A Woman's Diary of the Siege of Vicksburg
The Siege, June
Friday, June 5. In the cellar.— Wednesday evening H— said he must take a little walk, and went while the shelling had stopped. He never leaves me alone for long, and when an hour had passed without his return I grew anxious; and when two hours, and the shelling had grown terrific, I momentarily expected to see his mangled body. All sorts of horrors fill the mind now, and I am so desolate here; not a friend. When he came he said that passing a cave where there were no others near, he heard groans, and found a shell had struck above and caused the cave to fall in on the man within. He could not extricate him alone, and had to get help and dig him out. He was badly hurt, but not mortally, and I felt fairly sick from the suspense.
Yesterday morning a note was brought H— from a bachelor uncle out in the trenches, saying he had been taken ill with fever, and could we receive him if he came ? H— sent to tell him to come, and I arranged one of the parlors as a dressing-room for him, and laid a pallet that he could move back and forth to the cellar. He did not arrive, however. It is our custom in the evening to sit in the front room a little while in the dark, with matches and candle held ready in hand, and watch the shells, whose course at night is shown by the fuse. H— was at the window and suddenly sprang up, crying, "Run!"—" Where?"—"Back!"
I started through the back room, H— after me. I was just within the door when the crash came that threw me to the floor. It was the most appalling sensation I'd ever known. Worse than an earthquake, which I've also experienced. Shaken and deafened I picked myself up; H— had struck a light to find me. I lighted mine, and the smoke guided us to the parlor I had fixed for Uncle J—. The candles were useless in the dense smoke, and it was many minutes before we could see. Then we found the entire side of the room torn out. The soldiers who had rushed in said, " This is an eighty-pound Parrott" It had entered through the front, burst on the pallet-bed, which was in tatters; the toilet service and everything else in the room smashed. The soldiers assisted H— to board up the break with planks to keep out prowlers, and we went to bed in the cellar as usual. This morning the yard is partially plowed by a couple that fell there in the night. I think this house, so large and prominent from the river, is perhaps taken for headquarters and specially shelled. As we descend at night to the lower regions, I think of the evening hymn that grandmother taught me when a child:
Surely, if there are heavenly guardians we need them now.
June 7th. In the cellar.— There is one thing I feel especially grateful for, that amid these horrors we have been spared that of suffering for water. The weather has been dry a long time, and we hear of others dipping up the water from ditches and mud-holes. This place has two large underground cisterns of good cool water, and every night in my subterranean dressing-room a tub of cold water is the nerve-calmer that sends me to sleep in spite of the roar. One cistern I had to give up to the soldiers, who swarm about like hungry animals seeking something to devour. Poor fellows! my heart bleeds for them. They have nothing but spoiled, greasy bacon, and bread made of musty pea-flour, and but little of that. The sick ones can't bolt it. They come into the kitchen when Martha puts the pan of corn-bread in the stove, and beg for the bowl she mixed it in. They shake up the scrapings with water, put in their bacon, and boil the mixture into a kind of soup, which is easier to swallow than pea-bread. When I happen in, they look so ashamed of their poor clothes. I know we saved the lives of two by giving a few meals. To-day one crawled on the gallery to lie in the breeze. He looked as if shells had lost their terrors for his dumb and famished misery. I've taught Martha to make first-rate com-meal gruel, because I can eat meal easier that way than in hoe-cake, and I fixed him a saucerful, put milk and sugar and nutmeg — I've actually got a nut-meg. When he ate it the tears ran from his eyes. " Oh, madam, there was never anything so good! I shall get better."
June 9th.—The churches are a great resort for those who have no caves. People fancy they are not shelled so much, and they are substantial and the pews good to sleep in. We had to leave this house last night, they were shelling our quarter so heavily. The night before, Martha forsook the cellar for a church. We went to H—'s office, which was comparatively quiet last night. H— carried the bank box; I the case of matches; Martha the blankets and pillows, keeping an eye on the shells. We slept on piles of old newspapers. In the streets the roar seems so much more confusing, I feel sure I shall run right in the way of a shell. They seem to have five different sounds from the second of throwing them to the hollow echo wandering among the hills, and that sounds the most blood-curdling of all.
June 13th.— Shell burst just over the roof this morning. Pieces tore through both floors down into the dining-room. The entire ceiling of that room fell in a mass. We had just left it. Every piece of crockery on the table was smashed up. The “Daily Citizen" to-day is a foot and a half long and six inches wide. It has a long letter from a Federal officer, P. P. Hill, who was on the gun-boat Cincinnati, that was sunk May 27th. Says it was found in his floating trunk. The editorial says, "The utmost confidence is felt that we can maintain our position until succor comes from outside. The undaunted Johnston is at hand."
June l8th.— To-day the “Citizen" is printed on wall paper; therefore has grown a little in size. It says, "But a few days more and Johnston will be here"; also that "Kirby Smith hasdriven Banks from Port Hudson,” and that “the enemy are throwing incendiary shells in."
June 20th.—The gentleman who took our cave came yesterday to invite us to come to it, because, he said, ”it's going to be very bad to-day. ”I don't know why he thought so. We went, and found his own and another family in it; sat outside and watched the shells till we concluded the cellar was as good a place as that hill-side. I fear the want of good food is breaking down H—. I know from my own feelings of weakness, but mine is not an American constitution and has a recuperative power that his has not.
June 21st.—I had gone upstairs to-day during the interregnum to enjoy a rest on my bed and read the reliable items in the “Citizen,” when a shell burst right outside the window in front of me. Pieces flew in, striking all round me, tearing down masses of plaster that came tumbling over me. When H— rushed in I was crawling out of the plaster, digging it out of my eyes and hair. When he picked up a piece large as a saucer beside my pillow, I realized my narrow escape. The window-frame began to smoke, and we saw the house was on fire. H—— ran for a hatchet and I for water, and we put it out. Another shell came crashing near, and I snatched up my comb and brush and ran down here. It has taken all the afternoon to get the plaster out of my hair, for my hands were rather shaky.
June 28th.— A horrible day. The most horrible
yet to me, because I've lost my nerve. We were all in the cellar, when a
shell came tearing through the roof, burst upstairs, tore up that room,
and the pieces coming through both floors down into the cellar. One of
them tore open the leg of H—'s pantaloons. This was tangible proof the
cellar was no place of protection from them. On the heels of this came Mr.
J—, to tell us that young Mrs. P— had had her thigh-bone crushed. When
Martha went for the milk she came back horror-stricken to tell us the
black girl there had her arm taken off by a shell. For the first time I
quailed. I do not think people who are physically brave deserve much
credit for it; it is a matter of nerves. In this way I am constitutionally
brave, and seldom think of danger till it is over; and death has not the
terrors for me it has for some others. Every night I had lain down
expecting death, and every morning rose to the same prospect, without
being unnerved. It was for H— I trembled. But now I first seemed to
realize that something worse than death might come; I might be crippled,
and not killed. Life, without all one's powers and limbs, was a thought
that broke down my courage. I said to H—, "You must get me out of
this horrible place; I cannot stay; I know I shall be crippled. ”Now the
regret comes that I lost control, because H— is worried, and has lost his
composure, because my coolness has broken down.
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