Angeline was out behind her house stirring the family’s clothes in the hot, soapy water in her iron washtub. Suddenly 54-year-old Jeremiah*, one of her most trusted slaves, came running up the path toward her.
“Union soldiers are coming up the bayou!” he shouted, nearly out of breath. Jeremiah had discovered that a runaway slave had gone over to the Union Army to reveal that the Guice plantation had large amounts of ginned, unbaled cotton. The Guices had been unable to sell it since the beginning of the war because of the Confederate embargo and Union blockades.
And it wasn’t long until a boat drew up to a landing on Brushley Bayou near her home. The Union officer and several soldiers stepped out of the boat — they had come to take her cotton.
It was the spring of 1864 and Union troops were making their way through Louisiana. One objective of the Union Army’s new Red River Campaign was to secure large quantities of Louisiana and Texas cotton for northern mills. The year before, several Union gunboats had attempted to make it up the Ouachita (wash-i-taw) River but were turned back at Fort Beauregard in Catahoula Parish, not far from the Guice Plantation.
Elbert Guice, Angeline’s husband, was away from home carrying out his duties as a paymaster for the Confederate troops. She had been doing what she could to maintain some semblance of order around their plantation since the war began, but it was getting increasingly difficult to do with Elbert away. Cornelia, the Guice’s oldest child, was well-educated and helped conduct classes for her nine younger sisters and brothers.
Before the war the Guices owned 30 slaves — half of which were 15 or older in 1860. Many of their slaves had run away after Pres. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but Jeremiah and 27-year-old “Aunt Hester” stayed and helped the family.
As the officer walked over to the wooden structure housing the loose cotton, Angeline laid down her washing pole, wiped the sweat from her brow, and walked resolutely toward the officer. As she approached him he said, “Ma’am, we have come to take your cotton.”
She calmly, but adamantly said, “I will never let you have a lock of it to make gun-wadding for killing our people.”
“I will take what I have come for despite your protests,” stated the officer.
With that she asked Jeremiah to hand her a lighted pine-knot. Without taking her eyes off the face of the Union officer, she threw the flaming pine-knot into the pile of cotton. It gave a “whoof” and was on fire immediately.
The officer was furious. With disdain he looked at Angeline and said, “Well Ma’am, since you like a fire, I’ll make one, too.” He made everyone get out of her house and then ordered his soldiers to set it on fire.
She and her children stood helplessly by and watched their home burn to the ground. All of their possessions went up in flames before their eyes. Oh how she wished Elbert was with them!
After the soldiers left, the family searched the smoldering rubble for anything of use or value. All they could redeem was a plate or two and some pieces of pottery. Neighbors gave them what they could each could spare, but at this point in the war no one had much.
The family planned to make a home in the overseer’s cabin until Elbert came back home. But Elbert would not be coming home. He died of a sudden illness on December 9, 1864 while on his way to Army headquarters. He was found days later in a warped old cabin in Red Chute, LA near Shreveport with his horse waiting outside. His body was taken home for burial.
Living in the damp and cramped overseer’s cabin took its toll on the family as well. Ten days after Elbert died, 10-year-old Charles died. Angeline had lost her home, her husband, and her son in a matter of months. Such sadness and heartache is hard to imagine.
When the war ended in April of 1865 and Cornelia’s newlywed husband Benjamin Kitchen came home from the service, he found the family still living in the overseer’s cabin.
Benjamin took on much of the responsibility of providing for the family and became tutor for the children as well. But the post-war Reconstruction years were very difficult so they decided to move to Union Church, MS to live with relatives.
After several years, believing they could make a better life in Texas, they loaded a wagon and made stops in Natchez, MS and back in Harrisonburg, LA to visit relatives before moving on. They even made a stop in the little town of Red Chute, LA where Elbert had been found in the cabin.
“Aunt Hester” Robinson and her husband eventually moved to Texas and lived near them because she grieved for “the folks.”
In 1877, twelve years after their move from their war-torn home place, Angeline died from an accidental overdose of morphine which the druggist had mislabeled as quinine. Angeline Jones Guice, born in Tennessee, is buried in the Elmo Cemetery near Terrell, Texas.
Elbert Hampton Guice and Angeline Jones Guice are my great-great grandparents.
*The name Jeremiah is a fictional name given to a devoted slave of the Guices.