War Diary of a Union Woman in the South
THE FIGHT FOR FOOD AND CLOTHING
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 dun 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.
April13, 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 ‘ye 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 to-morrow, 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 to-night 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 smokehouse, 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 chinaberry 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. To-day the vinegar was found to be all gone and we have started to make some. For tyros we succeed pretty well.
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