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

Post image for Diary of a Southern Refugee, Judith White McGuire.

Diary of a Southern Refugee, Judith White McGuire.

August 30, 2012

Diary of a Southern Refugee During the War by Judith White McGuire

August 30th.—A package arrived last night from our sisters, with my sister M’s diary, for my amusement. It was kept while our dear ones of W. and S. H. were surrounded by McClellan’s army. I shall use my leisure here in copying it, that our children’s children may know all that our family suffered during this cruel war. During the six weeks that they were surrounded by the foe, we only heard from them through letters written to their husbands in Richmond. These letters were captured by the enemy, and published in a New York pager; and one was republished in the Richmond Enquirer, where we were most delighted to find it. In that way W. B. N., then incarcerated in the walls of Fort Delaware, heard from his mother, wife, and children, for the first time since he was captured, in March.

Mrs. N’s diary begins: “May 18th.—S. H, Hanover County, Va. C. M. and myself set off yesterday morning for church. At my brother’s gate we met Dr. N., who told us that there were rumours of the approach of the enemy from the White House. We then determined not to go to our own church, but in another direction, to the Presbyterian church. After waiting there until the hour for service had arrived, an elder came in and announced to us that the minister thought it prudent not to come, but to have the congregation dismissed at once, as the enemy were certainly approaching. We returned home in a most perturbed state, and found that my husband had just arrived, with several of our sons and nephews, to spend a day or two with us. In a short time a servant announced that he had seen the Yankees that morning at the “Old Church.” Then there was no time to be lost; our gentlemen must go. We began our hurried preparations, and sent for the carriage and buggy. We were told that the driver had gone to the Yankees. After some discussion, one of the gentlemen determined to drive, and they were soon off. It was then eleven o’clock at night, and the blackness of darkness reigned over the earth. It was the most anxious night of my life. Surrounded by an implacable foe, our gentlemen all gone, we knew not how long we should be separated, or what might not happen before we met, and the want of confidence in our servants, which was now for the first time shaken, made us very nervous. This morning we went to W., and took leave of our sister, Mrs. C., and daughters. Her sons are in the army, and being a refugee, she says she must follow the army, and go where she can reach them if they are wounded. We found C. busily dividing her year’s supply of bacon among the servants, that each may take care of his own. As the enemy never regards locks, she knows that her meat-house will be unsafe; we secreted two guns, which had been inadvertently left, and returned, feeling desolate, but thankful that our gentlemen were safely off.

“22d.—Papers from Richmond to-day. We are not yet in the enemy’s lines.

“23d.—The enemy’s pickets gradually encroaching upon us. A squad of their cavalry has been in the Hanover Town lane all day; five or six lancers, with their red streamers, rode slowly by our gate thi3 evening. C. encountered them in her walk home, and had a conversation with an officer, Major Doyle, who made many professions of friendship!

24th.—We were aroused this morning at an early hour, by the servants rushing in, exclaiming: “The house is surrounded by Yankees, and they are coming into the house.”

I rushed to the window, and there they were. An officer in the front porch, and a squad of cut-throat-looking fellows on the steps; while a number, with their red streamers and lances, were dashing hither and thither; some at the stable, some at the kitchen, others around the servants’ quarters and at the barn, while the lane was filled with them. Dr. T. had spent the night with little L., who is ill with scarlet fever. I knocked at his door, and asked him to go down and see what the people wanted. We dressed as rapidly as possible. C. and M. had been up all night with L., and were soon ready to go down. They quickly returned, to say that the officer was Colonel Rush, of Philadelphia, and demanded that my little son Edward should be sent down immediately. It was in vain that they told him that E. was a mere child—he had evidently heard that he was a young man, and demanded his presence. The child was aroused from his sleep, and hastily dressed himself, but not quickly enough for our impatient Colonel, who walked to the staircase and began to ascend, when C. called to him, “Colonel R., do you mean to go to a lady’s chamber before she is dressed? The boy is in his mother’s room.” Somewhat abashed, he stepped back. I soon descended, accompanied by E. N. and W. S. There on the mat before me stood a live Yankee colonel, with an aid on either side. I approached; he pointed to W. S., saying, “Is that Edward N?” “No,” said I; “that is my grandson; this is E. N.” He said, “I want the boys to go with me.” Looking him full in the eye, I said, “Sir, will you take these children prisoners?” His eye fell, and with many grimaces he replied, “Oh, no; I only want to ask the boys a few questions.” He then took them across the lawn, I all the time watching them; asked them many questions, but finding that he could get nothing out of them, he sent them back, calling them “little rebels,” etc. The Colonel had seen defiant looks enough while in the house, and did not return. He asked M. to let him give her a remedy for scarlet fever, which Mrs. Colonel Huger had given him. “Mrs. General Huger you mean?” replied M. “Thank you, I have perfect confidence in Dr. T.” In the meantime his commissary went to the meat-house, demanded the key, and looking in, said, “I want three hundred pounds of this bacon, and shall send for it this evening.” Another man went to the stable, took Dr. T’s horse, saddle, and bridle, and went off with them. The Colonel was immediately informed of it, seemed shocked, and said, “Impossible;” but on ordering it to be brought back, it was soon returned. Presently the Quartermaster rode up to the door, calling out, “Mrs. N., three horses were in your stable last night, and they are not there now; the Colonel wishes their absence accounted for.” “Perhaps, sir,” replied M., “they have been stolen, as the other was; but as you get your information from the servants, I refer you to them.” He rode off, and the whole party returned to their camp.

“Monday, 26th.—A cry of “Yankees,” this morning, sent us to the windows; there we saw a regiment of Lancers, one of regulars, one of rifles, and another of zouaves, composed of the most dreadful-looking creatures I ever beheld, with red caps and trowsers ;also two guns. They were on their way to the Wyoming bridge, which they destroyed, and then made a reconnoissance of the Court House road. On their return they called here, boasting that they had killed one of our men; they advised M. to hang out a white flag to protect her house, which she, of course, declined doing.

27th.—Last night I could not sleep, in consequence of a threat made by one of the Yankee soldiers in our kitchen. He said that 30,000 soldiers had been ordered to the Court-House to-day, to “wipe out” our people. Were our people ignorant of this, and how should we let them know of it? These were questions that haunted me all night. Before day I formed my plan, and awakened S. to consult her on the subject. It was this: To send W. S. to the Court-House, as usual, for our letters and papers. If the Yankee pickets stopped him, he could return; if he could reach our pickets, he could give the alarm. She agreed to it, and as soon as it was day we aroused the child, communicated to him our plan, (for we dared not write;) he entered into the spirit of it, and by light he was off. I got up and went down to the yard, for I could not sit still; but what was my consternation, after a short time had elapsed, to see at the gate, and all along the road, the hated red streamers of our enemy, going towards the Court-House! S. and myself were miserable about W. M. and C. gave us no comfort; they thought it very rash in us to send him—he would be captured, and “Fax” (the horse) would certainly be taken. We told them that it was worth the risk to put our people on their guard; but, nevertheless, we were unhappy beyond expression. Presently a man with a wretched countenance, and, from his conversation, an abolitionist of the deepest dye, rode in to inquire if the artillery had passed along. My fears about W. induced me to assume a bland countenance and manner and I told him of having sent a little boy for the mail, and I wanted him to see that he came home safely; he said that the boy would not be allowed to pass, and promised, gruffly, to do what he could for him ; but at the same time made such remarks as made our blood boil; but, remembering W’s danger, we made no reply. He said he was aid to General Warren. Before he left our gate, what was our relief to see W. ride in, escorted by fourteen lancers, he and his horse unmolested! The child had gone ahead of the Yankees, reached our picket, told his story, and a vidette had immediately been sent with the information to head-quarters. I then for the first time took my seat, with my heart full of gratitude for W’s safety, and feeling greatly relieved that I had done what I could. At three o’clock the firing commenced; it was very heavy for some hours; we knew they were fighting, and knew, too, that our force at the Court-House was not large. Oh, what anxious moments we have experienced this day ! The firing has now ceased, and the Yankees are constantly straggling in, claiming a great victory; but we have learned to believe nothing they say.

28th.—Now our mail is broken up, and we feel that we are indeed in the hands of the enemy. Oh, how forsaken and forlorn we are! yet we do what we can to cheer each other, and get on right well.

30th.—This morning two horsemen rode up, and seeing our cold looks, said, “Ladies, do you take us for Yankees?” “Of course we do—are you not Yankees?” “Oh, no ; we belong to the Augusta troop, and want to hear something of the movements of the enemy.” We pointed to their pickets, and implored them to go at once. We, of course, filled heir haversacks, and they were scouting about the woods for some time. Oh, how our hearts go out towards our own people !

June 1st.—We heard very heavy firing all day yesterday, and again to-day. At one time the roar was so continuous that I almost fancied I heard the shouts of the combatants; the firing became less about twelve o’clock, and now (night) it has ceased entirely. Dr. N. and Dr. T. have been accused by the Yankees of having informed our people of their meditated attack the other day. They were cross-examined on the subject, and of course denied it positively. They were threatened very harshly, the Yankees contending that there was no one else in the neighbourhood that could have done it. Poor little W. was not suspected at all— they little know what women and children can do.

“7th.—We have been now surrounded by the enemy for two weeks, cut off from every relative except our two households. Our male relations, who are young enough, are all in the army, and we have no means of hearing one word from them. The roar of artillery we hear almost every day, but have no means of hearing the result. We see the picket-fires of the enemy every night, but have, so far, been less injured by them than we anticipated. They sometimes surround our houses, but have never yet searched them.

“8th.—The New York Herald reports a bloody fight on the 31st of May and 1st of June. They acknowledge from 3,000 to 4,000 killed and wounded—give us credit for the victory on the first day, but say that they recovered on the second day what they lost on the first. I have no doubt, from their own account, that they were badly whipped ; but how long shall this bloody work continue?

Thousands and thousands of our men are slain, and we seem to be no nearer the end than at first.

9th.—Yankee wagons about all day, looking for corn and fodder. I am thankful to say that M. has none for them, the flood of last year having destroyed W’s corn crop. I felt to-day our short-sightedness; what they considered a calamity when the flood came, we feel now to be a blessing, as we are not able to furnish food for our foes. God forgive me for my feelings towards them; but when I see insolent fellows riding around and around our dwellings, seeking what they may devour, every evil feeling of my heart is kindled against them and their whole nation. They, the murderers of our husbands, sons, fathers, thinking themselves at liberty to riot over our homesteads! They got their wagons filled from my brother’s barn, and in return pretended to give a bond, which they know is not worth the paper on which it is written. One had the assurance to tell C. that her husband would be paid if he took the oath of allegiance. She told him that he would not do that for all the corn in the Southern Confederacy. Within two or three days they have become very bold; they ride up and demand the key of the corn-house or meat-house, and if it is not immediately given, they break open the door and help themselves.

“11th.—Yesterday evening we had another visit from the Lancers: they fed their horses at M’s barn, ripping off the planks that the corn might roll out. The door was opened by the overseer, but that was too slow a way for thieves and. robbers. They encamped for the night in front of W. C. was detained here yesterday by rain, and was not at home all day, and they took that opportunity for searching every thing. While they were filling the wagons at the bam, four officers went over every part of the house, even the drawers and trunks. They were moderate in their robberies, only taking some damask towels and napkins from the drawers, and a cooked ham and a plate of rolls from the pantry. These men wore the trappings of officers! While I write, I have six wagons in view at my brother’s barn, taking off his corn, and the choice spirits accompanying them are catching the sheep and carrying them off. This robbery now goes on every day. The worst part of our thraldom is, that we can hear nothing from our own army

“13th.—Good news at last. Four letters were received last night by way of Ashland. We learn that we certainly whipped the Yankees on the 31st of May and 1st of June, and that Jackson has had a most glorious campaign in the Valley. We are grieved to hear that the gallant Ashby has been killed, and trust that it is a mere rumour, and that God has spared his valuable life. My sons were not in the late fight, but are stationed at Strawberry Hill, the home of my childhood. Every thing is being stolen on these two places and elsewhere. A lieutenant on General Porter’s staff rode up this evening to ask M. to sell him butter, fowls, eggs, etc. She told him that her poultry-yard had been robbed the night before by some of his men. He professed great horror, but had not gone fifty yards when we heard the report of a pistol, and this wonderfully proper lieutenant of a moment before had shot the hog of an old negro woman who lives here.

“14th.—While quietly sitting on the porch yesterday evening, I saw a young man rapidly approaching the house, on foot; at first we took it for granted that he was a Yankee, but soon found from his dress that he was one of our soldiers, and from his excited manner that there was something unusual the matter. He was Lieutenant Latané, of Stuart’s Brigade. They had been fighting on the road from Hanover Court-House to the Old Church, and his brother, the captain of the Essex Troop, had been killed about two miles from W. The mill-cart from W. soon after passed along, and he put his brother’s body into it, and brought it to W. There he found a Yankee picket stationed. C. immediately took the dead soldier into her care, promising to bury him as tenderly as if he were her brother; and having no horse left on the place, (the enemy had taken them all,) sent him here, by a private way, to elude the vigilance of the picket, to get M’s only remaining horse— for the poor fellow had given up his to a soldier whose horse had been killed. The horse was soon ready, and as soon as we saw him safely off, we went over to W. to assist in preparing the body for the burial. Oh, what a sad office! This dear young soldier, so precious to many hearts, now in the hands of sorrowing, sympathizing friends, yet, personally, strangers to him! He looked so young—not more than twenty years of age. He was shot in four places; one ball had entered the region of his heart and passed out at the back. We cut a large lock of his hair, as the only thing we could do for his mother. We have sent for Mr. Carraway to perform the funeral services, and shall bury him by our dear Willie Phelps, another victim to this unholy war.

“15th.—Yesterday was the only day for three weeks that we have been free from the hated presence of Yankees. Aaron, whom we sent for Mr. C, was not allowed to pass the picket-post, so we took the body of our poor young captain and buried it ourselves in the S. H. grave-yard, with no one to interrupt us. The girls covered his honoured grave with flowers. He and our precious W. lie side by side, martyrs to a holy cause.

“We have heard nothing from General Stuart; he had 5,000 men and three guns. The pickets have disappeared from around us. The servant we sent for Mr. C. says that General S. burnt the encampment near the Old Church, on Saturday evening, killed many horses, and severely wounded a captain, who refused to surrender; the men scampered into the woods. He represents the Yankees as very much infuriated, vowing vengeance upon our people, from which we hope that they have been badly used. We feel intensely anxious about our brigade.

16th.—Yesterday we sent letters to the Court-House to be mailed, presuming, as we had not seen an enemy for twenty-four hours, that the coast would be clear for awhile ; but Bartlett rode into a detachment of them in Taliaferro’s Lane. The poor old man, in his anxiety to save his letters, betrayed himself by putting his hand on his pocket. They were, of course, taken from him. [The letters I mentioned as having been published in the New York papers.] They are heartily welcome to mine; I hope the perusal may do them good, but C. is annoyed. It was the first letter she had written to her husband since the depredations at W., and she had expressed herself very freely.

“June 17.—The Yankees have returned upon us. They came this morning early, and caught J. W’s horse, which they took off. We can hear nothing of General S. We presume he has returned to Richmond. We shall have to pay for it, I dare say, by being robbed, etc.; but if it has done good to the great cause, we do not mind personal loss. We are now honoured with a guard of twenty-five men—why, we are at a loss to conjecture, unless our intercepted letters may have convinced them that we are dangerous characters. We doubtless have the will to do them harm enough, but, surrounded and watched as we are, the power is wanting. Our guard is composed of regulars, who are much more decent men than the volunteers.

“C. commenced harvest yesterday, in a small way, but so many servants are gone to the Yankees, that much of the wheat must be lost, and the corn cannot be worked. The milkmaid amused herself at their remarks to them: “Ladies, why do you work for white people? You are all free now,” etc., etc.

18th.—Our guard in full force to-day. It is so absurd to see the great fellows on their horses, armed from head to foot, with their faces turned towards us, standing at our yard-gate, guarding women and children, occasionally riding about on the gravel-walks, plucking roses, with which they decorate their horses’ heads. A poor woman came to-day in a buggy, in pursuit of corn. She had been robbed by the enemy of every grain. This is the case with many others, particularly with soldiers’ wives. I asked an officer to-day, what had become of General Stuart? He said he was a ‘smart fellow,’ and he ‘guessed’ he had returned to Richmond, but he ‘ought to have paid a visit to his father-in-law, General Cooke, commanding the United States cavalry not many miles distant.’

20th.—Our guard withdrew to-day, and we walked to W., a privilege we had not enjoyed for many days. We received a Richmond Dispatch by underground railroad. General Stuart’s raid was like a story in the ‘Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.’ He passed down from Hanover Court-House, behind the whole of McClellan’s army, in many places so near as to hear the pickets, capturing and burning every thing which they could not take with them. They then crossed the Lower Chickahominy, and got back to camp before the enemy had recovered from their surprise ; losing but one man, Captain Latane, whom we had the honour of burying. The man who shot him, a Federal officer, was immediately killed by a private in his (Captain L’s) company. The raiders burned two transports at the White House, destroyed any number of wagons, mules, stores, etc., and carried back 200 prisoners. The Yankees have been making vast preparations for surrounding them as they returned; but they were too wise to be caught in that trap. Their masked batteries will be of no avail this time. At New Kent Court-House our men refreshed themselves with all manner of good things, at the expense of the enemy, providing themselves with clothing, boots, etc., and taking the sleek proprietor of the establishment prisoner.

21st.—Yesterday we heard firing all day—heavy guns in the morning, and musketry during the day, and heavy guns again in the evening. Oh, that we could know the result! This morning is as calm and beautiful as though all was peace on the earth. O God, with whom all things are possible, dispel the dark clouds that surround us, and permit us once more to return to our homes, and collect the scattered members of our flock around our family altar in peace and safety! Not a word from my husband or sons.

22d.—Dr. T. called to-day, to say that the firing we heard on Friday was from our guns shelling the enemy, to drive them lower down the Chickahomiuy. Letters, by underground railroad, from our dear William, at Fort Delaware. He complains of nothing but his anxiety to be exchanged, and the impossibility of hearing from home. C., at the same time, got a letter from my brother. He writes in good spirits about our affairs. Jackson’s career is glorious. The sick and wounded are doing well; hospitals are in good order, and the ladies indefatigable in nursing. Surgeon-like, he tells more of the wounded than any thing else. Rev. Mr. C. came up to-day, and gave us some amusing incidents of Stuart’s raid. As some of our men rode by Mr. B’s gate, several of them went in with Mr. B’s sons for a few moments. A dead Yankee lay at the gate. Mrs. W. (Mrs. B’s daughter) supposing he was only wounded, ran out with restoratives to his assistance. While standing there, two Yankees came up. Mrs. W. ordered them to surrender, which one did without the slightest hesitation, giving up his arms, which she immediately carried in to her younger brother, who was badly armed. The other escaped, but her prisoner went along with the crowd. Yankee wagons are again taking off corn from W. The men are very impertinent to C.

24th.—Yankee scouts are very busy around us to-day. They watch this river, and are evidently fearing a flank movement upon them. Wagons passing to Dr. N’s for corn, guarded by Lancers, who are decidedly the worst specimens we have seen. Compared with them, the regulars are welcome guests. It is so strange that Colonel Rush, the son of a distinguished man, whose mother belonged to one of the first families in Maryland, the first-cousin of James M. Mason, and Captain Mason of our navy, of Mrs. General Cooper and Mrs. S. S. Lee, should consent to come among his nearest of kin, at the head of ruffians like the Lancers, to despoil and destroy our country! I suppose that living in Philadelphia has hardened his heart against us, for the city of Brotherly Love is certainly more fierce towards us than any other. Boston cannot compare with it. This is mortifying, because many of us had friends in Philadelphia, whom we loved and admired. We hope and believe that the Quaker element there is at the foundation of their ill will.

25th.—I got by chance a Philadelphia paper of the 20th. Very little bragging, but an earnest appeal to their men to be united, to forget that there will be any more presidential elections, and to let squabbling among themselves alone; that the critical time is at hand, etc.

“Friday, 27th.—The roar of cannon and musketry has been incessant to-day; now as I sit in the yard it is terrific. I doubt not that a general engagement is going on. O God! be with us now; nerve the hearts and strengthen the arms of our men! Give wisdom and skill to our commanders, and grant us victory for thy great name’s sake!

28th.—We have just heard of our success, and that Jackson and Ewell have come from the Valley, and have flanked the enemy on the Chickahominy. Two of our troopers called in this morning.

“July 1st.—Firing continues, but lower and lower down. No news from my dear boys. I wish, but dread, to hear.

2d.—My boys and nephews safe, God be praised! McClellan in full retreat. C. and M. are sending off a wagon with ice, chickens, bread, eggs, vegetables, etc., to our hospital at Cold Harbor.

July 4th.—A beautiful, glorious day, and one which the Yankees expected confidently to spend triumphantly in Richmond. Last Fourth of July old General Scott expected to be there, to tread in triumph the fallen fortunes of his quondam friends, and to-day McClellan has been obliged to yield his visions of glory. ‘Man proposes, but God disposes.’ Many of their companions in arms are there, in the Libby and other prisons, wounded in the hospitals, and dead in the swamps and marshes, or buried on the battle-fields while the ‘Grand Army’ and the ‘Young Napoleon’ are struggling desperately to get out of the bogs of the Chickahominy to his gunboats on James River. I sent the carriage to Richmond a day or two ago for Mr. N., but he writes that he is sending it backwards and forwards to the battlefields for the wounded. It is a season of wide-spread distress; parties are going by constantly to seek their husbands, brothers, sons, about whose fate they are uncertain. Some old gentlemen passed yesterday, walking all the way from Lancaster County. All the boats and bridges have been destroyed on the rivers, and conveyances can’t be put across. Ladies are sent from river to river by those persons who have conveyances and horses left to them. Oh, I trust that blood enough has been spilled now! Dr. S. has just arrived; he has been twenty miles below Richmond. He says the Yankee dead still lie unburied in many places—our men are too much worn out to undertake to bury them. The Yankee hospitals, as well as our own, are all along the roads; their hospital flag is red; ours is orange. They have their own surgeons, and, of course, many delicacies that our men can’t have. The Northern papers speak of this retreat of McClellan’s as a ‘strategic movement.’ The bloody fights of eight days, the retreat of thirty miles, attended by immense loss of life, thousands of prisoners, many guns, stores of all kinds, etc., a ‘strategic movement!’ But our loss is heavy—so many valuable lives, and such suffering among the wounded. O God! interpose and stop this cruel war!”

I quote no further from Mrs. N’s diary, as the next page was devoted to the visits of those dear ones whom God had preserved amid strife and carnage. She mentions the return of our dear W. B. N. from Fort Delaware on the 5th of August, where he had been for several months. He asked but five days’ furlough to be with his family, and then returned to his regiment, (Fourth Cavalry.) His reception by his company was most gratifying. As soon as he got to camp, it drew up in line, and requested him to come to the front, when the “Orderly” came up, leading a very handsome bay horse, elegantly equipped, which he presented to his “Captain,” in the name of the company.

Previous post:

Next post: