Narrow Escapes. Is Thrown from a Horse. Has Pneumonia. Nearly Killed. Self-possession. Almost Drowned. Eludes Angry Soldiers. Reflections.
During the Christmas holidays we went down to Oldham county to see our relatives. While there, an event occurred, the recollection of which brings up a chapter of NARROW ESCAPES hitherto untold, a few of which I shall relate in their order.
When about thirteen years of age, a horse on which I was riding in a slow walk and on a level road, fell, throwing me over its head and coming over on top of me. It broke both bones of my left ankle and several ribs, mashing in my left breast, which has ever since been much depressed; it never developed like the other, and the lung on that side is the one now chiefly affected. This accident occurred at Ballardsville, on a public day, some three miles from home. I was taken to the home of Dr. Swaine, our family physician, near which it happened. He was absent, and a doctor from Shelby county was called. He had a carpenter to make a box, reaching from my foot to my knee, and in this he put my leg. The box was straight on the bottom, and as the break was just in the hollow between the calf and the heel, anybody that had any sense should have known that the broken part would settle down level with the rest, and a bad job be the result. It was badly set, and gave me much trouble for several years.
Following this, in successive winters, I had two severe spells of pneumonia in that left lung, in both of which my life was despaired of.
One day I was hauling heavy barn sills. They were swung under the hind axle, and the pole was tied by a chain back around the sill. The chain caught on a solid rock in the road, and, as I had four strong horses, and they all came to a dead pull, the chain broke; then the pole came over with force enough to have mashed every bone in a man's body. The horses happened to be on a straight pull, and the pole just brushed by my right shoulder and side. Had it struck me, I might as well have been struck by a cannon-ball. That ended my dragging logs without a block under the front end of the pole.
While trading in Louisville, a grocery firm with which I dealt to some extent had a clerk who was very dissipated at times. He was a desperate character, and, when drinking, was very dangerous. One day I sold them a lot of bacon, and this clerk, who almost had delirium tremens at the time, made a mistake in weighing it. When I told him of it, he took it as an accusation of intentional swindling. Instantly he came at me with a large cheese knife, swearing vengeance and his eyes flashing fire. There was nothing in reach with which to defend myself, and I could not well get out of his way. I decided instantly on the only possible way of escape. I stood perfectly still, did not move a hand, and looked him steadily in the eye. When he got to me, he hesitated a moment, and the uplifted hand with the huge knife dropped to his side. Not a word was spoken, nor did my eye fall from his, and he turned and went back to his work.
During the summer after I confessed the Saviour, quite a number of hands were harvesting at my father-in-law's. On Saturday evening we went to a large pond near by to bathe. It was made to supply a saw-mill by throwing a large dam across a hollow. It covered, perhaps, an acre of ground, and was twelve or fifteen feet deep in places. I never could swim successfully, but a number of those present were good swimmers, and there were many slabs on the pond that would float several men. I told them I believed I could swim across the pond, and if I could not there were too many good swimmers present to let me drown. I swam across once, and, after resting a moment, started back. When I got about the middle, I missed my stroke and went down. I thought nothing of it at first, fully expecting that when I came to the top they would save me. I came to the top, could hear them yelling like Indians, but no one came to my rescue. I took breath and went down again. When I came up the second time the result was the same. When I came up the third time, and no one there to help me, I began to get a little uneasy and considerably out of humor. I was becoming exhausted, and I knew that I could not come to the top more than once or twice more. I tried to go to the bottom, knowing that if I could touch bottom I could spring to the surface without exertion. But I could not reach the bottom. I came up the fourth time; still no one gave me assistance. By summoning the entire stock of remaining strength, I came up the fifth time. As I did so, a strong young man, Sparks by name, a good swimmer, caught me by the left arm near the shoulder. He told me to take hold of him, but this I refused to do. I thought this might endanger him, and that if I would be perfectly passive he could manage me with no danger to himself. But when I would not take hold of him, he let me go and swam off and left me. Another man was within ten feet at the time, coming to his assistance. When I went down this time, I was satisfied they were going to let me drown. I felt that I could not come to the top again, and could not reach the bottom. I thought if I could reach the bottom I could crawl out by springing to the top now and then for breath. But I could not touch bottom. I then began to calculate the chances of their getting my body out in time to resuscitate it. I knew it would not take long to cut the dam and drain the pond; but, when I reflected that they had not the presence of mind to do anything, I lost all hope in that direction. I saw no chance for me, and regarded the end as come. The reflection that I had obeyed the gospel was intensely joyous. During the whole time I had not strangled, knowing that it would be fatal. A young man named Gipson -- Sam Gipson -- one of the owners of the mill, was some eighty yards away, filing the saw. When Sparks swam away and left me, Gipson saw they were going to let me drown, and ran to my assistance. He got on one of the large slabs, and came in to where I had gone down. I was still making some commotion in the water, and, guessing about where I was, he pushed a plank down that came just under my left arm. I knew what it was, and pressed it to my side. He then bore on the other end and brought me to the surface. He held on thus till others came and helped me upon the slab. As soon as I got breath a few times I appeared to be all right, and they thought I was only playing a trick on them; but in a few moments I tumbled over, became black in the face, and suffered intensely for several hours.
On one occasion during the war I went into Floydsburg, on the morning after Christmas day. There was a little squad of Confederates there, belonging to the command of Col. Jessee, of New Castle, Ky. One of them was a boy, named Hall, who went from that neighborhood. The rest were strangers. I was introduced to the lieutenant in command, and had some talk with him. The main street of the town runs east and west. About the middle, the Brownsboro road comes in from the north, at a right angle. This comes down a |branch| which crosses the main street. At the east end of town the road descends into another hollow. Some of the soldiers were inside, some sitting outside, of a blacksmith shop, and some on their horses. I had walked near the east end, till I was just on the ridge between the two hollows. I was standing at the door of Col. Wilson, talking to his wife, when several companies of negroes, stationed at La Grange under the command of white men, came marching into town. They were a terror to the whole country. A little negro boy, chopping wood just at the east edge of town, informed the commander, who was riding in front, that the rebels were at the shop. Instantly everything was quieted, and a stealthy march for the shop began. From my position I could see both parties, and that the rebels were wholly unsuspecting. While they were nothing to me, and I had but little sympathy with them, for they were not in the regular service, I could not stand and see them surprised and shot. I determined to warn them. Mrs. Wilson tried to dissuade me, assuring me that it would be certain death. I confess I could see it in no other light myself, yet I could not decline. I walked down the street with an unconcerned air, about forty yards in advance of the company. The lieutenant was sitting on his horse sidewise, with his face turned from me, talking to a Presbyterian preacher. I could see the eyes of the preacher over the shoulders of the horse, but he was looking up into the face of the other man, and I could catch the eye of neither. Finally, I had to stop and make lively demonstrations in the face of the whole negro command. When the attention of the Confederates was attracted, they endeavored to escape by the Brownsboro road, and a charge from the other company was instantly ordered. Each company opened fire on the other. I was on the side of the street next to the Brownsboro road, and hence thrown into all of the crossfire. I stood perfectly still till the entire colored company passed by me. One man fell within a few feet of me, and afterwards died. They had a running fight till they got out of hearing. They caught young Hall, the only one I knew, and killed him. Notwithstanding the agreeable disappointment at not finding myself killed, I concluded that it might not be healthy to stay around there. The town contained one of the most unprincipled white men that ever went unhung. He was a sneak thief, and made it his business to get Southern men into trouble. I saw him watching me all the time. I concluded, therefore, that it would be better for me to leave town before the soldiers got back. I had not gone more than a mile when they returned, and threatened to burn the town if I was not produced. They were watching me from the first, and the only thing that saved me was they concluded that they could attend to me after they got through with the rebels. They were told that I had left town, and were put on the wrong road in search of me. I was then notified, and my holiday visit terminated suddenly.
When I think now of the many narrow escapes from death before I was a child of God, a number of which are not recorded, my heart overflows with gratitude for the kind Providence that spared me till I knew the way of life and had the precious promises of God. An ungodly man may be brave, and face death without a tremor, but only a child of God can face certain death as it comes on apace in the stillness of the sick chamber, and when the body is wasted with disease, in perfect composure and even inexpressible joy.