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

April 22, 2013

A Confederate Girl's Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

Wednesday, April 22d,
New Orleans.

Yesterday we arrived; I thought we should never get here. Monday we had almost given up in despair, believing the schooner would never return. But in the evening, when all were gathered in our room discussing our hopes and fears, a sail was perceived at the mouth of the bayou, whereupon every one rushed out to see the boat land. I believe that I have not mentioned that this Bonfouca is on a bayou of the same name that runs within a few yards of this house. It is an Indian name signifying Winding River, which struck us as very appropriate when we watched the schooner sailing now to the left, now to the right, apparently through the green fields; for the high grass hid the course of the stream so that the faintest line was not perceptible, except just in front of the house. All was now bustle and confusion, packing, dressing, and writing last words to our friends at home, until half-past eleven, when we embarked.

This is my first experience of schooners, and I don’t care if I never behold another. The cabin where Mr. Kennedy immediately carried me, was just the size of my bed at home (in the days I had a home) and just high enough to stand in. On each side of the short ladder, there was a mattress two feet wide. One of them Mrs. R—— had possession of already, the other was reserved for me. I gave the lower part of mine to Minna and Jennie, who spent the rest of the night fighting each other and kicking me.

Just before twelve we “weighed anchor” and I went on deck to take a last look at Dixie with the rest of the party. Every heart was full. Each left brothers, sisters, husband, children, or dear friends behind. We sang, “Farewell dear land,” with a slight quaver in our voices, looked at the beautiful starlight shining on the last boundary of our glorious land, and, fervently and silently praying, passed out of sight.

God bless you, all you dear ones we have left in our beloved country! God bless and prosper you, and grant you the victory in the name of Jesus Christ.

I returned to my mattress, and this is the way we spent the night.

Mrs. R——, rocking and moaning as she sat up in bed, whined out her various ills with a minute description of each, ceasing the recital only to talk of her son’s body which lay on deck. (Yesterday morning she was sitting crying on his coffin while a strange woman sat on its head eating her bread and cheese.) Mrs. Bull, one of the most intelligent and refined ladies I have yet met, who is perfectly devoted to me, sat by me, laughing and talking, trying her best to make every one comfortable and happy in her unobtrusive way. Mother talked to Mrs. R—— and cried at the thought of leaving her children fighting and suffering. The space between the two beds was occupied by three Irishwomen and Mrs. Ivy’s two babies. The babies had commenced screaming as they were brought into the pen, at which I was not surprised. Having pitched their voices on the proper key, they never ceased shrieking, kicking, crying, throwing up, and going through the whole list of baby performances. The nurses scolded with shrill voices above the bedlam that had hushed even Mrs. R——’s complaints; Jennie and Minna quarreled, kicked, and cried; and as an aggravation to the previous discomforts, a broad-shouldered, perspiring Irishwoman sat just by my head, bracing herself against my pillow in the most unpleasant style. I endured it without flinching until about half-past three, when the condensed odor of a dozen different people and children became unendurable, and I staggered up on deck where Miriam and Mrs. Ivy had been wise enough to remain without venturing below. They laid me on a bench in the stern, rolled me up in shawls to keep off the heavy dew, and there I remained until daylight with them, as wide awake as ever.

At daylight there was a universal smoothing of heads, and straightening of dresses, besides arrangements made for the inspection of baggage. Being unwilling for any Christian to see such a book as this, I passed a piece of tape through the centre leaves, and made Miriam tie it under her hoops. At sunrise we were in sight of the houses at the lake end. It seemed as though we would never reach land.

I forgot to speak of our alarm as we got in the lake. No sooner had we fairly left the bayou than the sky suddenly became threatening. The captain shook his head and spoke of a very ugly night for the lake, which sent everybody’s heart to their throats, and alarmed us immeasurably. We got talking of the sailor’s superstition of crossing the water with a corpse, until we persuaded ourselves that it was more than probable we would founder in the coming storm. But the severest storm we met was the one in the cabin; and all night the only wind was a head breeze, and the spicy gale from below.

When we at last entered the canal, I beheld the animal now so long unseen, the Yankee. In their dark blue uniforms, they stood around, but I thought of the dear gray coats, and even the pickets of Madisonville seemed nobler and greater men than these. Immediately a guard was placed on board, we whispering before he came, “Our dear Confederates, God bless them.”

We had agreed among ourselves that come what would, we would preserve our dignity and self-respect, and do anything rather than create a scene among such people. It is well that we agreed. So we whispered quietly among ourselves, exhorting each other to pay no attention to the remarks the Yankees made about us as we passed, and acting the martyr to perfection, until we came to Hickock’s Landing. Here there was a group of twenty Yankees. Two officers came up and asked us for papers; we said we had none. In five minutes one came back, and asked if we had taken the oath. No; we had never taken any. He then took down our names. Mother was alone in the coop. He asked if there was not another. The schooner had fifteen passengers, and we had given only fourteen names. Mother then came up and gave her name, going back soon after.

While one went after our passes, others came to examine our baggage. I could not but smile as an unfortunate young man got on his knees before our trunk and respectfully handled our dirty petticoats and stockings. “You have gone through it before,” he said. “Of course, the Confederates searched it.” — “Indeed, they did not touch it!” I exclaimed. “They never think of doing such work.” — “Miss, it is more mortifying to me than it can be to you,” he answered. And I saw he was actually blushing. He did his work as delicately as possible, and when he returned the keys, asked if we had letters. I opened my box and put them into his hand. One came near getting me into serious trouble. It was sent by some one I never saw, with the assurance that it contained nothing objectionable. I gave it sealed to the man, who opened it, when it proved to be rather disagreeable, I judged from his language. He told me his captain must see it before he could let me have it, and carried it off. Presently he came back and told me it could not be returned. I told him to burn it then, as I neither knew the writer, the contents, nor those it was written to. “I may save you some difficulty if I destroy it,” he remarked, whereupon he tore it up and flung it into the canal. I have since found I had cause to be grateful; for just after came an officer to see the young lady who brought that letter. I showed the pieces in the water, saying the young man had torn it up, which seemed to annoy him; it was to be sent to headquarters, he said.

Then came a bundle of papers on board carried by another, who standing in front of us, cried in a startling way, “Sarah Morgan!” — “ Here” (very quietly). — “Stand up!” — “I cannot” (firmly). — “Why not?” — “Unable” (decisively). After this brief dialogue, he went on with the others until all were standing except myself, when he delivered to each a strip of paper that informed the people that Miss, or Mrs. So-and-So had taken and subscribed the oath as Citizen of the United States. I thought that was all, and rejoiced at our escape. But after another pause he uncovered his head and told us to hold up our right hands. Half-crying, I covered my face with mine and prayed breathlessly for the boys and the Confederacy, so that I heard not a word he was saying until the question, “So help you God?” I struck my ear. I shuddered and prayed harder. There came an awful pause in which not a lip was I moved. Each felt as though in a nightmare, until, throwing down his blank book, the officer pronounced it “All right!” Strange to say, I experienced no change. I prayed as hard as ever for the boys and our country, and felt no nasty or disagreeable feeling which would have announced the process of turning Yankee.

Then it was that mother commenced. He turned to the mouth of the diminutive cave, and asked if she was ready to take the oath. “I suppose I have to, since I belong to you,” she replied. “No, madam, you are not obliged; we force no one. Can you state your objections?” “Yes, I have three sons fighting against you, and you have robbed me, beggared me!” she exclaimed, launching into a speech in which Heaven knows what she did not say; there was little she left out, from her despoiled house to her sore hand, both of which she attributed to the at first amiable man, who was rapidly losing all patience. Faint with hunger, dizzy with sleeplessness, she had wrought on her own feelings until her nerves were beyond control. She was determined to carry it out, and crying and sobbing went through with it.

I neither spoke nor moved. . . . The officer walked off angrily and sent for a guard to have mother taken before General Bowens. Once through her speech, mother yielded to the entreaties of the ladies and professed herself ready to take the oath, since she was obliged to. “Madam, I did not invite you to come,” said the polite officer, who refused to administer the oath; and putting several soldiers on board, ordered them to keep all on board until one could report to General Bowens. Mother retired to the cabin, while we still kept our seats above.

Oh, that monotonous, never-ending canal! We thought it would go on forever. At last we came to the basin in the centre of the city. Here was a position for ladies! Sitting like Irish emigrants on their earthly possessions, and coming in a schooner to New Orleans, which a year ago would have filled us with horror. Again the landing was reached, and again we were boarded by officers. I don’t know how they knew of the difficulty mother had made, but they certainly did, and ordered that none should leave until the General’s will was made known.

Mrs. Bull and Mrs. Ivy, after a long delay and many representations, at last prepared to leave. I was sitting in the spot I had occupied ever since before daylight, with nothing to support me above my hips. All of us had fasted since an early and light supper the night before; none had slept. I was growing so weak from these three causes, and the burning sun (for it was now twelve), that I could hardly speak when they came to tell me good-bye. Alarmed at my appearance, Mrs. Bull entreated the officer to allow me to leave the boat. No, he said; it was impossible; we should remain on board until General Bowens could come. We may get an answer in half an hour, or we may not get it for some time; and there we must stay until it came. “But this young lady has been ill for months; she is perfectly exhausted, and will faint if she is not removed immediately,” pleaded Mrs. Bull. She did not know my powers of control. Faint! I would have expired silently first! The officer said those were his orders; I could not leave. “Do you think you are performing your duty as a gentleman and a Christian? This young lady has obtained her pass already, without the slightest difficulty,” she persisted. Still he said he was acting according to orders. Not to be baffled, she begged that she might be allowed to take me to Brother, telling him who he was, while our trunk, Miriam, Tiche, and mother would remain as hostages. Then he gave a reluctant consent on condition I left my number, so he could go after me when I was wanted.

I don’t know what good came of the consent, for there I was to remain until something, I don’t know what, happened. I only know I was growing deathly sick and faint, and could hardly hold myself up, when some time after Mrs. Bull and Mrs. Ivy left (under the impression that I was to go immediately), a gentleman in citizen’s clothes came to me and said he had obtained permission for me to wait General Bowens’s orders in his office, a few steps from the schooner. Thankful for so much, I accepted his arm and slowly dragged myself along to the first shelter I had seen that day. By some wonderful condescension Miriam and mother were allowed to follow; and with the guard at the door, we waited there for half an hour more until our sentence could be received.

Miriam had written a line to Brother as soon as possible, telling him of the situation, and while we were waiting in this office, I half dead with fatigue, a carriage dashed up to the door, and out of it stepped Brother. I felt that all our troubles were over then. He looked so glad to see us that it seemed a pity to tell the disagreeable story that yet remained to be told. But once heard, he made all go right in a few moments. He got into the carriage with mother, to take her to General Bowens, while we got into another to come to the house. I saw no more of the guard or officer.

When we arrived, Sister was too astonished to speak. She did not believe we would come when it was ordered that all should take the oath on entering. If we had only realized it I don’t think we would, either.

In half an hour mother got back. Supported by Brother’s presence, she had managed to hold up her right hand and say “ Yes “ to the oath — which was more than any of us had done.

• • • • • • • •

Brother found an officer at the door who had been ordered (before he took mother to the General) to arrest her and confine her in the Custom-House. I suppose Miriam and I would have shared the imprisonment with her. But Brother has a way of making all these things right; and the man was sent back without accomplishing his mission.

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