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

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A Diary From Dixie

November 30, 2013

A Diary From Dixie by Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut.

November 30th.—I must describe an adventure I had in Kingsville. Of course, I know nothing of children: in point of fact, am awfully afraid of them.

Mrs. Edward Barnwell came with us from Camden. She had a magnificent boy two years old. Now don’t expect me to reduce that adjective, for this little creature is a wonder of childlike beauty, health, and strength. Why not? If like produces like, and with such a handsome pair to claim as father and mother! The boy’s eyes alone would make any girl’s fortune.

At first he made himself very agreeable, repeating nursery rhymes and singing. Then something went wrong. Suddenly he changed to a little fiend, fought and kicked and scratched like a tiger. He did everything that was naughty, and he did it with a will as if he liked it, while his lovely mamma, with flushed cheeks and streaming eyes, was imploring him to be a good boy.

When we stopped at Kingsville, I got out first, then Mrs. Barnwell’s nurse, who put the little man down by me. “Look after him a moment, please, ma’am,” she said. “I must help Mrs. Barnwell with the bundles,” etc. She stepped hastily back and the cars moved off. They ran down a half mile to turn. I trembled in my shoes. This child! No man could ever frighten me so. If he should choose to be bad again! It seemed an eternity while I waited for that train to turn and come back again. My little charge took things quietly. For me he had a perfect contempt, no fear whatever. And I was his abject slave for the nonce.

He stretched himself out lazily at full length. Then he pointed downward. “Those are great legs,” said he solemnly, looking at his own. I immediately joined him in admiring them enthusiastically. Near him he spied a bundle. ”Pussy cat tied up in that bundle.” He was up in a second and pounced upon it. If we were to be taken up as thieves, no matter, I dared not meddle with that child, I had seen what he could do. There were several cooked sweet potatoes tied up in an old handkerchief—belonging to some negro probably. He squared himself off comfortably, broke one in half and began to eat. Evidently he had found what he was fond of. In this posture Mrs. Barnwell discovered us. She came with comic dismay in every feature, not knowing what our relations might be, and whether or not we had undertaken to fight it out alone as best we might. The old nurse cried, “Lawsy me!” with both hands uplifted. Without a word I fled. In another moment the Wilmington train would have left me. She was going to Columbia.

We broke down only once between Kingsville and Wilmington, but between Wilmington and Weldon we contrived to do the thing so effectually as to have to remain twelve hours at that forlorn station.

The one room that I saw was crowded with soldiers. Adam Team succeeded in securing two chairs for me, upon one of which I sat and put my feet on the other. Molly sat flat on the floor, resting her head against my chair. I woke cold and cramped. An officer, who did not give his name, but said he was from Louisiana, came up and urged me to go near the fire. He gave me his seat by the fire, where I found an old lady and two young ones, with two men in the uniform of common soldiers.

We talked as easily to each other all night as if we had known one another all our lives. We discussed the war, the army, the news of the day. No questions were asked, no names given, no personal discourse whatever, and yet if these men and women were not gentry, and of the best sort, I do not know ladies and gentlemen when I see them.

Being a little surprised at the want of interest Mr. Team and Isaac showed in my well-doing, I walked out to see, and I found them working like beavers. They had been at it all night. In the break-down my boxes were smashed. They had first gathered up the contents and were trying to hammer up the boxes so as to make them once more available.

At Petersburg a smartly dressed woman came in, looked around in the crowd, then asked for the seat by me. Now Molly’s seat was paid for the same as mine, but she got up at once, gave the lady her seat and stood behind me. I am sure Molly believes herself my body-guard as well as my servant.

The lady then having arranged herself comfortably in Molly’s seat began in plaintive accents to tell her melancholy tale. She was a widow. She lost her husband in the battles around Richmond. Soon some one went out and a man offered her the vacant seat. Straight as an arrow she went in for a flirtation with the polite gentleman. Another person, a perfect stranger, said to me, “Well, look yonder. As soon as she began whining about her dead beau I knew she was after another one.” “Beau, indeed!” cried another listener, “she said it was her husband.” “Husband or lover, all the same. She won’t lose any time. It won’t be her fault if she doesn’t have another one soon.”

But the grand scene was the night before: the cars crowded with soldiers, of course; not a human being that I knew. An Irish woman, so announced by her brogue, came in. She marched up and down the car, loudly lamenting the want of gallantry in the men who would not make way for her. Two men got up and gave her their seats, saying it did not matter, they were going to get out at the next stopping-place.

She was gifted with the most pronounced brogue I ever heard, and she gave us a taste of it. She continued to say that the men ought all to get out of that; that car was “shuteable” only for ladies. She placed on the vacant seat next to her a large looking-glass. She continued to harangue until she fell asleep.

A tired soldier coming in, seeing what he supposed to be an empty seat, quietly slipped into it. Crash went the glass. The soldier groaned, the Irish woman shrieked. The man was badly cut by the broken glass. She was simply a mad woman. She shook her fist in his face; said she was a lone woman and he had got into that seat for no good purpose. How did he dare to?—etc. I do not think the man uttered a word. The conductor took him into another car to have the pieces of glass picked out of his clothes, and she continued to rave. Mr. Team shouted aloud, and laughed as if he were in the Hermitage Swamp. The woman’s unreasonable wrath and absurd accusations were comic, no doubt.

Soon the car was silent and I fell into a comfortable doze. I felt Molly give me a gentle shake. “Listen, Missis, how loud Mars Adam Team is talking, and all about ole marster and our business, and to strangers. It’s a shame.” “Is he saying any harm of us?” “No, ma’am, not that. He is bragging for dear life ’bout how ole ole marster is and how rich he is, an’ all that. I gwine tell him stop.” Up started Molly. “Mars Adam, Missis say please don’t talk so loud. When people travel they don’t do that a way.”

Mr. Preston’s man, Hal, was waiting at the depot with a carriage to take me to my Richmond house. Mary Preston had rented these apartments for me.

I found my dear girls there with a nice fire. Everything looked so pleasant and inviting to the weary traveler. Mrs. Grundy, who occupies the lower floor, sent me such a real Virginia tea, hot cakes, and rolls. Think of living in the house with Mrs. Grundy, and having no fear of “what Mrs. Grundy will say.”

My husband has come; he likes the house, Grundy’s, and everything. Already he has bought Grundy’s horses for sixteen hundred Confederate dollars cash. He is nearer to being contented and happy than I ever saw him. He has not established a grievance yet, but I am on the lookout daily. He will soon find out whatever there is wrong about Cary Street.

I gave a party; Mrs. Davis very witty; Preston girls very handsome; Isabella’s fun fast and furious. No party could have gone off more successfully, but my husband decides we are to have no more festivities. This is not the time or the place for such gaieties.

Maria Freeland is perfectly delightful on the subject of her wedding. She is ready to the last piece of lace, but her hard-hearted father says “No.” She adores John Lewis. That goes without saying. She does not pretend, however, to be as much in love as Mary Preston. In point of fact, she never saw any one before who was. But she is as much in love as she can be with a man who, though he is not very handsome, is as eligible a match as a girl could make. He is all that heart could wish, and he comes of such a handsome family. His mother, Esther Maria Coxe, was the beauty of a century, and his father was a nephew of General Washington. For all that, he is far better looking than John Darby or Mr. Miles. She always intended to marry better than Mary Preston or Bettie Bierne.

Lucy Haxall is positively engaged to Captain Coffey, an Englishman. She is convinced that she will marry him. He is her first fancy.

Mr. Venable, of Lee’s staff, was at our party, so out of spirits. He knows everything that is going on. His depression bodes us no good. To-day, General Hampton sent James Chesnut a fine saddle that he had captured from the Yankees in battle array.

Mrs. Scotch Allan (Edgar Allan Poe’s patron’s wife) sent me ice-cream and lady-cheek apples from her farm. John R. Thompson,[1] the sole literary fellow I know in Richmond, sent me Leisure Hours in Town, by A Country Parson.

My husband says he hopes I will be contented because he came here this winter to please me. If I could have been satisfied at home he would have resigned his aide-de-camp-ship and gone into some service in South Carolina. I am a good excuse, if good for nothing else.

Old tempestuous Keitt breakfasted with us yesterday. I wish I could remember half the brilliant things he said. My husband has now gone with him to the War Office. Colonel Keitt thinks it is time he was promoted. He wants to be a brigadier.

Now, Charleston is bombarded night and day. It fairly makes me dizzy to think of that everlasting racket they are beating about people’s ears down there. Bragg defeated, and separated from Longstreet. It is a long street that knows no turning, and Rosecrans is not taken after all.

November 30th.—Anxiety pervades. Lee is fighting Meade. Misery is everywhere. Bragg is falling back before Grant.[2] Longstreet, the soldiers call him Peter the Slow, is settling down before Knoxville.

General Lee requires us to answer every letter, said Mr. Venable, and to do our best to console the poor creatures whose husbands and sons are fighting the battles of the country.

[1] John R. Thompson was a native of Richmond and in 1847 became editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. Under his direction, that periodical acquired commanding influence. Mr. Thompson’s health failed afterward. During the war he spent a part of his time in Richmond and a part in Europe. He afterward settled in New York and became literary editor of the Evening Post.

[2] The siege of Chattanooga, which had been begun on September 21st, closed late in November, 1863, the final engagements beginning on November 23d, and ending on November 25th. Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge were the closing incidents of the siege. Grant, Sherman, and Hooker were conspicuous on the Federal side and Bragg and Longstreet on the Confederate.

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