War Diary of a Union Woman in the South
THE VOLUNTEERS - FORT SUMTER
Feb. 21, 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 apparelled.
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 rap 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.
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