Saturday, November 24, 2018

Witness to war: On a Tennessee plantation, a lone slave cabin

Of the 12 slave cabins that once stood on the Rippavilla Plantation, this is the last one that remains. 
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A witness to lots of living -- and plenty of dying -- the one-room slave cabin rests uneasily near the edge of 21st-century America. A massive, ugly dirt berm for a modern housing development looms ominously nearby. A window missing a pane of glass beckons visitors to peer inside the circa-1850s frame structure. Sunlight squeezes between beams. In a barren room, signs of long-ago life appear: a crumbling brick fireplace, an ancient wooden door, peeling white paint. Above the living space, a loft below a red tin roof.

On Nov. 29, 1864, Yankees and Rebels swept over this ground on the Rippavilla Plantation during the Battle of Spring Hill. The remains of one of the soldiers who was killed that day, 22-year-old Sergeant John Hall of the 26th Ohio, may rest within sight of the cabin. Perhaps his wounded comrades were briefly cared for within the structure's walls.

Before departing, the visitors examine the exterior. Large, white stone blocks provide a foundation. Stone steps rise to a door but fail to complete the connection. A slim coat of fading reddish-brown paint covers small sections of weather-beaten boards. A guide points out curiosities: thumbprints in the brickwork of the fireplace. The marks beg many questions, perhaps unanswerable:

Who were the slaves who lived here? What happened to them? How were they treated by their masters, Nathaniel and Susan Cheairs? Were they fearful on that late-fall day when war raged on the rolling fields near Spring Hill, Tenn.?

Four visitors inspect the slave cabin on the Spring Hill battlefield.
Well-worn steps lead to the entrance.
Weather-beaten side of the cabin.
A window into the interior of the old slave cabin.
The barren interior.
Sunlight streams into the one-room cabin, once heated by this small brick fireplace.

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1 comment:

  1. Inside surface of the boards appear to be "insulated" by glueing newsprint to the boards which was common around the turn of the 20th century if not before.