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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Written from the Sea islands of South Carolina.

St. Helena’s, Sunday, April 27,1862.

I have been hoping from day to day for a chance to give you a good long letter, but I never was so busy in my life, except just after we moved to Frog-Hollow, and it is in pretty much the same style — a struggle for the food of the day. To be sure, we fare very well, but that is one trouble; we have a large family and not an abstemious one, and I am housekeeper, with Southern servants, and those irregular, and only half under my control, being at every other body’s beck and call. . . . Miss W. it was who told me we were to pay no wages for the work we have done, and at first, supposing she knew, I tried to reconcile myself to it by specious reasoning. But Mr. Pierce says we have no right at all to take their labor and leave Government to pay, or to pay our servants here out of the goods sent by the commissioners. He will pay the cook and driver. I have hired a washerwoman and chambermaid for half a dollar a week extra. That is, she gets food from Government, as all do (the corn, that is, that was left on the estate), and she has her house as before, but for attending to my room and doing my washing I pay her half a dollar a week. Little enough, but I dare not give more, as it would make the field hands and others discontented. . . . I am quite charmed with Miss Winsor. She is doing a good work quietly and efficiently. I envy her her school, but some one must keep house. … I have a good deal of satisfaction too, in housekeeping, for comfort is coming out of chaos; so I did not come here for nothing. I can do, too, what I always wanted to come for specially, and that was to strengthen the anti-slavery element. . . .

The blessed soldiers, with all their wrongdoing, did this one good thing — they assured the negroes that they were free and must never again let their masters claim them, nor any masters. I think it is very touching to hear them begging Mr. Pierce to let them cultivate corn instead of cotton, of which they do not see the use, since they worked it last year for pay which has not come yet, while their corn has saved them from starvation. Next week they are to be paid a dollar an acre for the cotton they have planted under Mr. Pierce. They do not understand being paid on account, and they think one dollar an acre for ploughing, listing, or furrowing and planting is very little, which of course it is. Mr. P. wants to make it their interest to tend the cotton after it is planted, and so he pays on it just as little as he can, until it is all ready for the market. Meanwhile, if the masters drive us off, no return will ever be made for their work, to the people who are planting for us. Nothing is paid for the cultivation of the corn, and yet it will be Government property. The negroes are so willing to work on that, that Mr. P. has made it a rule that till a certain quantity of cotton is planted they shall not hoe the corn. This they take as a great hardship, for the corn wants hoeing. Several boxes of clothing have lately come here for distribution, and from early morning till evening the negroes are flocking here to buy. I do not like the prices fixed on the goods at all. They are in some cases higher a good deal than the retail Philadelphia prices. Be sure if Mrs. Hastings sends her box to me to mark it “Private” and then I can dispose of it as I please. . . . Miss Winsor insists that her children shall be decently clad, or she will not teach them. After the buyers have been to the cotton-house where the goods are stored, they often come and ask for me at the mansion house, so as to get a needle and a little skein of thread — great treasures in this region. They will give two or three eggs — which the soldiers buy at two cents apiece here — for a needle and a little wisp of tangled cotton. When that box from our sewing-circle comes along, I want you to put into it for me especially, at my cost, of course, a lot of coarse needles, some black and white linen thread, some coarse spool cotton of various colors, and some large size porcelain buttons. . . . One luxury I want you to send me. It is about five pounds of pulverized sugar. We have had some of Mr. Pierce’s and it has gone, to his great regret, in this blackberry season. The fields are black with them, and we have them three times a day, a needle and thread paying for a quart or two. I bought yesterday a little plague for a quarter of a dollar. It was a young mocking-bird which I had to get to keep a negro boy from undertaking to “bring it up.”


I have begun my professional career. On the next plantation to this a good many negroes are sick, and at church this morning the young man in charge, a Mr. Ruggles, asked me for some medicine for them — so he came for me, and this afternoon I doctored the half dozen families who had measles and mumps. The church was in the midst of splendid live-oak trees hanging with moss, and the services were impressive only because they were so unusual, especially the singing. The garments seen to-day were beyond all description. One man had a carpet, made like a poncho, and he stalked about in such grandeur. There was an old woman there who came from Africa in a steamship. Her face was tattooed a little. Mr. Horton, who was one of our fellow passengers on the Oriental, a Baptist minister, preached a sermon upon true freedom, and I think the negroes liked it. We heard of one old negro who got up in meeting, when one of the young superintendents was leading the services, and said, “The Yankees preach nothing but cotton, cotton.” The fact is that every man has thought it his duty to inculcate the necessity of continuing to work, and the negro can see plainly enough that the proceeds of the cotton will never get into black pockets — judging from past experience.

clip_image002To-night I have been to a “shout,” which seems to me certainly the remains of some old idol worship. The negroes sing a kind of chorus, — three standing apart to lead and clap, — and then all the others go shuffling round in a circle following one another with not much regularity, turning round occasionally and bending the knees, and stamping so that the whole floor swings. I never saw anything so savage. They call it a religious ceremony, but it seems more like a regular frolic to me, and instead of attending the shout, the better persons go to the “Praise House.” This is always the cabin of the oldest person in the little village of negro houses, and they meet there to read and pray; generally one of the ladies goes there to read to them and they pray. I went to-night and saw Miss Nelly Winsor sitting ready to read to them; but as she seemed embarrassed I did not stay. I shall go again next week. They meet at the house of old Aunt Phillis, a real character. But I have no time to tell you of her to-night.

I wish I could sketch. This country would make S. wild with delight, the trees are so picturesque. I think the palmetto as ugly a tree as ever was planned. I have seen no strange animals except white cranes or herons and turkey buzzards. There is the skin of an alligator lying in the yard. It was shot in the creek here, but was not more than five or six feet long. The flowers are not very beautiful, that is, the wild ones, but I never in my life saw such garden roses.

We have been riding around all week to different plantations to cheer up and reassure the rather downhearted negroes, or rather the negro women. It is not a cheering thing to do, except as it is gratifying to be so able to give comfort. They think a white lady a great safeguard from danger, and they say they are “confused” if there are no ladies about.

27th.—The country is shrouded in gloom because of the fall of New Orleans! It was abandoned by General Lovell—necessarily, it is thought. Such an immense force was sent against the forts which protected it, that they could not be defended. The steamer Mississippi, which was nearly finished, had to be burnt. We hoped so much from its protection to the Mississippi River. Oh, it is so hard to see the enemy making such inroads into the heart of our country! it makes the chicken-hearted men and women despondent, but to the true and brave it gives a fresh stimulus for exertion. I met two young Kentuckians to-night who have come out from their homes, leaving family and fortunes behind, to help the South. After many difficulties, running the blockade across the Potomac, they reached Richmond yesterday, just as the news of the fall of New Orleans had overwhelmed the city. They are dreadfully disappointed by the tone of the persons they have met. They came burning with enthusiasm; and anything like depression is a shock to their excited feelings. One said to me that he thought he should return at once, as he had “left every thing which made home desirable to help Virginia, and found her ready to give up.” All the blood in my system boiled in an instant. “Where, sir,” said I, ” have you seen Virginians ready to give up their cause?” “Why,” he replied, “I have been lounging about the Exchange all day, and have heard the sentiments of the people.” “Lounging about the Exchange! And do you suppose that Virginians worthy of the name are now seen lounging about the Exchange? There you see the idlers and shirkers of the whole Southern army. No true man under forty-five is to be found there. Virginia, sir, is in the camp. Go there, and find the true men of the South. There they have been for one year, bearing the hardships, and offering their lives, and losing life and limb for the South; it is mournful to say how many! There you will find the chivalry of the South; and if Virginia does not receive you with the shout of enthusiasm which you anticipated, it is because the fire burns steadily and deeply; the surface blaze has long ago passed away. I honour you, and the many noble young Kentuckians who have left their homes for the sake of our country, but it will not do for Kentucky to curl the lip of scorn at Virginia. Virginia blushes, and silently mourns over her recreant daughter, and rejoices over every son of hers who has the disinterestedness to leave her and come to us in this hour of our bitter trial.”

I do not believe that this young man really means, or wishes, to return; he only feels disheartened by the gloom caused by our great national loss.

Camp Number 3, Shady Spring, nine miles’ march from Raleigh. Sunday, April 27. — A shower during the night; clear and beautiful again this morning. Scrubbed all over; arrayed in the glories of clean duds!

Six fugitives from Wyoming [County] came in today. Major Comly returned. No enemy at the point where expected. Expedition a “water-haul.”

APRIL 27TH.—Gen. Lee is calm—but the work of preparation goes on night and day.

Sunday, 27th—Today we had company inspection. We had to go to work and clean up our camp and parade ground. The camp is in the timber. The water is very scarce and poor at that.

April 27th.

What a day! Last night came a dispatch that New Orleans was under British protection, and could not be bombarded; consequently, the enemy’s gunboats would probably be here this morning, such few as had succeeded in passing the Forts; from nine to fifteen, it was said. And the Forts, they said, had not surrendered. I went to church; but I grew very anxious before it was over, feeling that I was needed at home. When I returned, I found Lilly wild with excitement, picking up hastily whatever came to hand, preparing for instant flight, she knew not where. The Yankees were in sight; the town was to be burned; we were to run to the woods, etc. If the house had to be burned, I had to make up my mind to run, too. So my treasure-bag tied around my waist as a bustle, a sack with a few necessary articles hanging on my arm, some few quite unnecessary ones, too, as I had not the heart to leave the old and new prayer books father had given me, and Miriam’s, too; — pistol and carving-knife ready, I stood awaiting the exodus. I heaped on the bed the treasures I wanted to burn, matches lying ready to fire the whole at the last minute. I may here say that, when all was over, I found I had omitted many things from the holocaust. This very diary was not included. It would have afforded vast amusement to the Yankees. There may yet be occasion to burn them, and the house also. People fortunately changed their minds about the auto-da-fé just then; and the Yankees have not yet arrived, at sundown. So, when the excitement calmed down, poor Lilly tumbled in bed in a high fever in consequence of terror and exertion.

27th. At 7 A. M. marched to Carthage leaving Co. “G” to guard cattle. Arrested some men in town. Our boys occupied Court House. We (of the staff) set up in a boot and shoe store and boarded at Mr. Hueston’s a little out of town—pleasant people. Issued rations to the boys.

Sunday, April 27.—Mr. Johnson and my brother called on me this morning, and we took a walk round Corinth. The day is very beautiful. Nature is putting forth her glories, and smiling, as if in mockery of the passions which are raging in the heart of man, whom God has made a “little lower than the angels,” and who would be so if sin did not deface him. Here are two immense armies, ready at any moment to rush upon each other, and deal death and destruction around them.

We visited one of the hospitals, in a church. Dr. Capers was the surgeon in charge; he is from Mississippi. He was very kind, and took us all through it, and showed us some of the most emaciated human beings that I ever beheld. He informed us that they were thus reduced by drinking poisoned whisky, a sad commentary on the maker and vendor. But what will man not do for the god, Mammon? Ruin his fellow-mortals, soul and body!

The hospital was in good order, and the patients looked cheerful. An Irish lady is in it. She is from Louisiana, and, from all I hear, has done much good in the service. She is a woman of strong nerve. She told me that, on the night following the battle of Shiloh, she visited the battle-field in search of her son, who she thought was killed or wounded, but he was neither.

As we have no chaplain, we have no service. I read the Bible and other books to the men, and they are much pleased to have me do it. I have met with none who have not respect for religion. They are mainly Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, and some few Roman Catholics. A young man by the name of Love is here, badly wounded. He is from Texas, and informed me that he was one of nine brothers in the service. Three, I think, were killed in the battle of Manassas. He wishes that he were better, so that he could go into the army again.

27th.—We hear very heavy firing to-day, in the direction of Yorktown, but at night, have not learned the purport of it; though there is a rumor that several of our gun boats arrived there this morning, and that the enemy’s batteries opened on them. Our whole Division is ordered out at 6 A. M. tomorrow. What means it?

Near Yorktown, Va.,

Sunday, April 27, 1862.

Dear Sister L.:—

I have nothing more to do to-day, but it is not so with all the regiment. I can hear them calling the roll in some of the other companies, and one company just passed armed with “Irish spoons,” going out to work in the trenches. Six of our companies, including K, went out at daylight yesterday and worked all day in the rain. It was a very disagreeable day and we came back at night soaked through, cold and hungry, but as merry a lot of fellows as you ever saw. You won’t understand the thing very well unless I describe it particularly. I think I told you about there being a large field in front of the forts. A trench four feet deep and twelve feet wide and over a mile long is to be dug on this side of the field just in front of the woods. We followed a road up one of the ravines till we came to our pickets and then one by one crept cautiously up into the ditch. A ditch two or three feet deep and wide enough to walk in had been dug during the night and dirt thrown up in front so that by stooping down we were concealed. One thousand men filed in there the whole length of the ditch and then each one laying his gun on the bank within reach, commenced picking or shoveling the dirt up on to the bank. The rebel forts were in plain sight and their sharpshooters were within thirty rods of us, hidden in rifle pits, so that, if a fellow got his head above the bank, he might get a bullet in his cap. We soon got a bank high enough to stand up behind and then it would have done you good to see the dirt go out of that ditch. Many hands make light work, and I tell you our regiment and the Sixty-second handled a pile of dirt. We had two reliefs—I went in at 6 o’clock and worked till noon and then the other relief worked till night. Last night there were 10,000 men at work all night and as many more to-day, so you may guess there is something going on here. George says that when he gets ready, he will throw one hundred and thirty shells per minute into each of those forts. I think there will be lively dodging there if nobody is hurt. Oh, we are gaining on them slowly but surely.

When I was out on picket 1 cut a hickory stick that grew on Washington’s old breastwork. I picked up a sccesh bullet there too and brought them into camp. I thought I would make something out of them to remember Yorktown by, so I whittled out a tatting needle and made a rivet of the bullet and I send it to you. It is a poor thing I know, but the stick was green and I had nothing but a knife to make it with. After it gets seasoned you can get C. to smooth and polish it up, but I can’t get anything here to do it with.

There is not much firing lately and some deserters say that the rebels begin to think they will have to surrender at last. I guess they will think so when George gets ready to make them.