July 21st, 1866.—This is the anniversary of the Battle of Manassas. How hopeful we were then and it seems ages ago, so much has been crowded into life in these last years. The weather is intensely warm, clouds are gathering and a storm is evidently brewing. That will cool us off. Uncle Randal died today and Father feels it very much. He was so good to his slaves and really fond of them.
July 4th, 1866.—We do not keep the Glorious Fourth ; we feel no thrills of patriotism when the stars and stripes float on the breeze. That is, we are not thrilled with love of country. Our flag has been immortalized by Father Ryan in the “Conquered Banner” and in its furled folds all our love of country, all our patriotism is enfolded.
“Furl that banner, it is gory,
Yet ’tis wreathed around with Glory,
And ’twill live in song and story
Though its folds are in the dust.
For though conquered, we adore it
Low the cold dead hands that bore it
And wildly we deplore it
Furl its folds though now we must.”
There are hard things in life ; we cannot see why and faith must be our guide along this uncertain road. Some day, perhaps, we will understand and in time we may even forgive but never can we forget.
June 5th, 1866.—I will have to do some shopping and I am such a very indifferent shopper, but Mother positively will not go to Tallahassee, while the blue-coats have possession and Sister Mart is not here. Sister Mag is not well enough to trouble her with such things and Aunt Sue has gone away for the remainder of the summer. Father says make a list and give it to him and he will write to Smallwood, Earle & Co., to buy in New York and. ship to him. Mrs. Smallwood is a friend of the family and will select what I describe.
Captain Bernard is going to Europe and will get the silk dresses I need, in France. There is a first-class dressmaker in Tallahassee, so I hope we will not have too much trouble with my trousseau.
I wish they were willing for me to have only simple clothes for I am marrying a poor man and I do not ever intend to live beyond his means. Father would be willing but Mother and the sisters think, because they had these clothes I must have them, too. One thing certain, Father shall not get me any expensive jewelry, he shall not get any at all; I would not see him worried for the most costly gems in the world.
May 15th, 1866.—We did not stay as long as we expected and Sister Mart came home with us. Night before last we were sitting in the parlor and Captain Houstoun was sitting outside, on the porch talking to the doctor, who attends the plantation. The Captain has a low voice but the doctor has a loud, rasping voice, which carries far. We could not avoid hearing him if we had wished to do so.
“Yes, Captain,” he said, “this case is the worst case of confluent small-pox I ever saw in my life. You can hardly tell he is a human being; he is just a mass of corruption.”
When Captain Houstoun returned to the room I asked where this case of small-pox was? He made light of it and called the doctor “a calamity howler,” but before I slept I had looked up Fannie, Sister Mart’s black mammy, and found out from her that the sick negro was in a cabin very near the house in which we were staying.
That was enough. No rest for the Captain until he made arrangements for us to leave the next morning. Bright and early we went to Gainesville, where we waited for the train to take us home.
Last spring a battle was fought in the streets of Gainesville between General Dickinson’s men and the Yankees. The doors and windows of the dwellings are still full of holes from the musket balls and splintered wood-work showed where the artillery had showered shot and shell. The citizens showed us where the branches had been cut from the trees by these same balls. The hotel where we waited had been the centre of the attack and was sadly in need of repairs, both to wood-work and glass.
Leaving Gainesville behind us, we gladly welcomed the “iron horse” which would take us back to Tallahassee. There was a stop at every little station and at one of these a stout young man in farmer’s clothes almost lifted into the car, a feeble old woman. She was dressed in black calico, with a bonnet of the same, and she was weeping bitterly.
As the man turned away, after kissing her goodbye, he said, “He’ll meet you at the depot, Mother, I writ him you was comin’.”
Again we were on our way, the poor old woman continued to sob. When lunch time came, I fixed as tempting a lunch as I could and, pouring a glass of port wine, I took it to the end of the car, where she was sitting and asked if she would not have some dinner?
Her poor old face was red and swollen and her voice trembled as she said, “Thank you, but I don’t feel like I ever want enything to eat no more.”
Are you sick ? I asked.
“No, I ain’t sick in the body, it’s my heart is sick,” she replied.
“Try to eat just a little bite,” I begged, “and drink this wine, it is not strong and it will do you good.”
“Jis to please you chile,” she said, but appetite was lacking and her efforts to eat were soon over. “Suppose you tell me what is troubling you, maybe I can help,” said I.
“No, no,” she sobbed. “You nur nobody can help, they is hanged my baby, my dear baby, what never done nothing to nobody.”
I was shocked beyond measure and my first thought was that I had found a lunatic, but her next words told the whole dreadful story.
“Chile, ain’t you read the papers ?” she cried. “Don’t You know how them devils hung poor Mrs. Surratt and my boy, my baby boy? The papers call him Lewis Payne, but that warn’t his name, he tuken that name so he couldn’t be caught up with. When Conscription fust come and my oldest son went in the army and wore the gray clothes, I mourned and cried but pretty soon he deserted and after he hid around a while, he went to the Union men and he tole ’em he couldn’t noways fight but he would work for them if he could get a safe place. Them men sent him up North somewhere and he done pretty well.
“All this time my baby boy was growing bigger and bigger and I knowed soon the conscriptors would be a takin’ him, so I writ a letter to the Yankee general an’ tole him he could have my baby son if he would let him work in a shop. Soon some of the blue-coats come and got him an’ they said I must remember his name was Lewis Payne and his home would be Washington City and he hadn’t ever been in Florida. I promised all this and I was so satisfied because I had kept him out of the Confederate Army. I thought it was such a smart thing to do, and now, they have killed my chile—they hung him with a rope. They said he had plotted to murder President Lincoln. My baby chile, who never had the heart to hurt nothing.”
I found myself crying with this poor mother, she was old and ignorant, she had tried to cheat her country and this was her reward.
The train slowed up, another man closely resembling the first, boarded the train. He took the weeping woman in his arms, kissing her wrinkled face and murmuring words of comfort, but is there any comfort for such self-reproach as hers ? I will probably never see her again but I shall not forget.
I did not write of these happenings in my diary because it was heart-rending and such a blot on the history of any country. Some day when reason resumes her sway, even the perpetrators of these cruel and useless murders will blush with shame for their own ignominy. The reckoning will not come here on this earth, but what will be the verdict when they stand before the bar of God? I am sorry I saw this broken woman but I wish I could remember the real name of her murdered son. She told me but I cannot recall it. All the way home I thought of her and I am debating whether to tell Father and Mother of her or not. It has made me feel dreadfully. I wept, for Anna Surratt was refused even the scant comfort of bidding her mother goodbye.
May 2nd, 1866.—All is ready and we leave as soon as breakfast is over. Goodbye little Diary. “Sleep tight and wake bright,” for I will need you when I return.
May 1st, 1866.—Now that Sister Mart is feeling better, she is beginning to talk of going back to Marion County. Captain Houstoun says he has been keeping “bachelor’s hall” quite long enough. She has invited Cousin Martha, Nina Houstoun and me to go back with her and will also invite other guests and have a merry “House Party.” Captain promises us “all the beaux in Marion and some besides.”
We are going and doubtless will enjoy it, but I hate to leave home when our domestic affairs are in such shape. We never know when, as uncle Arvah says, “servants will turn up missing.” I am gradually learning how to do the needful things and am really a help in the house but Father and Mother think it best for me to go. Sister Mart has had a long and serious illness and has but little strength.
I am going to leave you at home, my Diary. I will have to share a room with the other girls and it is best for you to be out of the way.
April 24th, 1866.—William Henry Harrison bade us goodbye this morning. Long since he has discarded the Yankee uniform he wore when he first came, and looks well in his suit of white and the cap, which he insisted on wearing, though we told him it belonged to a chef.
“Never mind” he said, “when I gets back to ole Virginny to my ole mistis, the fust thing she is gwine to ask me is, ‘William, are your dining room suits clean?’ ”
He said the cap was considered a part of this equipment. We are sorry to give him up, his “ole mistis” certainly knew how he ought to be trained. Many of the negro soldiers, who were disbanded here at Centreville, have hired out on the plantations in the vicinity and some have invested their pay in small farms. Land sells for almost nothing now.
Brother Amos says we are all “land poor,” and we truly have but little else. I had a crowd of girls to stay a few days and we had a delightful time. In the evenings the boys of our acquaintance came and we danced or played cards.
I do not let anyone but Father see my diary and sometimes he criticises. He only reads selected portions but he asked, “Why is it you say so little of your girl friends, when you are so fond of them and take such pleasure in their company?”
I told him that from my earliest recollection of such matters, Mother has impressed upon me the importance of speaking well of other girls. She says nothing sounds worse than to hear one girl speak ill of her companions, and that a woman should always take sides with her sister woman. This is why I do not write or speak of any faults I see and with this thought continually following me I have fallen into the habit of saying nothing, in that way I cast no reflections.
April 23rd, 1866.—Father is looking better than he has for a year past. After the negroes left us in January, he concluded not to plant a crop of any kind but simply use his broad acres for pasture. He has a very large herd of cattle and a vast number of hogs, and these continue to increase. Though the number is often cut down by the freedmen, who lose no opportunity to help themselves, there are enough left to make quite a show. When the year 1865 ended Sergeant Cornell and Private Hibell were recalled by General Foster and I rather dreaded for Father, in his state of health, to have to struggle with plantation life. I see now I need not have feared for him.
Once having made up his mind as to the best course to pursue he is perfectly content; he has always been a student and he finds great pleasure in study. He also likes us to listen, in his leisure hours, while he tells us of his researches. This is very improving and, what I like even better, are the arguments carried on in his library. When men of bright minds get together it is a treat to listen. We go to ride every morning in Father’s big, old-fashioned buggy. He taught me to drive long ago and I enjoy it.
Colonel Wyatt Aiken was here a few days ago and he drove over all three plantations with Father. He is preparing to bring out a new farming magazine, “The Rural Carolinian,” and is gathering all available material. I wish he had been here when Dr. Caldwell spent the night with us. I learned from hearing him talking to Father what causes the difference between the white and the black races. Father, being a physician, knew it but he had not thought best to tell me. I am no longer a child, however, and while I have not exactly “laid aside childish things,” I take a deep interest in scientific investigation. I came near going to sleep over some statistics Colonel Wyatt gave us relating to soils and fertilizers.
April 22nd, 1866.— I have had a trying time today. Soon after breakfast this morning my friend, the captain was announced. He came alone and he was in no hurry to go. Again he offered for my acceptance the splendid, sparkling French Marquise ring. He has made all his arrangements to go to Brazil and there make his home and he wants me to go with him, but that, I cannot do. Even if there was no other reason I would not be willing to leave our poor, conquered country to her fate. This is the time for every true-hearted, loyal son and daughter of the South to bend every energy to restore and upbuild the ruin the war has wrought. We can do this and with God’s help we will. But there is another reason still and I had to tell the captain this before he could be convinced that his case was a hopeless one. He described in glowing colors the ease and luxury of the life in Brazil; the wealth to be acquired in that favored land; he painted sad pictures of the trials which awaited those who elected to cast in their fortunes with a country devastated and ruined as this is; he said Southern women were totally unfit for hardship. Perhaps so, but like my Scotch ancestress, “I am minded to try it” and, though I forbore to tell him so.
“I had rather wed Jamie, wi’ bonnet in han’, than to wed Saundie wi’ housen and lan’.”
April 3rd, 1866.—As soon as they could pull themselves together after the war, the women of the South organized The Southern Woman’s Memorial Association. We all belong to it and a call has been made on the members to get to work and prepare for a fair, to be held in Tallahassee. This Fair is to raise money to erect a monument to our heroes. The plan is for each section of the State to have in readiness the best of the productions of that section, and in December we will have the Fair and the call is for as many as possible to be present.
It was made so far ahead that the housekeepers and those who embroider might have time enough to prepare their wares. Only in this way can we erect a monument. Our people are ruined by the war; few have enough left to provide for daily needs. Some wealthy ones still have a little left but I fear they, too, will come to want, as they do not realize the conditions which confront us. It is so natural to spend when you can get the money, with no thought for the future. Anyway, we must have that monument.