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

8th. — Some persons in this beleaguered city seem crazed on the subject of gayety. In the midst of the wounded and dying, the low state of the commissariat, the anxiety of the whole country, the troubles of every kind by which we are surrounded, I am mortified to say that there are gay parties given in the city. There are those denominated “starvation parties,” where young persons meet for innocent enjoyment, and retire at a reasonable hour; but there are others where the most elegant suppers are served— cakes, jellies, ices in profusion, and meats of the finest kinds in abundance, such as might furnish a meal for a regiment of General Lee’s army. I wish these things were not so, and that every extra pound of meat could be sent to the army. When returning from the hospital, after witnessing the dying scene of a brother, whose young sister hung over him in agony, with my heart full of the sorrows of hospital-life, I passed a house where there were music and dancing. The revulsion of feeling was sickening. I thought of the gayety of Paris during the French Revolution, of the “cholera ball” in Paris, the ball at Brussels the night before the battle of Waterloo, and felt shocked that our own Virginians, at such a time, should remind me of scenes which we were wont to think only belonged to the lightness of foreign society. It seems to me that the army, when it hears of the gayety of Richmond, must think it heartless, particularly while it is suffering such hardships in her defence. The weddings, of which there are many, seem to be conducted with great quietness. We were all very much interested in a marriage which took place in this house a short time ago. Our sweet young friend, Miss A. P., was married to a Confederate States’ surgeon from South Carolina. We assembled in the parlour, which was brilliantly lighted, before the dawn of day. The bride appeared in travelling costume; as soon as the solemn ceremony was done the folding-doors were thrown open, revealing a beautifully spread breakfast-table in the adjoining room. Breakfast being over, the bride and groom were hurried off to the cars, which were to bear them South. But, as usual in these war-times, the honeymoon was not to be uninterrupted. The furlough of the groom was of short continuance—the bright young bride will remain in the country with a sister, while he returns to his duty on the field. As soon as the wedding was over and the bridal party had gone, the excitement of the week had passed with us, leaving a blank in the house; but the times are too unquiet for a long calm—the gap was closed, and we returned to busy life. There seems to be a perfect mania on the subject of matrimony. Some of the churches may be seen open and lighted almost every night for bridals, and wherever I turn I hear of marriages in prospect.

 

“In peace Love tunes the shepherd’s reed;

In war he mounts the warrior’s steed,”

 

sings the ” Last Minstrel” of the Scottish days of romance; and I do not think that our modern warriors are a whit behind them either in love or war. My only wonder is, that they find the time for the love-making amid the storms of warfare. Just at this time, however, I suppose our valiant knights and ladies fair are taking advantage of the short respite, caused by the alternate snows and sunshine of our variable climate having made the roads impassable to Grant’s artillery and baggage-wagons. A soldier in our hospital called to me as I passed his bed the other day, ” I say, Mrs. ——, when do you think my wound will be well enough for me to go to the country?” “Before very long, I hope.” “But what does the doctor say, for I am mighty anxious to go?” I looked at his disabled limb, and talked to him hopefully of his being able to enjoy country air in a short time. “Well, try to get me up, for, you see, it ain’t the country air I am after, but I wants to get married, and the lady don’t know that I am wounded, and maybe she’ll think I don’t want to come.” “Ah,” said I, ” but you must show her your scars, and if she is a girl worth having she will love you all the better for having bled for your country; and you must tell her that

 

“‘It is always the heart that is bravest in war,

That is fondest and truest in love.’ “

 

He looked perfectly delighted with the idea; and as I passed him again he called out, ” Lady, please stop a minute and tell me the verse over again, for, you see, when I do get there, if she is affronted, I wants to give her the prettiest excuse I can, and I think that verse is beautiful.”

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2d.—This bitter cold morning, when we entered the office, we found that our good “Major” had provided us a New Year’s treat of hot coffee. Of course we all enjoyed it highly, and were very grateful to him; and when I returned home, the first thing that met my eye was a box sent from the express office. We opened it, and found it a Christmas box, filled with nice and substantial things from a friend now staying in Buckingham County, for whom I once had an opportunity of doing some trifling kindness. The Lord is certainly taking care of us through His people. The refugees in some of the villages are much worse off than we are. We hear amusing stories of a friend in an inland place, where nothing can possibly be bought, hiring a skillet from a servant for one dollar per month, and other cooking utensils, which are absolutely necessary, at the same rate; another in the same village, whose health seems to require that she should drink something hot at night, has been obliged to resort to hot water, as she has neither tea, coffee, sugar, nor milk. These ladies belong to wealthy Virginia families. Many persons have no meat on their tables for months at a time; and they are the real patriots, who submit patiently, and without murmuring, to any privation, provided the country is doing well. The flesh-pots of Egypt have no charms for them; they look forward hopefully to the time when their country shall be disenthralled, never caring for the trials of the past or the present, provided they can hope for the future.

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January 1st, 1865.—At St. James’s Church this morning. Our children came over from Union Hill yesterday, to take their dinner from the contents of the captured box, and were detained by snow and rain. “We were too much pleased to have them with us not to make it convenient to accommodate them, which we did with the assistance of our kind friend Mrs. P. To-morrow F. and myself will return to our offices, after a good rest, for which we are very thankful.

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28th.—A bright spot in our military horizon. The enemy’s fleet of more than thirty gun-boats made a furious attack on Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, N. C., on the 24th, (last Saturday;) they kept up an average fire of thirty shots per minute until night. On the 25th the attack was renewed, and on the 27th, after being three times repulsed, the enemy abandoned his position above Fort Fisher, and re-embarked. The damage done to us was very slight—only two guns disabled, and but few other casualties. Thus failed utterly this great expedition of land and sea forces, from which the Federal authorities and the whole North confidently expected such grand results. And so may it ever be; the Lord help us, and deliver us in every such hour of need.

Yesterday we had a pleasant little dinner-party at Dr. G’s—so rare a thing now, that I must note it in my diary. Many nice things on the table were sent by country friends. What would we do without our country friends? Their hearts seem warm and generous to those who are not so well off as themselves. They set a good example, which .I trust will not be lost on us. Our relatives and friends, though they have been preyed upon by the enemy almost to exhaustion, never seem to forget us. Sausage from one, a piece of beef from another, a bushel of dried fruit, a turkey, etc., come ever and anon to our assistance. One can scarcely restrain tears of affection when it is remembered that these things are evidences of self-denial, and not given from their abundance, as at the beginning of the war. The soldiers are not forgotten by these country friends— those who remember the refugees are never forgetful of the soldiers. Take our people as a whole, they are full of generosity and patriotism. The speculators and money-makers of these trying times are a peculiar class, of which I neither like to speak, think, nor write; they are objects of my implacable disgust. They do not belong to our noble Southern patriots. They are with us, but not of us! I should think that a man who had made a fortune during the war would, when the war is over, wish to hide it, and not own his ill-gotten gains. I trust there are not many such. The year 1864 has almost passed away. Oh, what a fearful account it has rendered to Heaven! What calamities and sorrows crowd into its history, in this afflicted country of ours! God help us, and guide us onward and upward, for the Saviour’s sake!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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