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

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A Diary From Dixie

June 14, 2012

A Diary From Dixie by Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut.

June 14th.—All things are against us. Memphis gone. Mississippi fleet annihilated, and we hear it all as stolidly apathetic as if it were a story of the English war against China which happened a year or so ago.

The sons of Mrs. John Julius Pringle have come. They were left at school in the North. A young Huger is with them. They seem to have had adventures enough. Walked, waded, rowed in boats, if boats they could find; swam rivers when boats there were none; brave lads are they. One can but admire their pluck and energy. Mrs. Fisher, of Philadelphia, née Middleton, gave them money to make the attempt to get home.

Stuart’s cavalry have rushed through McClellan’s lines and burned five of his transports. Jackson has been reenforced by 16,000 men, and they hope the enemy will be drawn from around Richmond, and the valley be the seat of war.

John Chesnut is in Whiting’s brigade, which has been sent to Stonewall. Mem’s son is with the Boykin Rangers; Company A, No. 1, we call it. And she has persistently wept ever since she heard the news. It is no child’s play, she says, when you are with Stonewall. He doesn’t play at soldiering. He doesn’t take care of his men at all. He only goes to kill the Yankees.

Wade Hampton is here, shot in the foot, but he knows no more about France than he does of the man in the moon. Wet blanket he is just now. Johnston badly wounded. Lee is King of Spades. They are all once more digging for dear life. Unless we can reenforce Stonewall, the game is up. Our chiefs contrive to dampen and destroy the enthusiasm of all who go near them. So much entrenching and falling back destroys the morale of any army. This everlasting retreating, it kills the hearts of the men. Then we are scant of powder.

James Chesnut is awfully proud of Le Conte’s powder manufactory here. Le Conte knows how to do it. James Chesnut provides him the means to carry out his plans.

Colonel Venable doesn’t mince matters: “If we do not deal a blow, a blow that will be felt, it will be soon all up with us. The Southwest will be lost to us. We can not afford to shilly-shally much longer.”

Thousands are enlisting on the other side in New Orleans. Butler holds out inducements. To be sure, they are principally foreigners who want to escape starvation. Tennessee we may count on as gone, since we abandoned her at Corinth, Fort Pillow, and Memphis. A man must be sent there, or it is all gone now.

“You call a spade by that name, it seems, and not an agricultural implement?” “They call Mars Robert ‘Old Spade Lee.’ He keeps them digging so.” “General Lee is a noble Virginian. Respect something in this world. Cæsar—call him Old Spade Cæsar? As a soldier, he was as much above suspicion, as he required his wife to be, as Cæsar’s wife, you know. If I remember Cæsar’s Commentaries, he owns up to a lot of entrenching. You let Mars Robert alone. He knows what he is about.”

“Tell us of the women folk at New Orleans; how did they take the fall of the city?” “They are an excitable race,” the man from that city said. As my informant was standing on the levee a daintily dressed lady picked her way, parasol in hand, toward him. She accosted him with great politeness, and her face was as placid and unmoved as in antebellum days. Her first question was: “Will you be so kind as to tell me what is the last general order?” “No order that I know of, madam; General Disorder prevails now.” “Ah! I see; and why are those persons flying and yelling so noisily and racing in the streets in that unseemly way?” “They are looking for a shell to burst over their heads at any moment.” “Ah!” Then, with a courtesy of dignity and grace, she waved her parasol and departed, but stopped to arrange that parasol at a proper angle to protect her face from the sun. There was no vulgar haste in her movements. She tripped away as gracefully as she came. My informant had failed to discompose her by his fearful revelations. That was the one self-possessed soul then in New Orleans.

Another woman drew near, so overheated and out of breath, she had barely time to say she had run miles of squares in her crazy terror and bewilderment, when a sudden shower came up. In a second she was cool and calm. She forgot all the questions she came to ask. “My bonnet, I must save it at any sacrifice,” she said, and so turned her dress over her head, and went off, forgetting her country’s trouble and screaming for a cab.

Went to see Mrs. Burroughs at the old de Saussure house. She has such a sweet face, such soft, kind, beautiful, dark-gray eyes. Such eyes are a poem. No wonder she had a long love-story. We sat in the piazza at twelve o’clock of a June day, the glorious Southern sun shining its very hottest. But we were in a dense shade—magnolias in full bloom, ivy, vines of I know not what, and roses in profusion closed us in. It was a living wall of everything beautiful and sweet. In all this flower-garden of a Columbia, that is the most delicious corner I have been in yet.

Got from the Prestons’ French library, Fanny, with a brilliant preface by Jules Janier. Now, then, I have come to the worst. There can be no worse book than Fanny. The lover is jealous of the husband. The woman is for the polyandry rule of life. She cheats both and refuses to break with either. But to criticize it one must be as shameless as the book itself. Of course, it is clever to the last degree, or it would be kicked into the gutter. It is not nastier or coarser than Mrs. Stowe, but then it is not written in the interests of philanthropy.

We had an unexpected dinner-party to-day. First, Wade Hampton came and his wife. Then Mr. and Mrs. Rose. I remember that the late Colonel Hampton once said to me, a thing I thought odd at the time, “Mrs. James Rose” (and I forget now who was the other) “are the only two people on this side of the water who know how to give a state dinner.” Mr. and Mrs. James Rose: if anybody wishes to describe old Carolina at its best, let them try their hands at painting these two people.

Wade Hampton still limps a little, but he is rapidly recovering. Here is what he said, and he has fought so well that he is listened to: “If we mean to play at war, as we play a game of chess, West Point tactics prevailing, we are sure to lose the game. They have every advantage. They can lose pawns ad infinitum, to the end of time and never feel it. We will be throwing away all that we had hoped so much from—Southern hot-headed dash, reckless gallantry, spirit of adventure, readiness to lead forlorn hopes.”

Mrs. Rose is Miss Sarah Parker’s aunt. Somehow it came out when I was not in the room, but those girls tell me everything. It seems Miss Sarah said: “The reason I can not bear Mrs. Chesnut is that she laughs at everything and at everybody.” If she saw me now she would give me credit for some pretty hearty crying as well as laughing. It was a mortifying thing to hear about one’s self, all the same.

General Preston came in and announced that Mr. Chesnut was in town. He had just seen Mr. Alfred Huger, who came up on the Charleston train with him. Then Mrs. McCord came and offered to take me back to Mrs. McMahan’s to look him up. I found my room locked up. Lawrence said his master had gone to look for me at the Prestons’.

Mrs. McCord proposed we should further seek for my errant husband. At the door, we met Governor Pickens, who showed us telegrams from the President of the most important nature. The Governor added, “And I have one from Jeems Chesnut, but I hear he has followed it so closely, coming on its heels, as it were, that I need not show you that one.”

“You don’t look interested at the sound of your husband’s name? ” said he. “Is that his name?” asked I. “I supposed it was James.” “My advice to you is to find him, for Mrs. Pickens says he was last seen in the company of two very handsome women, and now you may call him any name you please.”

We soon met. The two beautiful dames Governor Pickens threw in my teeth were some ladies from Rafton Creek, almost neighbors, who live near Camden.

By way of pleasant remark to Wade Hampton: “Oh, General! The next battle will give you a chance to be major-general.” “I was very foolish to give up my Legion,” he answered gloomily. “Promotion don’t really annoy many people.” Mary Gibson says her father writes to them, that they may go back. He thinks now that the Confederates can hold Richmond. Gloria in excelsisl

Another personal defeat. Little Kate said: “Oh, Cousin Mary, why don’t you cultivate heart? They say at Kirkwood that you had better let your brains alone a while and cultivate heart.” She had evidently caught up a phrase and repeated it again and again for my benefit. So that is the way they talk of me! The only good of loving any one with your whole heart is to give that person the power to hurt you.

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