A planting-gang consists of drivers for the planters, drivers for the harrows, persons who scatter the seed, and attendants to supply them with seed. The seed is drawn from the gin-house to the field in ox-wagons, and distributed in convenient piles of ten or twenty bushels each.
Cotton-seed has never been considered of any appreciable value, and consequently the negroes are very wasteful in using it. In sowing it in the field, they scatter at least twenty times as much as necessary, and all advice to use less is unheeded. It is estimated that there are forty bushels of seed to every bale of cotton produced. A plantation that sends a thousand bales of cotton to market will thus have forty thousand bushels of seed, for which there was formerly no sale.
With the most lavish use of the article, there was generally a surplus at the end of the year. Cattle and sheep will eat cotton-seed, though not in large quantities. Boiled cotton-seed is fed to hogs on all plantations, but it is far behind corn in nutritious and fattening qualities. Cotton-seed is packed around the roots of small trees, where it is necessary to give them warmth or furnish a rich soil for their growth. To some extent it is used as fuel for steam-engines, on places where the machinery is run by steam. When the war deprived the Southern cities of a supply of coal for their gasworks, many of them found cotton seed a very good substitute. Oil can be extracted from it in large quantities. For several years, the Cotton-Seed Oil Works of Memphis carried on an extensive business. Notwithstanding the many uses to which cotton-seed can be applied, its great abundance makes it of little value.
The planting-gang which we started on that Monday morning, consisted of five planters and an equal number of harrows, sowers, etc. Each planter passed over about six acres daily, so that every day gave us thirty acres of our prospective cotton crop. At the end of the week we estimated we had about a hundred and seventy acres planted. On the following week we increased the number of planters, but soon reduced them, as we found we should overtake the plows earlier than we desired. By the evening of Monday, May 2d, we had planted upward of four hundred acres. A portion of it was pushing out of the ground, and giving promise of rapid growth.
During this period the business was under the direct superintendence of our overseers, Mr. Owen being responsible for the larger plantation, and Richmond for the smaller. Every day they were visited by Colburn or myself—sometimes by both of us—and received directions for the general management, which they carried out in detail. Knowing the habits of the guerrillas, we did not think it prudent to sleep in our house at the plantation. Those individuals were liable to announce their presence at any hour of the night, by quietly surrounding the house and requesting its inmates to make their appearance.