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

26th.—The sad Christmas has passed away. J. and C. were with us, and very cheerful. We exerted ourselves to be so too. The Church services in the morning were sweet and comforting. St. Paul’s was dressed most elaborately and beautifully with evergreens; all looked as usual; but there is much sadness on account of the failure of the South to keep Sherman back. When we got home our family circle was small, but pleasant. The Christmas turkey and ham were not. We had aspired to a turkey, but finding the prices range from $50 to $100 in the market on Saturday, we contented ourselves with roast-beef and the various little dishes which Confederate times have made us believe are tolerable substitutes for the viands of better days. At night I treated our little party to tea and ginger cakes— two very rare indulgences; and but for the sorghum, grown in our own fields, the cakes would be an impossible indulgence. Nothing but the well-ascertained fact that Christmas comes but once a year would make such extravagance at all excusable. We propose to have a family gathering when the girls come home, on the day before or after New Year’s day, (as that day will come on Sunday,) to enjoy together, and with one or two refugee friends, the contents of a box sent the girls by a young officer who captured it from the enemy, consisting of white sugar, raisins, preserves, pickles, spices, etc. They threaten to give us a plum-cake, and I hope they will carry it out, particularly if we have any of our army friends with us. Poor fellows, how they enjoy our plain dinners when they come, and how we love to see them enjoy them! Two meals a day has become the universal system among refugees, and many citizens, from necessity. The want of our accustomed tea or coffee is very much felt by the elders. The rule with us is only to have tea when sickness makes it necessary, and the headaches gotten up about dark have become the joke of the family. A country lady, from one of the few spots in all Virginia where the enemy has never been, and consequently where they retain their comforts, asked me gravely why we did not substitute milk for tea. She could scarcely believe me when I told her that we had not had milk more than twice in eighteen months, and then it was sent by a country friend. It is now $4 a quart.


24th.—Savannah has been evacuated, without loss to us, except of some stores, which could not be removed. The city was surrendered by its mayor, Arnold by name, and he seems to be worthy of the traitorous name. Our troops marched towards Charleston. Savannah was of little use to us for a year past, it has been so closely blockaded, and its surrender relieves troops which were there for its defence, which may be more useful elsewhere; but the moral effect of its fall is dreadful. The enemy are encouraged, and our people depressed. I never saw them more so.

On the 22d General Rosser beat a division of the enemy near Harrisonburg, and on the 23d General Lomax repulsed and severely punished another, near Gordonsville.

To-morrow is Christmas-day. Our girls and B. have gone to Cedar Hill to spend a week. Our office has suspended its labours, and I am anticipating very quiet holidays. A Christmas present has just been handed me from my sweet young friend S. W.—a box filled with all manner of working materials, which are now so scarce and expensive, with a beautiful mat for my toilet at the bottom of it. Christmas will come on the Sabbath. The “Colonel” is gone, but J. and C. will take their usual Sunday dinner, and I have gotten up a little dessert, because Christmas would not be Christmas without something better than usual; but it is a sad season to me. On last Christmas-day our dear R. T. C. was buried; and yesterday I saw my sweet young cousin E. M. die, and to-morrow expect to attend her funeral. Full of brightness and animation, full of Christian hope and charity, she was the life of her father’s house, the solace and comfort of her already afflicted mother, one of the many mothers whose first-born has fallen a sacrifice to the war. This interesting girl, with scarcely a warning, has passed into heaven, leaving a blank in the hearts of her family never to be filled.


17th.—The military movements are important, but to what they tend we know not. More troops have been added from Sheridan to Grant, and Early to Lee, and Sherman has crossed Georgia with little opposition or loss. Our last news is, that he has taken Fort McAllister, some miles below Savannah. What fate awaits that city we tremble to think of. A raid on Bristol and up the railroad, towards Saltville, has alarmed us for the salt-works; but General Breckinridge having turned up in the right place, suddenly appeared in their front and drove them off, to the great relief of the public mind.


December 4, Sunday.—We attended this evening the funeral of Colonel Angus W. McDonald, the relative of Mr. —— . His is a sad story. He was educated at West Point, but in early life resigned his position in the regular army and joined a company of fur traders, went with them to the Rocky Mountains, where he led an adventurous life, well suited to his excitable temper. For years his life was full of adventure, with the broad heavens for his roof and the cold earth for his couch. With a bold spirit and great muscular power, he soon acquired extensive influence with the Indian tribes among which he moved, and was chosen as the chief of one of them, where he was known as the “Big Warrior.” As such he led his braves to many a hard-fought battle, and taught surrounding tribes to fear him and them, by such courage and prowess as always so deeply impress the savage mind. Many incidents of his life among the Indians are full of interest. On one occasion, having received an injury from a neighbouring tribe, he sent to them that he was coming to settle with them for it, and that they must meet him for the purpose, at a certain time and place. Accordingly, all their warriors were assembled and seated in due form, at the proper distance from and around a central post, ready and waiting for the conference. At the appointed time, the “Big Warrior,” in full dress, made his appearance, and striding through to the centre of the dark, silent circle, he struck his tomahawk deep into the “post,” and looking quietly but sternly around from one gloomy warrior to another, he in few words told them why he was there, and what he required of them. “You have insulted me,” said he; “you robbed some of my men, and you killed two of them; you must restore the goods and give up the murderers, or you must fight it out, and I am here for that purpose.” His imposing appearance, his boldness, the justice of his cause, and his steady purpose of retaliating to the full, so awed them, that his terms were promptly assented to, and he quickly returned to his people with the most ample satisfaction for the injuries they had received. He grew weary of this life after some years, and determined to return to his early home and associations. Acting upon this impulse, we next find him in Romney, Hampshire County, among his kindred, where he quietly resumed the duties of civilized life, was married, and practised law for years. Still restless and different from other men, he was constantly speculating in one thing and another—politics, property, etc. At one time he was in the Virginia Legislature, and controlled the vote of his county in a way new to our republican experience. For this purpose he got possession of a large mountain region, filling it with a population whom he ruled very much as a Scottish chief would have done in his ancestral Highlands, and using their votes to decide any public controversy in which he chose to engage. This, of course, did not last long; it was too much opposed to the public views and feelings, and under the consequent changes around him, he found it expedient to return to private life. From this retirement, however, his native State soon recalled him, as one of the three commissioners to settle the boundary line between Maryland and Virginia. In his capacity as such, the Virginia Legislature sent him to England to examine the public records bearing upon this subject. He discharged the duties of his mission with ability and success, as his voluminous report will show. The present war found him residing with his large family near Winchester, his native place. The Confederate Government having given him the commission of a colonel, it was hoped that he would be of great use in the bloody contest; but a discipline better suited in its severity to Indian warriors than to our high-minded volunteers, together with advanced years and declining health, disappointed the expectations of himself and his friends. He found, indeed, that bodily infirmity alone rendered him unfit for active service, and this, with other difficulties, made it proper to break up his command. Thus it happened that when that brute, Hunter, marched through Lexington, spreading desolation in his path, Colonel McDonald, then a resident of the town, believing that the enemy, who had manifested great harshness towards him, injuring his property near Winchester, .etc., would arrest him, determined to keep out of their way, and with others took refuge in a neighbouring forest. Here, unfortunately, the enemy found him, with his son Harry, a youth of some sixteen years, and took them prisoners. It is somewhat singular that the presence of this devoted son caused the father’s arrest. He had always determined that he would never surrender, never be taken alive. But when he looked at this boy, who had fought so nobly by his side, and who would surely be sacrificed if he refused to surrender, he could fight no longer; it seemed to him, as he afterwards said, as the voice from Heaven which stayed the armed hand of Abraham, and he could not fire another shot. Father and son were thus captured. Harry escaped in a day or two; but the father was tied and dragged along at a rapid pace towards the Maryland line. When he could no longer walk a step, they allowed him to get into a wagon with nothing to rest upon but some old iron, rough tools, etc. Thus they hastened him to Cumberland, Maryland, where they handcuffed him and put him into solitary confinement; thence he was hurried to Wheeling, where he was again, with his manacles on, shut up in a dungeon, seven feet by ten, with nothing to relieve the sufferings incident to such a fate, nothing to expect or hope for, but the bitterest cruelty. From this dreadful captivity he was released two or three weeks ago, and reached the house of his daughter, in this city, with health, bad for years, now worse than ever, and constitution entirely broken by hard and cruel bondage. Cheered by freedom, and the society of his children who were here, he flattered himself that he would be enabled to return to his home of refuge in Lexington. This hope proved delusive. It soon appeared that his whole nervous system was shattered, and his end rapidly approaching; his wife was sent for, but did not arrive until the day after he died. Not dreaming of what awaited her, she came full of hope and joy at the anticipated meeting. But who may describe the grief which overwhelmed her on her arrival? His checkered life was closed in his sixty-sixth year. The funeral took place this evening at St. Paul’s Church. He was buried with military honors, at Hollywood Cemetery. While manacled in the horrid dungeon, his only petition was to be allowed to keep a Bible, from which he professed to have derived great peace and comfort. His family think that he returned from prison a changed man. His spirit, which was naturally stern, had become gentle and loving, and strangely grateful to every being who showed him the least kindness. The Bible was still his daily companion; from it he seemed to derive great comfort and an abiding faith in Christ his Saviour.


23d.—Military movements are kept very much in the dark. Nothing going on about Richmond, except cannonading, particularly at Dutch Gap.

Sherman is moving across Georgia in direction of Milledgeville, looking towards Savannah, or perhaps Charleston, or to some intermediate point on the coast, where he may, if necessary, meet with reinforcements and supplies from Federal shipping already there, or on their way down the Atlantic coast for that very purpose. Efforts are being made by the Governors of South Carolina and Georgia to arrest him. Beauregard, too, has made a short, stirring address, assuring them that he was hastening down to their aid, and that with proper exertions which might be made on their part, the destruction of the enemy would be certain. Nothing equal to the demands of these trying times has yet been done by any of the authorities. Oh that they would strain every nerve to put a stop to this bold and desolating invader! It would require united effort, made without delay. No hesitation, no doubting and holding back must there be; every human being capable of bearing arms must fly to the rescue; all the stores of every kind should be destroyed or removed; bridges burned, roads torn up or obstructed; every difficulty should be thrown in the way. He should be harassed day and night, that he might be delayed, and entrapped, and ruined. Oh that these things could be done! It may be a woman’s thought, but I believe that had Georgia one tithe of the experience of the ruined, homeless Virginians, she would exert every fibre of her frame to destroy the enemy; she would have no delusive hope of escape. I trust that the doctrines of Brown, Stephens, and such like, are not now bearing their bitter fruits! that the people of patriotic Georgia have not been rendered unfit for the sacrifices and dangers of this fearful day, when every man is required to stand in the deadly breach, and every earthly interest, even life itself, must be surrendered rather than yield to the barbarous foe, by their treasonable doctrines of reconstruction, reunion, etc. Oh, I trust not; and I hope that our now uncertain mails may bring information that all Georgia and South Carolina are aroused to their awful condition.


21st.—We attended hospital services yesterday as usual. There are few patients, and none are very ill. On Friday night a most unexpected death took place, under very painful circumstances. A young adjutant lost his life by jumping out of a window at the head of his bed, about ten feet from the ground. His attendants were a sister, brother, and two servants. His suffering with a wound in his foot had been so intense that he would not allow any one to touch it except the ward-master, who handled it with the greatest tenderness. Yet while his attendants were asleep (for they thought it unnecessary to be up with him all night) he managed to get up, raise the window, and throw himself out, without disturbing one of them. His mind was no doubt unsettled, as it had been before. He lived about an hour after being found. His poor sister was wild with grief and horror, and his other attendants dreadfully shocked.


November 13.—The “military situation” seems very much the same. Some cheering intimations from Georgia. Hood has made movements on Sherman’s flank, and Forrest upon his rear, which it is thought promise most valuable results, but nothing final has been yet accomplished, and we may be too sanguine.

General Price is still successful in Missouri.

In the Valley of Virginia an immense amount of private property has been destroyed. Sheridan, glorying in his shame, boasts of, and probably magnifies, what has been done in that way. He telegraphs to Grant that he has burned 2,000 barns. The Lord shorten his dreadful work, and have mercy upon the sufferers!

Nothing new about Richmond. A few days ago the enemy made several attempts to advance upon the Darbytown road, and were handsomely repulsed. The firing of cannon is so common a sound that it is rather remarkable when we do not hear it.

Mr. —— has been telling us of some other interesting cases in his hospital; among them, that of Captain Brown, of North Carolina, has awakened our sympathies. He came into the hospital bright and cheerful, with every appearance of speedy recovery. He talked a great deal of his wife and six children at home, one of whom he had never seen. Knowing that his wife would be sick, he had obtained a furlough, and made arrangements to go home, but the recent battles coming on, he would not leave his post. Through many a hard-fought action God had kept him unharmed; he had never been touched by a solitary weapon, until he began to feel that there was not the slightest danger to him, even amid the harvest of death. He wrote that he should be at home as soon as this fight was over; but it was not to be so, and he soon came into the hospital severely wounded. As he lay upon his bed of suffering, the image of his dear wife in her sickness and sorrow, and then with her new-born infant, seemed constantly before him. “I intended to be there,” he would say dreamily; “I made all my arrangements to be there; I know she wants me; she wrote to me to come to her; oh, I wish I was there, but now I can’t go, but I hope I did right; I hope it is all right.” A letter from her, speaking of herself and infant as doing well relieved his anxiety, and he tried to bear the disappointment with patience, still hoping soon to be at home. God, however, had ordered it otherwise. The word had gone forth, “He shall not return to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.” Gangrene appeared, and it was melancholy to see his strength giving way, his hopes fading, and death coming steadily on. He was a professor of religion, and Mr. —— says he was always ready to hear the word of God, and, though anxious to live, yet he put himself into the Lord’s hand, with humble faith and hope, such as may give his friends assurance that death was gain to him.

The war news seems encouraging. Many persons are very despondent, but I do not feel so—perhaps I do not understand the military signs. Our men below Richmond have certainly had many successes of late. Sheridan, instead of capturing Lynchburg, as he promised, is retreating down the Valley. In the South, the army of Tennessee is in Sherman’s rear, and Forrest still carries every thing before him. General Price seems to be doing well in Missouri; Arkansas and Texas seem to be all right. Kentucky, too, (poor Kentucky!) seems more hopeful. Then why should we despond? Maryland, alas for Maryland! the tyrant’s heel appears too heavy for her, and we grievously fear that the prospect of her union with the South is rapidly passing away. If we must give her up, it will not be without sorrow and mortification. We shall mournfully bewail her dishonour and shame. If her noble sons who have come to the South must return, they will take with them our gratitude and admiration for their gallant bearing in many a hard-fought battle. Readily will we receive those who choose to remain among us; and in holy ground take care of her honoured dead, who so freely gave their lives for Southern rights. The Potomac may seem to some the natural boundary between North and South; but it is hard to make up one’s mind yet to the entire surrender of our sister State; and if we could, gladly would we hope for Maryland, even as we hope for the Southern Confederacy herself.


28th.—Very much interested lately in the hospitals; not only in our own, “the Robertson hospital,” but in Mr. —— ‘s, ” the officers’ hospital.”

He has just told me of a case which has interested me deeply. An officer from the far South was brought in mortally wounded. He had lost both legs in a fight below Petersburg. The poor fellow suffered excessively; could not be still a moment; and was evidently near his end. His brother, who was with him, exhibited the bitterest grief, watching and waiting on him with silent tenderness and flowing tears. Mr. —— was glad to find that he was not unprepared to die. He had been a professor of religion for some years, and told him that he was suffering too much to think on that or any other subject, but he constantly tried to look to God for mercy. Mr. —— then recognized him, for the first time, as a patient who had been in the hospital last spring, and whose admirable character had then much impressed him. He was a gallant and brave officer, yet so kind and gentle to those under his control that his men were deeply attached to him, and the soldier who nursed him showed his love by his anxious care of his beloved captain. After saying to him a few words about Christ and his free salvation, offering up a fervent prayer in which he seemed to join, and watching the sad scene for a short time, Mr. —— left him for the night. The surgeons apprehended that he would die before morning, and so it turned out; at the chaplain’s early call there was nothing in his room but the chilling signal of the empty “hospital bunk.” He was buried that day, and we trust will be found among the redeemed in the day of the Lord. This, it was thought, would be the last of this good man; but in the dead of night came hurriedly a single carriage to the gate of the hospital. A lone woman, tall, straight, and dressed in deep mourning, got quickly out, and moved rapidly up the steps into the large hall, where, meeting the guard, she asked anxiously, “Where’s Captain T.?” Taken by surprise, the man answered hesitatingly, “Captain T. is dead, madam, and was buried to-day.” This terrible announcement was as a thunderbolt at the very feet of the poor lady, who fell to the floor as one dead. Starting up, oh, how she made that immense building ring with her bitter lamentations! Worn down with apprehension and weary with travelling over a thousand miles by day and night, without stopping for a moment’s rest, and wild with grief, she could hear no voice of sympathy—she regarded not the presence of one or many; she told the story of her married life, as if she were alone— how her husband was the best man that ever lived; how everybody loved him; how kind he was to all; how devoted to herself; how he loved his children, took care of, and did every thing for them; how, from her earliest years almost, she had loved him as herself; how tender he was of her, watching over her in sickness, never seeming to weary of it, never to be unwilling to make any sacrifice for her comfort and happiness; how that, when the telegraph brought the dreadful news that he was dangerously wounded, she never waited an instant nor stopped a moment by the way, day nor night, and now “I drove as fast as the horses could come from the depot to this place, and he is dead and buried!—I never shall see his face again!” “What shall I do?”—”But where is he buried?” They told her where. “I must go there; he must be taken up; I must see him!” “But, madam, you can’t see him; he has been buried some hours.” “But I must see him; I can’t live without seeing him; I must hire some one to go and take him up; can’t you get some one to take him up? I’ll pay him well; just get some men to take him up. I must take him home; he must go home with me. The last thing I said to his children was, that they must be good children, and I would bring their father home, and they are waiting for him now! He must go; I can’t go without him; I can’t meet his children without him!” and so, with her woman’s heart, she could not be turned aside—nothing could alter her purpose. The next day she had his body taken up and embalmed. She watched by it until every thing was ready, and then carried him back to his own house and his children, only to seek a grave for the dead father close by those he loved, among kindred and friends in the fair sunny land he died to defend. Many painfully interesting scenes occur, which I would like so much to write in my diary, but time fails me at night, and my hours of daylight are very closely occupied.

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26th.—The armies around Richmond continue quiet. General Early’s second misfortune was very depressing to us all. We are now recovering from it. I trust that God will turn it all to our good. A striking and admirable address from him to his soldiers was in the morning papers. Oh, I trust they will retrieve their fortunes hereafter.


20th.—Nothing new in the field. Armies quiet; perhaps preparing for dreadful work. I got a note last night from J. P., written with a pencil. He and other prisoners are working ten hours a day on “Dutch Gap Canal.” They work under the fire of our own batteries. Poor fellow! my heart yearns over him.