Mr. Colburn went to St. Louis, on business in which both were interested, and left me to look out a plantation. I determined to make a tour of exploration in Louisiana, in the region above Vidalia. With two or three gentlemen, who were bound on similar business, I passed our pickets one morning, and struck out into the region which was dominated by neither army. The weather was intensely cold, the ground frozen solid, and a light snow falling.
Cold weather in the South has one peculiarity: it can seem more intense than the same temperature at the North. It is the effect of the Southern climate to unfit the system for any thing but a warm atmosphere. The chill penetrates the whole body with a severity I have never known north of the Ohio River. In a cold day, the “Sunny South” possesses very few attractions in the eyes of a stranger.
In that day’s ride, and in the night which followed, I suffered more than ever before from cold. I once passed a night in the open air in the Rocky Mountains, with the thermometer ten degrees below zero. I think it was more endurable than Louisiana, with the mercury ten degrees above zero. On my plantation hunt I was thickly clad, but the cold would penetrate, in spite of every thing. An hour by a fire might bring some warmth, but the first step into the open air would drive it away. Fluid extract of corn failed to have its ordinary effect. The people of the vicinity said the weather was unusually severe on that occasion. For the sake of those who reside there hereafter, I hope their statement was true.
Our party stopped for the night at a plantation near Waterproof, a small village on the bank of the river, twenty-two miles from Natchez. Just as we were comfortably seated by the fire in the overseer’s house, one of the negroes announced that a person at the door wished to see us.
I stepped to the door, and found a half-dozen mounted men in blue uniforms. Each man had a carbine or revolver drawn on me. One of my companions followed me outside, and found that the strange party had weapons enough to cover both of us. It had been rumored that several guerrillas, wearing United States uniforms, were lurking in the vicinity. Our conclusions concerning the character of our captors were speedily made.
Resistance was useless, but there were considerations that led us to parley as long as possible. Three officers, and as many soldiers, from Natchez, had overtaken us in the afternoon, and borne us company during the latter part of our ride. When we stopped for the night, they concluded to go forward two or three miles, and return in the morning. Supposing ourselves fairly taken, we wished to give our friends opportunity to escape. With this object in view, we endeavored, by much talking, to consume time.
I believe it does not make a man eloquent to compel him to peer into the muzzles of a half-dozen cocked revolvers, that may be discharged at any instant on the will of the holders. Prevarication is a difficult task, when time, place, and circumstances are favorable. It is no easy matter to convince your hearers of the truth of a story you know to be false, even when those hearers are inclined to be credulous. Surrounded by strangers, and with your life in peril, the difficulties are greatly increased. I am satisfied that I made a sad failure on that particular occasion.