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

A Confederate Girl’s Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

June 15th.

Our Confederacy has gone with one crash — the report of the pistol fired at Lincoln.


Reading this for the first time, in all these many years, I wish to bear record that God never failed me, through stranger vicissitudes than I ever dared record. Whatever the anguish, whatever the extremity, in His own good time He ever delivered me. So that I bless Him to-day for all of life’s joys and sorrows — for all He gave — for all He has taken —and I bear witness that it was all Very Good.

Sarah Morgan Dawson.

July 23d, 1896.


South Carolina.

Tuesday, May 2d, 1865.

While praying for the return of those who have fought so nobly for us, how I have dreaded their first days at home! Since the boys died, I have constantly thought of what pain it would bring to see their comrades return without them — to see families reunited, and know that ours never could be again, save in heaven. Last Saturday, the 29th of April, seven hundred and fifty paroled Louisianians from Lee’s army were brought here — the sole survivors of ten regiments who left four years ago so full of hope and determination. On the 29th of April, 1861, George left New Orleans with his regiment. On the fourth anniversary of that day, they came back; but George and Gibbes have long been lying in their graves. . . .

Saturday, 22d April.

To see a whole city draped in mourning is certainly an imposing spectacle, and becomes almost grand when it is considered as an expression of universal affliction. So it is, in one sense. For the more violently “Secesh” the inmates, the more thankful they are for Lincoln’s death, the more profusely the houses are decked with the emblems of woe. They all look to me like “not sorry for him, but dreadfully grieved to be forced to this demonstration.” So all things have indeed assumed a funereal aspect. Men who have hated Lincoln with all their souls, under terror of confiscation and imprisonment which they understand is the alternative, tie black crape from every practicable knob and point to save their homes. Last evening the B——s were all in tears, preparing their mourning. What sensibility! What patriotism! a stranger would have exclaimed. But Bella’s first remark was: “Is it not horrible? This vile, vile old crape! Think of hanging it out when —” Tears of rage finished the sentence. One would have thought pity for the murdered man had very little to do with it.

Coming back in the cars, I had a rencontre that makes me gnash my teeth yet. It was after dark, and I was the only lady in a car crowded with gentlemen. I placed little Miriam on my lap to make room for some of them, when a great, dark man, all in black, entered, and took the seat and my left hand at the same instant, saying, “Good-evening, Miss Sarah.” Frightened beyond measure to recognize Captain Todd[1] of the Yankee army in my interlocutor, I, however, preserved a quiet exterior, and without the slightest demonstration answered, as though replying to an internal question. “Mr. Todd.” “It is a long while since we met,” he ventured. “Four years,” I returned mechanically. “You have been well?” “My health has been bad.” “I have been ill myself”; and determined to break the ice he diverged with “Baton Rouge has changed sadly.” “I hope I shall never see it again. We have suffered too much to recall home with any pleasure.” “I understand you have suffered severely,” he said, glancing at my black dress. “We have yet one left in the army, though,” I could not help saying. He, too, had a brother there, he said.

He pulled the check-string as we reached the house, adding, “This is it,” and absurdly correcting himself with “Where do you live?” — “211. I thank you. Good-evening”; the last with emphasis as he prepared to follow. He returned the salutation, and I hurriedly regained the house. Monsieur stood over the way. A look through the blinds showed him returning to his domicile, several doors below.

I returned to my own painful reflections. The Mr. Todd who was my “sweetheart” when I was twelve and he twenty-four, who was my brother’s friend, and daily at our home, was put away from among our acquaintance at the beginning of the war. This one, I should not know. Cords of candy and mountains of bouquets bestowed in childish days will not make my country’s enemy my friend now that I am a woman.

[1] A cousin of Mrs. Lincoln.

No. 211 Camp St.,
April 19th, 1865.

“All things are taken from us, and become portions and parcels of the dreadful pasts.” . . .

Thursday the 13th came the dreadful tidings of the surrender of Lee and his army on the 9th. Everybody cried, but I would not, satisfied that God will still save us, even though all should apparently be lost. Followed at intervals of two or three hours by the announcement of the capture of Richmond, Selma, Mobile, and Johnston’s army, even the stanchest Southerners were hopeless. Every one proclaimed Peace, and the only matter under consideration was whether Jeff Davis, all politicians, every man above the rank of Captain in the army and above that of Lieutenant in the navy, should be hanged immediately, or some graciously pardoned. Henry Ward Beecher humanely pleaded mercy for us, supported by a small minority. Davis and all leading men must be executed; the blood of the others would serve to irrigate the country. Under this lively prospect, Peace, blessed Peace! was the cry. I whispered, “Never! Let a great earthquake swallow us up first! Let us leave our land and emigrate to any desert spot of the earth, rather than return to the Union, even as it Was!”

Six days this has lasted. Blessed with the silently obstinate disposition, I would not dispute, but felt my heart swell, repeating, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble,” and could not for an instant believe this could end in an overthrow.

This morning, when I went down to breakfast at seven, Brother read the announcement of the assassination of Lincoln and Secretary Seward.

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” This is murder! God have mercy on those who did it!

• • • • • • • •

Charlotte Corday killed Marat in his bath, and is held up in history as one of Liberty’s martyrs, and one of the heroines of her country. To me, it is all murder. Let historians extol blood-shedding; it is woman’s place to abhor it. And because I know that they would have apotheosized any man who had crucified Jeff Davis, I abhor this, and call it foul murder, unworthy of our cause — and God grant it was only the temporary insanity of a desperate man that committed this crime! Let not his blood be visited on our nation, Lord!

Across the way, a large building, undoubtedly inhabited by officers, is being draped in black. Immense streamers of black and white hang from the balcony. Downtown, I understand, all shops are closed, and all wrapped in mourning. And I hardly dare pray God to bless us, with the crape hanging over the way. It would have been banners, if our President had been killed, though!

No. 19 Dauphine St.,
Saturday night, December 31st, 1864.

One year ago, in my little room in the Camp Street house, I sat shivering over Tennyson and my desk, selfishly rejoicing over the departure of a year that had brought pain and discomfort only to me, and eagerly welcoming the dawning of the New One whose first days were to bring death to George and Gibbes, and whose latter part was to separate me from Miriam, and brings me news of Jimmy’s approaching marriage. O sad, dreary, fearful Old Year! I see you go with pain! Bitter as you have been, how do we know what the coming one has in store for us? What new changes will it bring? Which of us will it take? I am afraid of eighteen sixty-five, and have felt a vague dread of it for several years past.

Nothing remains as it was a few months ago. Miriam went to Lilly, in the Confederacy, on the 19th of October (ah! Miriam!), and mother and I have been boarding with Mrs. Postlethwaite ever since. I miss her sadly. Not as much, though, as I would were I less engaged. For since the first week in August, I have been teaching the children for Sister; and since we have been here, I go to them every morning instead of their coming to me. Starting out at half-past eight daily, and returning a little before three, does not leave me much time for melancholy reflections. And there is no necessity for indulging in them at present; they only give pain.

November 2d, 1864.

This morning we heard Jimmy is engaged to Helen Trenholm, daughter of the Secretary of the Confederate States. He wrote asking Brother’s consent, saying they had been engaged since August, though he had had no opportunity of writing until that day — the middle of September. I cried myself blind. It seems that our last one is gone. But this is the first selfish burst of feeling. Later I shall come to my senses and love my sister that is to be. But my darling! my darling! O Jimmy! How can I give you up? You have been so close to me since Harry died!

Alone now; best so.


Dead! Dead! Both dead! O my brothers! What have we lived for except you? We, who would have so gladly laid down our lives for yours, are left desolate to mourn over all we loved and hoped for, weak and helpless; while you, so strong, noble, and brave, have gone before us without a murmur. God knows best. But it is hard — O so hard! to give them up. . . .

If we had had any warning or preparation, this would not have been so unspeakably awful. But to shut one’s eyes to all dangers and risks, and drown every rising fear with “God will send them back; I will not doubt His mercy,” and then suddenly to learn that your faith has been presumption—and God wills that you shall undergo bitter affliction — it is a fearful awakening! What glory have we ever rendered to God that we should expect him to be so merciful to us? Are not all things His, and is not He infinitely more tender and compassionate than we deserve?

We have deceived ourselves wilfully about both. After the first dismay on hearing of Gibbes’s capture, we readily listened to the assertions of our friends that Johnson’s Island was the healthiest place in the world; that he would be better off, comfortably clothed and under shelter, than exposed to shot and shell, half fed, and lying on the bare ground during Ewell’s winter campaign. We were thankful for his safety, knowing Brother would leave nothing undone that could add to his comfort. And besides that, there was the sure hope of his having him paroled. On that hope we lived all winter — now confident that in a little while he would be with us, then again doubting for a while, only to have the hope grow surer afterwards. And so we waited and prayed, never doubting he would come at last. He himself believed it, though striving not to be too hopeful lest he should disappoint us, as well as himself. Yet he wrote cheerfully and bravely to the last. Towards the middle of January, Brother was sure of succeeding, as all the prisoners had been placed under Butler’s control. Ah me! How could we be so blind? We were sure he would be with us in a few weeks! I wrote to him that I had prepared his room.

On the 30th of January came his last letter, addressed to me, though meant for Lavinia. It was dated the 12th — the day George died. All his letters pleaded that I would write more frequently —he loved to hear from me; so I had been writing to him every ten days. On the 3d of February I sent my last. Friday the 5th, as I was running through Miriam’s room, I saw Brother pass the door, and heard him ask Miriam for mother. The voice, the bowed head, the look of utter despair on his face, struck through me like a knife. “Gibbes! Gibbes!” was my sole thought; but Miriam and I stood motionless looking at each other without a word. “Gibbes is dead,” said mother as he stood before her. He did not speak; and then we went in.

We did not ask how, or when. That he was dead was enough for us. But after a while he told us Uncle James had written that he had died at two o’clock on Thursday the 21st. Still we did not know how he had died. Several letters that had been brought remained unopened on the floor. One, Brother opened, hoping to learn something more. It was from Colonel Steadman to Miriam and me, written a few hours after his death, and contained the sad story of our dear brother’s last hours.

He had been in Colonel Steadman’s ward of the hospital for more than a week, with headache and sore throat, but it was thought nothing; he seemed to improve, and expected to be discharged in a few days. On the 21st he complained that his throat pained him again. After prescribing for him, and talking cheerfully with him for some time, Colonel Steadman left him surrounded by his friends, to attend to his other patients. He had hardly reached his room when some one ran to him saying Captain Morgan was dying. He hurried to his bedside, and found him dead. Captain Steadman, sick in the next bed, and those around him, said he had been talking pleasantly with them, when he sat up to reach his cup of water on the table. As soon as he drank it he seemed to suffocate; and after tossing his arms wildly in the air, and making several fearful efforts to breathe, he died.

• • • • • • • •

“Hush, mother, hush,” I said when I heard her cries. “We have Brother and George and Jimmy left, and Lydia has lost all!” Heaven pity us! George had gone before — only He in mercy kept the knowledge of it from us for a while longer.

On Thursday the 11th, as we sat talking to mother, striving to make her forget the weary days we had cried through with that fearful sound of “Dead! Dead!” ringing ever in our ears, some one asked for Miriam. She went down, and presently I heard her thanking somebody for a letter. “You could not have brought me anything more acceptable! It is from my sister, though she can hardly have heard from us yet!” I ran back, and sitting at mother’s feet, told her Miriam was coming with a letter from Lydia. Mother cried at the mention of her name. O my little sister! You know how dear you are to us! “Mother! Mother!” a horrible voice cried, and before I could think who it was, Miriam rushed in, holding an open letter in her hand, and perfectly wild. “George is dead!” she shrieked, and fell heavily to the ground.

O my God! I could have prayed Thee to take mother, too, when I looked at her. I thought — I almost hoped she was dead, and that pang spared! But I was wild myself. I could have screamed! —laughed! “It is false! Do you hear me, mother? God would not take both! George is not dead!” I cried, trying in vain to arouse her from her horrible state or bring one ray of reason to her eye. I spoke to a body alive only to pain; not a sound of my voice seemed to reach her; only fearful moans showed she was yet alive.

Miriam lay raving on the ground. Poor Miriam! her heart’s idol torn away. God help my darling! I did not understand that George could die until I looked at her. In vain I strove to raise her from the ground, or check her wild shrieks for death. “George! only George!” she would cry; until at last, with the horror of seeing both die before me, I mastered strength enough to go for the servant and bid her run quickly for Brother.

How long I stood there alone, I never knew. I remember Ada coming in hurriedly and asking what it was. I told her George was dead. It was a relief to see her cry. I could not; but I felt the pain afresh, as though it were her brother she was crying over, not mine. And the sight of her tears brought mine, too. We could only cry over mother and Miriam; we could not rouse them; we did not know what to do.

Some one called me in the entry. I went, not understanding what I was doing. A lady came to me, told me her name, and said something about George; but I could not follow what she said. It was as though she was talking in a dream. I believe she repeated the words several times, for at last she shook me and said, “Listen! Rouse yourself! the letter is about George!” Yes, I said; he is dead. She said I must read the letter; but I could not see, so she read it aloud. It was from Dr. Mitchell, his friend who was with him when he died, telling of his sickness and death. He died on Tuesday the 12th of January, after an illness of six days, conscious to the last and awaiting the end as only a Christian, and one who has led so beautiful a life, could, with the Grace of God, look for it. He sent messages to his brothers and sisters, and bade them tell his mother his last thoughts were of her, and that he died trusting in the mercy of the Saviour. George! our pride! our beautiful, angel brother! Could he die? Surely God has sent all these afflictions within these three years to teach us that our hopes must be placed Above, and that it is blasphemy to have earthly idols!

The letter said that the physicians had mistaken his malady, which was inflammation of the bowels, and he had died from being treated for something else. It seemed horrible cruelty to read me that part; I knew that if mother or Miriam ever heard of it, it would kill them. So I begged Mrs. Mitchell never to let them hear of it. She seemed to think nothing of the pain it would inflict; how could she help telling if they asked? she said. I told her I must insist on her not mentioning it; it would only add suffering to what was already insupportable; if they asked for the letter, offer to read it aloud, but say positively that she would not allow any one to touch it except herself, and then she might pass it over in silence. I roused Miriam then and sent her to hear it read. She insisted on reading it herself, and half dead with grief held out her hands, begging piteously to be suffered to read it alone. I watched then until I was sure Mrs. Mitchell would keep her promise. Horrible as I knew it to be from strange lips, I knew by what I experienced that I had saved her from a shock that might cost her her life; and then I went back to mother.

No need to conceal what I felt there! She neither spoke nor saw. If I had shrieked that he died of ill treatment, she would not have understood. But I sat there silently with that horrible secret, wondering if God would help me bear it, or if despair would deprive me of self-control and force me presently to cry it aloud, though it should kill them both.

At last Brother came. I had to meet him downstairs and tell him. God spare me the sight of a strong man’s grief! Then Sister came in, knowing as little as he. Poor Sister! I could have blessed her for every tear she shed. It was a comfort to see some one who had life or feeling left. I felt as though the whole world was dead. Nothing was real, nothing existed except horrible speechless pain. Life was a fearful dream through which but one thought ran —” Dead — Dead!”

Miriam had been taken to her room more dead than alive — Mother lay speechless in hers. The shock of this second blow had obliterated, with them, all recollection of the first. It was a mercy I envied them; for I remembered both, until loss of consciousness would have seemed a blessing. I shall never forget mother’s shriek of horror when towards evening she recalled it. O those dreadful days of misery and wretchedness! It seems almost sacrilege to refer to them now. They are buried in our hearts with our boys — thought of with prayers and tears.

How will the world seem to us now? What will life be without the boys? When this terrible strife is over, and so many thousands return to their homes, what will peace bring us of all we hoped? Jimmy! Dear Lord, spare us that one!


O God, O God, have mercy on us! George is dead! Both in a week. George, our sole hope — our sole dependence.


Not dead! not dead! O my God! Gibbes is not dead! Where — O dear God! Another?

Only a few days ago came a letter so cheerful and hopeful —we have waited and prayed so patiently — at my feet lies one from Colonel Steadman saying he is dead. Dead! Suddenly and without a moment’s warning summoned to God! No! it cannot be! I am mad! O God, have mercy on us! My poor mother! And Lydia! Lydia! God comfort you! My brain seems afire. Am I mad? Not yet! God would not take him yet! He will come again! Hush, God is good! Not dead! not dead!

O Gibbes, come back to us!

Wednesday, February 3d.

Last night we were thrown into the most violent state of commotion by the unexpected entrance of Captain Bradford. He has been brought here a prisoner, from Asphodel, where he has been ever since the surrender of Port Hudson, and taking advantage of his tri-weekly parole, his first visit was naturally here, as he has no other friends.

Poor creature, how he must have suffered! The first glance at his altered face where suffering and passion have both left their traces unmistakably since we last met, and the mere sight of his poor lame leg, filled my heart with compassion.

• • • • • • • •

How he hates Mr. Halsey! I could not forego the pleasure of provoking him into a discussion about him, knowing how they hated each other. He would not say anything against him; understand, that as a gentleman and a companion, Mr. Halsey was his warmest and best friend; there was no one he admired more; but he must say that as a soldier, he was the worst he had ever seen — not that he was not as brave and gallant a man as ever lived, but he neglected his duties most shamefully while visiting Linwood so constantly, eluding the sentinels daily as he asked for neither pass nor permission, and consulting only his inclinations instead of his superior officers or his business. And that last night at Linwood, when he absented himself without leave, why could he not have signified to him, his Captain, that he wished to say good-bye, instead of quietly doing as he pleased? When the Colonel sent for a report of the number of men, quantity of forage and ammunition, etc., and it was discovered that John Halsey was absent without leave, with the books locked up and the keys in his pocket — even after this lapse of time, the fire flashed through the ice as the Captain spoke. Sergeant Halsey, I am sorry for you when you reported yourself next day! All the fun that could have been crowded into an evening at Linwood could not have repaid you for the morning’s scene. And after all, what was it beyond very empty pleasure, with a great deal of laughter? He could have dispensed with it just as well. Looking back, I congratulate myself on being the only one who did not ask him to stay.