A Woman's Diary of the Siege of Vicksburg
PREPARATIONS FOR THE SIEGE.
Vicksburg, May 1st, 1863.—It is settled at last that we shall spend the time of siege in Vicksburg. Ever since we were deprived of our cave, I had been dreading that H——would suggest sending me to the country, where his relatives lived. As he could not leave his position and go also without being conscripted, and as I felt certain an army would get between us, it was no part of my plan to be obedient A shell from one of the practicing mortars brought the point to an issue yesterday and settled it. Sitting at work as usual, listening to the distant sound of bursting shells, apparently aimed at the court-house, there suddenly came a nearer explosion; the house shook, and a tearing sound was followed by terrified screams from the kitchen. I rushed thither, but met in the hall the cook's little girl America, bleeding from a wound in the forehead, and fairly dancing with fright and pain, while she uttered fearful yells. I stopped to examine the wound, and her mother bounded in, her black face ashy from terror. “ Oh I Miss V——, my child is killed and the kitchen tore up.” Seeing America was too lively to be a killed subject, I consoled Martha and hastened to the kitchen. Evidently a shell had exploded just outside, sending three or four pieces through. When order was restored I endeavored to impress on Martha's mind the necessity for calmness and the uselessness of such excitement Looking round at the close of the lecture, there stood a group of Confederate soldiers laughing heartily at my sermon and the promising audience I had. They chimed in with a parting chorus:
“ Yes, it's no use hollerin, old lady.”
“Oh! H——,” I exclaimed, as he entered soon after, “ America is wounded.”
“That is no news; she has been wounded by traitors long ago.”
“ Oh, this is real, living, little, black America; I am not talking in symbols. Here are the pieces of shell, the first bolt of the coming siege.”
“Now you see,” he replied, “that this house will be but paper to mortar-shells. You must go in the country.”
The argument was long, but when a woman is obstinate and eloquent, she generally conquers. I came off victorious, and we finished preparations for the siege to-day. Hiring a man to assist, we descended to the wine-cellar, where the accumulated bottles told of the “banquet-hall deserted,” the spirit and glow of the festive hours whose lights and garlands were dead, and the last guest long since departed. To empty this cellar was the work of many hours. Then in the safest corner a platform was laid for our bed, and in another portion one arranged for Martha. The dungeon, as I call it, is lighted only by a trap-door, and is so damp it will be necessary to remove the bedding and mosquito-bars every day. The next question was of supplies. I had nothing left but a sack of rice-flour, and no manner of cooking I had heard or invented contrived to make it eatable. A column of recipes for making delicious preparations of it had been going the rounds of Confederate papers. I tried them all; they resulted only in brick-bats, or sticky paste. H— sallied out on a hunt for provisions, and when he returned the disproportionate quantity of the different articles obtained provoked a smile. There was a hogshead of sugar, a barrel of sirup, ten pounds of bacon and peas, four pounds of wheat-flour, and a small sack of corn-meal, a little vinegar, and actually some spice! The wheat-flour he purchased for ten dollars as a special favor from the sole remaining barrel for sale. We decided that must be kept for sickness. The sack of meal, he said, was a case of corruption, through a special providence to us. There is no more for sale at any price, but, said he, “ a soldier who was hauling some of the Government sacks to the hospital offered me this for five dollars, if I could keep a secret. When the meal is exhausted perhaps we can keep alive on sugar. Here are some wax candles; hoard them like gold.” He handed me a parcel containing about two pounds of candles, and left me to arrange my treasures. It would be hard for me to picture the memories those candles called up. The long years melted away, and I
In those childish days, whenever came dreams of household splendor or festal rooms or gay illuminations, the lights in my vision were always wax candles burning with a soft radiance that enchanted every scene.*** And, lo there on this spring day of '63, with war raging through the land, I was in a fine house, and had my wax candles sure enough, but, alas! they were neither cerulean blue nor rose-tinted, but dirty brown; and when I lighted one, it spluttered and wasted like any vulgar tallow thing, and lighted only a desolate scene in the vast handsome room. They were not so good as the waxen rope we had made in Arkansas. So, with a long sigh for the dreams of youth, I return to the stern present in this besieged town, my only consolation to remember the old axiom, “A city besieged is a city taken,”—so if we live through it we shall be out of the Confederacy. H— is very tired of having to carry a pass around in his pocket and go every now and then to have it renewed. We have been so very free in America, these restrictions are irksome.
May 10th.— This morning the door-bell rang a startling peal. Martha being busy, I answered it. An orderly in gray stood with an official envelope in his hand
“Who lives here?"
Very imperiously —”Which Mr. L—?"
“Is he here?"
“Where can he be found?"
“At the office of Deputy —."
“I'm not going there. This is an order from General Pemberton for you to move out of this house in two hours. He has selected it for headquarters. He will furnish you with wagons."
“Will he furnish another house also?"
“Of course not."
“Has the owner been consulted?”
“He has not, that is of no consequence; it has been taken. Take this order."
“I shall not take it, and I shall not move,. as there is no place to move to but the street."
“Then I'll take it to Mr. L—."
“Very well, do so."
As soon as Mr. Impertine walked off I locked, bolted, and barred every door and window. In ten minutes H— came home.
“Hold the fort till I've seen the owner and the general,” he said, as I locked him out.
Then Dr. B—'s remark in New Orleans about the effect of Dr. C—'s fine presence on the Confederate officials there came to mind. They are just the people to be influenced in that way, I thought. I look rather shabby now; I will dress. I made an elaborate toilet, put on the best and most becoming dress I had, the richest lace, the handsomest ornaments, taking care that all should be appropriate to a morning visit; dressed my hair in the stateliest braids, and took a seat in the parlor ready for the fray. H— came to the window and said:
“Landlord says ‘Keep them out. Wouldn't let them have his house at any price.' He is just riding off to the country and can't help us now. Now I'm going to see Major C—, who sent the order."
Next came an officer, banged at the door till tired, and walked away. Then the orderly came again and beat the door—same result. Next, four officers with bundles and lunch-baskets, followed by a wagon-load of furniture. They went round the house, tried every door, peeped in the windows, pounded and rapped, while I watched them through the blind-slats. Presently the fattest one, a real Falstaffian man, came back to the front door and rung a thundering peal. I saw the chance for fun and for putting on their own grandiloquent style. Stealing on tiptoe to the door, I turned the key and bolt noiselessly, and suddenly threw wide back the door and appeared behind it He had been leaning on it, and nearly pitched forward with an ”Oh! what's this!" Then seeing me as he straightened up, ”Ah, madam!” almost stuttering from surprise and anger,” are you aware I had the right to break down this door if you hadn't opened it?”
“That would make no difference to me. I'm not the owner. You or the landlord would pay the bill for the repairs."
“Why didn't you open the door?"
“Have I not done so as soon as you rung? A lady does not open the door to men who beat on it. Gentlemen usually ring; I thought it might be stragglers pounding,"
“Well,” growing much blander, ”we are going to send you some wagons to move; you must get ready."
“With pleasure, if you have selected a house for me. This is too large; it does not suit me."
“No, I didn't find a house for you."
“You surely don't expect me to run about in the dust and shelling to look for it, and Mr. L—— is too busy."
“Well, madam, then we must share the house. We will take the lower floor."
“I prefer to keep the lower floor myself; you surely don't expect me to go up and down stairs when you are so light and more able to do it"
He walked through the hall, trying the doors. ”What room is that?”—”The parlor.” "And this?"—"My bedroom.” "And this?"—"The dining-room."
“Well, madam, well find you a house and then come and take this."
“Thank you, colonel; I shall be ready when you find the house Good-morning, sir."
I heard him say as he ran down the steps, “We must go back, captain ; you see I didn't know they were this kind of people."
Of course the orderly had lied in the beginning to
scare me, for General P—— is too far away from Vicksburg to send an order.
He is looking about for General Grant We are told he has gone out to meet
Johnston; and together they expect to annihilate Grant's army and free
Vicksburg forever. There is now a general hospital opposite this house and
a small-pox hospital next door. War, famine, pestilence, and fire surround
us. Every day the band plays in front of the small-pox hospital. I wonder
if it is to keep up their spirits? One would suppose quiet would be more
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