Burning Bales by Denise Kurtz
All the Dawson menfolk were gone. Twenty-one year old Sarah assumed responsibility of the four women and five children gathered at her mother's home. The small amount of comfort she had was based on the realization that the vast supply of any plantation would draw Yankee greed away from her home in town and to the plantations in the countryside. The horror stories of Yankee destruction and thievery urged plantation owners to destroy any useful supplies the enemy could confiscate. The plantation owners decided their labor and cotton would not be used to clothe the enemy. The news went out on Tuesday that all who had cotton bales were encouraged to join the cotton burning on Thursday.
Many men had volunteered their slaves to transport the bales to areas safe for burning. Despite the loss of profit and a year's harvest and work, the owners were in high spirits. Sarah's nieces and nephews had pleaded with their mother to allow them to watch the burning and she sent them to Sarah. "Please, Auntie Sarah, can we please go out and watch the burning?" Jessie pleaded. "We won't ever get to see a burnin' again. They're burning 'em all." "And what does your mother say, young man?" Sarah smiled down at the eight year old. She too wanted to join in the excitement but was conscious that her mother and sisters may not approve of the festive atmosphere when so much was being lost. "She said to come and ask you. She'll let us all go if you go. Everyone but Baby Rennae can come." Sarah smiled as she gave in to her nephew. "Well, maybe I can put the washing off until tomorrow." "Yippie!" Jessie hollered. Soon Sarah and the four children walked out the door and down toward the river.
All up and down the river's edge, slaves were rolling the gray bales to the water, lighting them, and shoving them in, letting the current carry the smoking masses away. Other bales were being loaded onto a flatboat. Sarah could see Charlie in the middle of the commotion on the flatboat. Wondering where they were going to ship the cotton to, she watched with interest as the slaves piled the boat as full as possible then pushed it off with only Charlie and two other men aboard. The three men began ten small fires then jumped onto a little skiff and rowed to shore. By mid-afternoon, all the bales had been lit and most of the crowd was gone. Sarah jerked to consciousness after standing mesmerized for nearly an hour as visions of the dangers which could occur unfolded in her mind. The drastic burning of the cotton forced Sarah to accept that the Yankee army was real and could not be stopped if they chose to attack a defenseless town or family. She found the children and walked back to town with a new determination in her heart not to bow to Yankee force.
1. Why did Sarah not have the same problems as the women on the plantations? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________
2. Why was the cotton burned? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________
3. What affect did the burning have on Sarah? _______________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________
4. Why was Jessie sent to Sarah? What does this show us about Sarah?
"Burning Bales" Outline
I. Sarah was in charge.
A. All the men were gone.
B. Yankees could attack for supplies.
II. Cotton was burned.
A. Yankees wanted the cotton for clothing.
B. Good spirits despite a year's harvest and work was gone.
C. Jessie asks mother but was sent to Sarah.
III. The Burning
A. Jessie asks Sarah if they can watch the burning.
B. Sarah wants to go.
C. Flaming cotton bales float down stream.
D. Sarah fell in a trance and imagined the future dangers.
E. Sarah was determined not to bow to Yankee force.
Answers to Questions:
1. She had a small home in town; the plantations drew Yankee attack. She was responsible for her family; the plantation women had husbands and slaves.
2. The Southerners did not want to aid the Yankees by supplying them with cotton for clothing.
3. Sarah realized the war was real and she was not safe, even in town.
4. Jessie's mother didn't know what to do. Sarah had full responsibility for her family, even some that she should not have been asked to carry.
Source "Sarah Morgan Dawson" pages 264-265 A Treasury of the World's Great Diaries Edited by Philip Dunaway and Mel Evans 1957 -- Doubleday & Company, Inc.