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

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A Confederate Girl’s Diary

March 31, 2013

A Confederate Girl's Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

Tuesday, March 31st.

“To be, or not to be; that’s the question.” Whether ‘t is nobler in the Confederacy to suffer the pangs of unappeasable hunger and never-ending trouble, or to take passage to a Yankee port, and there remaining, end them. Which is best? I am so near daft that I cannot pretend to say; I only know that I shudder at the thought of going to New Orleans, and that my heart fails me when I think of the probable consequence to mother if I allow a mere outward sign of patriotism to overbalance what should be my first consideration — her health. For Clinton is growing no better rapidly. To be hungry is there an everyday occurrence. For ten days, mother writes, they have lived off just hominy enough to keep their bodies and souls from parting, without being able to procure another article — not even a potato. Mother is not in a condition to stand such privation; day by day she grows weaker on her new regimen; I am satisfied that two months more of danger, difficulties, perplexities, and starvation will lay her in her grave. The latter alone is enough to put a speedy end to her days. Lilly has been obliged to put her children to bed to make them forget they were supperless, and when she followed their example, could not sleep herself, for very hunger.

We have tried in vain to find another home in the Confederacy. After three days spent in searching Augusta, Gibbes wrote that it was impossible to find a vacant room for us, as the city was already crowded with refugees. A kind Providence must have destined that disappointment in order to save my life, if there is any reason for Colonel Steadman’s fears. We next wrote to Mobile, Brandon, and even that horrid little Liberty, besides making inquiries of every one we met, while Charlie, too, was endeavoring to find a place, and everywhere received the same answer — not a vacant room, and provisions hardly to be obtained at all.

The question has now resolved itself to whether we shall see mother die for want of food in Clinton, or, by sacrificing an outward show of patriotism (the inward sentiment cannot be changed), go with her to New Orleans, as Brother begs in the few letters he contrives to smuggle through. It looks simple enough. Ought not mother’s life to be our first consideration? Undoubtedly! But suppose we could preserve her life and our free sentiments at the same time? If we could only find a resting-place in the Confederacy! This though, is impossible. But to go to New Orleans; to cease singing “Dixie”; to be obliged to keep your sentiments to yourself — for I would not wound Brother by any Ultra-Secession speech, and such could do me no good and only injure him — if he is as friendly with the Federals as they say he is; to listen to the scurrilous abuse heaped on those fighting for our homes and liberties, among them my three brothers — could I endure it? I fear not. Even if I did not go crazy, I would grow so restless, homesick, and miserable, that I would pray for even Clinton again. Oh, I don’t, don’t want to go! If mother would only go alone, and leave us with Lilly! But she is as anxious to obtain Dr. Stone’s advice for me as we are to secure her a comfortable home; and I won’t go anywhere without Miriam, so we must all go together. Yet there is no disguising the fact that such a move will place us in a very doubtful position to both friends and enemies. However, all our friends here warmly advocate the move, and Will Pinckney and Frank both promised to knock down any one who shrugged their shoulders and said anything about it. But what would the boys say? The fear of displeasing them is my chief distress. George writes in the greatest distress about my prolonged illness, and his alarm about my condition. “ Of one thing I am sure,” he writes, “and that is that she deserves to recover; for a better little sister never lived.” God bless him! My eyes grew right moist over those few words. Loving words bring tears to them sooner than angry ones. Would he object to such a step when he knows that the very medicines necessary for my recovery are not to be procured in the whole country? Would he rather have mother dead and me a cripple, in the Confederacy, than both well, out of it? I feel that if we go we are wrong; but I am satisfied that it is worse to stay. It is a distressing dilemma to be placed in, as we are certain to be blamed whichever course we pursue. But I don’t want to go to New Orleans!

Before I had time to lay down my pen this evening, General Gardiner and Major Wilson were announced; and I had to perform a hasty toilette before being presentable. The first remark of the General was that my face recalled many pleasant recollections; that he had known my family very well, but that time was probably beyond my recollection; and he went on talking about father and Lavinia, until I felt quite comfortable, with this utter stranger. . . . I would prefer his speaking of “our” recent success at Port Hudson to “my”; for we each, man, woman, and child, feel that we share the glory of sinking the gunboats and sending Banks back to Baton Rouge without venturing on an attack; and it seemed odd to hear any one assume the responsibility of the whole affair and say “my success” so unconsciously. But this may be the privilege of generals. I am no judge, as this is the first Confederate general I have had the pleasure of seeing. Wish it had been old Stonewall! I grow enthusiastic every time I think of the dear old fellow!

I am indebted to General Gardiner for a great piece of kindness, though. I was telling him of how many enemies he had made among the ladies by his strict regulations that now rendered it almost impossible for the gentlemen to obtain permission to call on them, when he told me if I would signify to my friends to mention when they applied that their visit was to be here, and not elsewhere, that he would answer for their having a pass whenever they called for one. Merci àu compliment; mais c’est trop lard, Monsieur!

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