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

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Dora Richards Miller

I had used “War Diary of a Union Woman in the South” in a previous blog and had wondered for a long time about the woman who had written it.  This time my search for information was much more successful.

“War Diary of a Union Woman in the South” was originally edited and published by George Washington Cable in at least two books and one magazine, with the author remaining anonymous. One version was titled “Woman’s Diary of the Siege of Vicksburg.”

The author is referenced as Dora Miller Richards in a footnote on page 637 of Battle Cry of Freedom, by James M. McPherson.

In another book, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege, author Adolph A. Hoehling includes in his acknowledgments:

Mrs Connie G. Griffith, Director, Special Collections Division, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans: the Dora Miller diary, sometimes listed as “War Diary of a Union Woman in the South” … George Washington Cable published and edited a version of the Miller diary in 1889, in a volume entitled Strange True Stories of Louisiana, under Scribner’s imprint.

In the body of the book, on page 40, Hoehling writes:

A young bride, Mrs. Anderson Miller, found that she was subjected to a continuous “fiery shower of shells.”  The former Dora Richards, of St. Croix in the West Indies, Mrs. Miller had been married on January 18, 1862, in Trinity Episcopal Church, New Orleans.  Then, with her lawyer-husband, Dora, who had long thought of herself as “a rather lonely young girl, had gone on to a small town in Arkansas, Anderson’s home.  She became lonelier yet.  Nor could they escape the war in Arkansas.

The millers then moved east to Vicksburg and found disruption even more acute.  They arrived in time for the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou.  Not only was there  no law practice in the embattled city but the couple soon became “utterly cut off from the world.’

A Woman of the Century, with 1,470 biographical sketches and published in 1893, says:

MILLER, Mrs. Dora Richards, author and educator, was born in the Island of St. Thomas, Danish West Indies. Her father, Richard Richards, was from Liverpool, Eng., and her mother’s family also was of English descent, through Hezekiah Huntington, of Connecticut. He was her grandfather and belonged to the same family from which came Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence. The death of her father while she was yet an infant caused her to be taken to the home of her Huntington grandmother, in the neighboring island of Santa Cruz. Hurricanes and earthquakes were among her experiences there, and not long before she left the island a negro insurrection took place, which resulted in the emancipation of the slaves in all the Danish Islands. Her mother, with the other children, had removed to New Orleans, La., but it was not until after her mother’s death, when she was about fourteen, she joined there her unknown brothers and sisters, to reside in the family of a married sister. She was graduated with distinction, her school-girl essays having for several years attracted attention, and the editors of a New Orleans paper invited her to contribute to their journal. She had prepared herself for the profession of a teacher and undertaken the support and education of a young brother, and thought it best to give all her powers to that work. A few years later, when that and other duties were accomplished, she became the wife, in 1862, of Anderson Miller, a lawyer from Mississippi, and they went to Arkansas to reside. Troubles resulting from the war caused a break-up and those journeyings in the Confederacy, culminating in the siege of Vicksburg, which are recounted in her articles published in the “Century,” entitled “Diary of a Union Woman in the Siege of Vicksburg” and “Diary of a Union Woman in the South.” Her husband died soon after the close of the war, New Orleans. During those busy years she was using her pen in the local papers, without name, on school subjects. In 1886 her “War Diary” was published in the “Century.” Those articles attracted great attention. In 1889 she wrote, in collaboration with George W. Cable, “The Haunted House on Royal Street,” being science teacher in the high school held in that building when it was invaded by the White League. She was correspondent for the Austin, Tex., “Statesman” during the second Cotton Exposition. She was assistant editor of a paper published in Houston, Tex., and has written for “Lippincott’s Magazine,” the “Louisiana Journal of Education,” the “Practical Housekeeper” and other journals.

From George W. Cable: A Biography, by Arlin Turner (1956):

The last of the Strange True Stories of Louisiana came from a manuscript of Dora Richards Miller’s.  While he was first assembling the tales in 1883, she brought him a diary she had kept during the war.  The Vicksburg portion Cable published in the Century war series, the remainder along with the other true stories, and the complete diary in the volume.  A Union sympathizer during the war, Mrs. Miller had returned to teaching in New Orleans afterward and had to conceal her authorship.  She was in constant fear, as it was, lest the school board learn of it; though the names were changed in the published diary, several families in New Orleans recognized it as hers.  A widow with children to support, she was glad to sell the manuscript to Cable and to earn wages doing research for him.

Of all his many friends with literary ambitions, Mrs. Miller was the one he tried most assiduously to help, partly because her needs were greatest and she persisted longest.  At intervals during the ten years after he bought the diary from her, he employed her in searching New Orleans records for him, recommended her to editors and lecture managers, and advised her in her own writing.  A piece of hers he recommended to Lippincott’s Magazine was accepted, and another, ” The Census as She Is Took,” he revised and published in the Independent of December 17, 1891, as by Dora Richards Miller and edited by him.  In a prefatory note, he stated that she was the author of the “Diary of a Union Woman” he had published earlier.  Since she had already lost her teaching position, her authorship could be acknowledged.  He sent the payment to her and at other times lent her money, but she asked him to collaborate with her still more directly.

Foreword by George Washington Cable

The following diary was originally written in lead pencil and in a book the leaves of which were too soft to take ink legibly. I have it direct from the hands of its writer, a lady whom I have had the honor to know for nearly thirty years. For good reasons the author’s name is omitted, and the initials of people and the names of places are sometimes fictitiously given. Many of the persons mentioned were my own acquaintances and friends. When some twenty years afterwards she first resolved to publish it, she brought me a clear, complete copy in ink. It had cost much trouble, she said, for much of the pencil writing had been made under such disadvantages and was so faint that at times she could decipher it only under direct sunlight. She had succeeded, however, in making a copy, verbatim except for occasional improvement in the grammatical form of a sentence, or now and then the omission, for brevity’s sake, of something unessential. The narrative has since been severely abridged to bring it within the limits of this volume.

In reading this diary one is much charmed with its constant understatement of romantic and perilous incidents and conditions. But the original penciled pages show that, even in copying, the strong bent of the writer to be brief has often led to the exclusion of facts that enhance the interest of exciting situations, and sometimes the omission robs her own heroism of due emphasis. I have restored one example of this in the short paragraph following her account of the night she spent fanning her sick husband on their perilous voyage down the Mississippi.

G. W. C.