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Famous Adventures and Prison Escapes of the Civil War
War Diary of a Union Woman in the South | Edited by G. W. Cable
I - SECESSION
II - THE VOLUNTEERS—FORT SUMTER
III - TRIBULATION
IV - A BELEAGUERED CITY
V - MARRIED
VI - HOW IT WAS IN ARKANSAS
VII - THE FIGHT FOR FOOD AND CLOTHING
VIII - DROWNED OUT AND STARVED OUT
IX - HOMELESS AND SHELTERLESS
X - FRIGHTS AND PERILS IN STEELE'S BAYOU
XI - WILD TIMES IN MISSISSIPPI
XII - VICKSBURG
XIII - PREPARATIONS FOR THE SIEGE
The Locomotive Chase in Georgia | By William Pittenger
Mosby's "Partizan Rangers" | By A. E. Richards
A Romance of Morgan’s Rough-Riders
The Raid | By Basil W. Duke
The Capture | By Orlando B. Willcox
The Escape | By Thomas H. Hines
Colonel Rose's Tunnel at Libby Prison | By Frank E. Moran
A Hard Road to Travel Out of Dixie | By W. H. Shelton
Escape of General Breckinridge | By John Taylor Wood
Further Reading: Army Life in a Black Regiment
Famous Adventures and Prison Escapes of the Civil War by Various Artists (G. W. Cable, Basil Wilson Duke, Thomas Henry Hines, William Pittenger, A. E. Richards, W. H. Shelton, Orlando B. Willcox and John Taylor Wood). First published in 1913. This edition published 2017 by Enhanced Media 2017. All rights reserved.
The following diary was originally written in lead-pencil and in a book the leaves of which were too soft to take ink legibly. I have it direct from the hands of its writer, a lady whom I have had the honor to know for nearly thirty years. For good reasons the author's name is omitted, and the initials of people and the names of places are sometimes fictitiously given. Many of the persons mentioned were my own acquaintances and friends. When, some twenty years afterward, she first resolved to publish it, she brought me a clear, complete copy in ink. It had cost much trouble, she said; for much of the pencil writing had been made under such disadvantages and was so faint that at times she could decipher it only under direct sunlight. She had succeeded, however, in making a copy, verbatim except for occasional improvement in the grammatical form of a sentence, or now and then the omission, for brevity's sake, of something unessential. The narrative has since been severely abridged to bring it within magazine limits.
In reading this diary one is much charmed with its constant understatement of romantic and perilous incidents and conditions. But the original penciled pages show that, even in copying, the strong bent of the writer to be brief has often led to the exclusion of facts that enhance the interest of exciting situations, and sometimes the omission robs her own heroism of due emphasis. I have restored one example of this in a foot-note following the perilous voyage down the Mississippi.
New Orleans, Dec. 1, 1860. – I understand it now. Keeping journals is for those who cannot, or dare not, speak out. So I shall set up a journal, being only a rather lonely young girl in a very small and hated minority. On my return here in November, after a foreign voyage and absence of many months, I found myself behind in knowledge of the political conflict, but heard the dread sounds of disunion and war muttered in threatening tones. Surely no native-born woman loves her country better than I love America. The blood of one of its Revolutionary patriots flows in my veins, and it is the Union for which he pledged his "life, fortune, and sacred honor" that I love, not any divided or special section of it. So I have been reading attentively and seeking light from foreigners and natives on all questions at issue. Living from birth in slave countries, both foreign and American, and passing through one slave insurrection in early childhood, the saddest and also the pleasantest features of slavery have been familiar. If the South goes to war for slavery, slavery is doomed in this country. To say so is like opposing one drop to a roaring torrent.
Sunday, Dec.—, 1860. – In this season for peace I had hoped for a lull in the excitement, yet this day has been full of bitterness. "Come, G.," said Mrs.—— at breakfast, "leave your church for today and come with us to hear Dr.—— on the situation. He will convince you." "It is good to be convinced," I said; "I will go." The church was crowded to suffocation with the élite of New Orleans. The preacher's text was, "Shall we have fellowship with the stool of iniquity which frameth mischief as a law?" ... The sermon was over at last, and then followed a prayer.... Forever blessed be the fathers of the Episcopal Church for giving us a fixed liturgy! When we met at dinner Mrs. F. exclaimed, "Now, G., you heard him prove from the Bible that slavery is right and that therefore secession is. Were you not convinced?" I said, "I was so busy thinking how completely it proved too that Brigham Young is right about polygamy that it quite weakened the force of the argument for me." This raised a laugh, and covered my retreat.
Jan. 26, 1861. – The solemn boom of cannon today announced that the convention have passed the ordinance of secession. We must take a reef in our patriotism and narrow it down to State limits. Mine still sticks out all around the borders of the State. It will be bad if New Orleans should secede from Louisiana and set up for herself. Then indeed I would be "cabined, cribbed, confined." The faces in the house are jubilant today. Why is it so easy for them and not for me to "ring out the old, ring in the new"? I am out of place.
Jan. 28, Monday. Sunday has now got to be a day of special excitement. The gentlemen save all the sensational papers to regale us with at the late Sunday breakfast. Rob opened the battle yesterday morning by saying to me in his most aggressive manner, "G., I believe these are your sentiments"; and then he read aloud an article from the "Journal des Debats" expressing in rather contemptuous terms the fact that France will follow the policy of non-intervention. When I answered, "Well, what do you expect? This is not their quarrel," he raved at me, ending by a declaration that he would willingly pay my passage to foreign parts if I would like to go. "Rob," said his father, "keep cool; don't let that threat excite you. Cotton is king. Just wait till they feel the pinch a little; their tone will change." I went to Trinity Church. Some Union people who are not Episcopalians go there now because the pastor has not so much chance to rail at the Lord when things are not going to suit. But yesterday was a marked Sunday. The usual prayer for the President and Congress was changed to the "governor and people of this commonwealth and their representatives in convention assembled."
The city was very lively and noisy this evening with rockets and lights in honor of secession. Mrs. F., in common with the neighbors, illuminated. We walked out to see the houses of others gleaming amid the dark shrubbery like a fairy scene. The perfect stillness added to the effect, while the moon rose slowly with calm splendor. We hastened home to dress for a soirée but on the stairs Edith said, "G., first come and help me dress Phoebe and Chloe [the negro servants]. There is a ball tonight in aristocratic colored society. This is Chloe's first introduction to New Orleans circles, and Henry Judson, Phoebe's husband, gave five dollars for a ticket for her." Chloe is a recent purchase from Georgia. We superintended their very stylish toilets, and Edith said, "G., run into your room, please, and write a pass for Henry. Put Mr. D.'s name to it." "Why, Henry is free," I said. "That makes no difference; all colored people must have a pass if out late. They choose a master for protection, and always carry his pass. Henry chose Mr. D., but he's lost the pass he had."
Feb. 24, 1861.—The toil of the week is ended. Nearly a month has passed since I wrote here. Events have crowded upon one another. On the 4th the cannon boomed in honor of Jefferson Davis's election, and day before yesterday Washington's birthday was made the occasion of another grand display and illumination, in honor of the birth of a new nation and the breaking of that Union which he labored to cement. We drove to the race-course to see the review of troops. A flag was presented to the Washington Artillery by ladies. Senator Judah Benjamin made an impassioned speech. The banner was orange satin on one side, crimson silk on the other, the pelican and brood embroidered in pale green and gold. Silver crossed cannon surmounted it, orange-colored fringe surrounded it, and crimson tassels drooped from it. It was a brilliant, unreal scene; with military bands clashing triumphant music, elegant vehicles, high-stepping horses, and lovely women richly appareled.
Wedding-cards have been pouring in till the contagion has reached us; Edith will be married next Thursday. The wedding-dress is being fashioned, and the bridesmaids and groomsmen have arrived. Edith has requested me to be special mistress of ceremonies on Thursday evening, and I have told this terrible little rebel, who talks nothing but blood and thunder, yet faints at the sight of a worm, that if I fill that office no one shall mention war or politics during the whole evening, on pain of expulsion.
March 10, 1861.—The excitement in this house has risen to fever-heat during the past week. The four gentlemen have each a different plan for saving the country, and now that the bridal bouquets have faded, the three ladies have again turned to public affairs; Lincoln's inauguration and the story of the disguise in which he traveled to Washington is a never-ending source of gossip. The family board being the common forum, each gentleman as he appears first unloads his pockets of papers from all the Southern States, and then his overflowing heart to his eager female listeners, who in turn relate, inquire, sympathize, or cheer. If I dare express a doubt that the path to victory will be a flowery one, eyes flash, cheeks burn, and tongues clatter, till all are checked up suddenly by a warning for "Order, order!" from the amiable lady presiding. Thus we swallow politics with every meal. We take a mouthful and read a telegram, one eye on table, the other on the paper. One must be made of cool stuff to keep calm and collected, but I say but little. This war fever has banished small talk. Through all the black servants move about quietly, never seeming to notice that this is all about them.
"How can you speak so plainly before them?" I say.
"Why, what matter? They know that we shall keep the whip-handle."
April 13, 1861.—More than a month has passed since the last date here. This afternoon I was seated on the floor covered with loveliest flowers, arranging a floral offering for the fair, when the gentlemen arrived and with papers bearing news of the fall of Fort Sumter, which, at her request, I read to Mrs. F.
April 20.—The last few days have glided away in a halo of beauty. But nobody has time or will to enjoy it. War, war! is the one idea. The children play only with toy cannons and soldiers; the oldest inhabitant goes by every day with his rifle to practice; the public squares are full of companies drilling, and are now the fashionable resorts. We have been told that it is best for women to learn how to shoot too, so as to protect themselves when the men have all gone to battle. Every evening after dinner we adjourn to the back lot and fire at a target with pistols. Yesterday I dined at Uncle Ralph's. Some members of the bar were present, and were jubilant about their brand-new Confederacy. It would soon be the grandest government ever known. Uncle Ralph said solemnly, "No, gentlemen; the day we seceded the star of our glory set." The words sunk into my mind like a knell, and made me wonder at the mind that could recognize that and yet adhere to the doctrine of secession.
In the evening I attended a farewell gathering at a friend's whose brothers are to leave this week for Richmond. There was music. No minor chord was permitted.
April 25.—Yesterday I went with Cousin E. to have her picture taken. The picture-galleries are doing a thriving business. Many companies are ordered off to take possession of Fort Pickens (Florida), and all seem to be leaving sweethearts behind them. The crowd was in high spirits; they don't dream that any destinies will be spoiled. When I got home Edith was reading from the daily paper of the dismissal of Miss G. from her place as teacher for expressing abolition sentiments, and that she would be ordered to leave the city. Soon a lady came with a paper setting forth that she has established a "company"—we are nothing if not military—for making lint and getting stores of linen to supply the hospitals.
My name went down. If it hadn't, my spirit would have been wounded as with sharp spears before night. Next came a little girl with a subscription paper to get a flag for a certain company. The little girls, especially the pretty ones, are kept busy trotting around with subscription lists. Latest of all came little Guy, Mr. F's youngest clerk, the pet of the firm as well as of his home, a mere boy of sixteen. Such senseless sacrifices seem a sin. He chattered brightly, but lingered about, saying good-by. He got through it bravely until Edith's husband incautiously said, "You didn't kiss your little sweetheart," as he always called Ellie, who had been allowed to sit up. He turned and suddenly broke into agonizing sobs and then ran down the steps.
May 10.—I am tired and ashamed of myself. Last week I attended a meeting of the lint society to hand in the small contribution of linen I had been able to gather. We scraped lint till it was dark. A paper was shown, entitled the "Volunteer's Friend," started by the girls of the high school, and I was asked to help the girls with it. I positively declined. Today I was pressed into service to make red flannel cartridge-bags for ten-inch columbiads. I basted while Mrs. S. sewed, and I felt ashamed to think that I had not the moral courage to say, "I don't approve of your war and won't help you, particularly in the murderous part of it."
May 27.—This has been a scenic Sabbath. Various companies about to depart for Virginia occupied the prominent churches to have their flags consecrated. The streets were resonant with the clangor of drums and trumpets. E. and myself went to Christ Church because the Washington Artillery were to be there.
June 13.—Today has been appointed a Fast Day. I spent the morning writing a letter on which I put my first Confederate postage-stamp. It is of a brown color and has a large 5 in the center. Tomorrow must be devoted to all my foreign correspondents before the expected blockade cuts us off.
June 29.—I attended a fine luncheon yesterday at one of the public schools. A lady remarked to a school official that the cost of provisions in the Confederacy was getting very high, butter, especially, being scarce and costly. "Never fear, my dear madam," he replied. "Texas alone can furnish butter enough to supply the whole Confederacy; we'll soon be getting it from there." It's just as well to have this sublime confidence.
July 15.—The quiet of midsummer reigns, but ripples of excitement break around us as the papers tell of skirmishes and attacks here and there in Virginia. "Rich Mountain" and "Carrick's Ford" were the last. "You see," said Mrs. D. at breakfast today, "my prophecy is coming true that Virginia will be the seat of war." "Indeed," I burst out, forgetting my resolution not to argue, "you may think yourselves lucky if this war turns out to have any seat in particular."
So far, no one especially connected with me has gone to fight. How glad I am for his mother's sake that Rob's lameness will keep him at home. Mr. F., Mr. S., and Uncle Ralph are beyond the age for active service, and Edith says Mr. D. can't go now. She is very enthusiastic about other people's husbands being enrolled, and regrets that her Alex is not strong enough to defend his country and his rights.
July 22.—What a day! I feel like one who has been out in a high wind, and cannot get my breath. The newsboys are still shouting with their extras, "Battle of Bull's Run! List of the killed! Battle of Manassas! List of the wounded!" Tender-hearted Mrs. F. was sobbing so she could not serve the tea; but nobody cared for tea. "O G.!" she said, "three thousand of our own, dear Southern boys are lying out there." "My dear Fannie," spoke Mr. F., "they are heroes now. They died in a glorious cause, and it is not in vain. This will end it. The sacrifice had to be made, but those killed have gained immortal names." Then Rob rushed in with a new extra, reading of the spoils captured, and grief was forgotten. Words cannot paint the excitement. Rob capered about and cheered; Edith danced around ringing the dinner-bell and shouting, "Victory!" Mrs. F. waved a small Confederate flag, while she wiped her eyes, and Mr. D. hastened to the piano and in his most brilliant style struck up "Dixie," followed by "My Maryland" and the "Bonnie Blue Flag."
"Do not look so gloomy, G.," whispered Mr. S. "You should be happy tonight; for, as Mr. F. says, now we shall have peace."
"And is that the way you think of the men of your own blood and race?" I replied. But an utter scorn came over me and choked me, and I walked out of the room. What proof is there in this dark hour that they are not right? Only the emphatic answer of my own soul. Tomorrow I will pack my trunk and accept the invitation to visit at Uncle Ralph's country house.
Sept. 25.—When I opened the door of Mrs. F.'s room on my return, the rattle of two sewing-machines and a blaze of color met me.
"Ah, G., you are just in time to help us; these are coats for Jeff Thompson's men. All the cloth in the city is exhausted; these flannel-lined oil-cloth table-covers are all we could obtain to make overcoats for Thompson's poor boys. They will be very warm and serviceable."
"Serviceable—yes! The Federal army will fly when they see those coats! I only wish I could be with the regiment when these are shared around." Yet I helped make them.
Seriously, I wonder if any soldiers will ever wear these remarkable coats—the most bewildering combination of brilliant, intense reds, greens, yellows, and blues in big flowers meandering over as vivid grounds; and as no table-cover was large enough to make a coat, the sleeves of each were of a different color and pattern. However, the coats were duly finished. Then we set to work on gray pantaloons, and I have just carried a bundle to an ardent young lady who wishes to assist. A slight gloom is settling down, and the inmates here are not quite so cheerfully confident as in July.
Oct. 22.—When I came to breakfast this morning Rob was capering over another victory—Ball's Bluff. He would read me, "We pitched the Yankees over the bluff," and ask me in the next breath to go to the theater this evening. I turned on the poor fellow. "Don't tell me about your victories. You vowed by all your idols that the blockade would be raised by October 1, and I notice the ships are still serenely anchored below the city."
"G., you are just as pertinacious yourself in championing your opinions. What sustains you when nobody agrees with you?"
Oct. 28.—When I dropped in at Uncle Ralph's last evening to welcome them back, the whole family were busy at a great center-table copying sequestration acts for the Confederate Government. The property of all Northerners and Unionists is to be sequestrated, and Uncle Ralph can hardly get the work done fast enough. My aunt apologized for the rooms looking chilly; she feared to put the carpets down, as the city might be taken and burned by the Federals. "We are living as much packed up as possible. A signal has been agreed upon, and the instant the army approaches we shall be off to the country again."
Great preparations are being made for defense. At several other places where I called the women were almost hysterical. They seemed to look forward to being blown up with shot and shell, finished with cold steel, or whisked off to some Northern prison. When I got home Edith and Mr. D. had just returned also.
"Alex," said Edith, "I was up at your orange-lots today, and the sour oranges are dropping to the ground, while they cannot get lemons for our sick soldiers."
"That's my kind, considerate wife," replied Mr. D.
"Why didn't I think of that before? Jim shall fill some barrels tomorrow and take them to the hospitals as a present from you."
Nov. 10.—Surely this year will ever be memorable to me for its perfection of natural beauty. Never was sunshine such pure gold, or moonlight such transparent silver. The beautiful custom prevalent here of decking the graves with flowers on All Saints' day was well fulfilled, so profuse and rich were the blossoms. On All-hallow eve Mrs. S. and myself visited a large cemetery. The chrysanthemums lay like great masses of snow and flame and gold in every garden we passed, and were piled on every costly tomb and lowly grave. The battle of Manassas robed many of our women in mourning, and some of those who had no graves to deck were weeping silently as they walked through the scented avenues.
A few days ago Mrs. E. arrived here. She is a widow, of Natchez, a friend of Mrs. F.'s, and is traveling home with the dead body of her eldest son, killed at Manassas. She stopped two days waiting for a boat, and begged me to share her room and read her to sleep, saying she couldn't be alone since he was killed; she feared her mind would give way. So I read all the comforting chapters to be found till she dropped into forgetfulness, but the recollection of those weeping mothers in the cemetery banished sleep for me.
Nov. 26.—The lingering summer is passing into those misty autumn days I love so well, when there is gold and fire above and around us. But the glory of the natural and the gloom of the moral world agree not well together. This morning Mrs. F. came to my room in dire distress. "You see," she said, "cold weather is coming on fast, and our poor fellows are lying out at night with nothing to cover them. There is a wail for blankets, but there is not a blanket in town. I have gathered up all the spare bed-clothing, and now want every available rug or table-cover in the house. Can't I have yours, G.? We must make these small sacrifices of comfort and elegance, you know, to secure independence and freedom."
"Very well," I said, denuding the table. "This may do for a drummer boy."
Dec. 26, 1861.—The foul weather cleared off bright and cool in time for Christmas. There is a midwinter lull in the movement of troops. In the evening we went to the grand bazaar in the St. Louis Hotel, got up to clothe the soldiers. This bazaar has furnished the gayest, most fashionable war-work yet, and has kept social circles in a flutter of pleasant, heroic excitement all through December. Everything beautiful or rare garnered in the homes of the rich was given for exhibition, and in some cases for raffle and sale. There were many fine paintings, statues, bronzes, engravings, gems, laces—in fact, heirlooms and bric-à-brac of all sorts. There were many lovely creole girls present, in exquisite toilets, passing to and fro through the decorated rooms, listening to the band clash out the Anvil Chorus.
Jan. 2, 1862.—I am glad enough to bid '61 good-by. Most miserable year of my life! What ages of thought and experience have I not lived in it!
The city authorities have been searching houses for firearms. It is a good way to get more guns, and the homes of those men suspected of being Unionists were searched first. Of course they went to Dr. B.'s. He met them with his own delightful courtesy. "Wish to search for arms? Certainly, gentlemen." He conducted them all through the house with smiling readiness, and after what seemed a very thorough search bowed them politely out. His gun was all the time safely reposing between the canvas folds of a cot-bed which leaned folded up together against the wall, in the very room where they had ransacked the closets. Queerly, the rebel families have been the ones most anxious to conceal all weapons. They have dug graves quietly at night in the back yards, and carefully wrapping the weapons, buried them out of sight. Every man seems to think he will have some private fighting to do to protect his family.
Friday, Jan. 24, 1862. (On Steamboat W., Mississippi River.)—With a changed name I open you once more, my journal. It was a sad time to wed, when one knew not how long the expected conscription would spare the bridegroom. The women-folk knew how to sympathize with a girl expected to prepare for her wedding in three days, in a blockaded city, and about to go far from any base of supplies. They all rallied round me with tokens of love and consideration, and sewed, shopped, mended, and packed, as if sewing soldier clothes. And they decked the whole house and the church with flowers. Music breathed, wine sparkled, friends came and went. It seemed a dream, and comes up now again out of the afternoon sunshine where I sit on deck. The steamboat slowly plows its way through lumps of floating ice,—a novel sight to me,—and I look forward wondering whether the new people I shall meet will be as fierce about the war as those in New Orleans. That past is to be all forgotten and forgiven; I understood thus the kindly acts that sought to brighten the threshold of a new life.
Feb. 15. (Village of X.)—We reached Arkansas Landing at nightfall. Mr. Y., the planter who owns the landing, took us right up to his residence. He ushered me into a large room where a couple of candles gave a dim light, and close to them, and sewing as if on a race with Time, sat Mrs. Y. and a little negro girl, who was so black and sat so stiff and straight she looked like an ebony image. This was a large plantation; the Y.'s knew H. very well, and were very kind and cordial in their welcome and congratulations. Mrs. Y. apologized for continuing her work; the war had pushed them this year in getting the negroes clothed, and she had to sew by dim candles, as they could obtain no more oil. She asked if there were any new fashions in New Orleans.
Next morning we drove over to our home in this village. It is the county-seat, and was, till now, a good place for the practice of H.'s profession. It lies on the edge of a lovely lake. The adjacent planters count their slaves by the hundreds. Some of them live with a good deal of magnificence, using service of plate, having smoking-rooms for the gentlemen built off the house, and entertaining with great hospitality. The Baptists, Episcopalians, and Methodists hold services on alternate Sundays in the court-house. All the planters and many others near the lake shore keep a boat at their landing, and a raft for crossing vehicles and horses. It seemed very piquant at first, this taking our boat to go visiting, and on moonlight nights it was charming. The woods around are lovelier than those in Louisiana, though one misses the moaning of the pines. There is fine fishing and hunting, but these cotton estates are not so pleasant to visit as sugar plantations.
But nothing else has been so delightful as, one morning, my first sight of snow and a wonderful new, white world.
Feb. 27.—The people here have hardly felt the war yet. There are but two classes. The planters and the professional men form one; the very poor villagers the other. There is no middle class. Ducks and partridges, squirrels and fish, are to be had. H. has bought me a nice pony, and cantering along the shore of the lake in the sunset is a panacea for mental worry.
March 11, 1862.—The serpent has entered our Eden. The rancor and excitement of New Orleans have invaded this place. If an incautious word betrays any want of sympathy with popular plans, one is "traitorous," "ungrateful," "crazy." If one remains silent and controlled, then one is "phlegmatic," "cool-blooded," "unpatriotic." Cool-blooded! Heavens! if they only knew. It is very painful to see lovable and intelligent women rave till the blood mounts to face and brain. The immediate cause of this access of war fever has been the battle of Pea Ridge. They scout the idea that Price and Van Dorn have been completely worsted. Those who brought the news were speedily told what they ought to say. "No, it is only a serious check; they must have more men sent forward at once. This country must do its duty." So the women say another company must be raised.
We were guests at a dinner-party yesterday. Mrs. A. was very talkative. "Now, ladies, you must all join in with a vim and help equip another company."
"Mrs. L.," she said, turning to me, "are you not going to send your husband? Now use a young bride's influence and persuade him; he would be elected one of the officers." "Mrs. A.," I replied, longing to spring up and throttle her, "the Bible says, 'When a man hath married a new wife, he shall not go to war for one year, but remain at home and cheer up his wife.'"
"Well, H.," I questioned, as we walked home after crossing the lake, "can you stand the pressure, or shall you be forced into volunteering?" "Indeed," he replied, "I will not be bullied into enlisting by women, or by men. I will sooner take my chance of conscription and feel honest about it. You know my attachments, my interests are here; these are my people. I could never fight against them; but my judgment disapproves their course, and the result will inevitably be against us."
This morning the only Irishman left in the village presented himself to H. He has been our wood-sawyer, gardener, and factotum, but having joined the new company, his time recently has been taken up with drilling. H. and Mr. R. feel that an extensive vegetable garden must be prepared while he is here to assist, or we shall be short of food, and they sent for him yesterday.
"So, Mike, you are really going to be a soldier?"
"Yes, sor; but faith, Mr. L., I don't see the use of me going to shtop a bullet when sure an' I'm willin' for it to go where it plazes."
March 18, 1862.—There has been unusual gaiety in this little village the past few days. The ladies from the surrounding plantations went to work to get up a festival to equip the new company. As Annie and myself are both brides recently from the city, requisition was made upon us for engravings, costumes, music, garlands, and so forth. Annie's heart was in the work; not so with me. Nevertheless, my pretty things were captured, and shone with just as good a grace last evening as if willingly lent. The ball was a merry one. One of the songs sung was "Nellie Gray," in which the most distressing feature of slavery is bewailed so pitifully. To sing this at a festival for raising money to clothe soldiers fighting to perpetuate that very thing was strange.
March 20, 1862.—A man professing to act by General Hindman's orders is going through the country impressing horses and mules. The overseer of a certain estate came to inquire of H. if he had not a legal right to protect the property from seizure. Mr. L. said yes, unless the agent could show some better credentials than his bare word. This answer soon spread about, and the overseer returned to report that it excited great indignation, especially among the company of new volunteers. H. was pronounced a traitor, and they declared that no one so untrue to the Confederacy should live there. When H. related the circumstance at dinner, his partner, Mr. R., became very angry, being ignorant of H.'s real opinions. He jumped up in a rage and marched away to the village thoroughfare. There he met a batch of the volunteers, and said, "We know what you have said of us, and I have come to tell you that you are liars, and you know where to find us."
Of course I expected a difficulty; but the evening passed, and we retired undisturbed. Not long afterward a series of indescribable sounds broke the stillness of the night, and the tramp of feet was heard outside the house. Mr. R. called out, "It's a serenade, H. Get up and bring out all the wine you have." Annie and I peeped through the parlor window, and lo! it was the company of volunteers and a diabolical band composed of bones and broken-winded brass instruments. They piped and clattered and whined for some time, and then swarmed in, while we ladies retreated and listened to the clink of glasses.
March 22.—H., Mr. R., and Mike have been very busy the last few days getting the acre of kitchen-garden plowed and planted. The stay-law has stopped all legal business, and they have welcomed this work. But today a thunderbolt fell in our household. Mr. R. came in and announced that he had agreed to join the company of volunteers. Annie's Confederate principles would not permit her to make much resistance, and she has been sewing and mending as fast as possible to get his clothes ready, stopping now and then to wipe her eyes. Poor Annie! She and Max have been married only a few months longer than we have; but a noble sense of duty animates and sustains her.
April 1.—The last ten days have brought changes in the house. Max R. left with the company to be mustered in, leaving with us his weeping Annie. Hardly were her spirits somewhat composed when her brother arrived from Natchez to take her home. This morning he, Annie, and Reeney, the black handmaiden, posted off. Out of seven of us only H., myself, and Aunt Judy are left. The absence of Reeney will be not the least noted. She was as precious an imp as any Topsy ever was. Her tricks were endless and her innocence of them amazing. When sent out to bring in eggs she would take them from nests where hens were hatching, and embryo chickens would be served up at breakfast, while Reeney stood by grinning to see them opened; but when accused she was imperturbable. "Laws, Mis' L., I nebber done bin nigh dem hens. Mis' Annie, you can go count dem dere eggs." That when counted they were found minus the number she had brought had no effect on her stolid denial. H. has plenty to do finishing the garden all by himself, but the time rather drags for me.
April 13, 1862.—This morning I was sewing up a rent in H.'s garden coat, when Aunt Judy rushed in.
"Laws! Mis' L., here's Mr. Max and Mis' Annie done come back!" A buggy was coming up with Max, Annie, and Reeney.
"Well, is the war over?" I asked.
"Oh, I got sick!" replied our returned soldier, getting slowly out of the buggy.
He was very thin and pale, and explained that he took a severe cold almost at once, had a mild attack of pneumonia, and the surgeon got him his discharge as unfit for service. He succeeded in reaching Annie, and a few days of good care made him strong enough to travel back home.
"I suppose, H., you've heard that Island No. 10 is gone?"
Yes, we had heard that much, but Max had the particulars, and an exciting talk followed. At night H. said to me, "G., New Orleans will be the next to go, you'll see, and I want to get there first; this stagnation here will kill me."
April 28.—This evening has been very lovely, but full of a sad disappointment. H. invited me to drive. As we turned homeward he said:
"Well, my arrangements are completed. You can begin to pack your trunks tomorrow, and I shall have a talk with Max."
Mr. R. and Annie were sitting on the gallery as I ran up the steps.
"Heard the news?" they cried.
"No. What news?"
"New Orleans is taken! All the boats have been run up the river to save them. No more mails."
How little they knew what plans of ours this dashed away. But our disappointment is truly an infinitesimal drop in the great waves of triumph and despair surging tonight in thousands of hearts.
April 30.—The last two weeks have glided quietly away without incident except the arrival of new neighbors—Dr. Y., his wife, two children, and servants. That a professional man prospering in Vicksburg should come now to settle in this retired place looks queer. Max said:
"H., that man has come here to hide from the conscript officers. He has brought no end of provisions, and is here for the war. He has chosen well, for this county is so cleaned of men it won't pay to send the conscript officers here."
Our stores are diminishing and cannot be replenished from without; ingenuity and labor must evoke them. We have a fine garden in growth, plenty of chickens, and hives of bees to furnish honey in lieu of sugar. A good deal of salt meat has been stored in the smoke-house, and, with fish from the lake, we expect to keep the wolf from the door. The season for game is about over, but an occasional squirrel or duck comes to the larder, though the question of ammunition has to be considered. What we have may be all we can have, if the war lasts five years longer; and they say they are prepared to hold out till the crack of doom. Food, however, is not the only want. I never realized before the varied needs of civilization. Every day something is out. Last week but two bars of soap remained, so we began to save bones and ashes. Annie said: "Now if we only had some china-berry trees here, we shouldn't need any other grease. They are making splendid soap at Vicksburg with china-balls. They just put the berries into the lye and it eats them right up and makes a fine soap." I did long for some china-berries to make this experiment. H. had laid in what seemed a good supply of kerosene, but it is nearly gone, and we are down to two candles kept for an emergency. Annie brought a receipt from Natchez for making candles of rosin and wax, and with great forethought brought also the wick and rosin. So yesterday we tried making candles. We had no molds, but Annie said the latest style in Natchez was to make a waxen rope by dipping, then wrap it round a corn-cob. But H. cut smooth blocks of wood about four inches square, into which he set a polished cylinder about four inches high. The waxen ropes were coiled round the cylinder like a serpent, with the head raised about two inches; as the light burned down to the cylinder, more of the rope was unwound. Today the vinegar was found to be all gone, and we have started to make some. For tyros we succeed pretty well.
May 9.—A great misfortune has come upon us all. For several days every one has been uneasy about the unusual rise of the Mississippi and about a rumor that the Federal forces had cut levees above to swamp the country. There is a slight levee back of the village, and H. went yesterday to examine it. It looked strong, and we hoped for the best. About dawn this morning a strange gurgle woke me. It had a pleasing, lulling effect. I could not fully rouse at first, but curiosity conquered at last, and I called H.
"Listen to that running water. What is it?"
He sprung up, listened a second, and shouted: "Max, get up! The water is on us!" They both rushed off to the lake for the skiff. The levee had not broken. The water was running clean over it and through the garden fence so rapidly that by the time I dressed and got outside Max was paddling the pirogue they had brought in among the pea-vines, gathering all the ripe peas left above the water. We had enjoyed one mess, and he vowed we should have another.
H. was busy nailing a raft together while he had a dry place to stand on. Annie and I, with Reeney, had to secure the chickens, and the back piazza was given up to them. By the time a hasty breakfast was eaten the water was in the kitchen. The stove and everything there had to be put up in the dining-room. Aunt Judy and Reeney had likewise to move into the house, their floor also being covered with water. The raft had to be floated to the storehouse and a platform built, on which everything was elevated. At evening we looked around and counted the cost. The garden was utterly gone. Last evening we had walked round the strawberry-beds that fringed the whole acre and tasted a few just ripe. The hives were swamped. Many of the chickens were drowned. Sancho had been sent to high ground, where he could get grass. In the village everything green was swept away. Yet we were better off than many others; for this house, being raised, we have escaped the water indoors. It just laves the edge of the galleries.
May 26.—During the past week we have lived somewhat like Venetians, with a boat at the front steps and a raft at the back. Sunday H. and I took skiff to church. The clergyman, who is also tutor at a planter's across the lake, preached to the few who had arrived in skiffs. We shall not try it again, it is so troublesome getting in and out at the court-house steps. The imprisonment is hard to endure. It threatened to make me really ill, so every evening H. lays a thick wrap in the pirogue, I sit on it, and we row off to the ridge of dry land running along the lake-shore and branching off to a strip of wood also out of water. Here we disembark and march up and down till dusk. A great deal of the wood got wet and had to be laid out to dry on the galleries, with clothing, and everything that must be dried. One's own trials are intensified by the worse suffering around that we can do nothing to relieve.
Max has a puppy named after General Price. The gentlemen had both gone up-town yesterday in the skiff when Annie and I heard little Price's despairing cries from under the house, and we got on the raft to find and save him. We wore light morning dresses and slippers, for shoes are becoming precious. Annie donned a Shaker and I a broad hat. We got the raft pushed out to the center of the grounds opposite the house, and could see Price clinging to a post; the next move must be to navigate the raft up to the side of the house and reach for Price. It sounds easy; but poke around with our poles as wildly or as scientifically as we might, the raft would not budge. The noonday sun was blazing right overhead, and the muddy water running all over slippered feet and dainty dresses. How long we stayed praying for rescue, yet wincing already at the laugh that would come with it, I shall never know. It seemed like a day before the welcome boat and the "Ha, ha!" of H. and Max were heard. The confinement tells severely on all the animal life about us. Half the chickens are dead and the other half sick.
The days drag slowly. We have to depend mainly on books to relieve the tedium, for we have no piano; none of us like cards; we are very poor chess-players, and the chess-set is incomplete. When we gather round the one lamp—we dare not light any more—each one exchanges the gems of thought or mirthful ideas he finds. Frequently the gnats and the mosquitos are so bad we cannot read at all. This evening, till a strong breeze blew them away, they were intolerable. Aunt Judy goes about in a dignified silence, too full for words, only asking two or three times, "W'at I done tole you fum de fust?" The food is a trial. This evening the snaky candles lighted the glass and silver on the supper-table with a pale gleam, and disclosed a frugal supper indeed—tea without milk (for all the cows are gone), honey, and bread. A faint ray twinkled on the water swishing against the house and stretching away into the dark woods. It looked like civilization and barbarism met together. Just as we sat down to it, some one passing in a boat shouted that Confederates and Federals were fighting at Vicksburg.
Monday, June 2.—On last Friday morning, just three weeks from the day the water rose, signs of its falling began. Yesterday the ground appeared, and a hard rain coming down at the same time washed off much of the unwholesome debris. Today is fine, and we went out without a boat for a long walk.
June 13.—Since the water ran off, we have, of course, been attacked by swamp fever. H. succumbed first, then Annie, Max next, and then I. Luckily, the new Dr. Y. had brought quinine with him, and we took heroic doses. Such fever never burned in my veins before or sapped strength so rapidly, though probably the want of good food was a factor. The two or three other professional men have left. Dr. Y. alone remains. The roads now being dry enough, H. and Max started on horseback, in different directions, to make an exhaustive search for food supplies. H. got back this evening with no supplies.
June 15.—Max got back today. He started right off again to cross the lake and interview the planters on that side, for they had not suffered from overflow.
June 16.—Max got back this morning. H. and he were in the parlor talking and examining maps together till dinner-time. When that was over they laid the matter before us. To buy provisions had proved impossible. The planters across the lake had decided to issue rations of corn-meal and pease to the villagers whose men had all gone to war, but they utterly refused to sell anything. "They told me," said Max, "'We will not see your family starve, Mr. R.; but with such numbers of slaves and the village poor to feed, we can spare nothing for sale.'" "Well, of course," said H., "we do not purpose to stay here and live on charity rations. We must leave the place at all hazards. We have studied out every route and made inquiries everywhere we went. We shall have to go down the Mississippi in an open boat as far as Fetler's Landing (on the eastern bank). There we can cross by land and put the boat into Steele's Bayou, pass thence to the Yazoo River, from there to Chickasaw Bayou, into McNutt's Lake, and land near my uncle's in Warren County."
June 20.—As soon as our intended departure was announced, we were besieged by requests for all sorts of things wanted in every family—pins, matches, gunpowder, and ink. One of the last cases H. and Max had before the stay-law stopped legal business was the settlement of an estate that included a country store. The heirs had paid in chattels of the store. These had remained packed in the office. The main contents of the cases were hardware; but we found treasure indeed—a keg of powder, a case of matches, a paper of pins, a bottle of ink. Red ink is now made out of pokeberries. Pins are made by capping thorns with sealing-wax, or using them as nature made them. These were articles money could not get for us. We would give our friends a few matches to save for the hour of tribulation. The paper of pins we divided evenly, and filled a bank-box each with the matches. H. filled a tight tin case apiece with powder for Max and himself and sold the rest, as we could not carry any more on such a trip. Those who did not hear of this in time offered fabulous prices afterward for a single pound. But money has not its old attractions. Our preparations were delayed by Aunt Judy falling sick of swamp fever.
Friday, June 27.—As soon as the cook was up again, we resumed preparations. We put all the clothing in order, and had it nicely done up with the last of the soap and starch. "I wonder," said Annie, "when I shall ever have nicely starched clothes after these? They had no starch in Natchez or Vicksburg when I was there." We are now furbishing up dresses suitable for such rough summer travel. While we sat at work yesterday, the quiet of the clear, calm noon was broken by a low, continuous roar like distant thunder. Today we are told it was probably cannon at Vicksburg. This is a great distance, I think, to have heard it—over a hundred miles.
H. and Max have bought a large yawl and are busy on the lake-bank repairing it and fitting it with lockers. Aunt Judy's master has been notified when to send for her; a home for the cat Jeff has been engaged; Price is dead, and Sancho sold. Nearly all the furniture is disposed of, except things valued from association, which will be packed in H.'s office and left with some one likely to stay through the war. It is hardest to leave the books.
Tuesday, July 8.—We start tomorrow. Packing the trunks was a problem. Annie and I are allowed one large trunk apiece, the gentlemen a smaller one each, and we a light carpet-sack apiece for toilet articles. I arrived with six trunks and leave with one! We went over everything carefully twice, rejecting, trying to off the bonds of custom and get down to primitive needs. At last we made a judicious selection. Everything old or worn was left; everything merely ornamental, except good lace, which was light. Gossamer evening dresses were all left. I calculated on taking two or three books that would bear the most reading if we were again shut up where none could be had, and so, of course, took Shakspere first. Here I was interrupted to go and pay a farewell visit, and when we returned Max had packed and nailed the cases of books to be left. Chance thus limited my choice to those that happened to be in my room—"Paradise Lost," the "Arabian Nights," a volume of Macaulay's History I was reading, and my prayer-book. Today the provisions for the trip were cooked: the last of the flour was made into large loaves of bread; a ham and several dozen eggs were boiled; the few chickens that have survived the overflow were fried; the last of the coffee was parched and ground; and the modicum of the tea was well corked up. Our friends across the lake added a jar of butter and two of preserves. H. rode off to X. after dinner to conclude some business there, and I sat down before a table to tie bundles of things to be left. The sunset glowed and faded, and the quiet evening came on calm and starry. I sat by the window till evening deepened into night, and as the moon rose I still looked a reluctant farewell to the lovely lake and the grand woods, till the sound of H.'s horse at the gate broke the spell.