A closer look at the language, used in John McCline’s narrative, Slavery in the Clover Bottoms (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1998), warrants a deeper look than yesterday’s blog. True, his beginnings at the Clover Bottom Plantation, near Nashville, Tennessee, and his two-and-a half years with the Thirteenth Michigan Volunteers supply readers with his adventures. But what about their written expression: so crimped and cleaned up?

That slavery shrunk-wrapped the psyche of John McCline seems to be the issue. Early on, he bore significant scars: his mother’s death, his father sold to another plantation, pervasive fears of the Mistress’s cowhide whip, the overseer’s brutal beating, the killing of the shoemaker, hunger, and extremes of weather. John never let on that there was something very wrong, never questioned about unwiped tears as he lay upon his mat, though he must have felt deeply. Only his love for animals, especially mules, afforded him release from disconnectedness that scored his innards and released joy.

As new friendships evolved among his Union pals—even teaching them the game of marbles—his quick, some say photogenic mind, began loosening the shrink-wrap of his psyche. Battlefield horrors, foraging edibles from passing plantations, rigors of handling his team of six mules through dense forests and soggy creek beds—all, and so much more, he dismissed as freedom’s price, that he would readily pay with his last ounce of blood. 

His two years of schooling at the Nashville Institute, established to train black ministers and teachers after the war, found him seeking more words to describe his world of work in order to participate more fully. An avid reader of newspapers and the English novels of M. E. Braddon, his vocabulary in Slavery in the Clover Bottom is surprisingly limited—with nothing to offend anyone, in my perception.

Should you pick up this telling narrative, remove the outer lens and look more deeply at John McCline’s character. Such a treasure you’ll discover …