The following story was recounted by Richard Higginbotham, a veteran of the 1st Arkansas Volunteer Infantry.
Everyday Life among a boy company: Recollections of R. A. Higginbotham, Co. A, 1st Ark. Vols. (Confederate Veteran Magazine).
“While we were in this camp*, the boys had considerable idle time, and they would engage in various diversions, among which was the playing of endless, and sometimes cruel, practical jokes.
One of the most inveterate offenders in this pursuit was a private named Jimmy Neff. He was among the youngest members of the company, a high spirited and courageous lad, but a rascal nonetheless. Although his tricks, and those of the boys he “pal’d” with were legion, of Jimmy’s favorites was to sneak up on a sleeping soldier, and without the unfortunate victim’s knowledge, he would find a tear in his uniform or socks. Into the rend would go a small amount of molasses.
Then Jimmy and the boys would hide nearby where they could view their handiwork.
Inevitably, the flies that infested our camps would swarm into the hole, tickling the poor fellow in his sleep, at which he would wake with a start, hollering and swearing revenge on his assailant(s).
Now it came to pass that the fellows decided Jimmy needed to be taught a lesson, as he was the master-mind behind most of the schemes, and they got up a way to do it.
After some planning, a day was chosen, and at the appointed time the boy was placed ‘ under arrest’ by an armed guard. He was jerked out of his tent, kicking and hollering, his wrists were handcuffed behind his back and he was brought before a fantastic ‘court’. This caused a most singular commotion, and men from all about the entire regiment gathered to see “what was the matter?”
At the “court” the ‘judges’ were three of the older privates, paper stars pinned to their collars, seated as if in real court martial. The assembled company acted as audience and jury, a scene of perfect bedlam and high comedy.
“Charges” were brought of practical joke playing; evidence was heard; and after much joking, catcalls and harangue, they found the boy guilty as charged, and sentenced him , ‘to be punished in a manner befitting his crime’.
Thus it was that Jimmy was driven at bayonet point to a set of stout cedar stocks, identical to those used by the old colonial fellows to punish loudmouths and drunkards, and built by the provost to restrain prisoners. He was seated on a bench with his legs stretched out before him, and his ankles were locked fast between the timbers.
Once in place, he was blindfolded to disguise the identity of his tormenters, and relieved of his shoes and stockings. A small boiler pot and paint brush were produced, and they were used to coat the boy’s bare feet, from heel to toe, with a concoction made of salt brine and sorghum syrup.
Now Jimmy was very ticklish, and the action of the brush against his skin made him fidget and laugh a little.
As the operation was being performed he called blindly about , saying, ‘you b——s, when you cut
me loose, why , ahm a’gonna get you then’, and, ‘’Jiminy, I’ll not be able to wash that d—ed sticky stuff off for a week.’, to which was answered, ‘Never mind, you’ll be rid of it sooner than you think!’
Then, with much hooting and fanfare, the ‘executioner’ made his appearance, in the form of a ‘borrowed’ billy-goat. The animal was tethered in front of the stocks, and before long it discovered the sticky coating on the bottoms of boy’s feet.
Now sorghum syrup and salt are tantalizing to a goat, and as a result the beast began to gently lick Jimmy’s toes. Because of the blindfold, this startled him, and he jumped. But then he smiled and said, ‘hey, that tickles! , well now…that feels like my old hound’s tongue; my , how he must miss me to travel so far!” , trying to make light of his predicament.
But the licking continued unabated, and must have produced the most agonizing sensations, as betrayed by the strained expression on the boy’s face. Being stubborn, Jimmy bravely set his jaw, clenched his teeth, and resisted the urge to laugh. He attempted to pull his feet away, but the animal seemed to sense his helpless condition, and only redoubled it’s efforts. It would carefully finish off one foot, and then go to the other, at which point the men would apply a fresh coating.
It didn’t take much of this treatment before the youngster’s resolve finally broke down, and he commenced laughing like an idiot.
His guffaws were punctuated by frequent and loud hollers for mercy, with swears of revenge levelled against his torturers. The whole time the company shouted encouragement , heaped scorn upon him, or gave their approval.
The poor lad wiggled and squirmed, laughing and gasping; and soon his condemnations of the fellows were converted to the most pitiful pleas for mercy.
When he could catch his breath he confessed everything, every joke he had ever played, every pard he had played them on, and probably some he never had , but wanted to.
Now after about fifteen minutes or so of this treatment the fellows took pity on the boy, as they were extremely fond of Jimmy and did not wish to see him truly suffer. The goat was pulled away, he was unlimbered from the stocks and unshackled.
With the widest smile and amidst cuffs on the arm and pats on the back he swore that he had been taught a good lesson, and would never play tricks again; but Jimmy was also a good liar.”
*(probably near Iuka, Miss.)