Beckoning Fields of Cotton
Thomas W. Knox
When General Grant encamped his army at Milliken's Ben and Young's Point, preparatory to commencing the siege of Vicksburg, many of the cotton plantations were abandoned by their owners....leaving the plantations and the Negroes to the tender mercy of the invaders. In some cases the fugitives took the Negroes with them, thus leaving the plantations entirely deserted.
When the Negroes remained, and the plantations were not supplied with provisions, it became necessary for the Commissary Department to issue rations for the subsistance of the blacks. As nearly all the planters cared nothing for the Negroes they had abandoned, there was a very large number that required the attention of the Government.
On many plantations the cotton crop of 1862 was still in the field, somewhat damaged by the winter rains; but well worth gathering at the prices which then ruled the market. General Grant gave authority for the gathering of this cotton by any parties who were willing to take the contract. There was no lack of men to undertake the collection of abandoned cotton on these terms, as the enterprise could not fail to be exceedingly remunerative.
This cotton, gathered by Government authority, was, with a few exceptions, the only cotton which could be shipped to market. There were large quantities of "old" cotton-gathered and bailed in previous years-which the owners were anxious to sell, and speculators ready to buy. Numerous applications were made for shipping-permits, but nearly all were rejected. A few cases were pressed upon General Grant's attention, as deserving exception from the ordinary rule.
There was one case of two young girls, whose parents had recently died, and who were destitute of all comforts on the plantation where they lived. They had a quantity of cotton which they wished to take to Memphis, for
THOMAS W. KNOX, Campfire and Cotton-field; Southern Adventure in Time of War ( Philadelphia, 1865), Chs. xxix, xxx, xxxvii, xlii, xlvi.
Knox, a New York Herald reporter in Missouri at the outbreak of the war, covered the first part of the war in Kansas. In 1863 he leased a plantation in Louisiana. His experi- ences and observations threw significant light on one economic aspect of reconstruction.