Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Mrs. Lyon’s Diary.

 

April 24, 1865.—Last night while we were waiting for the cars there came up as hard a thunder storm as I almost ever heard, and so many of us were driven into the depot that the men went into empty cars. The train did not come until after midnight, and as it was then raining so hard and was so muddy, the question was raised as to how I was to get to the cars, but Jerry said that he could “tote” me, which he did. It was nearly night when we got to Knoxville. We were delayed by trains ahead of us being off the track.

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Alexandria, Va., April 24th, 1865.

One year ago we passed through this city on our way to Richmond. Today we tread its streets with buoyant feet, on our way home, our work accomplished.

I am filled with gratitude that I am permitted to see this day. ‘Tis a long, weary road, the one we traveled, but what matter now? A year’s campaign! Surely it has few parallels in history. Eleven months, lacking nine days, the Ninth Corps occupied the trenches before Petersburg, under fire both night and day; but the grand results more than compensate for all our sufferings.

We are going home, soon as the coils of red tape that bind us hand and foot can be unwound.

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W., 24th.—On Saturday evening my brother’s wagon met us at the depot and brought us to this place, beautiful in its ruins. We have not been here since the besom of destruction swept over it, and to us, who have been in the habit of enjoying its hospitality when all was bright and cheerful, the change is very depressing. We miss the respectful and respectable servants, born in the family and brought up with an affection for the household which seemed a part of their nature, and which so largely contributed to the happiness both of master and servant. Even the nurse of our precious little J., the sole child of the house, whose heart seemed bound up in her happiness, has gone. It is touching to hear the sweet child’s account of the shock she experienced when she found that her “mammy,” deceived and misled by the minions who followed Grant’s army, had left her; and to see how her affection still clings to her, showing itself in the ardent hope that her “mammy” has found a comfortable home. The army had respected the interior of the house, because of the protection of the officers. Only one ornament was missing, and that was the likeness of this dear child. Since the fall of Richmond, a servant of the estate, who had been living in Washington, told me that it was in the possession of a maid-servant of the house, who showed it to him, saying that she “looked at it every day.” We all try to be cheerful and to find a bright side; and we occupy the time as cheerfully as we can. The governess having returned to her home in Norfolk, I shall employ myself in teaching my bright little niece here and the dear children at S. H., and feel blessed to have so pleasant a duty.

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April 24.—Fannie Gaylord and Kate Lapham have returned from their eastern trip and told us of attending the President’s funeral in Albany, and I had a letter from Bessie Seymour, who is in New York, saying that she walked in the procession until half past two in the morning, in order to see his face. They say that they never saw him in life, but in death he looked just as all the pictures represent him. We all wear Lincoln badges now, with pin attached. They are pictures of Lincoln upon a tiny flag, bordered with crape. Susie Daggett has just made herself a flag, six feet by four. It was a lot of work. Mrs. Noah T. Clarke gave one to her husband upon his birthday, April 8. I think everybody ought to own a flag.

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Sunday, 23d—We had regimental inspection at 10 a. m. and this afternoon at 2 o’clock our division was reviewed by General Smith. The division came out in good style.

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23rd. Was unable to get out on account of my neck. Read Thede’s diaries to Ma and Melissa, and talked about him. Minnie in a short time. Read Atlantic. Melissa went to church in P. M. Played with Carrie. Quite a wintry day. Prof. Peck very kind to the family.

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Village, St. Helena, S.C., April 23, 1865.

We did go to Charleston to that great celebration, and on the very day that vile assassin was doing his work, or had accomplished it.[1] Such shouts and cheers went up for Lincoln from the freed people of Charleston, at the mention of his name by Garrison at the great meeting in Zion Church, that it must have done him good even in his death. I never saw such enthusiasm as they showed every time he was mentioned. On the island here they are inconsolable and will not believe he is dead. In the church this morning they prayed for him as wounded but still alive, and said that he was their Saviour — that Christ saved them from sin, and he from “Secesh,” and as for the vile Judas who had lifted his hand against him, they prayed the Lord the whirlwind would carry him away, and that he would melt as wax in the fervent heat, and be driven forever from before the Lord. Was n’t it the cunning of the Devil that did the deed; and they are going to prove him insane! When he was wise enough to strike the one in whom all could trust, and whose death would inevitably throw confusion and doubt into the popular mind of the North! And then to single out Seward[2] in hopes that the next Secretary might embroil us with Europe and so give them another chance! It is so hard to wait a week or two before we know what comes next.

But I must tell you of our trip to Charleston. General Saxton gave us all passes, and a large party of teachers went from this island with Mr. Ruggles — good, kind, handsome fellow — to escort us. We stayed at a house kept by the former servants or slaves of Governor Aiken.

I was dreadfully seasick going up, and the day after I got there had to go to bed, and so I missed seeing many things I should have liked to visit. It stood — the house we stayed at — in the very heart of the shelled part of the city, and had ever so many balls through it. The burnt part of the town is the picture of desolation, and the detested “old sugar-house,” as the workhouse was called, looks like a giant in his lair. It was where all the slaves were whipped, and the whipping-room was made with double walls filled in with sand so that the cries could not be heard in the street. The treadmill and all kinds of tortures were inflicted there. I wanted to make sure of the building and asked an old black woman if that was the old sugar-house. “Dat’s it,” she said, “but it’s all played out now.” On Friday we went to Sumter, got good seats in the amphitheatre inside, near the pavilion for the speakers, and had a good opportunity to see all. I think there was not that enthusiasm in Anderson that I expected, and Henry Ward Beecher addressed himself to the “citizens of Charleston,” when there were not a dozen there. He spoke very much by note, and quite without fire.

At Sumter I bought several photographs, and send you one of the face [of the fortress] farthest from Wagner, Gregg, and our assailing forts, and consequently pretty well preserved. The other side is a mass of ruins and big balls. If you look closely you will see rows of basket-work, filled with sand, repairing a break. The whole inside of the fort is lined with them.

The next day was the grand day, however, when Wilson, Garrison, Thompson, Kelly, Tilton, and others spoke. Redpath mentioned John Brown’s name, and asked the great congregation to sing his favorite hymn, “Blow ye the Trumpet,” or “Year of Jubilee.”

I spoke to Judge Kelly afterwards and had a nice promise from him that he would send me all his speeches. We came home on Sunday and found all the missing boxes arrived, — or nearly all, — among them, mine. You do not know how intensely we all enjoy your picture — that exquisite sea-view. How could you spare me such a picture! I lie down on our sofa which faces it, and do so heartily enter into the freshness of it that it is refreshing in this hot weather. Many thanks to you.


[1] Abraham Lincoln was assassinated April 14, 1865.

[2] An attempt was also made to assassinate Secretary of State Seward.

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Chattanooga, Sunday, April 23. Cold night but warm midday. Wrote my usual letters, read, etc. Grazing in the afternoon took up most of the time. No danger of ennui at present. Health very good.

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April 23d.—My silver wedding-day, and I am sure the unhappiest day of my life. Mr. Portman came with Christopher Hampton. Portman told of Miss Kate Hampton, who is perhaps the most thoroughly ladylike person in the world. When he told her that Lee had surrendered she started up from her seat and said, “That is a lie.” “Well, Miss Hampton, I tell the tale as it was told me. I can do no more.”

No wonder John Chesnut is bitter. They say Mulberry has been destroyed by a corps commanded by General Logan. Some one asked coolly, “Will General Chesnut be shot as a soldier, or hung as a senator?” “I am not of sufficient consequence,” answered he. “They will stop short of brigadiers. I resigned my seat in the United States Senate weeks before there was any secession. So I can not be hung as a senator. But after all it is only a choice between drumhead court martial, short shrift, and a lingering death at home from starvation.”

These negroes are unchanged. The shining black mask they wear does not show a ripple of change; they are sphinxes. Ellen has had my diamonds to keep for a week or so. When the danger was over she handed them back to me with as little apparent interest in the matter as if they had been garden peas.

Mrs. Huger was in church in Richmond when the news of the surrender came. Worshipers were in the midst of the communion service. Mr. McFarland was called out to send away the gold from his bank. Mr. Minnegerode’s English grew confused. Then the President was summoned, and distress of mind showed itself in every face. The night before one of General Lee’s aides, Walter Taylor, was married, and was off to the wars immediately after the ceremony.

One year ago we left Richmond. The Confederacy has double-quicked down hill since then. One year since I stood in that beautiful Hollywood by little Joe Davis’s grave. Now we have burned towns, deserted plantations, sacked villages. “You seem resolute to look the worst in the face,” said General Chesnut, wearily. “Yes, poverty, with no future and no hope.” “But no slaves, thank God!” cried Buck. “We would be the scorn of the world if the world thought of us at all. You see, we are exiles and paupers.” “Pile on the agony.” “How does our famous captain, the great Lee, bear the Yankees’ galling chain?” I asked. “He knows how to possess his soul in patience,” answered my husband. “If there were no such word as subjugation, no debts, no poverty, no negro mobs backed by Yankees; if all things were well, you would shiver and feel benumbed,” he went on, pointing at me in an oratorical attitude. “Your sentence is pronounced—Camden for life.”

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Mrs. Lyon’s Diary.

Bull’s Gap, Sunday, April 23, 1865.—We have sent all the things to the cars. Stayed all day under a borrowed fly to a tent. Captain King invited us to take tea with him. He lives in a part of the depot. We will take the cars here for Knoxville.

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