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

Tuesday Morning, May 17.—For some days the cannon has been resounding in our ears, from the south side of James River. Colonel Garnett has come in to tell us that for the first two days there was only heavy skirmishing, but that on yesterday there was a terrific fight all along the lines. Yesterday evening a brigadier, his staff, and 840 men, were lodged in the Libby Prison. Nothing definite has been heard since that time. The impression is, that we have been generally successful. Very brilliant reports are afloat on the streets, but whether they are reliable is the question. My nephew, Major B., has just called to tell me that his brother W. is reported “missing.” His battery suffered dreadfully, and he has not been seen. God grant that he may be only a prisoner! We suppose that it would have been known to the fragment of his battery which is left, if he had fallen.


14th.—The cavalry fight on the Chickahominy was very severe. The Yankees escaped on Thursday night; they should not have been allowed to get off. Our sad deficiency in numbers is always in our way.

The death of another of our beloved E. H. S. boys has shocked us greatly—I mean that of Colonel Robert Randolph, of Fauquier, for a long time the chivalric captain of the famous “Black Horse Company.” After fighting desperately for hours, he was ordered to change his position; he immediately raised himself in his saddle, exclaiming, “Boys, we will give them one round more before we go!” fired, and was at that moment struck in the forehead by a Minie ball, and laid low, a few hours after the fall of his General. Thus our young men, of the first blood of the country—first in character and education, and, what is more important to us now, first in gallantry and patriotism—fall one by one. What a noble army of martyrs has already passed away! I tremble for the future; but we must not think of the future. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

General Lee’s last telegram tells of a furious fight on Thursday, near Spottsylvania Court-House. The enemy was repulsed, and driven back; and yet General Grant prepares for a fresh attack. It is said that 15,000 wounded Yankees are in Fredericksburg. We have heard cannon all day in the direction of Drury’s Bluff; yet we are calm!


May 13.—General Stuart died of his wounds last night, twenty-four hours after he was shot. He was a member of the Episcopal Church, and expressed to the Rev. Dr. Peterkin his resignation to the will of God. After much conversation with his friends and Dr. P., and joining them in a hymn which he requested should be sung, he calmly resigned his redeemed spirit to the God who gave it. Thus passed away our great cavalry general, just one year after the immortal Jackson. This seems darkly mysterious to us, but God’s will be done. The funeral took place this evening, from St. James’s Church. My duty to the living prevented my attending it, for which I am very sorry; but I was in the hospital from three o’clock until eight, soothing the sufferers in the only way I could, by fanning them, bathing their wounds, and giving them a word of comfort. Mr. —— and others of our household were at the funeral. They represent the scene as being very imposing.


Thursday, May 12.—The cannon is now roaring in our ears. It cannot be more than three miles off. The Lord reigneth; in that is our trust. There was a severe cavalry fight yesterday morning, in which our brilliant cavalry leader, General J. E. B. Stuart, was severely wounded. He was brought to the city last night. One of his aids, our relative, Lieutenant T. S. Garnett, has told us with what difficulty they got him here; in an ambulance, going out of the way, hither and thither, to avoid the enemy; of course, every jolt inflicting intense agony. He is now at the house of his brother-in-law, Dr. Brewer, surrounded by the most efficient surgeons and devoted friends. The prayers of the community are with him.

My time, when out of the office, is much absorbed by the hospital. Many wounded are brought in from both sides of the river. This morning, as I entered St. James’s Church, I saw the smoke from the cannon distinctly. I stood for a moment on the steps and listened to the continued roaring, and felt that the contest was fearfully near to us. The prayers, hymns, psalms, and address were most comforting. God be praised for his goodness, that we are still surrounded by Christian people, and have the faith and trust of Christians. The town is as calm as if it were not the great object of desire to hundreds of thousands of implacable enemies, who desire nothing so much as its destruction.

General Lee’s telegram last night gave us an account of another repulse given General Grant, with great slaughter. “We suffered little in comparison;” such was his telegram, signed “R. E. Lee.” His signature is always cheering to oar people. For some time we had not seen it, in consequence of cut telegraphic wires. Both armies are now fortifying. The Yankees have such indomitable perseverance, that they will never give up.


Wednesday, May 11.—The last three days have been most exciting. The enemy on the south side of the river have made heavy demonstrations; their force is perhaps 40,000; ours not half that number. The militia, the City Battalion, and the clerks have gone from Richmond. They have had a heavy fight at Port Walthall, and another near Chester, in which we had, upon the whole, the advantage of them. In the mean time a large body of raiders are going over the country. They have cut the Central Railroad, and burnt three trains of cars, laden with provisions for General Lee’s army, and are doing all manner of mischief to public and private property. Not a word can we hear from General Lee, except through private telegrams sent from Guiney’s Station. The wires (telegraph) above that place have been cut. Our accounts from Guiney’s are very encouraging. It is astonishing how quiet everybody is—all owing, I must believe, to an abiding faith in the goodness of God. Prayer-meetings are held in almost all the churches, and we take great comfort in them. It seems to me evident that the Lord is fighting our battles for us.

The last was a most disturbed night. We knew that the attaches of the War Department had received orders to spend the night there, and our son had promised us that if any thing exciting occurred he would come up and let us know. We were first aroused by hearing a number of soldiers pass up Broad Street. I sprang up, and saw at least a brigade passing by. As we were composing ourselves to sleep, I heard several pebbles come against the window. On looking out, I saw J. standing below. In a moment the door was opened and he was in our room, with the information, brought by a courier, that 7,000 raiders were within sixteen miles of us, making their way to the city. He also said that 3,000 infantry had marched to meet them. Every lady in the house dressed immediately, and some of us went down to the porch. There we saw ladies in every porch, and walking on the pavements, as if it were evening. We saw but one person who seemed really alarmed; every one else seemed to expect something to occur to stop the raiders. Our city had too often been saved as if by a miracle. About two o’clock a telegram came from General Stuart that he was in pursuit of the enemy. J. came up to bring us the information, and we felt that all was right. In a very short time families had retired to their chambers, and quietness reigned in this hitherto perturbed street. For ourselves, we were soon asleep. To-day General Stuart telegraphs that the enemy were overtaken at Ashland by Lomax’s Brigade, and handsomely repulsed. We have just heard that they have taken the road to Dover’s Mills, and our men are in hot pursuit.


Sunday, May 8.—By the blessing of God, I now record that, as far as heard from, our arms have been signally victorious. On Thursday and Friday the enemy were driven off, and the telegram of yesterday from General Lee spoke of our cause as going on prosperously, and with comparatively little loss to us. Grant had been driven back, and 10,000 prisoners taken, but how far he has gone is not yet known. General Lee’s telegram last night was very encouraging; he speaks of having captured two major-generals and killed three brigadiers. We have not yet heard of our casualties, except in one or two instances. We have been dreadfully shocked by the death of Colonel William Randolph, of Clarke County. He fell on the 6th of May. The country has lost no more devoted patriot, the army no more gallant officer, and society no more brilliant member. It was but last Sunday that his sister-in-law, Miss M. S., said to me with natural pride and pleasure: “William Randolph has been promoted; he is now colonel of the Second.” I expressed the pleasure which I then felt; but as she passed out of the room, and my thoughts again turned to the subject, a superstitious horror came over me, and I said to those around me, “This is a fatal honour conferred upon W. R.,” and I could not get rid of the impression. The Second Regiment has invariably lost its field officers. It is one of the most gallant regiments of the Stonewall Brigade, and! has frequently had what is called the post of honour. Colonel Allen, Colonel Botts, Lieutenant-Colonel Lackland, Lieutenant-Colonel Colston, Major Jones, and now Colonel Randolph, have fallen! and Colonel Nadenboush, of the same regiment, has been so mutilated by wounds, as to be obliged to retire from the service.

The fleet upon James River has landed about 30,000 or 40,000 troops. One of their gunboats ran upon a torpedo, which blew it to atoms. We repulsed them near Port Walthall. Yesterday they came with a very strong force upon the Petersburg Railroad. They were too strong for us, and we had to fall back; the enemy consequently took the road, and, of course, injured it very much; but they have fallen back; why, we do not know, unless they have heard of Grant’s failure. The alarm-bell is constantly ringing, making us nervous and anxious. The militia have been called out, and have left the city, but where they have gone I know not. It is strange how little apprehension seems to be felt in the city. Our trust is first in God, and, under Him, in our brave men. At this moment Yankee prisoners are passing by. I do not know where they were captured. Those taken at the battle of “The Wilderness” were sent South. I went to the Monumental Church this morning. Mr. —— read the service, and Mr. Johnston, of Alexandria, preached.


May 6. 1864.—The Federals are this morning ascending James River, with a fleet of thirty-nine vessels—four monitors among them. The battle between Lee and Grant imminent. God help us! We feel strengthened by the prayers of so many good people. All the city seems quiet and trusting. We feel that the Lord will keep the city. We were at our own prayer-meeting at St. James’s this morning at half-past six. Yesterday evening we heard most fervent prayers from the Young Men’s Christian Association. To-day Dr. Reid’s Church will be open all day for prayer. I am sorry that I shall not be able to go before the afternoon.

Grant’s force is said to be between one hundred and fifty and one hundred and eighty thousand men. The “battle is not always to the strong,” as we have often experienced during the past three years.

We spent last evening at the Ballard House, with Dr. S. and my dear S. She is hastening to her ill child; he must return to his post; private griefs cannot now be indulged.


May 5.—Our army on the Rapidan is in line of battle. Grant is moving his mighty columns. Where the battle will take place Heaven only knows. I pray that God may be with us, and that the enemy may be driven far from our borders.

We are now attending the prayer-meetings held by the Young Men’s Christian Association, which are very interesting; three of them will be held this week for our dear army, and for the battle now pending.


Tuesday Morning, May 3.—Yesterday passed as usual. We attended Mr. Peterkin’s prayer-meeting before breakfast, which we generally do, and which was very interesting. Then came by market for our daily supplies; and at nine I commenced my labour in the office, while Mr. —— went to his hospital, which occupies a great deal of his time.

Washington, North Carolina, has been evacuated by the Federals, who have retired to Newbern. All quiet on the Rapidan. Six steamers have run the blockade within a few days, laden with ammunition, etc. Surely God is with us. It is a delightful thing to contemplate that so many of our officers of high position, who are leading and giving an example to our soldiers, should be God-fearing men; from the President and General Lee down, I believe a majority of them are professing Christians. On Sunday I saw General R. Ransom (who has lately been put in command here) and General Kemper, who has just recovered from the wound received at Gettysburg, both at the communion-table.

On Saturday our President had a most heart-rending accident in his family. His little son was playing on the backportico, fell over, and was picked up apparently lifeless. Both parents were absent, nor did they get home in time to see their child alive. The neighbours collected around him, physicians were immediately called in, but the little fellow could not be aroused; he breathed for about three-quarters of an hour. His devoted parents returned to find their boy, whom they had left two hours before full of “life in every limb,” now cold in death. They have the deep sympathy of the community.


May 2.—Just taken leave of J. J., who has gone to Halifax, where the Bishop resides. It seems so strange that she does not want to go to the country. If I could only get to some quiet nook, some lodge in a vast wilderness, where rumours of unsuccessful or successful war could never reach me more, I think I should be happy. The Bishop says it is too expensive here for his income, and so it is for everybody’s income, but were we to leave it we should have none; our whole dependence is now upon the Government, except the interest on a small amount invested in Confederate bonds.

Our army, it is said, is fighting at or near Newbern, North Carolina. I trust they are following up the Plymouth victory.