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

War Diary of a Union Woman in the South by Dora Richards Miller

Aug. 20.—Sitting in my easy chair to-day, looking out upon a grassy slope of the hill in the rear of this house, I have looked over this journal as if in a dream; for since the last date sickness and sorrow have been with me. I feel as if an angry wave had passed over me bearing away strength and treasure. For on one day there came to me from New Orleans the news of Mrs. B.’s death, a friend whom no tie of blood could have made nearer. The next day my beautiful boy ended his brief life of ten days and died in my arms. My own illness caused him to perish; the fatal cold in the cave was the last straw that broke down strength. The colonel’s sweet wife has come, and I do not lack now for womanly companionship. She says that with such a pre-natal experience perhaps death was the best for him. I try to think so, and to be glad that H. has not been ill, though I see the effects. This book is exhausted, and I wonder whether there will be more adventures by flood and field to cause me to begin another.

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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July 23d, 1863.—We moved again two days ago.

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July 14th, 1863.—Moved yesterday into a house I call “Fair Rosamond’s bower” because it would take a clue of thread to go through it without getting lost. One room has five doors opening into the house, and no windows. The stairs are like ladders, and the colonel’s contraband valet won’t risk his neck taking down water, but pours it through the windows on people’s heads. We shan’t stay in it. Men are at work closing up the caves; they had become hiding-places for trash. Vicksburg is now like one vast hospital—every one is getting sick or is sick. My cook was taken to-day with bilious fever, and nothing but will keeps me up.

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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July 7th, 1863.—I did not enjoy quiet long. First came Martha, who announced her intention of going to search for her sons, as she was free now. I was hardly able to stand since the severe cold taken in the cave that night, but she would not wait a day. A colored woman came in wanting a place, and said she had asked her mistress for wages and her mistress had turned her out. I was in no condition to stand upon ceremony then, and engaged her at once, but hear to-day that I am thoroughly pulled to pieces in Vicksburg circles; there is no more salvation for me. Next came two Federal officers and wanted rooms and board. To have some protection was a necessity; both armies were still in town, and for the past three days every Confederate soldier I see has a cracker in his hand. There is hardly any water in town, no prospect of rain, and the soldiers have emptied one cistern in the yard already and begun on the other. The colonel put a guard at the gate to limit the water given. Next came the owner of the house and said we must move; he wanted the house, but it was so big he’d just bring his family in; we could stay till we got one. They brought boarders with them too, and children. Men are at work all over the house shoveling up the plaster before repairing. Upstairs they are pouring it by bucketfuls through the windows. Colonel D. brought work for H. to help with from headquarters. Making out the paroles and copying them has taken so long they wanted help. I am surprised and mortified to find that two-thirds of all the men who have signed made their mark; they cannot write. I never thought there was so much ignorance in the South. One of the men at headquarters took a fancy to H. and presented him with a portfolio, that he said he had captured when the Confederates evacuated their headquarters at Jackson. It contained mostly family letters written in French, and a few official papers. Among them was the following note, which I will copy here, and file away the original as a curiosity when the war is over.

HEADQUARTERS DEPT. OF TENN.

TUPELO, AUG 6, 1862.

Capt.: The Major-General Commanding directs me to say that he submits it altogether to your own discretion whether you make the attempt to capture General Grant or not. While the exploit would be very brilliant if successful, you must remember that failure might be disastrous to you and your men. The General commends your activity and energy and expects you to continue to show these qualities.

I am, very respectfully, yr. obt. svt.

Thomas L. Snead, A.A.G.

CAPT. GEO. L. BAXTER,

Commanding Beaureguard Scouts.

I would like to know if he tried it and came to grief or abandoned the project. As letters can now get through to New Orleans, I wrote there.

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July 4th, 1863.—It is evening. All is still. Silence and night are once more united. I can sit at the table in the parlor and write. Two candles are lighted. I would like a dozen. We have had wheat supper and wheat bread once more. H. is leaning back in the rocking-chair; he says:

“G., it seems to me I can hear the silence, and feel it too. It wraps me like a soft garment; how else can I express this peace?”

But I must write the history of the last twenty-four hours. About five yesterday afternoon, Mr. J., H.’s assistant, who, having no wife to keep him in, dodges about at every change and brings us the news, came to H. and said:

“Mr. L., you must both come to our cave to-night. I hear that to-night the shelling is to surpass anything yet. An assault will be made in front and rear. You know we have a double cave; there is room for you in mine, and mother and sister will make a place for Mrs. L. Come right up; the ball will open about seven.”

We got ready, shut up the house, told Martha to go to the church again if she preferred it to the cellar, and walked up to Mr. J.’s. When supper was eaten, all secure, and the ladies in their cave night toilet, it was just six, and we crossed the street to the cave opposite. As I crossed a mighty shell flew screaming over my head. It was the last thrown into Vicksburg. We lay on our pallets waiting for the expected roar, but no sound came except the chatter from the neighboring caves, and at last we dropped asleep. I woke at dawn stiff. A draught from the funnel-shaped opening had been blowing on me all night. Every one was expressing surprise at the quiet. We started for home and met the editor of the “Daily Citizen.” H. said:

“This is strangely quiet, Mr. L.”

“Ah, sir,” shaking his head gloomily, “I’m afraid the last shell has been thrown into Vicksburg.”

“Why do you fear so?”

“It is surrender. At six last evening a man went down to the river and blew a truce signal; the shelling stopped at once.”

When I entered the kitchen a soldier was there waiting for the bowl of scrapings. (They took turns for it.)

“Good-morning, madam,” he said; “we won’t bother you much longer. We can’t thank you enough for letting us come, for getting this soup boiled has helped some of us to keep alive, but now all this is over.”

“Is it true about the surrender?”

“Yes; we have had no official notice, but they are paroling out at the lines now, and the men in Vicksburg will never forgive Pemberton. An old granny! A child would have known better than to shut men up in this cursed trap to starve to death like useless vermin.” His eyes flashed with an insane fire as he spoke. “Haven’t I seen my friends carted out three or four in a box, that had died of starvation! Nothing else, madam! Starved to death because we had a fool for a general.”

“Don’t you think you’re rather hard on Pemberton? He thought it his duty to wait for Johnston.”

“Some people may excuse him, ma’am, but we’ll curse him to our dying day. Anyhow, you’ll see the blue-coats directly.”

Breakfast dispatched, we went on the upper gallery. The street was deserted, save by a few people carrying home bedding from their caves. Among these was a group taking home a little creature, born in a cave a few days previous, and its wan-looking mother. About 11 o’clock a man in blue came sauntering along, looking about curiously. Then two followed him, then another.

“H., do you think these can be the Federal soldiers?”

“Why, yes; here come more up the street.”

Soon a group appeared on the court-house hill, and the flag began slowly to rise to the top of the staff. As the breeze caught it, and it sprang out like a live thing exultant, H. drew a long breath of contentment.

“Now I feel once more at home in my own country.”

In an hour more a grand rush of people set in toward the river,—foremost among them the gentleman who took our cave; all were flying as if for life.

“What can this mean, H.? Are the populace turning out to greet the despised conquerors?”

“Oh,” said H., springing up, “look! It is the boats coming around the bend.”

Truly, it was a fine spectacle to see that fleet of transports sweep around the curve and anchor in the teeth of the batteries so lately vomiting fire. Presently Mr. J. passed and called:

“Aren’t you coming, Mr. L.? There’s provisions on those boats: coffee and flour. ‘First come, first served,’ you know.”

“Yes, I’ll be there pretty soon,” replied H.

But now the new-comers began to swarm into our yard, asking H. if he had coin to sell for greenbacks. He had some, and a little bartering went on with the new greenbacks. H. went out to get provisions. When he returned a Confederate officer came with him. H. went to the box of Confederate money and took out four hundred dollars, and the officer took off his watch, a plain gold one, and laid it on the table, saying, “We have not been paid, and I must get home to my family.” H. added a five-dollar greenback to the pile, and wished him a happy meeting. The townsfolk continued to dash through the streets with their arms full, canned goods predominating. Towards five Mr. J. passed again. “Keep on the lookout,” he said; “the army of occupation is coming along,” and in a few minutes the head of the column appeared. What a contrast to the suffering creatures we had seen so long were these stalwart, well-fed men, so splendidly set up and accoutered! Sleek horses, polished arms, bright plumes,—this was the pride and panoply of war. Civilization, discipline, and order seemed to enter with the measured tramp of those marching columns; and the heart turned with throbs of added pity to the worn men in gray, who were being blindly dashed against this embodiment of modern power. And now this “silence that is golden” indeed is over all, and my limbs are unhurt, and I suppose if I were Catholic, in my fervent gratitude, I would hie me with a rich offering to the shrine of “our Lady of Mercy.”

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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July 3d, 1863.—H. was going to headquarters for the requisite pass, and he saw General Pemberton crawling out of a cave, for the shelling has been as hot as ever. He got the pass, but did not act with his usual caution, for the boat he secured was a miserable, leaky one—a mere trough. Leaving Martha in charge, we went to the river, had our trunks put in the boat, and embarked; but the boat became utterly unmanageable, and began to fill with water rapidly. H. saw that we could not cross it and turned to come back; yet in spite of that the pickets at the battery fired on us. H. raised the white flag he had, yet they fired again, and I gave a cry of horror that none of these dreadful things had wrung from me. I thought H. was struck. When we landed H. showed the pass, and said that the officer had told him the battery would be notified we were to cross. The officer apologized and said they were not notified. He furnished a cart to get us home, and to-day we are down in the cellar again, shells flying as thick as ever. Provisions are so nearly gone, except the hogshead of sugar, that a few more days will bring us to starvation indeed. Martha says rats are hanging dressed in the market for sale with mule meat,—there is nothing else. The officer at the battery told me he had eaten one yesterday. We have tried to leave this Tophet and failed, and if the siege continues I must summon that higher kind of courage—moral bravery—to subdue my fears of possible mutilation.

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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July 1st, 1863.—Some months ago, thinking it might be useful, I obtained from the consul of my birthplace, by sending to another town, a passport for foreign parts. H. said if we went out to the lines we might be permitted to get through on that. So we packed the trunk, got a carriage, and on the 30th drove out there. General V. offered us seats in his tent. The rifle-bullets were whizzing so zip, zip from the sharp-shooters on the Federal lines that involuntarily I moved on my chair. He said, “Don’t be alarmed; you are out of range. They are firing at our mules yonder.” His horse, tied by the tent door, was quivering all over, the most intense exhibition of fear I’d ever seen in an animal. General V. sent out a flag of truce to the Federal headquarters, and while we waited wrote on a piece of silk paper a few words. Then he said, “My wife is in Tennessee. If you get through the lines, give her this. They will search you, so I will put it in this toothpick.” He crammed the silk paper into a quill toothpick, and handed it to H. It was completely concealed. The flag-of-truce officer came back flushed and angry. “General Grant says that no human being shall pass out of Vicksburg; but the lady may feel sure danger will soon be over. Vicksburg will surrender on the 4th.”

“Is that so, general?” inquired H. “Are arrangements for surrender made?”

“We know nothing of the kind. Vicksburg will not surrender.”

“Those were General Grant’s exact words, sir,” said the flag-officer. “Of course it is nothing but their brag.”

We went back sadly enough, but to-day H. says he will cross the river to General Porter’s lines and try there; I shall not be disappointed.

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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June 25th.—A horrible day. The most horrible yet to me, because I’ve lost my nerve. We were all in the cellar, when a shell came tearing through the roof, burst upstairs, and tore up that room, the pieces coming through both floors down into the cellar. One of them tore open the leg of H.’s pantaloons. This was tangible proof the cellar was no place of protection from them. On the heels of this came Mr. J., to tell us that young Mrs. P. had had her thighbone crushed. When Martha went for the milk she came back horror-stricken to tell us the black girl there had her arm taken off by a shell. For the first time I quailed. I do not think people who are physically brave deserve much credit for it; it is a matter of nerves. In this way I am constitutionally brave, and seldom think of danger till it is over; and death has not the terrors for me it has for some others. Every night I had lain down expecting death, and every morning rose to the same prospect, without being unnerved. It was for H. I trembled. But now I first seemed to realize that something worse than death might come; I might be crippled, and not killed. Life, without all one’s powers and limbs, was a thought that broke down my courage. I said to H., “You must get me out of this horrible place; I cannot stay; I know I shall be crippled.” Now the regret comes that I lost control, for H. is worried, and has lost his composure, because my coolness has broken down.

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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June 21st, 1863.—I had gone upstairs to-day during the interregnum to enjoy a rest on my bed and read the reliable items in the “Citizen,” when a shell burst right outside the window in front of me. Pieces flew in, striking all round me, tearing down masses of plaster that came tumbling over me. When H. rushed in I was crawling out of the plaster, digging it out of my eyes and hair. When he picked up beside my pillow a piece as large as a saucer, I realized my narrow escape. The window-frame began to smoke, and we saw the house was on fire. H. ran for a hatchet and I for water, and we put it out. Another (shell) came crashing near, and I snatched up my comb and brush and ran down here. It has taken all the afternoon to get the plaster out of my hair, for my hands were rather shaky.

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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June 20th.—The gentleman who took our cave came yesterday to invite us to come to it, because, he said, “it’s going to be very bad to-day.” I don’t know why he thought so. We went, and found his own and another family in it; sat outside and watched the shells till we concluded the cellar was as good a place as that hill-side. I fear the want of good food is breaking down H. I know from my own feelings of weakness, but mine is not an American constitution and has a recuperative power that his has not.

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Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.

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