The title page from John McCline’s book includes a photo of McCline as an adult.

Last week, we wrote about young John McCline, born a slave at the old Clover Bottom Mansion on Lebanon Road in what is now a part of Nashville.

McCline has a Hartsville connection, which we will see as McCline becomes an adult … but, first there was a war.

McCline was born around 1851 and was young when the American Civil War broke out. Living on a plantation, whose owner made his living from slave labor, John and many of the other slaves had mixed opinions about the war.

Any type of change to a person’s daily routine can be a threat, and after listening to the plantation’s white employees, some slaves were scared when they heard that Union soldiers were coming south.

His first brush with the war was when he saw a large contingent of Confederate soldiers walking past the plantation from Lebanon. They were all from Wilson County and were going to Nashville to protect the city. McCline remembered them being excited and singing.

McCline had never seen so many men at one time marching together.

The next time that McCline saw soldiers was different.

After the loss of Fort Donelson, the Confederate Army abandoned Nashville to the approaching Union soldiers. And, it was an army in disarray that McCline witnessed, running and panicked.

Over the next few months, both Union and Confederate armies camped on the grounds of the plantation as the land around Nashville was claimed by North and South.

Dr. Hoggatt, the plantation’s owner, tried to keep both sides of the conflict happy and would feed whatever army was camped on his front lawn, knowing that he was at their mercy if they wanted anything on his large farm.

But, young McCline was impressed with the nice uniforms of the Yankee soldiers. Compared to the grey uniforms of the Rebel army, they were fancy indeed, and when he had the opportunity, McCline decided to have one of his own.

One day, at his usual job of taking the cows to pasture, McCline stopped to watch a Union regiment march by. “I sat there on Nell’s back fully ten minutes … the regiment was followed by a very large covered ambulance, drawn by four fine horses. Just then it got opposite to where I stood. A tall handsome soldier, wearing one of those cute little caps slightly tilted over his right eye, knapsack on his back, his long musket on his shoulder, stepped out of the ranks, walked up to me, and said: ‘Come on, Johnny, and go with us up North, and we will set you free.’

“I looked at him and with much surprise wondered how he knew my name. Without a word I slid from Nell’s back, climbed over the fence … got hold of the rear end of the big ambulance as it passed, and was off with the Yankees.”

Not realizing that all Confederates were called Johnny Rebs, young McCline felt like it was providence that the Union soldier knew his name and felt, likewise, that it was his future to go with the men in blue uniforms.

McCline admitted to having some misgivings about leaving his grandmother and brothers behind, especially as the plantation faded off in the distance, but the excitement of the marching men in their uniforms won out.

A few hours later, when the army stopped to camp for the night, the driver of the ambulance noticed McCline sitting on the back of the wagon and said, “Hallo, who are you?”

He answered, “I am Johnny.’ It was the beginning of a working friendship with the ambulance driver and with the other men as they adopted him into their regiment.

After a few weeks of helping here and there as the ambulance crew needed him, John got his uniform.

He wrote, “… The Captain gave me a handsome suit of clothes, consisting of cap, coat, and trousers, two all-wool shirts, two pairs of socks, and overcoat and knapsack. I was the happiest boy in the world.”

For a boy who had never owned more than the clothes on his back, this was indeed something … but, there was more to come as the war dragged on.

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