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

December 6.—I this morning attended the funeral of Mr. John Seddon, brother of the Secretary of War. It was a most solemn occasion; he was a man of fine talents and high character. The Rev. Dr. Moore, of the Presbyterian Church, preached a most beautiful sermon.

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December 4.—On Friday last there was a severe fight on the Rapidan, at Germanna Ford. The enemy were splendidly repulsed; but my dear Raleigh T. Colston, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Second Regiment, was shot through his left leg, which was amputated on the field. I thank God that he is doing well, and feel so thankful that his life was spared! His mother was in Powhatan, on a visit to one of her daughters; but, becoming uneasy at seeing that General Edward Johnson’s Division had been engaged, immediately came to Richmond. The cars arrived at night, and she came directly to our rooms. We were surprised to see her, and I, supposing that she had heard of her son’s misfortune, was about to say what I could to relieve her mind, when she exclaimed, “I know that my sons are safe, from your countenance.” “Yes,” said I; “W. is safe, and R. is doing well; he was wounded in his leg.” “Severely?” she asked. “His left leg has been amputated below the knee; he is at the University, under the care of Mr. and Mrs. Minor and his sisters, and is doing remarkably well. Colonel Ruffin received a telegram to-day, and I a letter.” She passed her hand across her eyes for a minute, and said, “Thank God, his life is spared!” Next morning she left us for the University.

General Bragg has met with a repulse in the South-west, and was pursued; but, being reinforced, has again attacked the enemy and repulsed them. This occurred in the Northwestern part of Georgia. The papers say that the enemy under General Grant has retreated towards Chattanooga. Longstreet, when last heard from, was at Knoxville. Meade, on the Rapidan, after having been in line of battle for several days, has fallen back, finding that General Lee was ready to meet him.

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November 15.—Went this morning to Church and heard the Gospel preached, but in a manner so dull, and in a voice so monotonous, that I did not hear with much profit. I mourn that I did not, for I believe that some of the most God-serving, and therefore efficient ministers, are those who are not attractive as preachers, and there must be some defect in the listener who is not profited by the Gospel preached in spirit and in truth, though not set forth in an attractive form. I would that our best preachers could be sent to the field, for the soldiers, having such temptations to spending the Sabbath in idleness, should have the Gospel made impressive and interesting, so that they may be induced to attend the services and to enjoy them.

W. N. and his sweet bride passed through town this week. It was very pleasant to see how she understood his wants; how naturally she would open the doors, gates, etc., and assist him in walking up and down steps. I trust he may soon be able to give up his crutches. L. B. is also married and in town, staying at Judge M’s. Captain S. returned from the wars a few nights after the one appointed, and was married in quite the old style of bridesmaids and groomsmen, with a bridal supper which I am told reminded one of peace times.

Our army does not seem prospering in the West. Bragg has fallen back. We long to hear better things. A battle seems imminent on the Rappahannock; ninety-three wagons filled with ammunition were yesterday captured by Colonel Rosser—a good capture, at a good time.

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13th.—My appointment to a clerkship in the Commissary Department has been received, with a salary of $125 per month. The rooms are not ready for us to begin our duties, and Colonel R. has just called to tell me one of the requirements. As our duties are those of accountants, we are to go through a formal examination in arithmetic. If we do not, as the University boys say, “pass,” we are considered incompetent, and of course are dropped from the list of appointees. This requirement may be right, but it certainly seems to me both provoking and absurd that I must be examined in arithmetic by a commissary major young enough to be my son. If I could afford it, I would give up the appointment, but, as it is, must submit with the best grace possible, particularly as other ladies of my age have to submit to it.

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11th.—Just received a visit from my nephew, W. N., who is on his way to Fauquier to be married. I had not seen him since he lost his leg. He is still on crutches, and it made my heart bleed to see him walk with such difficulty. I believe that neither war, pestilence, nor famine could put an end to the marrying and giving in marriage which is constantly going on. Strange that these sons of Mars can so assiduously devote themselves to Cupid and Hymen; but every respite, every furlough, must be thus employed. I am glad they can accomplish it; and if the “brave deserve the fair,” I am sure that the deeds of daring of our Southern soldiers should have their reward. My niece, L. B., of Lexington, would have been married to-morrow night, but her betrothed, Captain S., has been ordered off to meet the enemy. The marriage is, of course, postponed. Poor fellow! I trust that he may come safely home.

I have just written to Colonel Northrup, Commissary-General, to ask an appointment as clerk in his department. So many of the young men have been ordered to the field, that this office has been open to ladies. My cousin, Colonel F. G. Ruffin, of the same office, has interested himself for me. They require us to say that we are really in want of the office—rather a work of supererogation, I should say, as no lady would bind herself to keep accounts for six hours per day without a dire necessity.

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November 9.—We are now quite comfortably fixed, in what was once my mother’s chamber, and most unexpectedly we have a carpet. The other day, while entertaining some friends, in this chamber by night, dining-room by day, and parlour ever and anon, Mrs. Secretary Mallory walked in, who, like ourselves, has had many ups-and-downs during the Confederacy, and therefore her kind heart knows exactly how to sympathize with others. While talking away, she suddenly observed that there was no carpet on the floor, and exclaimed, “Mrs. ——, you have no carpet! My boxes have just come from Montgomery, where I left them two years ago, filled with carpets and bedding. I have five, and I will lend you one. Don’t say a word; I couldn’t be comfortable, and think of you with this bare floor. Mr. ——, is too delicate for it, and you are both too old to begin now on an uncarpeted room.” An hour after she left us a servant came with the carpet, which was soon tacked down, and gives a home-like, comfortable air to the room.

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28th.—Our niece, M. P., came for me to go with her on a shopping expedition. It makes me sad to find our money depreciating so much, except that I know it was worse during the old Revolution. A merino dress cost $150, long cloth $5.50 per yard, fine cotton stockings $6 per pair; handkerchiefs, for which we gave fifty cents before the war, are now $5. There seems no scarcity of dry-goods of the ordinary kinds; bombazines, silks, etc., are scarce and very high; carpets are not to be found—they are too large to run the blockade from Baltimore, from which city many of our goods come.

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27th.—I was surprised this morning by a precious visit from S. S. She went to Petersburg this evening, to join her husband, who is stationed there. She seems to think , that she can never return to her Winchester home, so completely is every thing ruined. It is strange how we go on from month to month, living in the present, without any certain prospect for the future. We had some sweet, sad talk of our dear William. She says he was prepared, and God took him. At his funeral, his pastor took out his last letter from him, but became so overwhelmed with tears that he could not read it. It is right, and we must submit; but it is a bitter trial to give up one we loved so dearly.

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25th.—To-day we heard the Rev. Mr. Peterkin, from the text: ” Be not weary in well-doing.” It was a delightful sermon, persuasive and encouraging. Mr. —— spends Sunday morning always in the hospital. He has Hospital No. 1, in addition to the Officers’ Hospital, under his care. They occupy a great deal of his time, in the most interesting way.

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October 24.—Since writing in my diary, our plans have been entirely changed. Our old friend, Mrs. R., offered us rooms in Richmond, on such terms as are within our means, and a remarkable circumstance connected with it is, that they are in the house which my father once occupied, and the pleasant chamber which I now occupy I left this month twenty-nine years ago. It is much more convenient to live in Richmond than in Ashland, so that we have rented the little cottage to another. One room answers the purpose of dining-room and sleeping-room, by putting a large screen around the bed; the girls have a room, and we use the parlour of the family for entertaining our guests. For this we pay $60 per month and half of the gas bill.

But this has been a sad, sad month to me, and I find it very difficult to bring my mind to attend to the ordinary affairs of life. On the 11th of this month, our nephew, Captain William B. Newton, was killed while leading a cavalry charge in Culpeper County. We have the consolation of believing that his redeemed spirit has passed into heaven; but to how many has the earth been left desolate! His young wife and three lovely children; his father, mother, sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts, have seen the pride of their hearts pass away. His country mourns him as a great public loss. The bar, the legislative hall, and the camp proudly acknowledge his brilliant talents. In peace, the country looked to him as one to whom her best interests would hereafter be intrusted; in war, as one of the most gallant officers on the field. An early and ardent Secessionist, he was among the first to turn from the delightful home circle, where he ever sought his happiness, to go to the defence of right. He came into the field as First Lieutenant of the Hanover Troop; shortly after became its Captain, loved and revered by his men; and the commission of Lieutenant-Colonel of his regiment, the Fourth Virginia Cavalry, was on its way to him; but, alas! alas! it reached its destination a few hours too late. God be with my precious and her sweet children! I long and yet dread to go to that once bright home, the light of which has faded forever.

I was shocked to hear that on the fatal Sunday on which my darling William fell, three of our E. H. S. boys had come to a glorious, though untimely end, on the same field— Surgeon John Nelson, Lieutenant Lomax Tayloe, and Private J. Vivian Towles; and at Bristow Station, a few days afterwards, dear little Willie Robinson, son of my old friends, Mr. Conway and Mrs. Mary Susan Robinson. He was but eighteen. I attended his funeral on Wednesday last, and there learned that he was a devoted Christian. These dear boys! Oh, I trust that they sprang from the din of the battle-field to the peace of heaven! Lord, how long must we suffer such things?

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