Agents south to try to purchase provisions in the

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agents south to try to purchase provisions in the less-ravaged sections of the state. No one knew what else could be done. It was possible to smuggle goods in from Yankee-occupied Tennessee in exchange for cotton, but only in limited amounts and at great expense and risk. 12 Hauling provisions into the county from whatever direction was very dif- ficult now, thanks to deteriorating roads and demolished bridges. Even in the best of times, Tippah was a rough place for a loaded wagon. Most of the roads were nothing more than narrow paths cut through the dense woods that dominated the landscape. Mud collected at every low spot along the way whenever it rained, and where streams crossed, the roads often washed out altogether. The county government had built bridges across the major streams, but many of these were now just piles of charred or chopped lumber, destroyed by Yankee raiders as they withdrew or by rebel troops trying to ob- struct the raiders. No road maintenance or bridge repair had been done for years, so disrupted was the county by repeated enemy invasions. 13 The wretched roads of Tippah were unusually crowded in the weeks fol- lowing New Year’s day 1865. There were a lot of rebel army supply wagons to be seen, mostly moving south, and Rebel infantrymen passing in every direc- tion, many alone or in small groups. Sam questioned everyone he met about this and finally pieced together what was going on. It was bad news. Confed- erate general John B. Hood’s Army of Tennessee had suffered disaster in a bat- tle at Nashville in December and was now in headlong retreat. The army was not just defeated, it seemed, but wrecked. Hood had ordered what was left of it to concentrate at Tupelo, twenty miles south of the Agnew plantation. 14 What Sam heard and saw of the condition of Hood’s troops was particu- larly disturbing. They were scattered, demoralized, famished, and “in a bad fix, without shoes or clothes . . . . The men that I have seen are lean, ragged and jaded.” He felt sorry for these “Poor fellows,” but at the same time they made him uneasy. Hungry men were liable to do anything if they were not strictly disciplined, and many of those Sam saw were under no officer’s con- trol. He feared especially the coarse, lower-class men so numerous among the army’s rank and file. As he had remarked on another occasion, after Con-
66 W INTER federate troops had marched past his plantation and looted one of the slave cabins, “Some of them are rough cases. We have in our army some [men] as vile . . . as the Yankees.” 15 It was certain that many of the starving ragamuffins now tramping through the countryside had no intention of rejoining their units, at least not any time soon. Whether they could stay out of the clutches of the rebel au- thorities would remain to be seen. The cavalry that patrolled northern Mis- sissippi kept a sharp lookout for stragglers, deserters, and draft-evaders. And men of military age were conspicuous these days, for there were few left on the home front.

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