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

Diary of a Southern Refugee During the War by Judith White McGuire

May 4.—General Johnston surrendered on the 26th of April. “My native land, good-night!”

28th.—We have no mail communication, and can hear nothing from General Johnston. We go on as usual, but are almost despairing. Dear M., in her sadness, has put some Confederate money and postage stamps into a Confederate envelope, sealed it up, and endorsed it, “In memory of our beloved Confederacy.” I feel like doing the same, and treasuring up the buttons, and the stars, and the dear gray coats, faded and worn as they are, with the soiled and tattered banner, which has no dishonouring blot, the untarnished sword, and other arms, though defeated, still crowned with glory. But not yet—I cannot feel that all is over yet.

25th.—J. P. arrived to-day direct from Mosby’s command, which is disbanded, but has not surrendered. He is full of enthusiasm and visions of coming success, and is bent on joining Johnston. Dear boy, his hopeful spirit has infected me, and aroused a hope which I am afraid to indulge.

W., 24th.—On Saturday evening my brother’s wagon met us at the depot and brought us to this place, beautiful in its ruins. We have not been here since the besom of destruction swept over it, and to us, who have been in the habit of enjoying its hospitality when all was bright and cheerful, the change is very depressing. We miss the respectful and respectable servants, born in the family and brought up with an affection for the household which seemed a part of their nature, and which so largely contributed to the happiness both of master and servant. Even the nurse of our precious little J., the sole child of the house, whose heart seemed bound up in her happiness, has gone. It is touching to hear the sweet child’s account of the shock she experienced when she found that her “mammy,” deceived and misled by the minions who followed Grant’s army, had left her; and to see how her affection still clings to her, showing itself in the ardent hope that her “mammy” has found a comfortable home. The army had respected the interior of the house, because of the protection of the officers. Only one ornament was missing, and that was the likeness of this dear child. Since the fall of Richmond, a servant of the estate, who had been living in Washington, told me that it was in the possession of a maid-servant of the house, who showed it to him, saying that she “looked at it every day.” We all try to be cheerful and to find a bright side; and we occupy the time as cheerfully as we can. The governess having returned to her home in Norfolk, I shall employ myself in teaching my bright little niece here and the dear children at S. H., and feel blessed to have so pleasant a duty.

20th.—The cars on the Central Railroad will run tomorrow, for the first time, under Federal rule, and the day after we will use our passports and free tickets to leave the city—dearer than ever, in its captivity and ruin. It is almost impossible to get current money. A whole-hearted friend from Alexandria met me the other day, and with the straightforward simplicity due to friendship in these trying times, asked me at once, “Has your husband any money?” I told him I thought not. He replied, “Tell him I have between twenty-five and thirty dollars—that’s all— and he shall have half of it; tell him I say so.” Ten dollars were accepted, for the circumstances of want which pressed so hard, and for the kindly spirit in which it was offered. Two other friends came forward to share with us their little all. God help the warm hearts of our conquered but precious country! I know they will be blessed, and that light will yet shine through the blackness of darkness which now surrounds them.

Tuesday Night.—I try to dwell as little as possible on public events. I only feel that we have no country, no government, no future. I cannot, like some others, look with hope on Johnston’s army. He will do what he can; but ah, what can he do? Our anxiety now is that our President and other public men may get off in safety. O God! have mercy upon them and help them! For ourselves, like the rest of the refugees, we are striving to get from the city. The stereotyped question when we meet is, “When and where are you going?” Our country relatives have been very kind. My brother offers us an asylum in his devastated home at W. While there we must look around for some other place, in which to build up a home for our declining years. Property we have none—all gone. Thank God, we have our faculties; the girls and myself, at least, have health. Mr. —— bears up under our difficulties with the same hopeful spirit which he has ever manifested. “The Lord will provide,” is still his answer to any doubt on our part. The Northern officials offer free tickets to persons returning to their homes — alas! to their homes! How few of us have homes! Some are confiscated; others destroyed. The families of the army and navy officers are here. The husbands and sons are absent, and they remain with nothing to anticipate and nothing to enjoy. To-day I met a friend, the wife of a high official, whose hospitality I have often enjoyed in one of the most elegant residences in Virginia, which has been confiscated and used as a hospital for “contrabands.” Our conversation naturally turned on our prospects. Hearing where we were going, she replied, “I have no brother, but when I hear from my husband and son, I shall accept the whole-souled invitation of a relative in the country, who has invited me to make his house my home; but,” she added, as her beautiful eyes filled with tears, “when are our visits to end? We can’t live with our ruined relatives, and when our visits are over, what then? And how long must our visits of charity last?” The question was too sad; neither of us could command our voices, and we parted in silence and tears.

Sunday Night.—The Episcopal churches being closed, we went to the Rev. Dr. Hoge’s church. The rector was absent; he went off, to be in Confederate lines; but the Rev. Dr. Read, whose church is in ruins, occupied the pulpit.

Strange rumours are afloat to-night. It is said, and believed, that Lincoln is dead, and -Seward much injured. As I passed the house of a friend this evening, she raised the window and told me the report. Of course I treated it as a Sunday rumour; but the story is strengthened by the way which the Yankees treat it. They, of course, know all about it, and to-morrow’s papers will reveal the particulars. I trust that, if true, it may not be by the hand of an assassin, though it would seem to fulfil the warnings of Scripture. His efforts to carry out his abolition theories have caused the shedding of oceans of Southern blood, and by man it now seems has his blood been shed. But what effect will it have on the South? We may have much to fear. Future events will show. This event has made us wild with excitement and speculation.

General Lee has returned. He came unattended, save by his staff—came without notice, and without parade; but he could not come unobserved; as soon as his approach was whispered, a crowd gathered in his path, not boisterously, but respectfully, and increasing rapidly as he advanced to his home on Franklin Street, between 8th and 9th, where, with a courtly bow to the multitude, he at once retired to the bosom of his beloved family. When I called in to see his high-minded and patriotic wife, a day or two after the evacuation, she was busily engaged in her invalid’s chair, and very cheerful and hopeful. “The end is not yet,” she said, as if to cheer those around her; “Richmond is not the Confederacy.” To this we all most willingly assented, and felt very much gratified and buoyed by her brightness. I have not had the heart to visit her since the surrender, but hear that she still is sanguine, saying that “General Lee is not the Confederacy,” and that there is “life in the old land yet.” He is not the Confederacy; but our hearts sink within us when we remember that he and his noble army are now idle, and that we can no longer look upon them as the bulwark of our land. He has returned from defeat and disaster with the universal and profound admiration of the world, having done all that skill and valour could accomplish. The scenes at the surrender were noble and touching. General Grant’s bearing was profoundly respectful; General Lee’s as courtly and lofty as the purest chivalry could require. The terms, so honourable to all parties, being complied with to the letter, our arms were laid down with breaking hearts, and tears such as stoutest warriors may shed. “Woe worth the day!”

Good-Friday.—As usual, I went to the hospital, and found Miss T. in much trouble. A peremptory order has been given by the Surgeon-General to remove all patients. In the opinion of our surgeon, to five of them it would be certain death. The ambulances were at the door. Miss T. and myself decided to go at once to the Medical Director and ask him to recall the order. We were conducted to his office, and, for the first time since the entrance of the Federal army, were impolitely treated. On two occasions we had been obliged to make application to officials, and had been received with great respect and consideration, and we believe it has been uniformly the case; and we were, therefore, very much surprised when a request which seemed to us so reasonable was at first refused most decidedly. We could not give up our application, as it seemed to be a matter of life and death; so we told him what our surgeon had said, and that we hoped he would reconsider his order. He replied, that he should send a surgeon with the ambulances, and if in his judgment they could be removed, it should be done without hesitation, as he was determined to break up the small hospitals which you have all about town, (ours is the only small hospital in town,) and that he had ordered neither rations nor medicines to be issued to them. Miss T. told him that nothing of the sort was necessary; she had never asked nor received rations from the Federal Government; that she had now but five men under her care, and they were desperately wounded, and she would greatly prefer that the hospital should be considered in the light of a private establishment, which we could take care of without asking help. A change came over his countenance, but not his manner; he brusquely told us that he would “see about it.” In an hour afterwards the surgeon and the ambulance came, but after what seemed to me rather a pompous display of surgical examination and learned medical terms, addressed to the lady-nurses, he determined to leave our dear mangled soldiers to our care. One of them is in a dying condition; he cannot survive many hours.

We had no service in our churches to-day. An order came out in this morning’s papers that the prayers for the President of the United States must be used. How could we do it? Mr. —— went to the hospital by the request of Colonel Richardson, and had prayers in his room. Ambulances are constantly passing with horses in the finest possible condition—even finer than ours were in the beginning of the war. It seems to me passing strange that, with all their advantages, we kept them at bay so long, and conquered them so often. Had one port been left open to us— only one, by which we might have received food and clothing—Richmond would not now be in their hands; our men were starved into submission.

Thursday Night.—Fearful rumours are reaching us from sources which it is hard to doubt, that it is all too true, and that General Lee surrendered on Sunday last, the 9th of April. The news came to the enemy by telegram during the day, and to us at night by the hoarse and pitiless voice of the cannon. We know, of course, that circumstances forced it upon our great commander and his gallant army. How all this happened—how Grant’s hundreds of thousands overcame our little band, history, not I, must tell my children’s children. It is enough for me to tell them that all that bravery and self-denial could do has been done. We do not yet give up all hope. General Johnston is in the field, but there are thousands of the enemy to his tens. The citizens are quiet. The calmness of despair is written on every countenance. Private sorrows are now coming upon us. We know of but few casualties.

Wednesday Night.—We have heard nothing new to-day confirming the report of the surrender, which is perhaps the reason my spirit feels a little more light. We must hope, though our prospects should be as dark as the sky of this stormy night. Our wounded are doing well— those who remain in our hospital and the convalescents have been ordered to “Camp Jackson.” Indeed, all the patients were included in the same order; but Miss T. having represented that several of them were not in a condition to be removed, they have been allowed to remain where they are.

Colonel R. is improving, for which we are most thankful.