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

July 20, 2012

A Confederate Girl's Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

July 20th, Sunday.

Last night the town was in a dreadful state of excitement. Before sunset a regiment, that had been camped out of town, came in, and pitched their tents around the new theatre, in front of our church. All was commotion and bustle; and as the pickets had been drawn in, and the soldiers talked freely of expecting an attack, everybody believed it, and was consequently in rather an unpleasant state of anticipation. Their cannon were on the commons back of the church, the artillery horses tied to the wheels; while some dozen tents were placed around, filled with men who were ready to harness them at the first alarm. With all these preparations in full view, we went to bed as usual. I did not even take the trouble of gathering my things which I had removed from my “peddler sack”; and slept, satisfied that, if forced to fly, I would lose almost everything in spite of my precaution in making a bag.

Well! night passed, and here is morning, and nothing is heard yet. The attack is delayed until this evening, or to-morrow, they say. Woman though I am, I am by no means as frightened as some of these men are. I can’t get excited about it. Perhaps it is because they know the danger, and I do not. But I hate to see men uneasy! I have been so accustomed to brave, fearless ones, who would beard the Devil himself, that it gives me a great disgust to see any one less daring than father and the boys.

I have been so busy preparing to go to the city that I think if the frolic should intervene and prevent my departure, I would be disappointed, though I do not want to go. It would be unpleasant, for instance, to pack all I own in my trunk, and just as I place the key in my pocket to hear the shriek of “Van Dorn!” raised again. This time it is to be Ruggles, though. I would not mind if he came before I was packed. Besides, even if I miss the fun here, they say the boats are fired into from Plaquemine; and then I have the pleasure of being in a fight anyhow. Mother is alarmed about that part of my voyage, but Miriam and I persuaded her it is nothing.

If I was a man — oh, would n’t I be in Richmond with the boys! . . . What is the use of all these worthless women, in war times? If they attack, I shall don the breeches, and join the assailants, and fight, though I think they would be hopeless fools to attempt to capture a town they could not hold for ten minutes under the gunboats. How do breeches and coats feel, I wonder? I am actually afraid of them. I kept a suit of Jimmy’s hanging in the armoir for six weeks waiting for the Yankees to come, thinking fright would give me courage to try it (what a seeming paradox!), but I never succeeded. Lilly one day insisted on my trying it, and I advanced so far as to lay it on the bed, and then carried my bird out — I was ashamed to let even my canary see me; — but when I took a second look, my courage deserted me, and there ended my first and last attempt at disguise. I have heard so many girls boast of having worn men’s clothes; I wonder where they get the courage.

To think half the men in town sat up all night in expectation of a stampede, while we poor women slept serenely! Everybody is digging pits to hide in when the ball opens. The Days have dug a tremendous one; the Wolffs, Sheppers, and some fifty others have taken the same precaution. They may as well dig their graves at once; what if a tremendous shell should burst over them, and bury in the dirt those who were not killed? Oh, no! let me see all the danger, and the way it is coming, at once. To-morrow, — or day after, — in case no unexpected little incident occurs in the interval, I purpose going to New Orleans, taking father’s papers and part of Miriam’s and mother’s valuables for safe-keeping. I hate to go, but they all think I should, as it will be one less to look after if we are shelled — which I doubt. I don’t know that I require much protection, but I might as well be agreeable and go. Ouf! how I will grow homesick, before I am out of sight!


Here we go, sure enough. At precisely eleven o’clock, while we were enjoying our first dreams, we were startled by the long roll which was beat half a square below us. At first I only repeated “The roll of the drum,” without an idea connected with it; but hearing the soldiers running, in another instant I was up, and was putting on my stockings when Miriam ran in, in her nightgown. The children were roused and dressed quickly, and it did not take us many instants to prepare, — the report of two shots, and the tramp of soldiers, cries of “double-quick,” and sound as of cannon moving, rather hastening our movements. Armoirs, bureaus, and everything else were thrown open, and Miriam and I hastily packed our sacks with any articles that came to hand, having previously taken the precaution to put on everything fresh from the armoir. We have saved what we can; but I find myself obliged to leave one of my new muslins I had just finished, as it occupied more room than I can afford, the body of my lovely lilac, and my beauteous white mull. But then, I have saved eight half-made linen chemises! that will be better than the outward show.

Here comes an alarm of fire — at least a dreadful odor of burning cotton which has set everybody wild with fear that conflagration is to be added to these horrors. The cavalry swept past on their way to the river ten minutes ago, and here comes the news that the gunboats are drawing up their anchors and making ready. Well! here an hour has passed; suppose they do not come after all? I have been watching two sentinels at the corner, who are singing and dancing in the gayest way. One reminds me of Gibbes; I have seen him dance that way often. I was glad to see a good-humored man again. I wish I was in bed. I am only sitting up to satisfy my conscience, for I have long since ceased to expect a real bombardment. If it must come, let it be now; I am tired of waiting. A crowd of women have sought the protection of the gunboats. I am distressed about the Brunots; suppose they did not hear the noise? O girls! if I was a man, I wonder what would induce me to leave you four lone, unprotected women sleeping in that house, unconscious of all this? Is manhood a dream that is past? Is humanity an idle name? Fatherless, brotherless girls, if I was honored with the title of Man, I do believe I would be fool enough to run around and wake you, at least! Not another word, though. I shall go mad with rage and disgust. I am going to bed. This must be a humbug. Morgan came running in, once more in his night-gear, begging Lilly to hear his prayers. In answer to her “Why? You have said them to-night!” he says, “Yes! but I’ve been getting up so often!” Poor child! no wonder he is perplexed!

One hour and a half of this nonsense, and no result known. We are told the firing commenced, and the pickets were driven in, twenty minutes before the long roll beat.

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