... We never got a thing out of our home, not even a change of clothes. They killed and ate our cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens and used what we had stored in our cellar.... They took everything they could use, then set the house on fire. We had 60 bushels of wheat stored upstairs and it slowly burned for three weeks in the rubble.

All of the kinfolks and neighbors gave us food, clothing and bedding and household goods that they could spare, to help us get started again.... As soon as it was safe for us kids to go on the battle fields, we went and picked up clothes, canteens, blankets and anything we found to use. We had to put everything in boiling water to kill the "grey backs" [body lice]. We made bedding out of the cloth we salvaged after cleaning it. The Yankees took our good horses and a beautiful big bay mare, a fine pacer, our work horses and saddle horses and left us only an old oxen and an old blind mare, but she was still a good plow horse and we bred her to a good stallion and got a fine colt.

When the Yankees burned our house, they burned Uncle Ed's and Uncle Will's houses the same evening. The officers took Grandma's house for headquarters so it was saved.

...We had the Yankees in the winter and the Bushwhackers in the summer.... We had to hide out everything we could and then sometimes the Yankees found it. We had to live on bran bread sometimes because they took our flour and meat and other foods, so we had poor pickins then. We buried things--some people buried things in the cemetery. They shaped the dirt on top like a grave but the Yankees...or Bushwhackers got on to that after a while and began to dig in the fresh graves, and once they found a barrel of whiskey....

Well, in March of 1864 one day the Yankees ran onto two of the Southern boys and the only thing the boys could do was to run as they weren't armed. We were watching and we saw the boys fall. We went closer to see who they were and they were dead. We knew them, they were our neighbors and it was a half a mile to their house, so an old man and a woman helped four of us kids move the bodies. Brother Will and I each took a hand, Tom and Reynold each took a foot and the old man carried the head and the woman put a board under the hips and shoulders and we carried them one by one to their folks. That was some time too. A lot I can't tell...it shakes me up so.... All we thought of during the war was to save ourselves. We didn't have time to pray and when we had time we were too tired, but God took care of us.... Well, we lived over it but I don't have any love for a Yankee.

Questions for Reading 2

1. Where did the Borden family go once the battle began? Why?

2. What conditions did the Bordens find when they emerged from the cellar after the battle?

3. How long of a period does Caldonia's story cover? After the battle, what other events affected the Borden family during this period?

4. What do you think "Bushwhackers" were? Using a dictionary, look up the definition.

5. In general, whom does Caldonia blame for the suffering of the local people? Which of the events she cites did she witness personally? Does this affect your view of the accuracy of her account?

6. How old was Caldonia during the Civil War? How long was it before Caldonia's memories were written down? Do your answers affect your view of her story? Why or why not?

Reading 2 was excerpted from an oral history of Caldonia Ann Borden Brandenburg compiled in 1982 by Eve Brandenburg Acuff from notes and conversations from 1937 until Caldonia's death on November 29, 1943. Courtesy of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park.

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