31st.—The last day of this exciting, troubled summer of 1864. How many young spirits have fled—how many bleeding, breaking hearts have been left upon earth, from the sanguinary work of this summer! Grant still remains near Petersburg; still by that means is he besieging Richmond. He has been baffled at all points, and yet his indomitable perseverance knows no bounds. Sherman still besieges Atlanta. God help us!
We are again troubled in mind and body about engaging rooms; we find we must give up these by the 1st of October, and have begun the usual refugee occupation of room-hunting.
Letters from our friends in the Valley, describing the horrors now going on there. A relative witnessed the burning of three very large residences on the 20th of August. General Custar was stationed with his brigade of Michigan Cavalry near Berryville. He had thrown out pickets on all the roads, some of which were fired on by Mosby’s men. This so exasperated the Federals, that an order was at once issued that whenever a picket-post was fired on the nearest house should be burned. On the morning of the 20th this dreadful order was put into execution, and three large houses were burnt to the ground, together with barns, wheat-stacks, and outhouses. The house of Mr. —— was near a picket-post, and about midnight on the 19th a messenger arrived with a note announcing the sudden death of Mrs.—— ‘s sister, on a plantation not many miles distant. A lamp was lighted to read the note, and, unfortunately, a little while afterwards the picket-post was fired on and one man wounded. The lighting of the lamp was regarded as a signal to Colonel Mosby. During the same night the pickets near two other large houses were fired on. This being reported at head-quarters, the order was at once issued to burn all three houses. Two companies of the Fifth Michigan Cavalry, commanded by Captain Drake, executed the fearful order. They drew up in front of Mr. ——’s house and asked for him. ” Are you Mr. ——?” demanded the Captain. “I have orders to burn your house.” In vain Mr. —— remonstrated. He begged for one hour, that he might see General Custar and explain the circumstances of the night before; he also pleaded the illness of his son-in-law, then in the house. No reply was vouchsafed to the old gentleman, but with a look of hardened ferocity, he turned to the soldiers, with the order: “Men, to your work, and do it thoroughly!” In an instant the torch was applied to that home of domestic elegance and comfort. One soldier seized the sick son-in-law, who is a surgeon in our service, threatening to carry him to head-quarters, and was with difficulty prevented by the kind interposition of Dr. Sinclair, the surgeon of the regiment. They allowed the family to save as much furniture as they could. but the servants were all gone, and there was no one near to help them. The soldiers at once went to Mr. —— ‘s secretary, containing $40,000 in bonds, destroyed it, and scattered the mutilated papers to the winds. Matches were applied to window and bed curtains; burning coals were sprinkled in the linen-closet, containing every variety of house and table linen. Mrs. ——, the daughter, opened a drawer, and taking her jewelry, embracing an elegant diamond ring and other valuables, was escaping with them to the yard, when she was seized by two ruffians on the stair-steps, held by the arms by one, while the other forcibly took the jewels; they then, as she is a very small woman, lifted her over the banister and let her drop into the passage below; fortunately it was not very far and she was not at all injured. Nothing daunted, she rushed up-stairs, to rescue a box containing her bridal presents of silver, which was concealed in the wall above a closet. She climbed up to the highest shelf of the closet, seized the box, and, with unnatural strength, threw .it through the window into the yard below. While still on the shelf, securing other things from their hiding-place, all unconscious of danger, a soldier set fire to some dresses hanging on the pegs below the shelf on which she stood. The first intimation she had of it was feeling the heat; she then leaped over the flames to the floor; her stockings were scorched, but she was not injured. She next saw a man with the sign of the Cross on his coat; she asked him if he was a chaplain? He replied that he was. She said, “Then in mercy come, and help me to save some of my mother’s things.” They went into her mother’s chamber, and she hurriedly opened the bureau drawer, and began taking out the clothes, the chaplain assisting, but what was her horror to see him putting whatever he fancied into his pocket—among other things a paper of pins. She says she could not help saying, as she turned to him, A minister of Christ stealing pins!!” In a moment the chaplain was gone, but the pins were returned to the bureau. Mrs. —— is the only daughter of Mr. —— , and was the only lady on the spot. Her first care, when she found the house burning, was to secure her baby, which was sleeping in its cradle up-stairs. A guard was at the foot of the steps, and refused to let her pass; she told him that she was going to rescue her child from the flames. “Let the little d——d rebel burn!” was the brutal reply. But his bayonet could not stop her; she ran by, and soon returned, bearing her child to a place of safety. When the house had be come a heap of ruins, the mother returned from the bedside of her dead sister, whither she had gone at daylight that morning, on horseback, (for her harness had been destroyed by the enemy, making her carriage useless.) She was, of course, overwhelmed with grief and with horror at the scene before her. As soon as she dismounted, a soldier leaped on the horse, and rode off with it. Their work of destruction in one place being now over, they left it for another scene of vengeance.
The same ceremony of Captain Drake’s announcing his orders to the mistress of the mansion (the master was a prisoner) being over, the torch was applied. The men had dismounted; the work of pillage was going on merrily; the house was burning in every part, to insure total destruction. The hurried tramp of horses’ feet could not be heard amidst the crackling of flames and falling of rafters, but the sudden shout and cry of “No quarter! no quarter!” from many voices, resounded in the ears of the unsuspecting marauders as a death-knell. A company of Mosby’s men rushed up the hill and charged them furiously; they were aroused by the sound of danger, and fled hither and thither. Terrified and helpless, they were utterly unprepared for resistance. The cry of “No quarter! no quarter!” still continued. They hid behind the burning ruins; they crouched in the corners of fences; they begged for life; but their day of grace was past. The defenceless women, children, and old men of the neighbourhood had borne their tortures too long; something must be done, and all that this one company of braves could do, was done. Thirty were killed on the spot, and others, wounded and bleeding, sought refuge, and asked pity of those whom they were endeavouring to ruin. ——writes: “Two came to us, the most pitiable objects you ever beheld, and we did what we could for them; for, after all, the men are not to blame half so much as the officers. Whether these things have been ordered by Sheridan or Custar, we do not know. These two wounded men, and all who took refuge among Secessionists, were removed that night, contrary to our wishes, for we knew that their tortures in the ambulances would be unbearable; but they were unwilling to trust them, and unable to believe that persons who were suffering so severely from them could return good for evil.
“One man gruffly remarked: ‘If we leave any of them with you all, Mosby will come and kill them over again.’ We have since heard that those two men died that night. The pickets were then drawn in nearer to head quarters. All was quiet for the rest of the day, and as Colonel Mosby had but one company in that section of the country, it had of course retired. That night, two regiments (for they could not trust themselves in smaller numbers) were seen passing along the road; their course was marked by the torches which they carried. They rode to the third devoted house, and burned it to the ground. No one knows whose house will be the next object of revenge. Some fancied wrong may make us all homeless. We keep clothes, house-linen, and every thing compressible, tied up in bundles, so that they can be easily removed.”
Such are some of the horrors that are being enacted in Virginia at this time. These instances, among many, many others, I note in my diary, that my children’s children may know what we suffer during this unnatural war. Sheridan does not mean that Hunter or Butler shall bear the palm of cruelty—-honours will at least be divided. I fear, from appearances, that he will exceed them, before his reign of terror is over. —— says she feels as if she were nightly encircled by fire—camp-fires, picket-fires, with here and there stacks of wheat burning, and a large fire now and then in the distance, denote the destruction of something— it may be a dwelling, or it may be a barn.