Last week, my column ended with dinner on the church grounds at the Thompson reunion. After dinner, my family would wander on down the hill to the cemetery. There we would hear stories about my ancestors.
A lot of the stories would be about Sidney Washington Thompson, my great-grandpa. How at age 19 he volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army. He was trained as a sharpshooter and sent to northern Virginia to serve under Gen. Robert E. Lee.
There, Sidney fought at places like Tranter’s Creek, South Anna, Bristoe Station and at the Battle of the Wilderness. In the Battle of the Wilderness, Sidney was wounded in his leg, but wasn’t long till he returned to duty. Finally, at the battle of Burgess Mill on Oct. 27, 1864, at some point in the battle, Sidney and his entire regiment were cut off from their division. They were all captured and taken to Maryland and confined at Point Lookout as prisoners of war. He remained there till the end of the war.
Few of us can imagine what conditions might have been like at Point Lookout or Southern prisons like Andersonville. Prison conditions were deplorable. Bad water, rations that were very minimal, disease and being shot just for crossing a certain line were a common day in the prison yard. Records show as many as 14,000 Confederate soldiers died while at Point Lookout, but Sidney was one of the lucky ones.
After the war was over, he was released and somehow made his way back to Montgomery County. The next year he met and married a young girl named Mary and that union produced 10 children — one of which was my grandmother.
After the cemetery tour and hearing the stories, we would all load up and ride the two miles over to Sidney’s old homeplace. The old house was still standing. It had wooden shingles on the roof and had wide lightered pine boards as siding. The house was held up with large rocks and wasn’t underpinned. Why, you could be inside and see the chickens walking around under the house.
The house was still being lived in by a great-uncle of mine by marriage. His name was Henry and he was an old time character with a bushy mustache. He wore suspenders and was always chewing and spitting tobackee, as he called it.
Old Henry was a decent sort of fellow, but folks said he was so tight he could give you change back out of a penny. Why, there just happened to be this big grapevine that hung on a beautiful cedar arbor right there beside the old house. The grapes should have been getting ripe about the time of the reunion, but there’d be nary a grape on the vines. It seems that old Henry was picking them off on Saturday before the reunion, putting them in a No. 10 washtub and hiding them in his underground root cellar.
The week after the reunion, Henry would make himself some homemade wine, don’t you know. Everything went well for several years, but one day, old Henry got to nipping pretty heavy on his wine. Somehow, he wobbled down the road to his neighbors and got to bragging about how he’d been hiding them grapes for years and the word got out about what was a-happening to them grapes.
Next week we’ll mosey on up the hollow to visit my great-uncle L.D. and aunt Rilla. Mighty fine folk, don’t you know.
J.A. Bolton is a resident of Richmond County, member of the N.C. Storytellers Guild and the Story Spinners in Laurinburg.