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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19—We remained in camp till ten o’clock, then moved to Conrad’s Store on the Shenandoah River, seventeen miles east of Harrisonburg. Jackson’s troops are all camped here. This is the first time on this campaign that we have camped with or near Jackson’s infantry.

Saturday, April 19.— Rained violently; starting postponed. Order modified to marching by easy stages to Flat Top Mountain, there to choose strong position. General Fremont speaks of our forces as his right wing; the left must be up towards Cheat Mountain. We are now at the pivot; to proceed slowly until the left wheels so as to face southwardly with us. Rained all day; couldn’t move. At evening looked slighteously like clearing off.

APRIL 19TH.—All believe we are near a crisis, involving the possession of the capital.

Saturday, 19th—Nothing of importance. Everything appears to be so lonesome.

April 19th, 1862.

Another date in Hal’s short history! I see myself walking home with Mr. McG—— just after sundown, meeting Miriam and Dr. Woods at the gate; only that was a Friday instead of a Saturday, as this. From the other side, Mr. Sparks comes up and joins us. We stand talking in the bright moonlight which makes Miriam look white and statue-like. I am holding roses in my hand, in return for which one little pansy has been begged from my garden, and is now figuring as a shirt-stud. I turn to speak to that man of whom I said to Dr. Woods, before I even knew his name, “Who is this man who passes here so constantly? I feel that I shall hate him to my dying day.” He told me his name was Sparks, a good, harmless fellow, etc. And afterwards, when I did know him, [Dr. Woods] would ask every time we met, “Well! do you hate Sparks yet?” I could not really hate any one in my heart, so I always answered, “He is a good-natured fool, but I will hate him yet.” But even now I cannot: my only feeling is intense pity for the man who has dealt us so severe a blow; who made my dear father bow his gray head, and shed such bitter tears.

The moon is rising still higher now, and people are hurrying to the grand Meeting, where the state of the country is to be discussed, and the three young men bow and hurry off, too. Later, at eleven o’clock, Miriam and I are up at Lydia’s waiting (until the boat comes) with Miss Comstock who is going away. As usual, I am teasing and romping by turns. Harry suddenly stands in the parlor door, looking very grave, and very quiet. He is holding father’s stick in his hand, and says he has come to take us over home. I was laughing still, so I said, “Wait,” while I prepared for some last piece of folly, but he smiled for the first time, and throwing his arm around me, said, “Come home, you rogue!” and laughing still, I followed him.

He left us in the hall, saying he must go to Charlie’s a moment, but to leave the door open for him. So we went up, and I ran in his room, and lighted his gas for him, as I did every night when we went up together. In a little while I heard him come in and go to his room. I knew nothing then; but next day, going into mother’s room, I saw him standing before the glass door of her armoir, looking at a black coat he had on. Involuntarily I cried out, “Oh, don’t, Hal!” “Don’t what? Is n’t it a nice coat?” he asked. “Yes; but it is buttoned up to the throat, and I don’t like to see it. It looks —” here I went out as abruptly as I came in; that black coat so tightly buttoned troubled me.

He came to our room after a while and said he was going ten miles out in the country for a few days. I begged him to stay, and reproached him for going away so soon after he had come home. But he said he must, adding, “Perhaps I am tired of you, and want to see something new. I’ll be so glad to get back in a few days.” Father said yes, he must go, so he went without any further explanation.

Walking out to Mr. Davidson’s that evening, Lydia and I sat down on a fallen rail beyond the Catholic graveyard, and there she told me what had happened. The night before, sitting on Dr. Woods’s gallery, with six or eight others who had been singing, Hal called on Mr. Henderson to sing. He complied by singing one that was not nice.[1] Old Mr. Sparks got up to leave, and Hal said, “I hope we are not disturbing you?” No, he said he was tired and would go home. As soon as he was gone, his son, who I have since heard was under the influence of opium, — though Hal always maintained that he was not, — said it was a shame to disturb his poor old father. Hal answered, “You heard what he said. We did not disturb him.” “You are a liar!” the other cried. That is a name that none of our family has either merited or borne with; and quick as thought Hal sprang to his feet and struck him across the face with the walking-stick he held. The blow sent the lower part across the balcony in the street, as the spring was loosened by it, while the upper part, to which was fastened the sword — for it was father’s sword-cane — remained in his hand.

I doubt that he ever before knew the cane could come apart. Certainly he did not perceive it, until the other whined piteously he was taking advantage over an unarmed man; when, cursing him, he (Harry) threw it after the body of the cane, and said, “Now we are equal.” The other’s answer was to draw a knife,[2] and was about to plunge it into Harry, who disdained to flinch, when Mr. Henderson threw himself on Mr. Sparks and dragged him off.

It was a little while after that Harry came for us. The consequence of this was a challenge from Mr. Sparks in the morning, which was accepted by Harry’s friends, who appointed Monday, at Greenwell, to meet. Lydia did not tell me that; she said she thought it had been settled peaceably, so I was not uneasy, and only wanted Harry to come back from Seth David’s soon. The possibility of his fighting never occurred to me.

Sunday evening I was on the front steps with Miriam and Dr. Woods, talking of Harry and wishing he would come. “You want Harry!” the doctor repeated after me; “you had better learn to live without him.” “What an absurdity!” I said and wondered when he would come. Still later, Miriam, father, and I were in the parlor, when there was a tap on the window, just above his head, and I saw a hand, for an instant. Father hurried out, and we heard several voices; and then steps going away. Mother came down and asked who had been there, but we only knew that, whoever it was, father had afterward gone with them. Mother went on: “There is something going on, which is to be kept from me. Every one seems to know it, and to make a secret of it.” I said nothing, for I had promised Lydia not to tell; and even I did not know all.

When father came back, Harry was with him. I saw by his nod, and “ How are you, girls,” how he wished us to take it, so neither moved from our chairs, while he sat down on the sofa and asked what kind of a sermon we had had. And we talked of anything except what we were thinking of, until we went upstairs.

Hal afterwards told me that he had been arrested up there, and father went with him to give bail; and that the sheriff had gone out to Greenwell after Mr. Sparks. He told me all about it next morning, saying he was glad it was all over, but sorry for Mr. Sparks; for he had a blow on his face which nothing would wash out. I said, “Hal, if you had fought, much as I love you, I would rather he had killed you than that you should have killed him. I love you too much to be willing to see blood on your hands.” First he laughed at me, then said, “If I had killed him, I never would have seen you again.”

We thought it was all over; so did he. But Baton Rouge was wild about it. Mr. Sparks was the bully of the town, having nothing else to do, and whenever he got angry or drunk, would knock down anybody he chose. That same night, before Harry met him, he had slapped one man, and had dragged another over the room by the hair; but these coolly went home, and waited for a voluntary apology. So the mothers, sisters, and intimate friends of those who had patiently borne the blows, and being “woolled,” vaunted the example of their heroes, and asked why Dr. Morgan had not acted as they had done, and waited for an apology? Then there was another faction who cried only blood could wash out that blow and make a gentleman of Mr. Sparks again, — as though he ever had been one! So knots assembled at street corners, and discussed it, until father said to us that Monday night, “These people are so excited, and are trying so hard to make this affair worse, that I would not be surprised if they shot each other down in the street,” speaking of Harry and the other.

Hal seemed to think of it no more, though, and Wednesday said he must go to the city and consult Brother as to where he should permanently establish himself. I was sorry; yet glad that he would then get away from all this trouble. I don’t know that I ever saw him in higher spirits than he was that day and evening, the 24th. Lilly and Charlie were here until late, and he laughed and talked so incessantly that we called him crazy. We might have guessed by his extravagant spirits that he was trying to conceal something from us. . . .

He went away before daybreak, and I never saw him again.

[1] Note by Mrs. Dawson in 1896: “Annie Laurie!”

[2] Note by Mrs. Dawson: Bowie knife.

To Mrs. Lyon

On Steamer McClellan, New Madrid, Sat., April 19, 1862.—We take it for granted that we are going up to help fight another great battle, and, as I firmly believe, achieve a great victory. If we are victorious there it opens the road to Memphis, secures the opening of the Mississippi with but little more fighting, and virtually ends the war in the West.

When Chase and I were making speeches at flag raisings last spring, we told the ladies they must give up fathers and sons, husbands, lovers and brothers to their country, although it might wring the heartstrings to breaking. You have made this sacrifice with thousands of others. Let it be a cheerful sacrifice on your part. Believe, as I do, that I shall in due time return safely to you and our beloved children, and console yourself for my absence with the thought that never were men called from kindred, homes and friends, to hardships, privations, dangers and death, in a more sacred cause.

I am cheerful all the time, and it is the result of an ever-present, undoubting conviction that I am precisely where I ought to be. My greatest happiness consists in doing my duty and indulging in fond anticipations of the time when, the war being over, the Government restored, and our work well and faithfully done, I shall return to you and our sweet babes, and I will feel I am in Eden. God bless you and help you to bear your part of the weary burden that this war throws upon you with the unfailing courage of a Spartan matron, dreading more than his death the failing of your loved one to do his duty.

19th. Went down to the creek and practiced a while with our revolvers. Played chess in the evening.

April 19.—Had quite a number of deaths up-stairs to-day. Jesse H. Faught, Walker County, Ala., and John M. Purdy, Morgan County, Tennessee, were of the number. The latter had his brother with him, who is much grieved because he can not inform his mother of the death of her son, as his home is in possession of the enemy. Another man, by the name of Benjamin Smith, from Memphis, Tenn., and a member of the Sixth Tennessee, Volunteers, died. When I went to see him, I found him in the last agonies of death. I was informed that he was a native of Canada. He was scarcely able to speak; when he did so, he asked me to write to his sister, Mrs. H. Hartman, Arovin, Canada West. I regretted that I did not see him sooner, and felt grieved to see him die so far away from home and kindred—I will not say among strangers—none are who are fighting with us in our sacred cause. May his soul rest in peace! He has lost his life in defense of liberty— that of which his own country is so proud —and when maidens come to deck the graves of our southern patriots, they will not forget one who sacrificed all for them. I have only written the names of those whom I can recollect; many a poor fellow dies of whom I know nothing.

Mrs. Gilmore is leaving us. I am informed that she has done much for the soldiers, having been in hospitals from the commencement of the war. She returns to her home in Memphis. It is rumored that we are going to evacuate that city, and she wishes to see her family before the enemy reaches it.

I received a letter, and a box filled with eggs, crackers, and nice fresh butter, from Miss Lucy Haughton. She also sends a lot of pickles, which the men relish very much. I hope all the ladies in the Confederacy will be as kind; if they could only witness one-half the suffering that we do, I know they would be. I have sometimes felt like making a vow to eat nothing but what was necessary to sustain life till the war is over, so that our soldiers can have the more. When the men are first brought to the hospital, they eat all they can get, but in a few days their wounds begin to tell upon their systems; their appetites leave them, and it is almost impossible to get them to eat any thing. None but those who are the most severely wounded are left here; all are carried to the rear as soon as they are able to be moved.

A young man, by the name of Farmer, of the Sixth Kentucky Regiment, died down-stairs a day or two ago. He is reported to have been very rich. His brother-in-law, Rev. Mr. Cook, was with him, and intends taking his body to his own home in Tennessee, as the young man’s home is in the hands of the enemy. I have made the acquaintance of two of his friends, Mr. Chinn and Lieutenant Minor, both from Kentucky. I feel sorry for all from that state, as it has behaved so badly, and for those who are in our army, as they have given up their all for the cause.

I was shocked at what the men have told me about some dead Federals that they saw on the battle-field. They say that on the bands of their hats was written, “Hell or Corinth;” meaning, that they were determined to reach one of the places. Heaven help the poor wretches who could degrade themselves thus. I can not but pity them, and pray that God will turn the hearts of their living comrades. Can such a people expect to prosper? Are they really mad enough to think that they can conquer us—a people who shudder at such blasphemy; who, as a nation, have put our trust in the God of battles, and whose sense of the magnanimous would make us scorn to use such language?

I was much amused to-day at an answer that a Federal captain gave to one of our doctors. The doctor asked him how many men the Federals lost at the battle of Shiloh. He answered, not more than eight hundred. The doctor turned away from him without speaking. I laughed, and said that proved them greater cowards than ever; for if that was the case, why did they not take Corinth, as they had come there for that purpose. I do hope that we will let the Federals have the honor of telling all the untruths, and that we will hold to the truth, let the consequences be what they may—remembering that “where boasting ends true dignity begins.” The captain is an intelligent man, and was an editor of a newspaper in Cincinnati. The rest of the officers who were in the room with him have left, except a lieutenant, who is sick.

19th.—A flag of truce on the enemy’s parapet. A proposition to suspend hostilities and bury the dead. We crossed the creek and brought over the bodies of 35 (instead of 20, as previously stated) Vermonters, killed in the fight on the other side of the creek. Nothing of importance to-day. All quiet, remaining in camp.

From H. L. Hodge.

Fortress Monroe, April 19th, 1862,

Dear Georgy: We were summoned to Yorktown, and about twenty of us left Philadelphia yesterday morning. We passed on the Bay this morning many transports bearing, as I suppose, Franklin’s Division. I presume that Joe and myself were not far apart. He goes, however, if report be true, to the opposite side of York River. They brought down here some wounded yesterday; they are under the care of Surgeon Cuyler and are comfortably located.

We have come only in anticipation that we may be needed, and may therefore remain a short time or for a long while, according to circumstances. . . .