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

December 19th.—The deep waters are closing over us and we are in this house, like the outsiders at the time of the flood. We care for none of these things. We eat, drink, laugh, dance, in lightness of heart.

Doctor Trezevant came to tell me the dismal news. How he piled on the agony! Desolation, mismanagement, despair. General Young, with the flower of Hampton’s cavalry, is in Columbia. Horses can not be found to mount them. Neither the Governor of Georgia nor the Governor of South Carolina is moving hand or foot. They have given up. The Yankees claim another victory for Thomas.[1] Hope it may prove like most of their victories, brag and bluster. Can’t say why, maybe I am benumbed, but I do not feel so intensely miserable.

[1] Reference is here made to the battle between Hood and Thomas at Nashville, the result of which was the breaking up of Hood’s army as a fighting force.


December 19th.—The darkest and most dismal day that ever dawned upon the earth, except one. There was no light when the usual hour came round, and later the sun refused to shine. There was fog, and afterward rain.

Northern papers say Hood has been utterly routed, losing all his guns!

A letter from Mr. —— to ——, dated Richmond, December 17th, 1864, says: “I have the honor to report my success as most remarkable and satisfactory. I have ascertained the whole Yankee mail line, from the gun-boats to your city, with all the agents save one. You will be surprised when informed, from the lowest to the highest class. The agent in your city, and most likely in your department, has yet to be discovered. This is as certain as what we have learned (his arrest, I mean), for the party in whose hands the mail is put coming from your city is known to us; and we have only to learn who gives him the mail, which can be done upon arrest, if not sooner, to know everything. What shall be done with the parties (spies, of course) when we are ready to act? If you ever intimate that trials are tedious, etc., the enemy seize citizens from some neighborhood as hostages, when their emissaries are disturbed. I will dispatch, if it be authorized, and that will end the matter. The lady I spoke to you of is the fountain-head. What to do with females troubles me, for I dislike to be identified with their arrest.

“I request that a good boat, with three torpedoes, and a man who understands working them, be sent to Milford to report to me at Edge Hill. Let the man be mum on all questions. I would meet him at Milford, if I knew the day (distance is twenty-five miles), with a wagon, to take him, torpedoes, and boat to the point required. I must be sure of the day.

“Have the following advertisement published in Monday’s papers:

“‘Yankees Escaped! $1000 Reward !—A Yankee officer and three privates escaped from prison on Thursday night, with important matter upon their persons. The above reward will be given for their detection.’

“Let me hear from you through Cawood’s Line, upon receipt of this. Respectfully, etc. ——.”

We have the spectacle now of three full generals—Johnston, Beauregard, and Bragg—without armies to command; and the armies in the field apparently melting away under the lead of subordinate, if not incompetent leaders. So much for the administration of the Adjutant-General’s office.

Governor Smith is still exempting deputy sheriffs, constables, etc.—all able-bodied.

It is rumored on the street that we intend evacuating Savannah. How did that get out—if, indeed, such is the determination? There are traitors in high places—or near them.

It is also rumored that the Danville Railroad has been cut. I don’t believe it—yet.

There is deep vexation in the city—a general apprehension that our affairs are rapidly approaching a crisis such as has not been experienced before. There is also much denunciation of the President for the removal of Gen. Johnston from the command of the Army of Tennessee.

Hon. Mr. Foote declared, Saturday, that he would resign his seat if the bill to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, now pending, became a law. There is much consternation—but it is of a sullen character, without excitement.

The United States Congress has ordered that notice be given Great Britain of an intention on the part of the Federal Government to increase the naval force on the lakes; also a proposition has been introduced to terminate the Reciprocity Treaty. And Gen. Dix orders his military subordinates to pursue any rebel raiders even into Canada and bring them over. So, light may come from that quarter. A war with England would be our peace.

At 2 P.M. it was rumored that Charleston is taken and Beauregard a prisoner. Also that Gen. Jos. E. Johnston (in the city) says Richmond will be evacuated in ten days. I do not learn what gold sells at to-day! I suspect some coup d’état is meditated.


Fort Gillem, Monday, Dec. 19. Last night it rained very heavily again and continued till noon to-day. So furiously did it storm that it poured through our tent wetting everything. Poor me on guard. Afternoon turned very cold and freezing; it looked like snow. This is most disagreeable for camp life such as ours. All day we must move with muddy feet where at night most of the boys are obliged to spread their wet and dirty blankets to sleep.

Last night we received a big mail from Wisconsin. It told us of snow and ice, but there was the cheering fireside, warm room and cozy bed, and I could but long for these comforts once more.

I have been reading aloud the last evenings, Frances Keinble’s Journal on a Georgia Plantation. To-night I finished it. How sickening and disgusting is the detail of this sin of slavery, and I thank God that a better day is dawning on the poor wronged African. What are the trials of camp life compared with the great work we are engaged in. I can cheerfully bear all the discomforts of a soldier’s life for the overthrow of the monster evil.


Before Savannah, December 19, 1864.

We have only been here a couple of days, but to-night we are to make and occupy a line within 700 yards of the Rebels.


19th. Wrote home. Orders to march in the morning at 6:30 A. M.


Monday, 19th.—Crossed Duck River and marched five miles. 2 P. M., Brigade ordered back to Columbia. Being sick, I did not go back, but turned aside and built me a fire.


Monday, 19th—Weather pleasant. Reveille sounded at 1 a. m. and at 2 o’clock our brigade started for the rifle pits in front of Savannah. The first brigade was left at the bridge to guard the landing and to unload the boats. A little before daylight, unnoticed by the rebels, we passed over the same causeway that we went down on, and after marching about nine miles we formed a line of battle and sent out skirmishers. We soon drove the rebels across the swamp. They used grape and canister on us, but did little harm. At all the points where they have the roads blockaded, we have planted sixty-four-pounders, which keep their guns silent. There is some heavy cannonading and brisk skirmishing all along the lines.


Colonel Lyon’s Letters.


Dec. 18, 1864.—Some time or other you will get a batch of letters from me which I have written during our blockade. In them you will find a history of our movements for a month.

Well, tonight we got orders from General Thomas to go back and reoccupy the railroad to Decatur; and tomorrow we expect to leave here for Huntsville. We do not anticipate any resistance, and shall probably get there on Tuesday, as we go by railroad.

The rebels occupy Decatur in some force and we may have to go down and clean them out before we settle down anywhere. We get with the orders to move the news of the glorious victory over Hood, telegraphed to General Granger by General Whipple (Mrs. Sandford’s brother), who is General Thomas’ chief of staff. Hood is badly damaged and will probably be ruined before he can get his army off—but you already know all about this. You probably will not hear from me again for a week, as communications will be rather unsettled for awhile longer.


Sunday, December 18th.—Raining.

The old dull sound of bombs down the river. Nothing further from Savannah. It is now believed that the raiders in Western Virginia did not attack Saltville, and that the works are safe. For two days the speculators have been buying salt, and have put up the price to $1.50 per pound. I hope they will be losers. The State distributes salt to-morrow: ten pounds to each member of a family, at 20 cents per pound.

The President’s malady is said to be neuralgia in the head—an evanescent affliction, and by no means considered dangerous. At least such is the experience in my family.

It was amusing, however, to observe the change of manner of the Secretaries and of heads of bureaus toward Vice-President Stephens, when it was feared the President was in extremis. Mr. Hunter, fat as he is, flew about right briskly.

If Savannah falls, our currency will experience another depreciation, and the croaking reconstructionists will be bolder.

The members of the Virginia Assembly propose paying themselves $50 per day!

Congress has not yet passed the act increasing the compensation of members.


Chapin’s Farm, Va., December 18, 1864.

Dear Father:—

A sentence in S’s letter has troubled me considerably lately. He says, “Father is growing old fast. His hair is white as snow, and his old complaint, the diarrhea, is troubling him very much.” Mother had written me that a very good physician there had entirely cured you of that and I was somewhat surprised to hear such news from him. Is this true? I wish you would write me freely about your health and condition, and prospects among your people. I had formed the opinion from the family letters, particularly Mother’s, that you were getting along better there than ever before. I heard of some trouble about a house and of some political difficulties in the church, but I did not suppose these things were serious enough to wear upon your health as some old troubles have done.

Do you make out to live upon your salary these hard times? The family is some smaller with L., E. and me away, and I should judge from reports that S. and C. earned nearly enough to feed and clothe themselves, but with everything you have to buy, at double the old rates, I cannot see how you manage.

Yesterday was my birthday, and I am twenty-five years old. It is time I was a man if ever I am to be one, but there is much of the boy about me yet. Still I dread growing old, and the years fly by all too swiftly. I begin to have that feeling already that I am too old for what I have accomplished and I am looking forward anxiously to know what I shall do when we have peace once more. Till that time my duty is plain, and I do not remember to have had at any time any other purpose than to remain in the army till peace is won, if my life is spared so long. Then comes the thought, what then? The war may last another year and I shall be twenty-six and be ready to start in life for myself, with no capital but a small stock of brains. Sometimes, when I think of these things, I wonder if I can have missed it in giving these four starting years to my country. There is Chapman, who was my class and roommate during my last term at school. We were then as nearly on a par in almost all respects as could be. Both sons of poor ministers with ourselves to depend on. He pursued the course I had marked out for myself, went down to Ohio teaching, and then to college, and he has worked his way into his senior year. He has spent three months in the army and we have maintained a correspondence all the time. Next year he will graduate and marry and settle down to law. He says he envies me my record of the past four years, but I rather think it is his friendly style of fame, for he had as fair a chance to make that record as I. Now is he better off than I? My spirit would hardly brook the thought in coming years that while other young men were giving their time to their country I was giving mine to myself, and no doubt the man who has fought this war through will receive from the community all due honor, but honor is not going to support him, and what is, is a serious question. Another serious question is at what age can I marry? Very few young men set out with the intention to remain single and I am not among the few, but I have always thought I would not marry till I had something to support a wife on, either money, or money and educated brains. I have a horror of being the head of a poverty-stricken family. Now I have given up my hopes of a college education. It is too late, and my education must be such as I am getting now, and I am not sure but it is better so. Some hold the opinion that a young man can do better on the same means with a wife than without—that the right sort of wife is not an expense but a help to him. I want your opinion about that in my own case.