Harper's Weekly 05/14/1864


“Did I tell you the story of Mary Simpson, the
female smuggler?”

This inquiry was addressed to a knot of Federal
soldiers grouped before a tent, standing with a score
or so of others just out of Memphis. The questioner
was a burly fellow with a good-humored face, in the
plain uniform of a private, who seemed to be a fa-
vorite with the little company, all of whom insisted
that they had never heard the story and would be
delighted to do so.

“Well, here goes. Several weeks ago, by order
of Captain Posten of the Thirteenth Tennessee, I
set out from Fort Pillow, some miles, you know,
above here, to guide a party of four citizens to a
point where a large quantity of cotton was said to
be stored. We rode along through the woods at an
easy gait, laughing and chatting pleasantly togeth-
er, when, after making several miles, we were sud-
denly overtaken by a woman riding a mule—the
sorriest looking affair I ever saw—who, in the sau-
ciest way imaginable, ordered us to halt. Of course
we slackened our pace to hear what the woman had
to say, when, with the coolness of an old highway-
man, she drew a revolver, and aiming it straight at
my head, ordered me to get down and give her my
horse, remarking that she was tired of mule-riding
and meant hereafter to travel entirely on horse-
back. The impudence of the demand was too much
for my gravity, and, though her pistol looked dan-
gerous, I broke into a regular gust of laughter, in
which the rest of the party joined instantly. That
a woman, and a smuggler at that, should think to
vanquish me, Peter Slocum, who had gone through
a dozen battles and counted it play, the idea was
too farcical. I must have laughed if death had
clutched me; and yet, comrades, the woman was
clearly in dead earnest. She was handsome, too—
handsome as a picture—not over thirty years of age,
with black hair, a brunette complexion, and a deep,
dark, penetrating eye, which seemed to say, `Get
down instantly, you rougue, or I'll blow you to
pieces!' But I didn't get down; on the contrary,
laughing in her face, we just put our horses on an
easy trot and coolly rode away, leaving the fair
highwayman alone in the woods to practice, if she
chose, on the trees, not having had the courage to
make us her targets. She was clearly too much
surprised at our coolness to shoot. She had sup-
posed that, of course, we would surrender at the
first demand, none of us having any weapons visi-
ble; and when we simply laughed at her, she no
doubt saw instantly how absurdly she had acted,
and in the confusion of her thoughts permitted us to
slip away unmolested.

“We rode on for a mile or so, chatting of the ad-
venture, when suddenly it struck me that maybe it
was not safe, after all, that this woman should be at
large. I knew there were scores of female spies
and smugglers in the rebel service, and no doubt
she was one of the number. I determined, there-
fore, to ride back to the fort; and, leaving the party
to make their own way toward the interior, at once
struck into a by-path, and made all haste to report
the affair at head-quarters.

“Immediately upon hearing the story Captain
Posten gave me a squad of men, and we set out
briskly in pursuit of the bold rider on the little mule.
The men were full of jokes at the idea of chasing a
woman, and hazarded all sorts of conjectures as to
the probable effect of a collision on their hearts,
some of them bantering me sharply on my want of
gallantry in not having at once complied with the
invitation of the mule-heroine to exchange steeds.
Finally, after riding some five miles, one of the men
exclaimed `There she is” and looking down the
road we saw she as there, in truth, riding leisure-
ly up to an old house that stood by the roadside.
In a minute or two we had overtaken her, and I
had her mule by the bride.

“`I'll trouble you to keep your seat,' I said, as
she was about to dismount. `I am authorized by
the commander of Fort Pillow to say that having
heard of your late exploit, he would be happy to
make your acquaintance; and, if you please, we'll
go right back.'

“That, boys, was the politest speech I ever
made; even when I proposed to Nancy, the mo-
ther of my great strapping boys up there in Illi-
nois, I wasn't half as polite as on this occasion; but
the fair highwayman didn't seem in the least im-
pressed by my style; on the contrary, she looked as
savage as a meat-axe, and no doubt wished for the
moment that she was a boa-constrictor that she
might just swallow me whole. She was still trying
to get down from her mule, but I again interrupted
her with:

“`Stay where you are, please,' and with that
turned her mule and gave the bridle to one of the

“`You're a brute!” she cried, savagely, her eyes

“`Thank you for the compliment,' said I, cool-
ly, and mounted my horse.

“`I won't go a step,' she said, as I gave the or-
der to march.

“`But your mule will,' I answered; `he's a
splendid beast and loves good company if his mis-
tress don't,' and the men laughed.

“She gave up at last, murmuring, however, that
no two men could have conquered her, but numbers
overpowered her and she must succumb. With that
she gave up her arms, and taking the reins into her
hands jogged along pleasantly enough between two
of the guard.

“Well, after a time we reached the fort, and the
little woman, spite of her protests, was properly ex-
amined. It was a decidedly delicate business, but
I think the commander got through with it in a sat-
isfactory manner, for he found upon her person or-
ders from the rebel Colonel Hicks for a list of con-
traband supplies, such as gunpowder, cavalry boots,
and similar articles—all of which, had she not been
detected, she would no doubt have furnished.

“The next day, having been given a night's rest,
she was questioned as to her mode of operation, and
with no sort of hesitation told her story. She ac-
knowledged that she was regularly employed by the
rebels in obtaining goods necessary for their comfort
and smuggling them through the lines, which she
boasted she had done with entire success for a year
or more.

“`What do you get for this service?' Captain Pos-
ten inquired.

“`One hundred dollars a month,' she answered,

“And how much of the money which the rebels
give you to make purchases do you put into your
own purse?'

“She looked at him indignantly. `I'd have you
know I'm honest, Sir,' she said; `I'm not in the
habit of stealing!'

“`Oh!' ejaculated the Captain, and whistled,
winking to his companions, as much as to say,
`Here's an oddity—a smuggler and highwayman
who won't steal!'

“Presently the questioning went on. Her pur-
chases were usually made, she said, in St. Louis,
whence she brought down the goods by steamer.
On her last trip she had landed at Randolph, some
miles, you remember, above Fort Pillow, and had
got through our lines in safety. When taken she
was on her way, she said, to the house of a rebel
sympathizer, whose name we obtained, and whose
place I had the honor of visiting a day or so after
and capturing a considerable quantity of contraband
goods that had been smuggled out of Memphis.

“`Your story is a most interesting one,' Captain
Posten remarked, when she had concluded. `Now,
if you please, what is your name?'

“`Mary Simpson.'

“`Do you never sail under any other?'

“`Oh yes. At Randolph I was known as Mary

“That was about all we could learn then of the
history of the black-eyed smuggler from her own
lips. Some days after, however, I was sent up to
Randolph to make inquiries as to her associations
and movements when there, and, by a little judicious
management, soon gathered some very interesting
additional facts. She was well known in Randolph
and the surrounding country, having a year or so
ago passed under several aliases and been strongly
suspected of acting as a spy for the rebels, and in
that capacity carrying intelligence from Jackson,
Tennessee, to the Hatchie. Over six months ago
I found she had proposed to the rebel Colonel Stew-
art to purchase ammunition for his command. She
was generally considered quick and determined, and
not easily disconcerted, and, withal, fearless to a
fault. Once, I was told, she had boasted that she
could wind at will around her thumb any Federal
officer she had ever seen; but she found one excep-
tion, at least, in Captain Posten.

“But the romance of the story, boys, is yet to
come. We found that this woman was married,
and that her husband was actually one of our own
loyal soldiers in Fort Pillow. When she discov-
ered that she was really fast she disclosed this fact
and asked to see her husband, thinking, maybe,
that for his sake she would be let off, or that he
would intercede for her and secure her some privi-
leges in her confinement. Her desire was explained
to the husband, but he positively refused to see her,
saying she had brought disgrace upon him and their
family by aiding the enemies of their country, and
she must take the consequences of her perfidy. He
took steps, too, at once, to have his children taken
from her care; he didn't mean, he said, that his
boys should be taught to hate the flag he was fight-
ing for. The man was a Tennesseean, and you
know, comrades, where these Tennesseeans are
loyal they go the whole figure, suffering nothing in
the world or under it to swerve or twist them.

“The woman seemed touched when her hus-
band's answer was given her, but she soon recov-
ered her haughty, insolent air. She utterly re-
fused to tell where the goods she had orders for
were concealed; but we poked about, gathering up
a thread here and a clew there, until at last we dis-
covered evidence sufficient to justify the arrest of
several persons as her accomplices, and the Captain
hopes still to discover the contraband stock. Mean-
while Mary Simpson has an opportunity to think
over her past exploits in prison, and can speculate
as she pleases of the future, which, just now, she
must consider any thing but promising. And that
ends the story of the Black-eyed Smuggler.”

“But,” said one of the listeners, “what became
of her mule?”

“Oh, he was confiscated. The last time I saw
him he was hitched to a cart, hauling wood for

“So all greatness fades. To-day the charger of
a black-eyed, dashing, pretty woman-warrior; to-
morrow hauling a great cart along muddy roads,
with a wrecked, battered contraband for driver,”

“Pshaw, Sergeant, you're sentimental. Put out
your pipe, and let's to bed. Good-night, comrades!”


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