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

14th.—Norfolk, poor Norfolk! nothing can exceed its long-suffering, its night of gloom and darkness. Unlike Winchester, it has no bright spots—no oasis in its blank desert of wretchedness. Like Alexandria, it has no relief, but must submit, and drag on its chain of servility, till the final cry of victory bursts its bonds, and makes it free. I have no time to write of all I hear and know of the indignities offered to our countrymen and countrywomen in Alexandria, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and other places which remain incarcerated in the sloughs of Federal tyranny. God help them, and give us strength speedily to break the chain that binds them.

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12th.—I am sorry to record a defeat near Moorfield, in Hardy County. These disasters are very distressing to us all, except to the croakers, who find in them so much food for their gloom, that I am afraid they are rather pleased than otherwise. They always, on such occasions, elongate their mournful countenances, prophesy evil, and chew the cud of discontent with a better show of reason than they can generally produce. The signal failure of Grant’s mine to blow up our army, and its recoil upon his own devoted troops, amply repay us for our failure in Hardy. God’s hand was in it, and to Him be the praise.

One of my friends in the office is a victim of Millroy’s reign in Winchester. She wrote to a friend of hers at the North, expressing her feelings rather imprudently. The letter was intercepted, and she was immediately arrested, and brought in an ambulance through the enemy’s lines to our picket-post, where she was deposited by the roadside. She says that she was terribly distressed at leaving her mother and sisters, but when she got into Confederate lines the air seemed wonderfully fresh, pure and free, and she soon found friends. She came to Richmond and entered our office. About the same time a mother and daughters who lived perhaps in the handsomest house in the town, were arrested, for some alleged imprudence of one of the daughters. An ambulance was driven to the door, and the mother was taken from her sick-bed and put into it, together with the daughters. Time was not allowed them to prepare a lunch for the journey. Before Mrs. —— was taken from her house Mrs. Millroy had entered it, the General having taken it for his head-quarters; and before the ambulance had been driven off, one of their own officers was heard to say to Mrs. M., seeing her so entirely at home in the house, “For goodness’ sake, madam, wait until the poor woman gets off.” Is it wonderful, then, that the Winchester ladies welcome our troops with gladness? that they rush out and join the band, singing “The bonnie blue flag” and ” Dixie,” as the troops enter the streets, until their enthusiasm and melody melt all hearts? Was it strange that even the great and glorious, though grave and thoughtful, Stonewall Jackson should, when pursuing Banks through its streets, have been excited until he waved his cap with tears of enthusiasm, as they broke forth in harmonious songs of welcome? Or that the ladies, not being satisfied by saluting them with their voices, waving their handkerchiefs, and shouting for joy, should follow them with more substantial offerings, filling their haversacks with all that their depleted pantries could afford? Or is it wonderful that our soldiers should love Winchester so dearly and fight for it so valiantly? No, it is beautiful to contemplate the long-suffering, the firmness under oppression, the patience, the generosity, the patriotism of Winchester. Other towns, I dare say, have borne their tyranny as well, and when their history is known they will call forth onr admiration as much; but we know of no such instance. The “Valley” throughout shows the same devotion to our cause, and the sufferings of the country people are even greater than those in town.

Some amusing incidents sometimes occur, showing the eagerness of the ladies to serve our troops after a long separation. A lady living near Berryville, but a little remote from the main road, says, that when our troops are passing through .the country, she sometimes feels sick with anxiety to do something for them. She, one morning, stood in her porch, and could see them turn in crowds to neighbouring houses which happened to be on the road, but no one turned out of the way far enough to come to her house. At last one man came along, and finding that he was passing her gate, she ran out with the greatest alacrity to invite him to come in to get his breakfast. He turned to her with an amused expression and replied: “I am much obliged to you, madam; I wish I could breakfast with you, but as I have already eaten four breakfasts to please the ladies, I must beg you to excuse me.”

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August 11.—Sheridan’s and Early’s troops are fighting in the Valley. We suffered a disaster near Martinsburg, and our troops fell back to Strasburg; had a fight on the old battle-ground at Kernstown, and we drove the enemy through Winchester to Martinsburg, which our troops took possession of. Poor Winchester, how checkered its history throughout the war! Abounding with patriotism as it is, what a blessing it must be to have a breath of free air, even though it be for a short time! Their welcome of our soldiers is always so joyous, so bounding, so generous! How they must enjoy the blessed privilege of speaking their own sentiments without having their servants listening and acting as spies in their houses, and of being able to hear from or write to their friends! Oh! I would that there was a prospect of their being disenthralled forever.

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July 27.—General Early has returned from Maryland, bringing horses, cattle, etc. While near Washington, the army burned Mr. Montgomery Blair’s house, which I cannot persuade myself to regret, and spared the residence of his father, by order, it is said, of General Breckinridge. I know that General B. was right, but I think it required great forbearance, particularly in the soldiers, who have felt in their own persons and families the horrors of this cruel war of invasion. It seems to our human view that unless the war is severely felt by those in high authority, it will never cease. Hunter has just passed through the upper part of the Valley of Virginia, his pathway marked by fire and sword; and Sheridan has followed Early into Virginia, with no very gentle intent, I fear. I am glad that Maryland was spared as a general thing, particularly as our friends might have suffered with our foes, for it would have been difficult to discriminate; but I cannot avoid thinking that if other places, besides Governor Bradford’s house and the town of Chambersburg, had been burnt, it would shorten the war. Yet God has said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay;” and I hope that Christian principles will ever be observed by our commanders. There seems to be no touch of pity in the hearts of many of the Federal generals. Women and children are made homeless at midnight, and not allowed to save any thing, even their clothes. When houses are not burned, they are robbed of every thing which a rapacious soldiery may desire. The last barrel of flour, the last ham, is taken from store-rooms; and this is done, not in Virginia only; nor are Hunter, Sheridan, Kilpatrick, or Stoneman the only men who do it; but every State in the Confederacy has felt the heel of the despot. North and South Carolina have suffered on their eastern borders most severely; the same of Georgia and Florida. Alabama has had much to bear. The Mississippi country in Louisiana, Arkansas, and the State of Mississippi, has been ravaged and desolated; Tennessee has perhaps had more to bear than any of them. But poor old Virginia has been furrowed and scarred until her original likeness is gone. From the Potomac to the Roanoke, from the seaboard to the Kentucky boundary, including the downtrodden Eastern Shore, she could scarcely be recognized by her sons. Marked by a hundred battle-fields, and checkered by fortifications, almost every spot is classic ground. From the beginning she has acted her part nobly, and has already covered herself with glory; but when the war is over, where shall we find her old churches, where her noble homesteads, scenes of domestic comfort and generous hospitality? Either laid low by the firebrand, or desecrated and desolated. In the march of the army, or in the rapid evolutions of raiding parties, woe betide the houses which are found deserted! In many cases the men of the family having gone to the war, the women and children dare not stay; then the lawless are allowed to plunder. They seem to take the greatest delight in breaking up the most elegant or the most humble furniture, as the case may be; cut the portraits from the frames, split pianos in pieces, ruin libraries, in any way that suits their fancy; break doors from their hinges, and locks from the doors; cut the windows from the frames, and leave no pane of glass unbroken; carry off house-linen and carpets; the contents of the store-rooms and pantries, sugar, flour, vinegar, molasses, pickles, preserves, which cannot be eaten or carried off, are poured together in one general mass; the horses are of course taken from the stables; cattle and stock of all kinds driven off or shot in the woods and fields. Generally, indeed I believe always when the whole army is moving, inhabited houses are protected. To raiders such as Hunter and Co. is reserved the credit of committing such outrages in the presence of ladies—of taking their watches from their belts, their rings from their fingers, and their ear-rings from their ears; of searching their bureaux and wardrobes, and filling pockets and haversacks in their presence. Is it not then wonderful that soldiers whose families have suffered such things could be restrained when in a hostile country? It seems to me to show a marvellous degree of forbearance in the officers themselves, and of discipline in the troops.

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24th.—Amid all the turbulent scenes which surround us, our only grandchild has first seen the light, and the dear little fellow looks as quiet as though all were peace. We thank God for this precious gift, this little object of all-absorbing interest, which so pleasantly diverts our troubled minds. His father has left his far-off military post to welcome him, and before he returns we must by baptism receive him into the Church on earth, praying that he may be a “member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” This rite thus early administered, bringing him into the Episcopal Church, seems to belong to him by inheritance, as he is the grandson of a Presbyter on one side, and of a Bishop on the other.

The city looks warlike, though the inhabitants are quiet. Troops are constantly passing to and fro; army wagons, ambulances, etc., rattle by, morning, noon, and night. Grant remains passive on the Appomattox, occasionally throwing a shell into Petersburg, which may probably explode among women and children—but what matters it? They are rebels—what difference does it make about their lives or limbs?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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