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

July 18.—Since the last note in my diary we have been pursuing our usual course. The tenor of our way is singularly rough and uneven, marked by the sound of cannon, the marching of troops, and all the paraphernalia of grim-visaged war; but we still visit our friends and relatives, and have our pleasant social and family meetings, as though we were at peace with all the world. The theme of every tongue is our army in Maryland. What is it doing? What will be the result of the venture? The last accounts are from the Washington papers. Early, they say, is before Washington, throwing in shells, having cut the railroads and burnt the bridges. We are of course all anxiety, and rumour is busier than ever. The army, it is said, has driven innumerable horses, beeves, etc., into Virginia. I trust so; it is surmised that to supply the commissariat is the chief object of the trip. Grant still before Petersburg, sending transports, etc., with troops to defend Washington.


24th.—I have been much occupied nursing the sick, not only in the hospital, but among our own friends; and a sad, sad week has the last been to us. We have had very little time to think of public affairs, but now that the last sad offices have been performed for one very, very dear to us, with sore hearts we must go back to busy life again. It is wonderful to me that we retain our senses. While the cannon is booming in our ears from the neighbourhood of Petersburg, we know that Hunter is raiding among our friends in the most relentless way; that the Military Institute has been burnt, and that we have nothing to hope for the West, unless General Early and General Breckinridge can destroy him utterly.


12th.—I am grieved to say that we have had a reverse in the “Valley,” and that General Jones, of the cavalry, has been killed, and his command repulsed. They have fallen back to Waynesborough, leaving Staunton in the hands of the enemy. General Johnston is doing well in Georgia. Oh, that he may use up Sherman entirely! We are getting on well at home; everybody looks as calm as if there were no belligerent armies near.


11th.—Just heard from W. and S. H. Both places in ruins, except the dwelling-houses. Large portions of the Federal army were on them for eight days. S. H. was used as a hospital for the wounded brought from the battle-fields; this protected the house. At W. several generals had their head-quarters in the grounds near the house, which, of course, protected it. General Warren had his tent in the “shrubbery” for two days, General Burnside for a day or two, and those of lesser rank were there from time to time. General Grant was encamped at S. H. for a time. Dr. B. was at home, with several Confederate wounded from the battle of “Haw’s Shop” in the house. Being absent a mile or two from home when they arrived, they so quickly threw out pickets, spread their tents over the surrounding fields and hills, that he could not return to his house, where his wife and only child were alone, until he had obtained a pass from a Yankee officer. As he approached the house, thousands and tens of thousands of horses and cattle were roaming over the fine wheat fields on his and the adjoining estate, (that of his niece, Mrs. N.,) which were now ripe for the sickle. The clover fields and fields of young corn were sharing the same fate. He found his front porch filled with officers. They asked him of his sentiments with regard to the war. He told them frankly that he was an original Secessionist, and ardently hoped to see the North and South separate and distinct nations now and forever. One of them replied that he “honoured his candour,” and from that moment he was treated with great courtesy. After some difficulty he was allowed to keep his wounded Confederates, and in one or two instances the Federal surgeons assisted him in dressing their wounds. At S. H. the parlour was used for an amputating room, and Yankee blood streamed through that beautiful apartment and the adjoining passage. Poor M. had her stricken heart sorely lacerated in every way, particularly when her little son came running in and nestled up to her in alarm. A soldier had asked him, “Are you the son of Captain Newton, who was killed in Culpeper?” “Yes,” replied the child. “Well, I belong to the Eighth Illinois, and was one of the soldiers that fired at him when he fell,” was the barbarous reply.

On these highly cultivated plantations not a fence is left, except mutilated garden enclosures. The fields were as free from vegetation after a few days as the Arabian desert; the very roots seemed eradicated from the earth. A fortification stretched across W., in which were embedded the fence rails of that and the adjoining farms. Ten thousand cavalry were drawn up in line of battle for two days on the two plantations, expecting the approach of the Confederates; bands of music were constantly playing martial airs in all parts of the premises; and whiskey flowed freely. The poor servants could not resist these intoxicating influences, particularly as Abolition preachers were constantly collecting immense crowds, preaching to them the cruelty of the servitude which had been so long imposed upon them, and that Abraham Lincoln was the Moses sent by God to deliver them from the “land of Egypt and the house of bondage,” and to lead them to the promised land. After the eight days were accomplished, the army moved off, leaving not a quadruped, except two pigs, which had ensconced themselves under the ruins of a servant’s house, and perhaps a dog to one plantation; to the other, by some miraculous oversight, two cows and a few pigs were left. Not a wheeled vehicle of any kind was to be found; all the grain, flour, meat, and other supplies were swept off, except the few things hid in those wonderful places which could not be fathomed even by the “Grand Army.” Scarcely a representative of the sons and daughters of Africa remained in that whole section of country; they had all gone to Canaan, by way of York River, Chesapeake Bay, and the Potomac—not dry-shod, for the waters were not rolled back at the presence of these modern Israelites, but in vessels crowded to suffocation in this excessively warm weather. They have gone to homeless poverty, an unfriendly climate, and hard work; many of them to die without sympathy, for the invalid, the decrepit, and the infant of days have left their houses, beds, and many comforts, the homes of their birth, the masters and mistresses who regarded them not so much as property as humble friends and members of their families. Poor, deluded creatures! I am grieved not so much on account of the loss of their services, though that it excessively inconvenient and annoying, but for their grievous disappointment. Those who have trades, or who are brought up as lady’s maids or house servants, may do well, but woe to the masses who have gone with the blissful hope of idleness and free supplies! We have lost several who were great comforts to us, and others who were sources of care, responsibility, and great expense. These particulars from W. and S. H. I have from our nephew, J. P., who is now a scout for General W. H. F. Lee. He called by to rest a few hours at his uncle’s house, and says he would scarcely have known the barren wilderness. The Northern officers seemed disposed to be courteous to the ladies, in the little intercourse which they had with them. General Ferrara, who commanded the negro troops, was humane, in having a coffin made for a young Confederate officer who died in Dr B’s house, and was kind in other respects. The surgeons, too, assisted in attending to the Confederate wounded. An officer one morning sent for Mrs. N. to ask her where he should place a box of French china for safety; he said that some soldiers had discovered it buried in her garden, dug it up and opened it, but he had come up at this crisis and had placed a guard over it, and desired to know where she wished it put. A place of safety of course was not on the premises, but she had it taken to her chamber. She thanked him for his kindness. He seemed moved, and said, “Mrs. N., I will do what I can for you, for I cannot be too thankful that my wife is not in an invaded country.” She then asked him how he could, with his feelings, come to the South. He replied that he was in the regular army, and was obliged to come. Many little acts of kindness were done at both houses, which were received in the spirit in which they were extended. Per contra: On one occasion Miss D., a young relative of Mrs. N’s, was in one of the tents set aside for the Confederate wounded, writing a letter from a dying soldier to his friends at home. She was interrupted by a young Yankee surgeon, to whom she was a perfect stranger, putting his head in and remarking pertly, “Ah, Miss D., are you writing? Have you friends in Richmond! I shall be there in a few days, and will with pleasure take your communications.” She looked up calmly into his face, and replied, “Thank you; I have no friends in the Libby!” It was heard by his comrades on the outside of the tent, and shouts and peals of laughter resounded at the expense of the discomfited surgeon. The ladies frequently afterwards heard him bored with the question, “Doctor, when do you go to the Libby?”


June 5.—Our daughter-in-law, Mrs. Dr. ——, came from Charlottesville this evening. The regular communication being cut off, she went up to Lynchburg, taking that route to Richmond; but the Government having impressed the cars, she was obliged to take a freight-train, and was fortunate in finding a friend coming down in the same way, who acted as her escort. At Burkesville (shall I record it of a Virginia house of any degree?) she was treated with such inhospitality, that she was compelled to pass the night in a car filled with bags of corn, which the gentlemen fixed so carefully as to give her almost a comfortable resting-place. When she returned from her unsuccessful application for quarters, one of the soldiers said to her, (she was the only lady in the company,) “Lady, where are you from?” “The Valley of Virginia,” was her reply. He instantly sprang up: “Boys, we must burn that house!” he exclaimed; “they won’t take in this lady from the ‘Valley,’ where we have been treated so kindly.” Of course he had no idea of burning the house, though he seemed highly indignant. She came to us looking well after a three days’ journey, having borne her difficulties with great cheerfulness.


June 4.—There has been skirmishing for some days. One day a fight at Ashland, another at Cold Harbour; but yesterday the heaviest cannonading I ever heard continued all day, until after dark. The fighting was between Bethesda Church and Cold Harbour. We were well fortified, and General Lee reports great success to our arms. “It is the Lord’s doings, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” We went to church this evening and returned thanks.


May 27.—News from Fitz Lee’s fight; it was not disastrous as at first reported; many were wounded, many captured, and but four killed. But four desolated homes by this stroke! but four widows, or broken-hearted mothers, in addition to the bereaved of the land! God be with them to comfort them! Nothing farther of the bayoneted wounded: I trust that it was all a fabrication.

We returned to the office yesterday, which had been closed for a week. It is pitiable to see how the rations are being reduced by degrees. The Government is exerting itself for the relief of the soldiers. God have mercy upon and help us!


May 26.—We are now anticipating a fight at Hanover Junction. General Lee fell back to that point on Sunday last, for some good purpose, no doubt. Our army is in line of battle on the Cedar Hill plantation. The ladies of the family have come to Richmond to avoid the awful collision about to take place. That house, I sadly fear, is to be another sacrifice. Our successes have been wonderful, and evidently, I think, directed by God. We have, however, just met with a sad reverse in Charles City County. General Fitz Lee, commanding two brigades, fought a much larger body of men, who were strongly fortified, and was of course repulsed. Alas, alas for our gallant army! bravery cannot always contend safely against overwhelming numbers. We are very uneasy about our dear ones who were in that fight. Strange stories are told of the wounded having been bayoneted. It is difficult to believe that men of human hearts could do such things; and while I feel unhappy about the rumour, I cannot credit it.


23d.—Our young relative, Lieutenant G., a member of General Stuart’s staff, who was always near his person, has just been giving us a most gratifying account of General Stuart’s habits. He says, that although he considered him one of the most sprightly men he has ever seen, devoted to society, particularly to that of the ladies, always social and cheerful, yet he has never seen him do any thing, even under the strongest excitement, unbecoming his Christian profession or his high position as a soldier; he never saw him drink, or heard an oath escape his lips; his sentiments were always high-minded, pure, and honourable, and his actions entirely coincided with them. In short, he considered him, whether on the field or in the private circle, the model of a Christian gentleman and soldier. When speaking of his gallantry as an officer, Lieutenant G’s admiration knows no bounds. He speaks of the devotion of the soldiers to him as enthusiastic in the extreme. The evening before his fatal wound, he sent his troops on in pursuit of Sheridan, under the command of General Fitz Lee, as he was unavoidably detained for some three or four hours. General Lee overtook the enemy, and a sharp skirmish ensued, in which Sheridan’s rear suffered very much. In the mean time, General Stuart determined to overtake General Lee, and, with his staff, rode very rapidly sixteen miles, and reached him about nightfall. They were halting for a few moments, as General Stuart rode up quietly, no one suspecting he was there, until a plain-looking soldier crossed the road, stopped, peered through the darkness into his face, and shouted out, “Old Jeb has come!” In an instant the air was rent with huzzas. General Stuart waved his cap in recognition; but called out in rather a sad voice, “My friends, we won’t halloo until we get out of the woods!” intimating that there was serious work before them. At that hour the next night he was pursuing his weary and suffering way to Richmond. A friend, who knows how much I regretted not being able to serve General Stuart in any way, or even to be at his funeral, has been so kind as to write me a minute account of his sickness, death, and burial. “Perhaps (she says) it is not generally known how entirely General Stuart sacrificed his life to save Richmond. An officer of high rank, who knew the circumstances, told me that in all the war there was not one man more truly a martyr to our cause. In the many raids upon Richmond there was none in which we seemed in such imminent peril as the one in which General Stuart has just fallen. How we listened, and watched, and prayed, as the cannon sounded nearer and nearer, and even the volleys of musketry could be heard out on the roads by which the enemy were approaching! We knew that General Stuart had a band of about 2,000 cavalry against overwhelming odds on the Yankee side, and that he knew that upon this 2,000 men alone it depended to bar the enemy’s approach on that side. He met the Yankees, 5,000 strong, beat them back, and fell in the encounter! It was with difficulty that he could be rescued from those who were bearing him away, but one of his own troopers saved him, and with his staff and surgeon (Dr. John Fontaine) bore him to the city. We heard that he was dying, and, in spite of the anxiety and confusion reigning at such a time, many of us rushed to Dr. Brewer’s house to hear tidings of the beloved commander, whose gallantry, whose youthful gayety and chivalrous character, made him the prince among our cavalry officers. His life was ebbing out from internal hemorrhage; but his senses were as clear and his mind as calm as noontide. He asked repeatedly for his wife, who, though but fifteen miles away, could not be reached, so completely was the city hemmed in by the enemy. By his side stood our President, who, upon hearing of his situation, had hastened to thank him in the name of his country. ‘I have but done my duty,’ was the soldier’s reply. And near him was the minister of God, good Mr. Peterkin, of whose church (Episcopal) General S. was a member. He asked for his favourite hymn, and joined his feeble voice with the touching words: ‘I would not live alway.’ From time to time, he turned his head to ask, ‘Is she come?” But she, for whom his loving heart so yearned, came not till that heart was stilled forever. At the funeral—at the head of his coffin—sat the soldier who had rescued him, all battle-stained and soiled; and near by, the members of his staff, who all adored him. Upon the coffin lay a sword, formed of delicate white flowers, a cross of white roses, and above these the heavenly crown, symbolized by one of green bay-leaves. We followed him to the church, where, after appropriate ceremonies, attended by many persons, his body was taken to Hollywood Cemetery. No martial pomp, no soldier’s funeral, but—


“‘Slowly and sadly we laid him down,

From the field of his fame fresli and gory;

We carved not a line, we raised not a stone,

But we left him alone with his glory.’


Everybody was struck with the resemblance to the funeral so beautifully described in the lines just quoted. As we passed, in slow procession—


‘”We knew by the distant and random gun,

That the foe was sullenly firing.’


These guns were his funeral knell, sounding at intervals the solemn peal, with which, in the haste and uncertainty of the time, it was impossible for us to honour him.”

One of the morning papers has some lines on the same subject, more poetic, though not so graphic, as the account given by my friend:




“We could not pause, while yet the noontide air

Shook with the cannonade’s incessant pealing,

The funeral pageant, fitly to prepare,

A nation’s grief revealing.


“The smoke above the glimmering woodland wide,

That skirts our southward border with its beauty,

Marked where our heroes stood, and fought and died,

For love, and faith, and duty


“And still what time the doubtful strife went on,

We might not find expression for our sorrow;

We could but lay our dear, dumb warrior down,

And gird us for the morrow.


“One weary year ago, when came a lull

With victory, in the conflicts’ stormy closes,

When the glad Spring, all flushed and beautiful,

First mocked us with her roses—


“With dirge and bell, and minute-gun, we paid

Some few poor rites, an inexpressive token

Of a great people’s pain, to Jackson’s shade,

In agony unspoken.


“No wailing trumpet, and no tolling bell,

No cannon, save the battle’s boom receding,

When Stuart to the grave we bore, might tell

With hearts all crushed and bleeding.


“The crisis suited not with pomp, and she,

Whose anguish bears the seal of consecration.

Had wished his Christian obsequies should be

Thus void of ostentation.


“Only the maidens came, sweet flowers to twine

Above his form, so still, and cold, and painless,

Whose deeds upon our brightest records shine,

Whose life and sword were stainless.


“We well remembered how he loved to dash

Into the fight, festooned from summer bowers

How like a fountain’s spray, his sabre’s flash

Leaped from a mass of flowers.


“And so we carried to his place of rest,

All that of our Paladin was mortal;

The cross, and not the sabre, on his breast,

That opes the heavenly portal.


“No more of tribute might to us remain;

But there will come a time when freedom’s martyrs

A richer guerdon of renown shall gain

Than gleams in stars and garters.


“I claim no prophet’s vision, but I see,

Through coming years now near at hand, now distant,

My rescued country, glorious and free,

And strong and self-existent.


“I hear from out that sunlit land which lies

Beyond these clouds which darkly gather o’er us,

The happy sounds of industry arise.

In swelling, peaceful chorus.


“And mingling with these sounds, the glad acclaim

Of millions, undisturbed by war’s afflictions,

Crowning each martyr’s never-dying name

With grateful benedictions.


“In some fair, future garden of delights,

Where flowers shall bloom, and song-birds sweetly warble.

Art shall erect the statues of our knights,

In living bronze and marble.


“And none of all that bright, heroic throng

Shall wear to far-off time a semblance grander.

Shall still be decked with fresher wreaths of song,

Than the beloved commander.


“The Spanish legends tell us of the Cid,

That after death he rode erect and stately

Along his lines, e’en as in life he did,

In presence yet more stately.


” And thus our Stuart at this moment seems

To ride out of our dark and troubled story,

Into the region of romance and dreams,

A realm of light and glory.


“And sometimes when the silver bugles blow,

That radiant form in battle reappearing,

Shall lead his horsemen headlong on the foe,

In victory careering.”


18th.—W. B. certainly captured. I thank God for it, as the least of casualties.

Generals Lee and Grant still fighting.

On the south side, Beauregard has driven Butler to Bermuda Hundreds, where he is under shelter of his gunboats. Oh! when will this fearful state of things end?