A Woman's Diary of the Siege of Vicksburg
July 4th.— It is evening. All is still. Silence and night are once more united. I can sit at the table in the parlor and write. Two candles are lighted. I would like a dozen. We have had wheat supper and wheat bread once more. H— is leaning back in the rocking-chair; he says:
"G——, it seems to me I can hear the silence, and feel it, too. It wraps me like a soft garment; how else can I express this peace?"
But I must write the history of the last twenty-four hours. About five yesterday afternoon, Mr. J—, H—'s assistant, who, having no wife to keep him in, dodges about at every change and brings us the news, came to H— and said:
“Mr. L—, you must both come to our cave to-night. I hear that to-night the shelling is to surpass everything yet. An assault will be made in front and rear. You know we have a double cave; there is room for you in mine, and mother and sister will make a place for Mrs. L—. Come right up; the ball will open about seven."
We got ready, shut up the house, told Martha to go to the church again if she preferred it to the cellar, and walked up to Mr. J—'s. When supper was eaten, all secure, and ladies in their cave night toilet, it was just six, and we crossed the street to the cave opposite. As I crossed a mighty shell flew screaming right over my head. It was the last thrown into Vicksburg. We lay on our pallets waiting for the expected roar, but no sound came except the chatter from neighboring caves, and at last we dropped asleep. I woke at dawn stiff. A draught from the funnel-shaped opening had been blowing on me all night Every one was expressing surprise at the quiet. We started for home and met the editor of the “Daily Citizen." H— said:
“This is strangely quiet, Mr. L—."
“Ah, sir," shaking his head gloomily, “I'm a afraid (?) the last shell has been thrown into Vicksburg."
“Why do you fear so ?”
"It is surrender. At six last evening a man went down to the river and blew a truce signal; the shelling stopped at once."
When I entered the kitchen a soldier was there waiting for the bowl of scrapings (they took turns for it).
"Good-morning, madam," he said; “we won't bother you much longer. We can't thank you enough for letting us come, for getting this soup boiled has helped some of us to keep alive, but now all this is over."
"Is it true about the surrender ?”
“Yes; we have had no official notice, but they are paroling out at the lines now, and the men in Vicksburg will never forgive Pemberton. An old granny! A child would have known better than to shut men up in this cursed trap to starve to death like useless vermin.” His eyes flashed with an insane fire as he spoke. “Haven't I seen my friends carted out three or four in a box, that had died of starvation! Nothing else, madam! Starved to death because we had a fool for a general."
“Don't you think you're rather hard on Pemberton ? He thought it his duty to wait for Johnston."
“Some people may excuse him, ma'am, but we'll curse him to our dying day. Anyhow, you'll see the blue-coats directly."
Breakfast dispatched, we went on the upper gallery. What I expected to see was files of soldiers inarching in, but it was very different. The street was deserted, save by a few people carrying home bedding from their caves. Among these was a group taking home a little creature, born in a cave a few days previous, and its wan-looking mother. About eleven o'clock a man in blue came sauntering along, looking about curiously. Then two followed him, then another.
"H—, do you think these can be the Federal soldiers?”
"Why, yes; here come more up the street."
Soon a group appeared on the court-house hill, and the flag began slowly to rise to the top of the staff. As the breeze caught it, and it sprang out like a live thing exultant, H— drew a long breath of contentment.
“Now I feel once more at home in mine own country."
In an hour more a grand rush of people setting toward the river began,—foremost among them the gentleman who took our cave; all were flying as if for life.
"What can this mean, H—? Are the populace turning out to greet the despised conquerors ?”
“Oh," said H—, springing up, “look! It is the boats coming around the bend."
Truly, it was a fine spectacle to see that fleet of transports sweep around the curve and anchor in the teeth of the batteries so lately vomiting fire. Presently Mr. J— passed and called:
“Aren't you coming, Mr. L—? There's provisions on those boats: coffee and flour. ( First come, first served,' you know.”
“Yes, I'll be there pretty soon,” replied H—.
But now the new-comers began to swarm into our yard, asking H— if he had coin to sell for greenbacks. He had some, and a little bartering went on with the new green-backs. H— went out to get provisions. When he returned a Confederate officer came with him. H— went to the box of Confederate money and took out four hundred dollars, and the officer took off his watch, a plain gold one, and laid it on the table, saying, “We have not been paid, and I must get home to my family." H— added a five-dollar greenback to the pile, and wished him a happy meeting. The townsfolk continued to dash through the streets with their arms full, canned goods predominating. Towards five Mr. J—passed again. "Keep on the lookout," he said; “the army of occupation is coming along,” and in a few minutes the head of the column appeared. What a contrast to the suffering creatures we had seen so long were these stalwart, well-fed men, so splendidly set up and accoutered. Sleek horses, polished arms, bright plumes,— this was the pride and panoply of war. Civilization, discipline, and order seemed to enter with the measured tramp of those marching columns; and the heart turned with throbs of added pity to the worn men in gray, who were being blindly dashed against this embodiment of modern power. And now this “silence that is golden” indeed is over all, and my limbs are unhurt, and I suppose if I were Catholic, in my fervent gratitude, I would hie me with a rich offering to the shrine of ”our Lady of Mercy."
July 7th.—I did not enjoy quiet long. First came Martha, who announced her intention of going to search for her sons, as she was free now. I was hardly able to stand since the severe cold taken in the cave that night, but she would not wait a day. A colored woman came in and said she had asked her mistress for wages and she had turned her out (wanting a place). I was in no condition to stand upon ceremony then, and engaged her at once, but hear to-day that I am thoroughly pulled to pieces in Vicksburg circles; there is no more salvation for me. Next came two Federal officers and wanted rooms and board. To have some protection was a necessity; both armies were still in town, and for the past three days every Confederate soldier I see has a cracker in his hand. There is hardly any water in town, no prospect of rain, and the soldiers have emptied one cistern in the yard already and begun on the other. The colonel put a guard at the gate to limit the water given. Next came the owner of the house and said we must move; he wanted the house, but it was so big he'd just bring his family in; we could stay till we got one. They brought boarders with them too, and children. Men are at work all over the house shoveling up the plaster before repairing. Upstairs they are pouring it by bucketfuls through the windows. Colonel D— brought work for H— to help with from headquarters. Making out the paroles and copying them has taken so long they wanted help. I am surprised and mortified to find that two-thirds of all the men who have signed made their mark; they cannot write. I never thought there was so much ignorance in the South. One of the men at headquarters took a fancy to H— and presented him with a portfolio, that he said he had captured when the Confederates evacuated their headquarters at Jackson. It contained mostly family letters written in French, and a few official papers. Among them was the following note, which I will copy here, and file away the original as a curiosity when the war is over.
I would like to know if he tried it and came to grief or abandoned the project. As letters can now get through to New Orleans I wrote there.
July l4th.—Moved yesterday into a house ' I call “Fair Rosamond's bower” because it would take a due of thread to go through it without getting lost. One room has five doors opening into the house, and no windows. The stairs are like ladders, and the colonel's contraband valet won't risk his neck taking down water, but pours it through the windows on people's heads. We sha’n’t stay in it. Men are at work dosing up the caves; they had become hiding-places for trash. Vicksburg is now like . one vast hospital — every one is getting sick or is sick. My cook was taken to-day with bilious fever, and nothing but will keeps me up.
July 23d.—We moved again two days ago.
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