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Scarlett has been driving alone to the mill in Decatur in spite of the increased danger. Since the legislature refused to ratify the right to vote for blacks, Georgia has been stripped of statehood, declared a military district and put under strict martial law. On this particular day, as she rides through Shantytown on the way to her mill, she meets Big Sam, the black foreman of Tara who had been conscripted right before the siege.
Sam spent time after the siege in the service of a Yankee general who took an interest in him. He went north with the general after the war but didnít like his situation. He tells Scarlett that people pretended to like him and were always questioning him about beatings at the hands of his master. They never believed him when he told them how good he had it at Tara. Scarlett wants him to stay on in Atlanta and become her driver, but he canít because he accidentally killed a white man for some vulgar insult. Because of his size, he would be easily recognized and is therefore hiding in Shantytown until he can get to Tara.
At the Decatur mill, Scarlett finds her convicts dejected and starved. She discovers that Johnny Gallagher has been beating and starving the convicts and selling the supplies of food she has been sending. She gives the men one of the last two remaining hams to divide among themselves and challenges Johnny on his treatment of the men. In response, Johnny threatens to quit if she meddles in the way he treats the convicts. She docks his pay for the stolen supplies and says they will discuss the matter on another day, but she knows Johnny has won.
On the way home, two men, one white and one black, jump out at her from Shantytown. They try to drag her off the buggy, but Big Sam also appears and jumps to her defense. She is unhurt although her dress is torn; Big Sam drives her home.
Scarlett may begin to understand why Frank did not want her to use convicts. She had been providing for them in the same way she would have provided for slaves on her own plantation. But even though she did not expect Gallagher to abuse them, she is trapped and can do little to change his methods without losing him altogether.
The attack on her from Shantytown has been foreshadowed for some time. Big Sam is merely a devise to save her from real harm. The fact that he cannot stay because of a price on his own head is a convenient way to get him into and back out of the story.