War Diary of a Union Woman in the South
A BELEAGUERED CITY
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 to-day 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 to-morrow 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 could not 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-bye. 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 fire-arms. 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.
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