A Woman's Diary of the Siege of Vicksburg
UNDER FIRE FROM
WE reached Vicksburg that night and went to H——'s room. Next morning the cook he had engaged arrived, and we moved into this house. Martha's ignorance keeps me busy, and H—— is kept close at his office.
January 7th, 1863.—I have had little to record here recently, for we have lived to ourselves, not visiting or visited. Every one H— knows is absent, and I know no one but the family we staid with at first, and they are now absent. H— tells me of the added triumph since the repulse of Sherman in December, and the one paper published here, shouts victory as much as its gradually diminishing size will allow. Paper is a serious want. There is a great demand for envelopes in the office where H— is. He found and bought a lot of thick and smooth colored paper, cut a tin pattern, and we have whiled away some long evenings cutting envelopes and making them up. I have put away a package of the best to look at when we are old. The books I brought from Arkansas have proved a treasure, but we can get no more. I went to the only book-store open; there were none but Mrs. Stowe's" Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands." The clerk said I could have that cheap, because he couldn't sell her books, so I got it and am reading it now. The monotony has only been broken by letters from friends here and there in the Confederacy. One of these letters tells of a Federal raid to their place, and says, " But the worst thing was, they would take every tooth-brush in the house, because we can't buy any more; and one cavalryman put my sister's new bonnet on his horse, and said ( Get up, Jack,' and her bonnet was gone."
February 25th.—A long gap in my journal, because H— has been ill unto death with typhoid fever, and I nearly broke down from loss of sleep, there being no one to relieve me. I never understood before how terrible it was to be alone at night with a patient in delirium, and no one within call. To wake Martha was simply impossible. I got the best doctor here, but when convalescence began the question of food was a trial. I got with great difficulty two chickens. The doctor made the drug-store sell two of their six bottles of port; he said his patient's life depended on it. An egg is a rare and precious thing. Meanwhile the Federal fleet has been gathering, has anchored at the bend, and shells are thrown in at intervals.
March 20th.—The slow shelling of Vicksburg goes on all the time, and we have grown indifferent. It does not at present interrupt or interfere with daily avocations, but I suspect they are only getting the range of different points; and when they have them all complete, showers of shot will rain on us all at once. Non-combatants have been ordered to leave or prepare accordingly. Those who are to stay are having caves built. Cave digging has become a regular business, prices range from twenty to fifty dollars, according to size of cave. Two diggers worked at ours a week and charged thirty dollars. It is well made in the hill that slopes just in the rear of the house, and well propped with thick posts, as they all are. It has a shelf, also, for holding a light or water. When we went in this evening and sat down, the earthy, suffocating feeling, as of a living tomb, was dreadful to me. I fear I shall risk death outside rather than melt in that dark furnace. The hills are so honeycombed with caves that the streets look like avenues in a cemetery. The hill called the Sky-parlor has become quite a fashionable resort for the few upper circle families left here. Some officers are quartered there, and there is a band and a field-glass. Last evening we also climbed the hill to watch the shelling, but found the view not so good as on a quiet hill nearer home. Soon a lady began to talk to one of the officers: "It is such folly for them to waste their ammunition like that. How can they ever take a town that has such advantages for defense and protection as this? Well just bur row into these hills and let them batter away as hard as they please."
"You are right, madam; and besides, when our women are so willing to brave death and endure discomfort, how can we ever be conquered?"
Soon she looked over with significant glances to where we stood, and began to talk at H——.
"The only drawback," she said, "are the contemptible men who are staying at home in comfort, when they ought to be in the army if they had a spark of honor."
I cannot repeat all, but it was the usual tirade. It is strange I have met no one yet who seems to comprehend an honest difference of opinion, and stranger yet that the ordinary rules of good breeding are now so entirely ignored. As the spring comes one has the craving for fresh, green food that a monotonous diet produces. There was a bed of radishes and onions in the garden, that were a real blessing. An onion salad, dressed only with salt, vinegar, and pepper, seemed a dish fit for a king, but last night the soldiers quartered near made a raid on the garden and took them all.
April 2d.—We have had to move, and thus lost our cave. The owner of the house suddenly returned and notified us that he intended to bring his family back; didn't think there'd be any siege. The cost of the cave could go for the rent. That means he has got tired of the Confederacy and means to stay here and thus get out of it. This house was the only one to be had. It was built by ex-Senator G——, and is so large our tiny household is lost in it. We only use the lower floor. The bell is often rung by persons who take it for a hotel and come beseeching food at any price. To-day one came who would not be denied. "We do not keep a hotel, but would willingly feed hungry soldiers if we had the food." "I have been traveling all night and am starving, will pay any price for just bread. "I went to the dining-room and found some biscuits, and set out two, with a large piece of corn-bread, a small piece of bacon, some nice ' sirup, and a pitcher of water. I locked the door of the safe and left him to enjoy his lunch. After he left I found he had broken open the safe and taken the remaining biscuits.
April 28th.—I never understood before the full force of those questions— What shall we eat? what shall we drink? and wherewithal shall we be clothed? We have no prophet of the Lord at whose prayer the meal and oil will not waste. Such minute attention must be given the wardrobe to preserve it that I have learned to darn like an artist. Making shoes is now another accomplishment. Mine were in tatters. H— came across a moth-eaten pair that he bought me, giving ten dollars, I think, and they fell into rags when I tried to wear them; but the soles were good, and that has helped me to shoes. A pair of old coat-sleeves saved—nothing is thrown away now—was in my trunk. I cut an exact pattern from my old shoes, laid it on the sleeves, and cut out thus good uppers and sewed them carefully; then soaked the soles and sewed the cloth to them. I am so proud of these home-made shoes, think I'll put them in a glass case when the war is Over, as an heirloom. H—— says he has come to have an abiding faith that everything he needs to wear will come out of that trunk while the war lasts. It is like a fairy-casket. I have but a dozen pins remaining, so many I gave away. Every time these are used they are straightened and kept from rust. All these curious labors are performed while the shells are leisurely screaming through the air; but as long as we are out of range we don't worry. For many nights we have had but little sleep, because the Federal gun-boats have been running past the batteries. The uproar when this is happening is phenomenal. The first night the thundering artillery burst the bars of sleep, we thought it an attack by the river. To get into garments and rush upstairs was the work of a moment. From the upper gallery we have a fine view of the river, and soon a red glare lit up the scene and showed a small boat towing two large barges, gliding by. The Confederates had set fire to a house near the bank. Another night, eight boats ran by, throwing a shower of shot, and two burning houses made the river clear as day. One of the batteries has a remarkable gun they call" Whistling Dick," because of the screeching, whistling sound it gives, and certainly it does sound like a tortured thing. Added to all this is the indescribable Confederate yell, which is a soul-harrowing sound to hear. I have gained respect for the mechanism of the human ear, which stands it all without injury. The streets are seldom quiet at night; even the dragging about of cannon makes a din in these echoing gullies. The other night we were on the gallery till the last of the eight boats got by. Next day a friend said to H—,"It was a wonder you didn't have your heads taken off last night. I passed and saw them stretched over the gallery, and grape-shot were whizzing up the street just on a level with you. "The double roar of batteries and boats was so great, we never noticed the whizzing. Yesterday the Cincinnati attempted to go by in daylight, but was disabled and sunk. It was a pitiful sight; we could not see the finale, though we saw her rendered helpless.
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