Mary Chesnut's Diary
by Mary Chesnut
I remember feeling a nervous dread and horror of this break with so great a power as U.S.A., but I was ready and willing. South Carolina has been so rampant for years. She was the torment of herself and everybody else. Nobody could live in this state unless he were a fire-eater. Come what would, I wanted them to fight and stop talking. South Carolina—Bluffton, Rhetts, &c had exasperated and heated themselves into a fever that only bloodletting could ever cure—it was the inevitable remedy.
At Kingsville I met my husband. He had resigned his seat in the Senate U.S. and was on his way home. Had burned the ships behind him. No hope now—he was in bitter earnest.
I thought him right—but going back to Mulberry to live was indeed offering up my life on the altar of country.
I spent Christmas at Combahee—a most beautiful country seat. Live oaks in all their glory, camellias as plentiful on the lawn as the hawthorn in an English hedge.
Mrs. Charles Lowndes was with us when the secession ordinance came. We sat staring in each other’s faces. She spoke first. “As our days, so shall our strength be.” I am truly glad I have seen those lovely Combahee places—they are so exposed, they will doubtless suffer from invasion. So far we were out in the cold alone. And our wise men say if the president had left us there to fret and fume awhile with a little wholesome neglect, we would have come back in time. Certainly nobody would have joined us. But Fort Sumter in Anderson’s hands united the cotton states—and we are here in Montgomery to make a new Confederacy—a new government, constitution, &c&c.
February 25, 1861
Montgomery. Found them working very hard here. As I dozed on the sofa last night could hear scratch, scratch of my husband’s pen as he wrote at the table until midnight. After church today Captain Ingraham called. He left me so uncomfortable. He dared to express his regret that he had to leave the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in the Mediterranean, where he likes to be; expected to be there two years. He expected to take those lovely daughters of his to Florence. Then came that ogre Lincoln and rampant Black Republicanism—and he must lay down his life for South Carolina. He, however, does not make any moan. He says we lack everything necessary of naval gear to retake Fort Sumter. Of course He only expects the navy to take it. He is a fish out of water here. He is one of the finest sea captains, so I suppose they will soon give him a ship and send him back to his own element.
Governor Moore came in with the latest news. A telegram from Governor Pickens to the president. “That a war steamer is lying off the bar, laden with reinforcements for Fort Sumter—What must we do?” Answer: “Use your own discretion.” There is faith for you. After all said and done, it is believed there is some discretion still left in South Carolina, fit for use.
February 28, 1861
In the drawing room a literary lady began a violent attack upon this mischief-making South Carolina. She told me she was a successful writer in the magazines of the day. But when I found she used “incredible” for “incredulous,” I said not a work in defense of my native land. I left her “incredible.” Another person came in while she was pouring upon me truths and asked her if she did not know I was a Carolinian. Then she gracefully reversed her engine and took the other tack—sounded our praises. But I left her incredible—and I remained incredulous, too.
March 5, 1861
We stood on the balcony to see our Confederate flag go up. Roars of cannon, &c&c. Miss Sanders complained—so said Captain Ingraham—of the deadness of the mob. “It was utterly spiritless,” she said. “No cheering—or so little—no enthusiasm.” Captain Ingraham suggested, “Gentlemen are apt to be quiet—this was a thoughtful crowd. The true mob element with us just now is hoeing corn.” And yet! It is uncomfortable that the idea has gone abroad that we have no joy, no pride in this thing. The band was playing “Massa in the Cold, Cold Ground.” Major Deas was busy telling us why he came south. “The New York clubs were so unpleasant now for Southern men.” Although he was always lived at the North, respect for his Deas and Izard blood had been so dined in his ears by his relatives, he could not fail to feel altogether Southern.
March 11, 1861 Mr. Chesnut hurt because Mr. Hill said he kept his own counsel. Mr. C, thinking himself an open, frank, confiding person, asked me if he was not. Truth required me to say that I knew no more what Mr. C thought or felt on any subject now than I did twenty years ago. Sometimes I feel that we understand each other a little—then up goes the iron wall once more. Not that for a moment he ever gives you the impression of an insincere, or even a cold, person. Reitcent—like the Indian too proud to let the world know how he feels. …What nonsense I write here. However, this journal is intended to be entirely objective. My subjective days are over. No more silent eating into my own heart, making my own misery, when without these morbid fantasies I could be so happy… I think this journal will be disadvantageous for me, for I spend the time now like a spider, spinning my own entrails instead of reading, as my habit was at all spare moments.
March 18, 1861
Augusta, Ga. The day we left Montgomery, a man was shot in the street for some trifle. Mr. Browne was open-mouthed in his horror of such ruffianlike conduct. They answered him, “It is the war fever. Soldiers must be fierce. It is the right temper for the times cropping out.” There was tragedy too, on the way here. A mad woman, taken from her husband and children. Of course she was mad—or she would have not given “her grief words” in that public place. Her keepers were along. What she said was rational enough—pathetic, at times heartrending. Then a highly intoxicated parson was trying to save the soul of “a bereaved widow.” So he addressed her always as “my bereaved friend and widow.” The devil himself could not have quoted Scripture more fluently. It excited me so—I quickly took opium, and that I kept up. It enables me to retain every particle of mind or sense or brains I ever have and so quiets my nerves that I can calmly reason and take rational views of things otherwise maddening… After my stormy youth I did so hope for peace and tranquil domestic happiness. There is none for me in this world. I wonder if it be a sin to think slavery a curse to any land. Sumner said not one word of this hated institution which is not true. Men and women are punished when their masters and mistresses are brutes and not when they do wrong—and then we live surrounded by prostitutes. An abandoned woman is sent out of any decent house elsewhere. Who thinks any worse of a negro or mulatto woman for being a thing we can’t name? God forgive us, but ours is a monstrous system and wrong and iniquity. Perhaps the rest of the world is as bad—this only I see. Like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattos one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children—except every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds, or pretends so to think. Good women we have, but they talk of all nastiness—tho’ they never do wrong, they talk day and night of, well, my disgust sometimes is boiling over—but they are, I believe, in conduct the purest women God ever made. Thank God for my countrywomen—alas for the men! No worse than men everywhere, but the lower their mistresses, the more degraded they must be. My mother-in-law told me when I was first married not to send my female servants in the street on errands. They were then tempted, led astray—and then she said placidly, so they told me when I came here, and I was very particular, but you see with what result. Mr. Harris said it was so patriarchal. So it is—flocks and hers and slaves—and wife Leah does not suffice. Rachel must be added, if not married. And all the time they seem to think themselves patterns—models of husbands and fathers.
April 7, 1861
Charleston. Governor Manning walked in, bowed gravely, and seated himself by me. Again he bowed low, in mock heroic style and, with a grand wave of his hand, said, “Madame, your country is invaded.” When I had breath to speak, I asked, “What does he mean?” “He means this. There are six men-of-war outside of the bar. Talbot and Chew have come to say that hostilities are to begin. Governor Pickens and Beauregard are holding a council of war.” Mr. Chesnut then came in. He confirmed the story. Wigfall next entered in boisterous spirits. He said, “There was a sound of revelry by night, &c&c&c.” In any stir or confusion, my heart is apt to beat so painfully. Now the agony was so stifling—I could hardly see or hear. The men went off almost immediately. And I crept silently to my room, where I sat down to a good cry. Mrs. Wigfall came in, and we had it out on the subject of the civil war. We solaced ourselves with dwelling on all its known horrors, and then we added what we had a right to expect, with Yankees in front and negroes in the rear. “The slave-owners must expect a servile insurrection, of course,” said Mrs. Wigfall, to make sure that we were unhappy enough. Suddenly loud shouting was heard. We ran out. Cannon after cannon roared. We met Mrs. Allen Green in the passageway, with blanched cheeks and streaming eyes. Governor Means rushed out of his room in his dressing gown and begged us to be calm. “Governor Pickens has ordered, in the plenitude of his wisdom, seven cannon to be fired as a signal to the Seventh Regiment. Anderson will hear as well as the Seventh Regiment. Now you go back and be quiet: fighting in the streets has not begun yet.” So we retired. Dr. Gibbes calls Mrs. Allen Green “Dame Placid.” There was no placidity today. Cannons bursting and Allen on the island. No sleep for anybody last night. The streets were alive with soldiers, men shouting, marching, singing. Today things seem to have settled down a little. One can but hope still. Lincoln or Seward have made such silly advances and then far sillier drawings back. There may be a chance for peace, after all. Things are happening so fast. My husband has been made an aide-de-camp of General Beauregard. Three hours ago we were quietly packing to go home. The convention has adjourned. Now he tells me the attack upon Fort Sumter may begin tonight. Depends upon Anderson and the fleet outside. The New York Herald says that this show of war outside of the bar is intended for Texas.
April 12, 1861 I do not pretend to go to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms—at four—the orders are—he shall be fired upon. I count four—St. Michael chimes. I begin to hope. At half-past four, the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed. And on my knees—prostrate—I prayed as I never prayed before. There was a sound of stir all over the house—pattering of feet in the corridor—all seemed hurrying on way. I put on my double gown and a shawl and went, too. It was to the housetop. The shells were bursting. In the dark I heard a man say “waste of ammunition.” I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay. And that the shells were roofing over—bursting toward the fort. If Anderson was obstinate—he was to order the forts on our side to open fire. Certainly fire had begun. The regular roar of the cannon—there it was. And who could tell what each volley accomplished of death and destruction. The women were wild, there on the housetop. Prayers from the women and imprecations from the men, and then a shell would light up the scene. Tonight, they say, the forces are to attempt to land. The Harriet Lane had her wheelhouse smashed and put back to sea. We watched up there—everybody wondered. Fort Sumter did not fire a shot.
April 13, 1861
Nobody hurt, after all. How gay we were last night. Reaction after the dread of all the slaughter we thought those dreadful cannons were making such a noise in doing. Not even a battery the worse for wear. Fort Sumter has been on fire. He has not yet silenced any of our guns. So the aides—still with swords and red sashes by way of uniform—tell us. But the sound of those guns makes regular meals impossible. None of us go to the table. But tea trays pervade the corridors, going everywhere. Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery. Mrs. Wigfall and I solace ourselves with tea in my room. These women have all a satisfying faith. “God is on our side,” they cry. When we are shut in, we (Mrs. Wigfall and I) ask, “Why?” We are told: “Of course He hates the Yankees.” “You’ll think that well of Him.” Not by one word or look can we detect any change in the demeanor of these negro servants. Laurence sits at our door, as sleepy and as respectful and as profoundly indifferent. So are they all. They carry it too far. You could not tell that they hear even the awful row that is going on in the bay, though it is dinning in their ears night and day. And people talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. And they make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid or wiser than we are, silent and strong, biding their time?
April 15, 1861
I did not know that one could live such days of excitement.They called, “Come out—there is a crowd coming.” A mob indeed, but it was headed by Colonels Chesnut and Manning. The crowd was shouting and showing these two as messengers of good news. They were escorted to Beauregard’s headquarters. Fort Sumter had surrendered. Those up on the housetop shouted at us, “The fort is on fire.” That had been the story once or twice before.
April 1861 (no date)
Home again. In those last days of my stay in Charleston I did not find time to write a line. And so we took Fort Sumter. Nous autres. We—Mrs. Frank Hampton &c, in the passageway of the Mills House between the reception room and the drawing room. There we held a sofa against all comers. And indeed, all the agreeable people South seemed to have flocked to Charleston at the first gun. That was after we found out that bombarding did not kill anybody. Before that we wept and prayed—and took our tea in groups, in our rooms, away from the haunts of men. Captain Ingraham and his kind took it (Fort Sumter) from the battery with field glasses and figures made with three sticks in the sand to show what ought to be done. Wigfall, Chesnut, Miles, Manning, &c took it, rowing about in the harbor in small boats, from fort to fort, under the enemies’ guns, bombs bursting in air, &c&c. And then the boys and men who worked those guns so faithfully at the forts. They took it, too—their way.
June 10, 1861
(Sandy Hill Plantation)
The war is making us all tenderly sentimental. No casualties yet, no real mourning, nobody hurt. So it is all parade, fife, and fine feathers. Posing we are en grande tenue. There is no imagination here to forestall woe, and only the excitement and wild awakening from everyday stagnant life are felt. That is, when on gets away from the two or three sensible men who are left in the world.
No comfort in Mr. Chesnut’s letter from Richmond. Unutterable confusion prevails—and discord—already. In Charleston a butcher has been clandestinely supplying the Yankee fleet, outside of the bar, with beef. They say he gave the information which led to the capture of the Savannah. They will hang him. Mr. Petigru alone in South Carolina has not seceded. When they pray for our president, he gets up from his knees. He might risk a prayer for Mr. Davis. I doubt if it would seriously do Mr. Davis any good. Mr. Petigru is too clever to think himself one of the righteous whose prayers avail so overly much. Mr. Petigru’s disciple, Mr. Bryan, followed his example. Mr. Petigru has such a keen sense of the ridiculous, he must be laughing in his sleeve at the hubbub this untimely trait of independence has raised.
Harpers Ferry evacuated.
Looking out for a battle at Manassas Station. I am always ill. The name of my disease is a longing to get away from here and go to Richmond.
Good Lord, forgive me. Your commandment I cannot keep. How can I honor what is so dishonorable or respect what is so little respectable, so disreputable—or love what is so utterly unlovely. Then—I must go—indeed. Go away from here.
Tried to rise above the agonies of everyday life—read Emerson. Too restless—Manassas on the brain.
Saw today Napoleon’s experience. Two armies always frighten one another. The best general is he who knows how to take advantage of the first panic. Napoleon ought to know.
June 28, 1861
Mr. Lamar, who does not love slavery more than Sumner does—nor than I do, say—laughs at the compliment New England pays us. We want to separate from them—to be rid of the Yankees forever at any price. And they hate us so and would clasp us—or hook us, as Polonius has it—to their bosoms with hooks of steel. We are an unwilling bride. I think incompatibility of temper began when it was made plain to us that we get all of the opprobrium of slavery and they all the money there was in it—with their tariff. Mr. Lamar says the young men are lighthearted because there is a fight on hand. But those few who look ahead, the clear heads, they see all the risk—the loss of land, limb, and life, home, children, and wife. As in the brave days of old, they take it for their country’s sake. I wish I could remember Macaulay’s ballad. It was that way he put it. At any rate, they are ready and willing, come what may.
July 9, 1861
Our battle summer. May it be our first and our last. So-called. After all, we have not had any of the horrors of war. Could there have been a gayer or pleasanter life than we led in Charleston? And Montgomery, how exciting it all is there. So many clever men and women congregated from every part of the South.
July 16, 1861
As far as I can make out, Beauregard sent Mr. Chesnut to the president to gain permission for the forces of Joe Johnston and Beauregard to join and, united, to push the enemy if possible over the Potomac. Now every day we grow weaker and they stronger, so we had better give a telling blow at once. Already they begin to cry out for more ammunition, and already the blockade is beginning to shut it all out. A young Emory here. His mother writes to him to go back. Her Franklin blood certainly calls him with no uncertain sound to the Northern side, while his Mary[land] fatherland is wavering and undecided. Split in half by factions. Mrs. Wigfall says he is half-inclined to go. She wondered that he did not. With a father in the enemy’s army he will always be “suspect” here—let the president and Mrs. Davis do for him what they will.
I did not know there was such a “bitter cry” left in me. But I wept my heart away today when my husband went off. Things do look so black.
July 24, 1861
Here Mr. Chesnut opened my door—and walked in. Of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh. I had to ask no questions. He gave me an account of the battle as he saw it (walking up and down my room, occasionally seating himself on a window sill, but too restless to remain still many moments). Told what regiments he was sent to bring up. He took orders to Colonel Jackson—whose regiment stood so stock-still under fire they were called a stone wall. Also, they call Beauregard “Engine” and Johnston “Marlboro” (s’en va—en guerre). Mr. C rode with Lay’s cavalry after the retreating enemy, in the pursuit, they following them until midnight. There then came such a rain—rain such as is only known in semitropical lands.
In the drawing room Colonel Chesnut was the “belle of the ball”—they crowded him so for news. He was the first arrival they could get at, from the field of battle—handle, so to speak. But the women had to give way to the dignitaries of the land, who were as filled with curiosity as themselves—Mr. Barnwell, Mr. Hunter, the Cobbs, Captain Ingraham, &c&c. Wilmot DeSaussure says Wilson of Massachusetts, senator U.S.A., came to Manassas en route to Richmond, with his dancing shoes ready for the festive scene which was to celebrate a triumph. The Tribune said: “In a few days” they would have Richmond, Memphis, New Orleans. “They must be taken and at once.” For “a few days” maybe now they will modestly substitute “in a few years.”
October 13, 1861
At Mulberry we went in the afternoon to the negro church on the plantation. Manning Brown, Methodist minister, preached to a very large black congregation. Though glossy black, they were well dressed—some very stylishly gotten up. They were stout, comfortable-looking Christians. The house women in white aprons and white turbans were the nicest looking. How snow-white the turbans on their heads appeared. But the youthful sisters flaunted in pink and sky blue bonnets which tried their complexions. For the family they had a cushioned seat near the pulpit, neatly covered in calico. Manning Brown preached hell fire—so hot I felt singed, if not parboiled, though I could not remember any of my many sins worthy of an eternity in torment. But if all the world’s misery, sin, and suffering came from so small a sin as eating that apple, what mighty proportions mine take. Jim Nelson, the driver—the stateliest darky I ever saw. He is tall and straight as a pine tree, with a fair face—not so very black, but full-blooded African. His forefathers must have been of royal blood over there. This distinguished gentleman was asked to “lead in prayer.” He became wildly excited. Though on his knees, facing us, with his eyes shut, he clapped his hands at the end of every sentence, and his voice rose to the pitch of a shrill shriek. Still, his voice was strangely clear and musical, occasionally in a plaintive minor key that went to your heart. Sometimes it rung out like a trumpet. I wept bitterly. I was all sound, however, and emotional pathos. There was literally nothing in what he said. The words had no meaning at all. It was the devotional passion of voice and manner which was so magnetic. The negroes sobbed and shouted and swayed backward and forward, some with aprons to their eyes, most clapping their hands and responding in shrill tones, “Yes, my God! Jesus!” “Aeih! Savior! Bless de Lord, amen-- &c.” It was a little too exciting for me. I would very much have liked to shout, too. Jim Nelson, when he rose from his knees, trembled and shook as one in a palsy. And from his eye you could see the ecstasy had not left him yet. He could not stand at all—sunk back on his bench.
October 15, 1861
Kate came. We knitted away at our socks, and she gave various items of news. First, Mr. Chesnut’s favorite fad—the little steamship, the rams he would have from the patent office—has been immensely successful on the coast near New Orleans. Hatteras is evacuated. Mason and Slidell have left Charleston in the Gordon for Nassau or some British port. When I told Kate of Jordan’s letter, that “from disease and neglect our Army of the Potomac was weakening daily,” she turned white as a sheet and then red—ended by weeping hysterically. Now, my sister is the coolest, calmest woman I know. It is the mad excitement of the day. It has caught her, too. She is so quiet, but after this agitation she was so excited and confused—worthy of me. New yesterday that we had driven back an invading squadron on the Potomac. At what loss we know not yet.
Shocked to hear that dear friends of mine refused to take work for the soldiers because their sempstresses had their winter clothes to make. I told them true patriotesses would be willing to wear the same clothes until our siege was raised. They did not seem to care for the couleur, Isabeau—or Isabel. They have seen no ragged, sick, and miserable soldiers lying in the hospital, “no lack of women’s nursing, no lack of women’s tears” but an awful lack of a proper change of clean clothes. They know nothing of the horrors of war. One has to see to believe. They take it easy and are not yet willing to make personal sacrifices. Time is coming when they will not be given a choice in the matter. The very few stay-at-home men we have are absorbed as before in plantation affairs, cotton picking, negro squabbles, hay-stealing, saving the corn from the freshet, like the old Jews while Noah was building the Ark. ` If I had been a man in this great revolution—I should have either been killed at once or made a name and done some good for my country. Lord Nelson’s motto would be mine—Victory or Westminster Abbey.
November 8, 1861
Such a meeting we had—all the churches joined to pray. They sung:
Dread Jehovah! God of Nations From thy Temple in the skies Hear thy people’s supplication Now for their deliverance rise
Not one doubt is there in or bosoms that we are not the chosen people of God. And that he is fighting for us. Why not? We are no worse than Jews, past or present, nor Yankees.
November 11, 1861
Yesterday Mr. John DeSaussure came, absolutely a lunatic. His preposterous and ill-timed gaiety all gone. He was in a state of abject fright because the negroes show such exultation at the enemies making good their entrance at Port Royal. Cannot see any change in them myself. Their faces are as unreadable as the sphinx. Certainly they are unchanged in their good conduct. That is, they are placid, docile, kind, and obedient. Also as lazy and as dirty as ever.
December 13, 1861
Charleston is in flames, one part of the city utterly destroyed. On the night of the 11th we had here a furious windstorm. We rather enjoyed it—in the interest of the fleet outside of the bar. As the blast howled, we said, “How now, blockaders?” Evil thoughts are like chickens come home to roost. When the telegram came today I was too much shocked to speak. Suffering, death, and destitution on every side. In all this confusion they might attack us. What then!
April 27, 1861
New Orleans gone—and with it the Confederacy. Are we not cut in two? That Mississippi ruins us if lost. The Confederacy done to death by the politicians. What wonder we are lost. Those wretched creatures the Congress and the legislature could never rise to the greatness of the occasion. They seem to think they were in a neighborhood squabble about precedence. The soldiers have done their duty. All honor to the army. Statesmen busy as bees about their own places or their personal honor—too busy to see the enemy at a distance. With a microscope they were examining their own interest or their own wrongs, forgetting the interest of the people they represent. They were concocting newspaper paragraphs to injure the government. No matter how vital, nothing—nothing—can be kept from the enemy.
May 21, 1862
There is said to be an order from Butler, turning over the women of New Orleans to his soldiers! Then is the measure of his iniquities filled. We thought that generals always restrained by shot or sword, if need be, the brutal soldiery. This hideous cross-eyed beast orders his men to treat the ladies of New Orleans as women of the town. To punish them, he says, for their insolence.
June 3, 1862
Sat down at my window—beautiful moonlight. Tried hard for pleasant thoughts. A man began to play on the flute, with piano accompaniment. First “Ever of Thee I Am Fondly Dreaming,” then “Long, Long, Weary Day.” At first I found it but a complement to the beautiful scene, and it was soothing to my wrought-up nerves. But von Weber’s last waltz was too much. Suddenly I broke down. Heavens, what a bitter cry. Such floods of tears. The wonder is, there was any of me left.
I see in Richmond the women go in their carriages for the wounded, carry them home, and nurse them. One was a man too weak to hold his musket. She took it from him, put it on his shoulder, and helped the poor wounded fellow along. If ever there was a man who could control every expression of his emotion, who can play stoic or an Indian chief, it is Colonel Chesnut. But one day when he came from the council he had to own a breakdown (or nearly). He was awfully ashamed of his weakness. There was a letter from Mrs. Gaillard, asking him to help her, and he tried to read it to the council. She wanted a permit to go on to her son, who was wounded in Virginia. He could not control his voice—and there was not a dry eye there. Suddenly one man called out, “God bless the woman!”
June 5, 1862
Wilmot DeSaussure telegraphs for sandbags, cannon powder, and flatboats. Powder sent—the other things not ready. Those rude Yankees. They will not wait until we are properly prepared to receive them. We take it easy. We love the dolce far niente. We are the true Lotos Eaters. We cannot get accustomed to be hurried about things. This race have brains enough, but they are not active-minded. Those old revolutionary characters—Middletons, Lowndes, Rutledges, Marions, Sumters—they came direct from active-minded forefathers, or they would not have been here. But two or three generations of gentlemen planters—how changed the blood became! Of late all of the active-minded men who spring to the front in our government were the immediate descendants of Scotch, or Scotch Irish, Calhoun, McDuffie, Cheves. Petigru, who Huguenotted his name but could not tie up his Irish. Our planters are nice fellows but slow to move. No—impulsive but hard to keep moving. They are wonderful for a spurt—put out all their strength and then like to rest.
June 9, 1862
Bratton, who married Miss Means, taken prisoner. Beverly Means killed, his mother-in-law a few days ago found stone dead in her bed. Misfortunes enough for one family, surely.
When we read of the battles in India, in Italy, in the Crimea—what did we care? Only an interesting topic like any other to look for in the paper. Now you hear of a battle with a thrill and a shudder. It has come home to us. Half the people that we know in the world are under the enemy’s guns. A telegram comes to you. And you leave it on your lap. You are pale with fright. You handle it, or dread to touch it, as you would a rattlesnake—worse—worse. A snake would only strike you. How many, many, this scrap of paper may tell you, have gone to their death. When you meet people, sad and sorrowful is the greeting; they press your hand, tears stand in their eyes or roll down their cheeks, as they happen to have more or less self-control. They have brothers, fathers, or sons—as the case may be—in the battle. And this thing now seems never to stop. We have no breathing time given us. It cannot be so at the North, for the papers say gentlemen do not go in the ranks there. They are officers or clerks of departments, &c&c&c. Then, we see so many foreign regiments among our prisoners. Germans—Irish—Scotch. The proportion of trouble is awfully against us. Every company on the field is filled with our nearest and dearest—rank and file, common soldiers.
July 18 and 21 1862
Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Izard have instituted a wayside hospital at the point where all the RRs meet. The Columbia Junction, in fact. I am ready and thankful to help every way, subscription and otherwise. But too feeble in health to attend in person. All honor to Mrs. Fisher. Mrs. Bartow’s adopted son has had the ball extracted from his arm. She is nursing him faithfully. The doctors fear a sinew has been cut, which may disable him—that is, that he may never regain the use of his hand.
September 23, 1863
While in Columbia we saw Cheves McCord at his mother’s. He had been badly wounded at Second Manassas, in both the head and the leg. Mrs. McCord went at once to Richmond and found he was still at or near Manassas Junction. She went to Mr. Miles to get her a passport to go down for him. He said the thing was impossible. Government had seized all trains, and no passports were given. “I let him talk,” said Mrs. McCord, “for he does it beautifully. That very night I chartered a special train. We ran down to Manassas and I brought back Cheves in triumph. You see he is nearly well, with our home nursing.” “Mother of the Gracchi,” we cried. But he grew restless, and they could not keep him from his duties in camp. He was not fit for duty. The ball had never been removed from his head, and it gave him so much trouble that his servant brought him back to Richmond, taking him to the house of Mrs. Myer’s, a friend of theirs. The surgeons thought the ball moved its position. At any rate, he died that night. We went at once to Mrs. Myer’s—too late. I think I shed the bitterest tears that ever came into my eyes—for him, cut off so soon—and for his mother!! Not twenty-one yet—his beautiful bride—and baby unborn. I meant to copy Mrs. McCord’s letter, but the cry of a soul like her in agony—I could not do it. Heartbroken, she is.
September 1863 (no date)
Uncle William [says] the men who went into the war to save their negroes are abjectly wretched. Neither side now cares a fig for their beloved negroes—would send them all to heaven in a hand basket, as Custis Lee says, to win in the fight. General Lee, Mr. Davis, &c&c—soldiers everywhere—want them [slaves] to be put in the army. Mr. Chesnut and Mr. Venable discussed the subject one night. Would they fight on our side or desert to the enemy? They don’t go to them, because they are comfortable where they are and expect to be free anyway. When we were children our nurses gave us our tea out in the open air, on little pine tables scrubbed white as milk pails. As he passed us with his slow and consequential step, we called, “Do, Dick—come and wait on us.” “No, little missies, I never wait on pine tables. Wait till you get big enough to put your legs under your pa’s mahogany.” I taught him to read as soon as I could read myself—perched on his knife board. He won’t look at me now. He looks over my head—he scents freedom in the air. He was always ambitious. I do not think he ever troubled books much. But then as my father said, Dick, standing in front of his sideboard, had heard all subjects of earth or heaven discussed—and by the best heads in our world. He is proud too, in his way. Hetty his wife complained the other menservants were so fine in their livery. “Nonsense, old woman—a butler never demeans himself to wear livery. He is always in plain clothes.” Somewhere he had picked up that. He is the first negro that I have felt a change in. They go about in their black masks, not a ripple or an emotion showing—and yet on all other subjects except the war they are the most excitable of all races. Now, Dick might make a very respectable Egyptian sphinx, so inscrutably silent is he.