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

Thursday night, December 31st, 1863.

The last of eighteen sixty-three is passing away as I write. . . . Every New Year since I was in my teens, I have sought a quiet spot where I could whisper to myself Tennyson’s “ Death of the Old Year,” and even this bitter cold night I steal into my freezing, fireless little room, en robe de nuit, to keep up my old habit while the others sleep. . . .


“Old year, you shall not die;

We did so laugh and cry with you,

I ‘ye half a mind to die with you,

Old year, if you must die.”


No! Go and welcome! Bring Peace and brighter days, O dawning New Year. Die, faster and faster, Old One; I count your remaining moments with almost savage glee.

Monday, November 30th.

Our distress about Gibbes has been somewhat relieved by good news from Jimmy. The jolliest sailor letter from him came this morning, dated only the 4th instant from Cherbourg, detailing his cruise on the Georgia from leaving England, to Bahia, Trinidad, Cape of Good Hope, to France again. Such a bright, dashing letter! We laughed extravagantly over it when he told how they readily evaded the Vanderbilt, knowing she would knock them into “pie”; how he and the French Captain quarreled when he ordered him to show his papers, and how he did not know French abuse enough to enter into competition with him, so went back a first and second time to Maury when the man would not let him come aboard, whereupon Maury brought the ship to with two or three shots and Jimmy made a third attempt, and forced the Frenchman to show his papers. He tells it in such a matter-of-fact way! No extravagance, no idea of having been in a dangerous situation, he a boy of eighteen, on a French ship in spite of the Captain’s rage. What a jolly life it must be! Now dashing in storms and danger, now floating in sunshine and fun! Wish I was a midshipman! Then how he changes, in describing the prize with an assorted cargo that they took, which contained all things from a needle to pianos, from the reckless spurt in which he speaks of the plundering, to where he tells of how the Captain, having died several days before, was brought on the Georgia while Maury read the service over the body and consigned it to the deep by the flames of the dead man’s own vessel. What noble, tender, manly hearts it shows, those rough seamen stopping in their work of destruction to perform the last rites over their dead enemy. One can fancy their bare heads and sunburned faces standing in solemn silence around the poor dead man when he dropped into his immense grave. God bless the “pirates”!

November 26th.

Yes! It is so, if his own handwriting is any proof. Mr. Appleton has just sent Brother a letter he had received from Gibbes, asking him to let Brother know he was a prisoner, and we have heard, through some one else, that he had been sent to Sandusky. Brother has applied to have him paroled and sent here, or even imprisoned here, if he cannot be paroled.

Sunday, November 22d.

A report has just reached us that my poor dear Gibbes has been taken prisoner along with the rest of Hayes’s brigade.

Monday, November 9th.

Another odd link of the old, stale story has come to me, all the way from New York. A friend of mine, who went on the same boat with the prisoners, wrote to her mother to tell her that she had formed the acquaintance of the most charming, fascinating gentleman among them, no other than my once friend. Of course, she would have been less than a woman if she had not gossiped when she discovered who he was. So she sends me word that he told her he had been made to believe, as long as he was on parole in New Orleans, that we were all Unionists now, and that Brother would not allow a Confederate to enter the house. (O my little lisper, was I unjust to you?) He told her that I had been very kind to him when he was in prison, and he would have forgotten the rest and gladly have called to thank me in person for the kindness he so gratefully remembered, if I alone had been concerned; but he felt he could not force himself unasked into my brother’s house. . . .

She told him how false it was.

Tuesday, October 6th.

I hope this will be the last occasion on which I shall refer to the topic to which this unfortunate book seems to have been devoted. But it gives me a grim pleasure to add a link to the broken chain of the curious story, now and then. Maybe some day the missing links will be supplied me, and then I can read the little humdrum romance of What might have been, or What I ‘m glad never was, as easily as Marie tells her rosary.

Well! the prisoners have gone at last, to my unspeakable satisfaction. Day before yesterday they left. Now I can go out as I please, without fear of meeting him face to face. How odd that I should feel like a culprit! But that is in accordance with my usual judgment and consistency. Friday, I had a severe fright. Coming up Camp Street with Ada, after a ramble on Canal, we met two Confederates. Everywhere that morning we had met gray coats, but none that I recognized. Still, without looking, I saw through my eyelids, as it were, two hands timidly touch two gray caps, as though the question “May I?” had not yet been answered. In vain I endeavored to meet their eyes, or give the faintest token of greeting. I was too frightened and embarrassed to speak, and only by a desperate effort succeeded in bending my head in a doubtful bow, that would have disgraced a dairy maid, after we had passed. Then, disgusted with myself, I endeavored to be comforted with the idea that they had perhaps mistaken me for some one else; that having known me at a time when I was unable to walk, they could have no idea of my height and figure, or walk. So I reasoned, turning down a side street. Lo! at a respectable distance they were following! We had occasion to go into a daguerreau salon. While standing in the light, two gray uniforms, watching us from the dark recess at the door, attracted my attention. Pointing them out to Ada, I hurried her past them downstairs to the street. Faster and faster we walked, until at the corner I turned to look.

There they were again, sauntering leisurely along. We turned into another street, mingled in the crowd, and finally lost sight of them. That fright lasted me an hour or two. Whose purse have I stolen, that I am afraid to look these men in the face?

But what has this to do with what I meant to tell? How loosely and disconnectedly my ideas run out with the ink from my pen! I meant to say how sorry I am for my dear little lisper that she failed in her efforts to conquer the “Hero”; and here I have drifted off in a page of trash that does not concern her in the least. Well! she did not succeed, and whatever she told him was told in vain, as far as she was concerned. He was not to be caught! What an extraordinary man! Dozens fighting for the preference, and he in real, or pretended ignorance.

I must do him the justice to say he is the most guileless, as well as the most honest of mortals. He told the mother of a rich and pretty daughter what he thought of me; that my superior did not exist on earth, and my equal he had never met. Ha! ha! this pathetic story makes me laugh in spite of myself. Is it excess of innocence, or just a rôle he adopted? Stop! His idle word is as good as an oath. He could not pretend to what he did not believe. He told her of his earnest and sincere admiration — words! words! hurry on! She asked how it was then —? Here he confessed, with a mixture of pride and penitence, that he had written me letters which absolutely required answers, and to which I had never deigned to reply by even a word. That, mortified beyond measure at my silent contempt, he had tried every means of ascertaining the cause of my coldness, but I had never vouchsafed an answer, but had left him to feel the full force of my harsh treatment without one word of explanation. That when he was paroled, he had hoped that I would see him to tell him wherein he had forfeited my esteem; but I had not invited him to call, and mortified and repulsed as he had been, it was impossible for him to call without my permission. . . . Did my little lisper change the message when the little midshipman told her it had been intercepted because too friendly? I know she met this martyred Lion frequently after that and had many opportunities of telling him the simple truth, but she evidently did not.

He has gone away with sorely wounded feelings, to say nothing more; for that I am sincerely sorry; but I trust to his newly acquired freedom, and his life of danger and excitement, to make him forget the wrongs he believes himself to have suffered at my hands. If it was all to be gone through again (which thank Heaven, I will never be called upon to endure again), I would follow Brother’s advice as implicitly then as I did before. He is right, and without seeing, I believe. They tell me of his altered looks, and of his forced, reckless gaiety which, so strangely out of keeping with his natural character, but makes his assumed part more conspicuous. No matter! He will recover! Nothing like a sea voyage for disorders of all kinds. And we will never meet again; that is another consolation.

“Notice: The public are hereby informed through Mrs. —, Chief Manager of the Theatre of High Tragedy, that Miss Sarah M., having been proved unworthy and incompetent to play the rôle of Ariadne, said part will hereafter be filled by Miss Blank, of Blank Street, who plays it with a fidelity so true to nature that she could hardly be surpassed by the original.”

Friday, 25th.

Write me down a witch, a prophetess, or what you will. I am certainly something! All has come to pass on that very disagreeable subject very much as I feared. Perhaps no one in my position would speak freely on the subject; for that very reason I shall not hesitate to discuss it.

Know, then, that this morning, He went North along with many other Confederate prisoners, to be exchanged. And he left — he who has written so incessantly and so imploringly for me to visit his prison — he left without seeing me. Bon! Wonder what happened?

• • • • • • • •


I have learned more. He has not yet left; part of the mystery is unraveled, only I have neither patience nor desire to seek for more. These women —I Hush! to slander is too much like them; be yourself.

My sweet little lisper informed a select circle of friends the other night, when questioned, that the individual had not called on me, and, what was more, would not do so. “Pray, how do you happen to be so intimately acquainted with the affairs of two who are strangers to you?” asked a lady present. She declined saying how she had obtained her information, only asserting that it was so. “In fact, you cannot expect any Confederate gentleman to call at the house of Judge Morgan, a professed Unionist,” she continued. So that is the story she told to keep him from seeing me. She has told him that we had turned Yankees! All her arts would not grieve me as much as one word against Brother. My wrongs I can forget; but one word of contempt for Brother I never forgive! White with passion I said to my informant, “Will you inform the young lady that her visit will never be returned, that she is requested not to repeat hers, and that I decline knowing any one who dares cast the slightest reflection on the name of one who has been both father and brother to me!” This evening I was at a house where she was announced. Miriam and I bade our hostess good-evening and left without speaking to her. Anybody but Brother! No one shall utter his name before me save with respect and regard.

This young woman’s father is a Captain in the Yankee navy, and her brother is a Captain in the Yankee army, while three other brothers are in the Confederate. Like herself, I have three brothers fighting for the South; unlike her, the only brother who avows himself a Unionist has too much regard for his family to take up arms against his own flesh and blood.

Thursday, 10th September.

O my prophetic soul! part of your forebodings are already verified! And in what an unpleasant way!

Day before yesterday an English officer, not the one who came here, but one totally unknown to me, said at Mrs. Peirce’s he was going to visit the Confederate prisoners. He was asked if he knew any. Slightly, he said; but he was going this time by request; he had any quantity of messages to deliver to Colonel —— from Miss Sarah Morgan. “How can that be possible, since you are not acquainted with her?” Ada demanded. He had the impudence to say that the young lady I have already mentioned had requested him to deliver them for her, since she found it impossible. Fortunately for me, I have two friends left. Feeling the indelicacy of the thing, and knowing that there must be some mistake that might lead to unpleasant consequences, Ada and Marie, my good angels, insisted on hearing the messages. At first he refused, saying that they were entrusted to him confidentially; but being assured that they were really intimate with me, whereas the other was a perfect stranger, and that I would certainly not object to their hearing what I could tell a gentleman, he yielded, fortunately for my peace of mind, and told all.

I can’t repeat it. I was too horrified to hear all, when they told me. What struck me as being most shocking was my distorted explanation about the letters. It now set forth that I was not allowed to write myself, but would be happy to have him write to me; then there was an earnest assurance that my feelings toward him had not changed in the least —

Here I sprang from my chair and rushed to the window for a breath of air, wringing my hands in speechless distress. How a word more or less, an idea omitted or added, a syllable misplaced, can transform a whole sentence, and make what was before harmless, really shocking!

And if it had not been for Ada and Marie —! Blessed angels! they entreated him not to deliver any of his messages, insisting that there must be a mistake, that if he knew me he would understand that it was impossible for me to have sent such a message by a stranger. And although at first he declared he felt obliged to discharge the task imposed on him, they finally succeeded in persuading him to relinquish the errand, promising to be responsible for the consequences.

“Ah me!” I gasped last night, making frantic grimaces in the dark, and pinching myself in disgust, “why can’t they let me alone? . . . O women — women! I wish he could marry all of you, so you would let me alone! Take him, please; but en grâce don’t disgrace me in the excitement of the race!

Monday, August 24th.

A letter from Captain Bradford to Miriam. My poor Adonis, that I used to ridicule so unmercifully, what misfortunes have befallen him! He writes that during the siege at Port Hudson he had the top of his ear shot off (wonder if he lost any of that beautiful golden fleece yclept his hair?), and had the cap of his knee removed by a shell, besides a third wound he does not specify. Fortunately he is with kind friends. And he gives news of Lydia, most acceptable since such a time has elapsed since we heard from her. . . . He says, “Tell Miss Sarah that the last I saw of John, he was crossing the Mississippi in a skiff, his parole in his pocket, his sweet little sister by his side,” (O you wretch! at it again!) “and Somebody else in his heart.” How considerate to volunteer the last statement! Then followed half a page of commendation for his bravery, daring, and skill during the siege (the only kind word he ever spoke of him, I dare say), all looking as though I was to take it as an especial compliment to myself, and was expected to look foolish, blush, and say “Thanky” for it. As though I care!

Monday night.

I consider myself outrageously imposed upon! I am so indignant that I have spent a whole evening making faces at myself. “Please, Miss Sarah, look natural!” William petitions. “I never saw you look cross before.” Good reason! I never had more cause! However, I stop in the midst of a hideous grimace, and join in a game of hide the switch with the children to forget my annoyance.

Of course a woman is at the bottom of it. Last night while Ada and Marie were here, a young lady whose name I decline to reveal for the sake of the sex, stopped at the door with an English officer, and asked to see me in the entry. I had met her once before. Remember this, for that is the chief cause of my anger. Of course they were invited in; but she declined, saying she had but a moment, and had a message to deliver to me alone, so led me apart. “Of course you know who it is from?” she began. I told a deliberate falsehood, and said no, though I guessed instantly. She told me the name then. She had visited the prison the day before, and there had met the individual whose name, joined to mine, has given me more trouble and annoyance during the last few months than it would be possible to mention. “And our entire conversation was about you,” she said, as though to flatter my vanity immensely. He told her then that he had written repeatedly to me, without receiving an answer, and at last had written again, in which he had used some expressions which he feared had offended my reserved disposition. Something had made me angry, for without returning letter or message to say I was not displeased, I had maintained a resolute silence, which had given him more pain and uneasiness than he could say. That during all this time he had had no opportunity of explaining it to me, and that now he begged her to tell me that he would not offend me for worlds — that he admired me more than any one he had ever met, that he could not help saying what he did, but was distressed at offending me, etc. The longest explanation! And she was directed to beg me to explain my silence, and let him know if I was really offended, and also leave no entreaty or argument untried to induce me to visit the prison; he must see me.

As to visiting the prison, I told her that was impossible. (O how glad I am that I never did!) But as to the letters, told her “to assure him that I had not thought of them in that light, and had passed over the expressions he referred to as idle words it would be ridiculous to take offense at; and that my only reason for persevering in this silence had been that Brother disapproved of my writing to gentlemen, and I had promised that I would not write to him. That I had feared he would misconstrue my silence, and had wished to explain it to him, but I had no means of doing so except by breaking my promise; and so had preferred leaving all explanation to time, and some future opportunity.”

“But you did not mean to pain him, did you?” the dear little creature coaxingly lisped, standing on tiptoe to kiss me as she spoke. I assured her that I had not. “He has been dangerously ill,” she continued, apologizingly, “and sickness has made him more morbid and more unhappy about it than he would otherwise have been. It has distressed him a great deal.”

I felt awkwardly. How was it that this girl, meeting him for the first and only time in her life, had contrived to learn so much that she had no right to know, and appeared here as mediator between two who were strangers to her, so far usurping a place she was not entitled to, as to apologize to me for his sensitiveness, and to entreat me to tell him he had not forfeited my esteem, as though she was his most intimate friend, and I a passing acquaintance? Failing to comprehend it, I deferred it to a leisure moment to think over, and in the mean time exerted myself to be affable.

I can’t say half she spoke of, but as she was going she said, “Then will you give me permission to say as many sweet things for you as I can think of? I ‘m going there to-morrow.” I told her I would be afraid to give her carte blanche on such a subject; but that she would really oblige me by explaining about the letters. She promised, and after another kiss, and a few whispered words, left me.

Maybe she exaggerated, though! Uncharitable as the supposition was, it was a consolation. I was unwilling to believe that any one who professed to esteem me would make me the subject of conversation with a stranger—and such a conversation! So my comfort was only in hoping that she had related a combination of truth and fiction, and that he had not been guilty of such folly.

Presently it grew clearer to me. I must be growing in wickedness, to fathom that of others, I who so short a time ago disbelieved in the very existence of such a thing. I remembered having heard that the young lady and her family were extremely anxious to form his acquaintance, and that her cousin had coolly informed Ada that she had selected him among all others, and meant to have him for a “beau” as soon as she could be introduced to him; I remembered that the young lady herself had been very anxious to discover whether the reputation common report had given me had any foundation.

As soon as we were alone, I told mother of our conversation in the entry, and said, “And now I am certain that this girl has made use of my name to become acquainted with him.”

Sunday, 16th.

Coming out of church this morning with Miriam, a young lady ran up with an important air, as though about to create a sensation. “I have a message for you both,” she said, fixing her eyes on mine as though she sought something in them. “I visit the prisoners frequently, you know, and day before yesterday Captain Steadman requested me to beg you to call, that he will not take a refusal, but entreated you to come, if it were only once.” The fates must be against me; I had almost forgotten his existence, and having received the same message frequently from another, I thoughtlessly said, “You mean Colonel, do you not?” Fortunately Miriam asked the same question at the instant that I was beginning to believe I had done something very foolish. The lady looked at me with her calm, scrutinizing, disagreeable smile — a smile that had all the unpleasant insinuations eyes and lips can convey, a smile that looked like “I have your secret —you can’t deceive me” — and said with her piercing gaze, “ No, not the Colonel. He was very ill that day (did you know it?) and could not see us. This was really the Captain.” “He is very kind,” I stammered, and suggested to Miriam that we had better pass on. The lady was still eyeing me inquisitively. Decidedly, this is unpleasant to have the reputation of being engaged to a man that every girl is crazy to win! If one only cared for him, it would not be so unpleasant; but under the circumstances, — ah ça! why don’t they make him over to the young lady whose father openly avows he would be charmed to have him for a son-in-law? This report has cost me more than one impertinent stare. The young ladies think it a very enviable position. Let some of them usurp it, then!

So the young lady, not having finished her examination, proposed to accompany us part of the way. As a recompense, we were regaled with charming little anecdotes about herself, and her visits. How she had sent a delightful little custard to the Colonel (here was a side glance at my demure face) and had carried an autographic album in her last visit, and had insisted on their inscribing their names, and writing a verse or so. “How interesting!” was my mental comment. “Can a man respect a woman who thrusts him her album, begging for a compliment the first time they meet? What fools they must think us, if they take such as these for specimens of the genus!”

Did we know Captain Lanier? Know him, no! but how vividly his face comes before me when I look back to that grand smash-up at Port Hudson, when his face was the last I saw before being thrown, and the first I recognized when I roused myself from my stupor and found myself in the arms of the young Alabamian. At the sound of his name, I fairly saw the last ray of sunset flashing over his handsome face, as I saw it then. No, I did not know him. He had spoken to me, begging to be allowed to hold me, and I had answered, entreating him not to touch me, and that was all I knew of him; but she did not wait for the reply. She hurried on to say that she had sent him a bouquet, with a piece of poetry, and that he had been heard to exclaim, “How beautiful!” on reading it. “And do you know,” she continued, with an air that was meant to be charmingly naïf, but which was not very successful, as naiveté at twenty-nine is rather flat, “I am so much afraid he thinks it original! I forgot to put quotation marks, and it would be so funny in him to make the mistake! For you know I have not much of the —of that sort of thing about me — I am not a poet —poetess, author, you know.” Said Miriam in her blandest tone, without a touch of sarcasm in her voice, “Oh, if he has ever seen you, the mistake is natural!” If I had spoken, my voice would have carried a sting in it. So I waited until I could calmly say, “You know him well, of course.” “No, I never saw him before!” she answered with a new outburst of naiveté.