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

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A Diary From Dixie

August 10, 2013

A Diary From Dixie by Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut.

Richmond, Va., August 10, 1863.—To-day I had a letter from my sister, who wrote to inquire about her old playmate, friend, and lover, Boykin McCaa. It is nearly twenty years since each was married; each now has children nearly grown. ”To tell the truth,” she writes, “in these last dreadful years, with David in Florida, where I can not often hear from him, and everything dismal, anxious, and disquieting, I had almost forgotten Boykin’s existence, but he came here last night; he stood by my bedside and spoke to me kindly and affectionately, as if we had just parted. I said, holding out my hand, ‘Boykin, you are very pale.’ He answered, ‘I have come to tell you goodby,’ and then seized both my hands. His own hands were as cold and hard as ice; they froze the marrow of my bones. I screamed again and again until my whole household came rushing in, and then came the negroes from the yard, all wakened by my piercing shrieks. This may have been a dream, but it haunts me.

“Some one sent me an old paper with an account of his wounds and his recovery, but I know he is dead.” “Stop!” said my husband at this point, and then he read from that day’s Examiner these words: “Captain Burwell Boykin McCaa found dead upon the battle-field leading a cavalry charge at the head of his company. He was shot through the head.”

The famous colonel of the Fourth Texas, by name John Bell Hood,[1] is here—him we call Sam, because his classmates at West Point did so—for what cause is not known. John Darby asked if he might bring his hero to us; bragged of him extensively; said he had won his three stars, etc., under Stonewall’s eye, and that he was promoted by Stonewall’s request. When Hood came with his sad Quixote face, the face of an old Crusader, who believed in his cause, his cross, and his crown, we were not prepared for such a man as a beau-ideal of the wild Texans. He is tall, thin, and shy; has blue eyes and light hair; a tawny beard, and a vast amount of it, covering the lower part of his face, the whole appearance that of awkward strength. Some one said that his great reserve of manner he carried only into the society of ladies. Major Venable added that he had often heard of the light of battle shining in a man’s eyes, he had seen it once—when he carried to Hood orders from Lee, and found in the hottest of the fight that the man was transfigured. The fierce light of Hood’s eyes I can never forget.

Hood came to ask us to a picnic next day at Drury’s Bluff.[2] The naval heroes were to receive us and then we were to drive out to the Texan camp. We accused John Darby of having instigated this unlooked-for festivity. We were to have bands of music and dances, with turkeys, chickens, and buffalo tongues to eat. Next morning, just as my foot was on the carriage-step, the girls standing behind ready to follow me with Johnny and the Infant Samuel (Captain Shannon by proper name), up rode John Darby in red-hot haste, threw his bridle to one of the men who was holding the horses, and came toward us rapidly, clanking his cavalry spurs with a despairing sound as he cried: “Stop! it’s all up. We are ordered back to the Rappahannock. The brigade is marching through Richmond now.” So we unpacked and unloaded, dismissed the hacks and sat down with a sigh.

“Suppose we go and see them pass the turnpike,” some one said. The suggestion was hailed with delight, and off we marched. Johnny and the Infant were in citizens’ clothes, and the Straggler—as Hood calls John Darby, since the Prestons have been in Richmond—was all plaided and plumed in his surgeon’s array. He never bated an inch of bullion or a feather; he was courting and he stalked ahead with Mary Preston, Buck, and Johnny. The Infant and myself, both stout and scant of breath, lagged last. They called back to us, as the Infant came toddling along, “Hurry up or we will leave you.”

At the turnpike we stood on the sidewalk and saw ten thousand men march by. We had seen nothing like this before. Hitherto we had seen only regiments marching spick and span in their fresh, smart clothes, just from home and on their way to the army. Such rags and tags as we saw now. Nothing was like anything else. Most garments and arms were such as had been taken from the enemy. Such shoes as they had on. “Oh, our brave boys!” moaned Buck. Such tin pans and pots as were tied to their waists, with bread or bacon stuck on the ends of their bayonets. Anything that could be spiked was bayoneted and held aloft.

They did not seem to mind their shabby condition; they laughed, shouted, and cheered as they marched by. Not a disrespectful or light word was spoken, but they went for the men who were huddled behind us, and who seemed to be trying to make themselves as small as possible in order to escape observation.

Hood and his staff finally came galloping up, dismounted, and joined us. Mary Preston gave him a bouquet. Thereupon he unwrapped a Bible, which he carried in his pocket. He said his mother had given it to him. He pressed a flower in it. Mary Preston suggested that he had not worn or used it at all, being fresh, new, and beautifully kept. Every word of this the Texans heard as they marched by, almost touching us. They laughed and joked and made their own rough comments.

[1] Hood was a native of Kentucky and a graduate of West Point.

[2] Drury’s Bluff lies eight miles south of Richmond on the James River. Here, on May 16, 1864, the Confederates under Beauregard repulsed the Federals under Butler.

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