Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Dolly Sumner Lunt Burge – A Woman’s Wartime Journal.

[May is full of stories of Confederate soldiers bitterly returning to their homes, and of apprehension of the Yankee troops encamped in the neighborhood.]

May 7,1865.

Sunday evening. Had company every day last week, paroled soldiers returning to their homes. Last night a Mr. and Mrs. Adams, refugees from Alberta, who have been spending the time in Eatonton, called to stay all night. I felt as though I could not take them in. I had purposely kept in the back part of the house all the evening with my blinds down and door locked, to keep from being troubled by soldiers, and had just gone into my room with a light, when some one knocked at the door, and wanted shelter for himself and family. I could not turn away women and children, so I took them in. Found them very pleasant people. They had Government wagons along, and he had them guarded all night. I fear there was something in them which had been surrendered, and belonged to the United States, but he assured me that with the exception of the mules and wagon, all belonged to himself. He said that he left Jeff Davis at Washington in this State, on Thursday morning last. His enemies are in close pursuit of him, offering a hundred thousand reward to his captors.

May 14, 1865.

Mr. Knowles, our circuit preacher, came. I like him. We agree upon a good many contested topics. He loves the old flag as well as myself and would be glad to see it floating where it ever has.

I had a long conversation with my man Elbert to-day about freedom, and told him I was perfectly willing, but wanted direction. He says the Yankees told Major Lee’s servants they were all free, but they had better remain where they were until it was all settled, as it would be in a month’s time. We heard so many conflicting rumors we know not what to do, but are willing to carry out the orders when we know them.

May 29, 1865.

Dr. Williams, from Social Circle, came this morning to trade me a horse. He tells me the people below are freeing their servants and allowing those to stay with them that will go on with their work and obey as usual. What I shall do with mine is a question that troubles me day and night. It is my last thought at night and the first in the morning. I told them several days ago they were free to do as they liked. But it is my duty to make some provisions for them. I thank God that they are freed, and yet what can I do with them? They are old and young, not profitable to hire. What provision can I make?

[The last two entries of the year 1865, however, supply the journal with the much-to-be-desired happy ending]:

December 24, 1865.

It has been many months since I wrote in this journal, and many things of interest have occurred. But above all I give thanks to God for His goodness in preserving my life and so much of my property for me. My freedmen have been with me and have worked for one-sixth of my crop.

This is a very rainy, unpleasant day. How many poor freedmen are suffering! Thousands of them must be exposed to the pitiless rain! Oh, that everybody would do right, and there would not be so much suffering in the world! Sadai and I are all alone in the house. We have been reading, talking, and thus spending the hours until she went to bed, that I might play Santa Claus. Her stocking hangs invitingly in the corner. Happy child and childhood, that can be so easily made content!

December 25, 1865.

Sadai woke very early and crept out of bed to her stocking. Seeing it well filled she soon had a light and eight little negroes around her, gazing upon the treasures. Everything opened that could be divided was shared with them. ‘T is the last Christmas, probably, that we shall be together, freedmen! Now you will, I trust, have your own homes, and be joyful under your own vine and fig tree, with none to molest or make afraid.


April 29, 1865.

Boys plowing in old house field. We are needing rain. Everything looks pleasant, but the state of our country is very gloomy. General Lee has surrendered to the victorious Grant. Well, if it will only hasten the conclusion of this war, I am satisfied. There has been something very strange in the whole affair to me, and I can attribute it to nothing but the hand of Providence working out some problem that has not yet been revealed to us poor, erring mortals. At the beginning of the struggle the minds of men, their wills, their self-control, seemed to be all taken from them in a passionate antagonism to the coming-in President, Abraham Lincoln. Our leaders, to whom the people looked for wisdom, led us into this, perhaps the greatest error of the age. “We will not have this man to rule over us!” was their cry. For years it has been stirring in the hearts of Southern politicians that the North was enriched and built up by Southern labor and wealth. Men’s pockets were always appealed to and appealed to so constantly that an antagonism was excited which it has been impossible to allay. They did not believe that the North would fight. Said Robert Toombes: “I will drink every drop of blood they will shed.” Oh, blinded men! Rivers deep and strong have been shed, and where are we now?—a ruined, subjugated people! What will be our future? is the question which now rests heavily upon the hearts of all.

This has been a month never to be forgotten. Two armies have surrendered. The President of the United States has been assassinated, Richmond evacuated, and Davis, President of the Confederacy, put to grief, to flight. The old flag has been raised again upon Sumter and an armistice accepted.

January 30,1865.

As the moon has changed, Julia [the cook] has gone to making soap again. She is a strong believer in the moon, and never undertakes to boil her soap on the wane of the moon. “It won’t thicken, mist’ess—see if it does!” She says, too, we must commence gardening this moon. I have felt a strong desire today that my captured boys [slaves] might come back. Oh, how thankful I should feel to see them once more safe at home!

December 25, 1864.

Sadai jumped out of bed very early this morning to feel in her stocking. She could not believe but that there would be something in it. Finding nothing, she crept back into bed, pulled the cover over her face, and I soon heard her sobbing. The little negroes all came in: “Christmas gift, mist’ess! Christmas gift, mist’ess!”

I pulled the cover over my face and was soon mingling my tears with Sadai’s.

December 24, 1864.

This has usually been a very busy day with me, preparing for Christmas not only for my own tables, but for gifts for my servants. Now how changed! No confectionery, cakes, or pies can I have. We are all sad; no loud, jovial laugh from our boys is heard. Christmas Eve, which has ever been gaily celebrated here, which has witnessed the popping of fire-crackers [the Southern custom of celebrating Christmas with fireworks] and the hanging up of stockings, is an occasion now of sadness and gloom. I have nothing even to put in Sadai’s stocking, which hangs so invitingly for Santa Claus. How disappointed she will be in the morning, though I have explained to her why he cannot come. Poor children! Why must the innocent suffer with the guilty?

December 23, 1864.

Just before night Mrs. Robert Rakestraw and Miss Mary drove up to spend the night with me. They had started down into Jasper County, hoping to get back their buggy, having heard that several buggies were left at Mr. Whitfield’s by the Yankees.

Nothing new! It is confidently believed that Savannah has been evacuated. I hear nothing from my boys. Poor fellows, how I miss them!

December 22, 1864.

Tuesday, the nineteenth of the month, I attended Floyd Glass’s wedding. She was married in the morning to Lieutenant Doroughty. She expected to have been married the week after the Yankees came, but her groom was not able to get here. Some of the Yankees found out in some way that she was to have been married, and annoyed her considerably by telling her that they had taken her sweetheart prisoner; that when he got off the train at the Circle they took him and, some said, shot him.

The Yankees found Mrs. Glass’s china and glassware that she had buried in a box, broke it all up, and then sent her word that she would set no more fine tables. They also got Mrs. Perry’s silver.

November 26, 1864.

A very cold morning. Elbert [the negro coachman] has to go to mill this morning, and I shall go with him, fearing that, if he is alone, my mule may be taken from him, for there are still many straggling soldiers about. Mounted in the little wagon, I went, carrying wheat not only for myself, but for my neighbors. Never did I think I would have to go to mill! Such are the changes that come to us! History tells us of some illustrious examples of this kind. Got home just at night.

Mr. Kennedy stopped all night with us. He has been refugeeing on his way home. Every one we meet gives us painful accounts of the desolation caused by the enemy. Each one has to tell his or her own experience, and fellow-suffering makes us all equal and makes us all feel interested in one another.

November 22, 1864.

After breakfast this morning I went over to my grave-yard to see what had befallen that. To my joy, I found it had not been disturbed. As I stood by my dead, I felt rejoiced that they were at rest. Never have I felt so perfectly reconciled to the death of my husband as I do to-day, while looking upon the ruin of his lifelong labor. How it would have grieved him to see such destruction! Yes, theirs is the lot to be envied. At rest, rest from care, rest from heartaches, from trouble.). . .

Found one of my large hogs killed just outside the grave-yard.

Walked down to the swamp, looking for the wagon and gear that Henry hid before he was taken off. Found some of my sheep; came home very much wearied, having walked over four miles.

Mr. and Mrs. Rockmore called. Major Lee came down again after some cattle, and while he was here the alarm was given that more Yankees were coming. I was terribly alarmed and packed my trunks with clothing, feeling assured that we should be burned out now. Major Lee swore that he would shoot, which frightened me, for he was intoxicated enough to make him ambitious. He rode off in the direction whence it was said they were coming. Soon after, however, he returned, saying it was a false alarm, that it was some of our own men. Oh, dear! Are we to be always living in fear and dread! Oh, the horrors, the horrors of war!

November 21, 1864.

We had the table laid this morning, but no bread or butter or milk. What a prospect for delicacies! My house is a perfect fright. I had brought in Saturday night some thirty bushels of potatoes and ten or fifteen bushels of wheat poured down on the carpet in the ell. Then the few gallons of syrup saved was daubed all about. The backbone of a hog that I had killed on Friday, and which the Yankees did not take when they cleaned out my smokehouse, I found and hid under my bed, and this is all the meat I have.

Major Lee came down this evening, having heard that I was burned out, to proffer me a home. Mr. Dorsett was with him. The army lost some of their beeves in passing. I sent to-day and had some driven into my lot, and then sent to Judge Glass to come over and get some. Had two killed. Some of Wheeler’s men came in, and I asked them to shoot the cattle, which they did.

About ten o’clock this morning Mr. Joe Perry [Mrs. Laura’s husband] called. I was so glad to see him that I could scarcely forbear embracing him. I could not keep from crying, for I was sure the Yankees had executed him, and I felt so much for his poor wife. The soldiers told me repeatedly Saturday that they had hung him and his brother James and George Guise. They had a narrow escape, however, and only got away by knowing the country so much better than the soldiers did. They lay out until this morning. How rejoiced I am for his family! All of his negroes are gone, save one man that had a wife here at my plantation. They are very strong Secesh [Secessionists]. When the army first came along they offered a guard for the house, but Mrs. Laura told them she was guarded by a Higher Power, and did not thank them to do it. She says that she could think of nothing else all day when the army was passing but of the devil and his hosts. She had, however, to call for a guard before night or the soldiers would have taken everything she had.