Mark Twain's 1869 description of Blind Tom is very similar to an account that appeared in The Fayetteville Observer of May 19, 1862, written by correspondent Long Grabs, stationed in Camp Mangum:
The blind negro Tom has been performing here to a crowded house. He is certainly a wonder.... He resembles any ordinary negro boy 13 years old and is perfectly blind and an idiot in everything but music, language, imitation, and perhaps memory. He has never been instructed in music or educated in any way. He learned to play the piano from hearing others, learns airs and tunes from hearing them sung, and can play any piece on first trial as well as the most accomplished performer.... One of his most remarkable feats was the performance of three pieces of music at once. He played Fisher's Hornpipe with one hand and Yankee Doodle with the other and sang Dixie all at once. He also played a piece with his back to the piano and his hands inverted. He performs many pieces of his own conception--one, his "Battle of Manassas," may be called picturesque and sublime, a true conception of unaided, blind musical genius.... This poor blind boy is cursed with but little of human nature; he seems to be an unconscious agent acting as he is acted on, and his mind a vacant receptacle where Nature stores her jewels to recall them at her pleasure.