Geo. W. Cable - 1885
Just a quarter of a century
ago a young lady of New Orleans found herself an alien and an enemy to
the sentiments of the community about her. Surrounded by friends and social
companions, she was nevertheless painfully alone. In her enforced silence
she began a diary intended solely for her own eye. A betrothed lover came
suddenly from a neighboring State, claimed her hand in haste, and bore
her away, a happy bride. Happy, yet anxious. The war was now fairly
upon the land, and her husband, like herself, cherished sympathies whose
discovery would have brought jeopardy of life, ruin, and exile. In the
South, those days, all life was romantic. Theirs was full of adventure.
At length they were shut up in Vicksburg. I hope some day to publish the
whole diary; but the following portion is specially appropriate to the
great panorama of battle in which a nation of readers is just now so interested.
I shall not delay the reader to tell how I came by the manuscript, but
only to say that I have not molested its original text. The name of the
writer is withheld at her own request.
UNDER FIRE FROM THE GUNBOATS
We reached Vicksburg that
night and went to H_'s room. Next morning the book he had engaged arrived,
and we moved into this house. Martha's ignorance keeps me busy, and H_
is kept close at his office.
January 7th, 1863.
- I have had little to record here recently, for we have lived to ourselves,
not visiting or visited. Every one H_ knows is absent, and I know no one
but the family we staid [sic] with at first, and they are now absent. H_
tells me of the added triumph since the repulse of Sherman in December,
and the one paper published here, shouts victory as much as its gradually
diminishing size will allow. Paper is a serious want. There is a great
demand for envelopes in the office where H_ is. He found and bought a lot
of thick and smooth colored paper, cut a tin pattern, and we have whiled
away some long evenings cutting envelopes and making them up. I have put
away a package of the best to look at when we are old. The books I brought
from Arkansas have proved a treasure, but we can get no more. I went to
the only book-store open; there were none but Mrs. Stowe's "Sunny Memories
of Foreign Lands." The clerk said I could have that cheap, because he couldn't
sell her books, so I got it and am reading it now. The monotony has only
been broken by letters from friends here and there in the Confederacy.
One of these letters tells of a Federal raid to their place, and says,
"But the worst thing was, they would take every tooth-brush in the house,
because we can't buy any more; and one cavalryman put my sister's new bonnet
on his horse, and said 'Get up, Jack,' and her bonnet was gone.
February 25th, -
A long gap in my journal, because H_ has been ill unto death with typhoid
fever, and I nearly broke down from loss of sleep, there being no one to
relieve me. I never understood before how terrible it was to be alone at
night with a patient in delirium, and no one within call. To wake Martha
was simply impossible. I got the best doctor here, but when convalescence
began the question of food was a trial. I got with great difficulty two
chickens. The doctor made the drug-store sell two of their six bottles
of port; he said his patient's life depended on it. An egg is a rare and
precious thing. Meanwhile the Federal fleet has been gathering, has anchored
at the bend, and shells are thrown in at intervals.
March 20th, - The
slow shelling of Vicksburg goes on all the time, and we have grown indifferent.
It does not at present interrupt or interfere with daily avocations, but
I suspect they are only getting the range of different points; and when
they have them all complete, showers of show will rain on us all at once.
Non-combatants have been ordered to leave or prepare accordingly. Those
who are to stay are having caves built. Cave-digging has become a regular
business; prices range from twenty to fifty dollars, according to size
of cave. Two diggers worked at ours a week and charge thirty dollars. It
is well made in the hill that slopes just in the rear of the house, and
well propped with thick posts, as they all are. It has a shelf, also, for
holding a light or water. When we went in this evening and sat down, the
earthy, suffocating feeling, as of a living tomb, was dreadful to me. I
fear I shall risk death outside rather than melt in that dark furnace.
The hills are so honeycombed with caves that the streets look like avenues
in a cemetery. The hill called the Sky-parlor has become quite a fashionable
resort for the few upper-circle families left here. Some officers are quartered
there, and there is a band and a field-glass. Last evening we also climbed
the hill to watch the shelling, but found the view not so good as on a
quiet hill nearer home. Soon a lady began to talk to one of the officers:
"It is such folly for them to waste their ammunition like that. How can
they ever take a town that has such advantages for defense and protection
as this? We'll just burrow into these hills and let them batter away as
hard as they please." "You are right, madam; and besides, when our women
are so willing to brave death and endure discomfort, how can we ever be
conquered:" Soon she looked over with significant glances to where we stood,
and began to talk at H_. "The only drawback," she said, "are [sic] the
contemptible men who are staying at home in comfort, when they ought to
be in the army if they had a spark of honor." I cannot repeat all, but
it was the usual tirade. It is strange I have met no one yet who seems
to comprehend an honest difference of opinion, and stranger yet that the
ordinary rules of good breeding are now so entirely ignored. As the spring
comes one has the craving for fresh, green food that a monotonous diet
produces. There was a bed of radishes and onions in the garden, that were
a real blessing. An onion salad, dressed only with salt, vinegar, and pepper,
seemed a dish fit for a king, but last night the soldiers quartered near
made a raid on the garden and took them all.
April 2nd, - We
have had to move, and thus lost our cave. The owner of the house suddenly
returned and notified us that he intended to bring his family back; didn't
think there'd be any siege. The cost of the cave could go for the rent.
That means he has got tired of the Confederacy and means to stay here and
thus get out of it. This house was the only one to be had. It was built
by ex-Senator G_, and is so large our tiny household is lost in it. We
only use the lower floor. The bell is often rung by persons who take it
for a hotel and come beseeching food at any price. To-day one came who
would not be denied. "We do not keep a hotel, but would willingly feed
hungry soldiers if we had the food." "I have been traveling all night and
am starving; will pay any price for just bread." I went to the dining-room
and found some biscuits, and set out two, with a large piece of corn-bread,
a small piece of bacon, some nice sirup, [sic] and a pitcher of water.
I locked the door of the safe and left him to enjoy his lunch. After he
left I found he had broken open the safe and taken the remaining biscuits.
April 28th. - I
never understood before the full force of those questions - What shall
we eat? what shall we drink? and wherewithal shall we be clothed? We have
no prophet of the Lord at whose prayer the meal and oil will not waste.
Such minute attention must be given the wardrobe to preserve it that I
have learned to darn like an artist. Making shoes is another accomplishment.
Mine were in tatters. H_ cam across a moth-eaten pair that he bought me,
giving ten dollars, I think and they fell into rags when I tried to wear
them; but the soles were good, and that has helped me to make shoes. A
pair of old coat-sleves saved - nothing is thrown away - was in my trunk.
I cut an exact pattern from my old shoes, laid it on the sleves, [sic]
and cut out thus good uppers, and sewed them carefully; then soaked the
soles and sewed the cloth to them. I am so proud of these home-made shoes,
think I'll put them in a glass case when the war is over, as an heirloom.
H_ says he has come to have an abiding faith that everything he needs to
wear will come out of that trunk while the war lasts. It is like a fairy-casket.
I have but a dozen pins remaining, so many I gave away. Every time these
are used they are straightened and kept from rust. All these curious labors
are performed while the shells are leisurely screaming through the air;
but as long as we are out of range, we don't worry. For many nights we
have had but little sleep, because the Federal gun-boats have been running
past the batteries. The uproar when this is happening is phenomenal. The
first night the thundering artillery burst the bars of sleep, we thought
it an attack by the river. To get into garments and rush upstairs was the
work of a moment. From the upper gallery we have a fine view of the river,
and soon a red glare lit up the scene and showed a small boat towing two
large barges, gliding by. The Confederates had set fire to a house near
the bank. Another night, eight boats ran by, throwing a shower of shot,
and two burning houses made the river clear as day. One of the batteries
has a remarkable gun they call "Whistling Dick," because of the screeching,
whistling sound it gives, and certainly it does sound like a tortured thing.
Added to all this is the indescribable Confederate yell, which is a soul-harrowing
sound to hear. I have gained respect for the mechanism of the human ear,
which stands it all without injury. The streets are seldom quiet at night;
even the dragging about of cannon makes a din in these echoing gullies.
The other night we were on the gallery till the last of the eight boats
got by. Next day a friend said to H_, "It was a wonder you didn't have
your heads taken off last night. I passed and saw them stretched over the
gallery, and grape-shot were whizzing up the street just on a level with
you." The double roar of batteries and boats was so great, we never noticed
the whizzing. Yesterday the Cincinnati attempted to go by n daylight, but
was disabled and sunk. It was a pitiful sight; we could not see the finale,
though we saw her rendered helpless.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE SIEGE.
Vicksburg, May 1, 1863.
- It is settled at last that we shall spend the time of siege in Vicksburg.
Ever since we were deprived of our cave, I had been dreading that H_ would
suggest sending me to the country, where his relatives lived. As he could
not leave his position and go also, without being conscripted, and as I
felt certain an army would get between us, it was no part of my plan to
be obedient. A shell from one of the practicing motors brought the point
to an issue yesterday and settled it. Sitting at work as usual, listening
to the distant sound of bursting shells, apparently aimed at the court-house,
there suddenly came a nearer explosion; the house shook, and a tearing
sound was followed by terrified screams from the kitchen. I rushed thither,
but met in the hall the cook's little girl America, bleeding from a wound
in the forehead, and fairly dancing with fright and pain, while she uttered
fearful yells. I stopped to examine the wound, and her mother bounced in,
her black face ashy from terror. "Oh! Miss V_, my child is killed and the
kitchen tore up." Seeing America was too lively to be a killed subject,
I consoled Martha and hastened to the Kitchen. Evidently a shell had exploded
just outside, sending three or four pieces through. When order was restored
I endeavored to impress on Martha's mind the necessity for calmness and
the uselessness of such excitement. Looking around at the close of the
lecture, there stood a group of Confederate soldiers laughing heartily
at my sermon and the promising audience I had. They chimed in with a parting
chorus: "Yes, it's no use hollerin, old lay." "Oh! H_," I exclaimed, as
he entered soon after, "America is wounded." "That is no news; she has
been wounded by traitors long ago." "Oh, this is real, living, little,
black America; I am not talking in symbols. Here are the pieces of shell,
the first bolt of the coming siege." "Now you see," he replied, "that this
house will be but paper to mortar-shells. You must go in the country."
The argument was long, but when a woman is obstinate and eloquent, she
generally conquers. I came off victorious, and we finished preparations
for the siege to-day. Hiring a man to assist, we descended to the wine-cellar,
where the accumulated bottles told of the "banquet-hall deserted," the
spirit and glow of the festive house whose lights and garlands were head,
and the last guest long since departed. To empty this cellar was the work
of many hours. Then in the safest corner a platform was laid for our bed,
and in another portion one arranged for Martha. The dungeon, as I call
it, is lighted only by a trap-door, and is so damp it will be necessary
to remove the bedding and mosquito-bars every day. The next question was
of supplies. I had nothing left but a sack of rice-flour, and no manner
of cooking I had heard of invented or contrived to make it eatable. A column
of recipes for making delicious preparations of it had been going the rounds
of Confederate papers. I tried them all; they resulted only in brick-bats,
or sticky paste. H_ sallied out on a hunt for provisions, and when he returned
the disproportionate quantity of the different articles obtained provoked
a smile. There was a hogshead of sugar, a barrel of sirup, [sic] ten pounds
of bacon and peas, four pounds of wheat-flour, and a small sack of corn-meal,
a little vinegar, and actually some spice! The wheat-flour he purchased
for ten dollars as a special favor from the sole remaining barrel for sale.
We decided that must be kept for sickness. The sack of meal, he said, was
a case of corruption, through a special providence to us. There is no more
for sale at any price, but, said he, "a soldier who was hauling some of
the Government sacks to the hospital offered me this for five dollars,
if I could keep a secret. When the meal is exhausted perhaps we can keep
alive on sugar. Here are some was candles; hoard them like gold," He handed
me a parcel containing about two pounds of candles, and left me to arrange
my treasures. It would be hard for me to picture the memories those candles
called up. The long years melted away, and I "Trod again my childhood's
track And felt its very gladness." In those childish days, whenever came
dreams of household splendor or festal rooms or gay illuminations, the
lights in my vision were always wax candles burning with a soft radiance,
that enchanted every scene, * * * And lo! here on this spring day of '63,
with war raging through the land, I was in a fine house, and had my wax
candles sure enough, but, alas! they were neither cerulean blue nor rose-tinted,
but dirty brown; and when I lighted one, it spluttered and wasted like
any vulgar tallow thing, and lighted only a desolate scene in the vast
handsome room. They were not so good as the waxen rope we had made in Arkansas.
So, with a long sigh for the dreams of youth, I return to the stern present
in this besieged town, my only consolation to remember the old axiom, "A
city besieged is a city taken," - so if we live through it we shall be
out of the Confederacy. H_ is very tired of having to carry a pass around
in his pocket and go every now and then to have it renewed. We have been
so very free in America, these restrictions are irksome.
May 9th. - This
morning the door-bell rang a startling peal. Martha being busy, I answered
it. An orderly in gray stood with an official envelope in his hand. "Who
lives here?" "Mr. L_>" Very imperiously - "Which Mr. L_?" "Mr. H_ L_."
"Is he here?" "No." "Where can he be found?" "At the office of Deputy ___."
"I'm not going there. This is an order from General Pemberton for you to
move out of this house in two hours. He has selected it for headquarters.
He will furnish you with wagons." "Will he furnish another house also?"
"Of course not." "Has the owner been consulted?" "He has not; that is of
no consequence; it has been taken. Take this order." "I shall not take
it, and I shall not move, as there is no place to move to but the street."
"Then I'll take it to Mr. L_." "Very well, do so." As soon as Mr. Impertine
walked off I locked, bolted, and barred every door and window. In ten minutes
H_ came home. "Hold the fort till I've seen the owner and the general,"
he said, as I locked him out. Then Dr. B-'s remark in New Orleans about
the effect of Dr. C_'s fine presence on the Confederate officials there
came to mind. They are just the people to be influenced in that way, I
thought. I look rather shabby now; I will dress. I made an elaborate toilet,
put on the best and most becoming dress I had, the richest lace, the handsomest
ornaments, taking care that all should be appropriate to a morning visit;
dressed my hair in the stateliest braids, and took a seat in the parlor
ready for the fray. H_ came to the window and said: "Landlord says, 'Keep
them out. Wouldn't let them have his house at any price.' He is just riding
off to the country and can't help us now. Now I'm going to see Major C_,
who sent the order." Next came an officer, banged at the door till tired,
and walked away. Then the orderly came again and beat the door - same result.
Next, four officers with bundles and lunch-baskets, followed by a wagon-load
of furniture. They went round the house, tried every door, peeped in the
windows, pounded and rapped, while I watched them through the blind-slats.
Presently the fattest one, a real Falstaffian man, came back to the front
door and rung a thundering peal. I saw the chance for fun and for putting
on their own grandiloquent style. Stealing on tiptoe to the door, I turned
the key and bolt noiselessly, and suddenly threw wide back the door and
appeared behind it. He had been leaning on it, and nearly pitched forward
with an "Oh! what's this!" Then seeing me as he straightened up, "Ah, madam!"
almost stuttering from surprise and anger, "are you aware I had the right
to break down this door if you hadn't opened it?" "That would make no difference
to me. I'm not the owner. You or the landlord would pay the bill for the
repairs." "Why didn't you open the door?" "Have I not done so as soon as
you rung? A lady does not open the door to men who beat on it. Gentlemen
usually ring; I thought it might be stragglers pounding." "Well," growing
much blander, "we are going to send you some wagons to move; you must get
ready." "with pleasure, if you have selected a house for me. This is too
large; it does not suite me" "No, I didn't find a house for you." "You
surely don't expect me to run about in the dust and shelling to look for
it, and Mr. L_ is too busy." "Well, maham, then we must share the house.
We will take the lower floor." "I prefer to keep the lower floor myself;
you surely don't expect me to go up and down stairs when you are so light
and more able to do it." He walked through the hall, trying the doors.
"What room is that?" - "The parlor." "And this?" - "My bedroom." "And this?"
- "The dining room." "Well, madam, we'll find you a house and then come
and take this." "Thank you, colonel; I shall be ready when you find the
house. Good-morning, sir." I heard him say as he ran down the steps, "We
must go back, captain; you see I didn't know they were this kind of people."
Of course the orderly had lied in the beginning to scare me, for General
P_ is too far away from Vicksburg to send an order. He is looking about
for General Grant. We are told he has gone out to beat Johnston; and together
they expect to annihilate Grant's army and free Vicksburg forever. There
is now a general hospital opposite this house and a small-pox hospital
next door. War, famine, pestilence, and fire surround us. Every day the
band plays in front of the small-pox hospital. I wonder if it is to keep
up their spirits? One would suppose quiet would be more cheering.
May 17th. - Hardly
was our scanty breakfast over this morning when a hurried ring drew us
both to the door. Mr. J_, one of H_'s assistants, stood there in high excitement.
"Well, Mr. L_, they are upon us; the Yankees will e here by this evening."
"What do you mean?" "That Pemberton has been whipped at Baker's Creek and
Bib Black, and his army are running back her as fast as they can come and
the Yanks after them, in such numbers nothing can stop them. Hasn't Pemberton
acted like a fool?" "He may not be the only one to blame," replied H_.
"They're coming along the Bib B. road and my folks went down there to be
safe, you know; now they're right in it.
I hear you can't see the armies
for the dust; never was anything else known like it. But I must go and
try to bring my folks back here." What struck us both was the absence of
that concern to be expected, and a sort of relief or suppressed pleasure.
After twelve sound worn-out looking men sat down under the window. "What
is the news?" I inquired. "Ritreat, ritreat! [sic]" they said, in broken
English - they were Louisiana Acadians. About three o'clock the rush began.
I shall never forget that woful [sic] sight of a beaten demoralized army
that came rushing back, - humanity in the last throes of endurance. Wan,
hallow-eyed, ragged, footsore, bloody, the men limped along unarmed, but
followed by siege-guns, ambulances, gun-carriages, and wagons in aimless
confusion. At twilight two or three bands on the corn played Dixie, Bonnie
Blue Flag, and son on, and rums began to beat all about; I suppose they
were rallying the scattered army.
May 28th. - Since
that day the regular siege has continued. We are utterly cut off from the
world, surrounded by a circle of fire. Would it be wise like the scorpion
to sting ourselves to death? The fiery shower of shells goes on day and
night. H_’s occupation, of course, is gone, his office closed. Every man
has to carry a pass in his pocket. People do nothing but eat what they
can get, sleep when they can, and dodge the shells. There are three intervals
when the shelling stops, either for the guns to cool or for the gunner's
meals, I suppose, - about eight in the morning, and the same in the evening,
and at noon. In that time we have both to prepare and eat ours. Clothing
cannot be washed or anything else done. On the 19th and 22d, when the assaults
were made on the lines, I watched the soldiers cooking on the green opposite.
The half-spent balls coming all the way from those lines were flying so
thick that they were obliged to dodge at every turn. At all the caves I
could see from my high perch, people were sitting, eating their poor suppers
at the cave doors, ready to plunge in again. As the first shell again flew
they dived, and not a human being was visible. The sharp crackle of musketry-firing
was a strong contrast to the scream of the bombs. I think all the dogs
and cats must be killed, or starved, we don’t see any more pitiful animals
prowling around. * * * The cellar is so damp and musty the bedding has
to be carried out and laid in the sun every day, with the forecast that
it may be demolished at any moment. The confinement is dreadful. To sit
and listen as if waiting for death in a horrible manner would drive me
insane. I don’t know what others do, but we read when I am not scribbling
in this. H_ borrowed somewhere a lot of Dickens’s novels, and we reread
them by the dim light in the cellar. When the shelling abates H_ goes to
walk about a little or get the “Daily Citizen,” which is still issuing
a tiny sheet at twenty-five and fifty cents a copy. It is, of course, but
a rehash of speculations which amuses a half hour. To-day he heard while
out that expert swimmers are crossing the Mississippi on logs at night
to bring and carry news to Johnston. I am so tired of corn-bread, which
I never liked, which I eat it with tears in my eyes. We are lucky to get
a quart of milk daily frma family near who have a cow they hourly expect
to be killed. I send five dollars to market each morning, and it buys a
small piece of mule-meat. Rice and milk is my main food; I can’t eat the
mule-meat. We boil the rice and eat it cold with milk for supper. Martha
runs the gauntlet to buy the meat and milk once a day in a perfect terror.
The shells seem to have many different names; I hear the soldiers say,
“That’s a mortar-shell. There goes a Parrott. That’s a rifle-shell.” They
are all equally terrible. A pair of chimney-swallows have built in the
parlor chimney. The concussion of the house often sends down parts of their
nest, which they patiently pick up and reascend [sic] with.
Friday, June 5th. In
the cellar. - Wednesday evening H_ said he must take a little walk,
and went while the shelling had stopped. He never leaves me alone for long,
and when an hour had passed without his return I grew anxious; and when
two hours, and the shelling had grown terrific, I momentarily expected
to see his mangled body. All sorts of horrors fill the mind now, and I
am so desolate here; not a friend. When he came he said that passing a
cave where there were no others near, he heard groans, and found a shell
had struck above and caused the cave to fall in on the man within. He could
not extricate him alone, and had to get help and dig him out. He was badly
hurt, but not mortally, and I felt fairly sick from the suspense. Yesterday
morning a note was brought H_ from a bachelor uncle out in the trenches,
saying he had been taken ill with fever, and could we receive him if he
came? H_ sent to tell him to come, and I arranged one of the parlors as
a dressing-room for him, and laid a pallet that he could move back and
forth to the cellar. He did not arrive, however. It is our custom in the
evening to sit in the front room a little while in the dark, with matches
and candle held ready in hand, and watch the shells, whose course at night
is shown by the fuse. H_ was at the window and suddenly sprang up, crying,
“Run!” - “Where?” - Back!” I started through the back room, H_ after me.
I was just within the door when the crash came that threw me to the floor.
It was the most appalling sensation I’d ever known. Worse than an earthquake,
which I’ve also experienced. Shaken and deafened I picked myself up; H_
had struck a light to find me. I lighted mine, and the smoke guided us
to the parlor I had fixed for Uncle J_. The candles were useless in the
dense smoke, and it was many minutes before we could see. Then we found
the entire side of the room torn out. The soldiers who had rushed in said,
“This is an eighty-pound Parrott.” It had entered through the front, burst
on the pallet-bed, which was in tatters; the toilet service and everything
else in the room smashed. The soldiers assisted H_ to board p the break
with planks to keep out prowlers, and we went to bed in the cellar as usual.
This morning the yard is partially plowed by a couple that fell there in
the night. I think this house, so large and prominent from the river, is
perhaps taken for headquarters and specially shelled. As we descend at
night to the lower regions, I think of the evening hymn that grandmother
taught me when a child:
“Lord, keep us safe this
night, Secure from all our fears; May angles guard us while we sleep, Till
morning light appears.”
Surely, if there are heavenly
guardians we need them now.
June 7th. In the cellar.
- There is one thing I feel especially grateful for, that amid these horrors
we have been spared that of suffering for water. The weather has been dry
a long time, and we hear of others dipping up the water from ditches and
mud-holes. This place has two large underground cisterns of good cool water,
and every night in my subterranean dressing-room a tub of cold water is
the nerve-calmer that sends me to sleep in spite of the roar. One cistern
I had to give up to the soldiers, who swarm about like hungry animals seeking
something to devour. Poor fellows! my [sic] heart bleeds for them. They
have nothing but spoiled, greasy bacon, and bread made of musty pea-flour,
and but little of that. The sick ones can’t bolt it. They come into the
kitchen when Martha puts the pan of corn-bread in the stove, and beg for
the bowl she mixed it in. They shake up the scrapings with water, put in
their bacon, and boil the mixture into a kind of soup, which is easier
to swallow than pea-bread. When I happen in, they look so ashamed of their
poor clothes. I knew we saved the lives of two by giving a few meals. To-day
one crawled on the gallery to lie in the breeze. He looked as if shells
had lost their terrors for his dumb and famished misery. I’ve taught Martha
to make first-rate corn-mean gruel, because I can eat meal easier that
way than in hoe-cake, and I fixed him a saucerful, put milk and sugar and
nutmeg - I’ve actually got a nutmeg. When he ate it the tears ran from
his eyes. “Oh, madam, there was never anything so good! I shall get better.”
June 9th. - The
churches are a great resort for those who have no caves. People fancy that
are not shelled so much, and they are substantial and the pews good to
sleep in. We had to leave this house last night, they were shelling our
quarter so heavily. The night before, Martha forsook the cellar for a church.
We went to H_’s office, which was comparatively quite last night. H_ carried
the bank box; I the case of matches; Martha the blankets and pillows, keeping
an eye on the shells. We slept on piles of old newspapers. In the streets
the roar seems so much more confusing, I feel sure I shall run right in
the way of a shell. They seem to have five different sounds from the second
of throwing them to the hollow echo wandering among the hills, and that
sounds the most blood-curdling of all.
June 13th. - Shell
burst just over the roof this morning. Pieces tore through both floors
down into the dining-room. The entire ceiling of that room fell in a mass.
We had just left it. Every piece of crockery on the table was smashed up.
The “Daily Citizen” to-day is a foot and a half long and six inches wide.
It has a long letter from a General officer, P. P. Hill, who was on the
gun-boat Cincinnati, that was sunk May 27th. Says it was found in his floating
trunk. The editorial says, “The utmost confidence is felt that we can maintain
our position until succor comes from outside. The undaunted Johnston is
June 18th. - To-day
the “Citizen” is printed on wall paper; therefore has grown a little in
size. It says, “But in a few days more and Johnston will be here”; also
that “Kirby Smith has driven Banks from Port Hudson,” and that “the enemy
are throwing incendiary shells in.”
June 20th. - The
gentleman who took our cave came yesterday to invite us to come to it,
because, he said, “it’s going to be a very bad to-day.” I don’t know why
he thought so. We went, and found his own and another family in it; sat
outside and watched the shells till we concluded the cellar was a good
a place as that hill-side. I fear the want of good food is breaking down
H_. I know from my own feelings of weakness, but mine is not an American
constitution and has a recuperative power that his has not.
June 21st. - I
had gone upstairs to-day during the interregnum to enjoy a rest on my bed
and read the reliable items in the “Citizen,” when a shell burst right
outside the window in front of me. Pieces flew in, striking all round me,
tearing down masses of plaster that came tumbling over me. When H_ rushed
in I was crawling out of the plaster, digging it out of my eyes and hair.
When he picked up a piece large as a saucer beside my pillow, I realized
my narrow escape. The window-frame began to smoke, and we saw the house
was on fire. H_ ran for a hatchet and I for water, and we put it out. Another
[shell] came crashing near, and I snatched up my comb and brush and ran
down here. It has taken all the afternoon to get the plaster out of my
hair, for my hands were rather shaky.
June 25th. - A
horrible day. The most horrible yet to me, because I’ve lost my nerve.
We were all in the cellar, when a shell came tearing through the roof,
burst upstairs, tore up that room, and the pieces coming through both floors
down into the cellar. One of them tore open the leg of H_’s pantaloons.
This was tangible proof the cellar was no place of protection from them.
On the heels of them came Mr. J_ , to tell us that the young Mrs. P_ had
had her thigh-bone crushed. When Martha went for the milk she came back
horror-stricken to tell us the black girl there had her arm taken off by
a shell. For the first time I quailed. I do not think people who are physically
brave deserve much credit for it; it is a matter of nerves. In this way
I am constitutionally brave, and seldom think of danger till it is over;
and death has not the terrors for me it has for some others. Every night
I had lain down expecting death, and every morning rose to the same prospect,
without being unnerved. It was for H_ I trembled. But now I first seemed
to realize that something worse than death might come; I might be crippled,
and not be killed. Life, without all one’s powers and limbs, was a thought
that broke down my courage. I said to H_, “You must get me out of this
horrible place; I cannot stay; I know I shall be crippled.” Now the regret
comes that I lost control, because H_ is worried, and has lost his composure,
because my coolness has broken down.
July 1st. - Some
months ago, thinking it might be useful, I obtained from the consul of
my birthplace, by sending to another town, a passport for foreign parts.
H_ said if we went out to the lines we might be permitted to get through
on that. So we packed the trunks, got a carriage, and on the 30th drove
out there. General V_ offered us seats in his tent. The rifle-bullets were
whizzing so zip, zip from the sharp-shooters on the Federal lines that
involuntarily I moved on my chair. He said, “Don’t be alarmed; you are
out of range. They are firing at our mules yonder.” His horse, tied by
the tent door, was quivering all over, the most intense exhibition of fear
I’d ever seen in an animal. General V_ sent out a flag of truce to the
Federal headquarters, and while we waited wrote on a piece of silk paper
a few words. Then he said, “My wife is in Tennessee. If you get through
the lines, send her this. They will search you, so I will put it in this
toothpick.” He crammed the silk paper into a quill toothpick, and handed
it to H_. It was completely concealed. The flag-of-truce officer came back
flushed and angry. “General Grant says no human being shall pass out of
Vicksburg; but the lady may feel sure danger will son be over. Vicksburg
will surrender on the 4th.” “Is that so, general?” inquired H_. “Are arrangements
for surrender made?” “We know nothing of the kind. Vicksburg will not surrender.”
“Those were General Grant’s exact words, sir, “ said the flag-officer.
“Of course it is nothing but their brag.” We went back sadly enough, but
to-day H_ says he will cross the river to General Porter’s lines and try
there; I shall not be disappointed.
July 3rd. - H_
was going to headquarters for the requisite pass, and he saw General Pemberton
crawling out of a cave, for the shelling has not been as hot as ever. He
got the pass, but did not act with his usual caution, for the boat he secured
was a miserable, leaky one - a mear through. Leaving Martha in charge,
we went to the river, had our trunks put in the boat, and embarked; but
the boat became utterly unmanageable, and began to fill with water rapidly.
H_ saw that we cold not cross in it and turned to come back; yet in spite
of that the pickets at the battery fried on us. H_ raised the white flag
he had, yet they fired again, and I gave a cry of horror that none of these
dreadful things had wrung from me. I thought H_ was struck. When we landed
H_ showed the pass, and said that the officer ad told him the battery would
be notified we were to cross. The officer apologized and said they were
not notified. He furnished a cart to get home, and to-day we are down in
the cellar again, shells flying as thick as ever. Provisions so nearly
gone, except the hogshead of sugar, that a few more days will bring us
to starvation indeed. Martha says rats are hanging dressed in the market
for sale with mule meat, - there is nothing else. The officer at the battery
told me he had eaten one yesterday. We have tried to leave this Tophet
and failed, and if the siege continues I must summon that higher king of
courage - moral bravery - to subdue my fears of possible mutilation.
July 4th. - It
is evening. All is still. Silence and night are once more united. I can
sit at the table in the parlor and write. Two candles are lighted. I would
like a dozen. We have had wheat supper and wheat bread once more. H_ is
leaning back in the rocking-chair; he says: “G_, it seems to me I can hear
the silence, and feel it, too. It wraps me like a soft garment; how else
can I express this peace?” But I must write the history of the last twenty-four
hours. About five yesterday afternoon, Mr. J_, H_’s assistant, who, having
no wife to keep him in, dodges about at every change [sic] and brings us
the news, came to H_ and said: “Mr. L_, you must both come to our cave
to-night. I hear that to-night the shelling is to surpass everything yet.
An assault will be made in front and rear. You know we have a double cave;
there is room for you in mine, and mother and sister will make a place
for Mrs. L_. Come right up; the ball with open about seven.” We got ready,
shut up the house, told Martha to go to the church again if she preferred
it to the cellar, and walked up to Mr. J_’s. When supper was eaten, all
secure, and ladies in their cave night toilet, it was just six, and we
crossed the street to the cave opposite. As I crossed a mighty shell few
screaming right over my head. It was the last thrown into Vicksburg. We
lay on our pallets waiting for the expected roar, but no sound came except
the chatter from neighboring caves, and at least we dropped asleep. I woke
at down stiff. A draught from the funnel-shaped opening had been blowing
on me all night. Every one was expressing surprise at the quiet. We started
for home and met the editor of the “Daily Citizen.” H_ said; “This is strangely
quiet, Mr. L_.” “Ah, sir,” shaking his head gloomily, “I’m afraid (?) the
last shell has been thrown into Vicksburg.” “Why do you fear so?” “It is
surrender. At six last evening a man went down to the river and blew a
truce signal; the shelling stopped at once.” When I entered the kitchen
a soldier was there waiting for the bowl of scrapings (they took turns
for it.) “Good-morning, madam,” he said; “we won’t bother you much longer.
We can’t thank you enough for letting us come, for getting his soup boiled
has helped some of to keep alive, but now all this is over.” “Is it true
about the surrender?” “Yes; we have had no official notice, but they are
paroling out at the lines now, and the men in Vicksburg will never forgive
Pemberton. An old granny! A child would have known better than to shut
men up in this cursed trap to starve to deathlike useless vermin.” His
eyes flashed with an insane fire as he spoke. “Haven’t I seen my friends
carted out three or four in a box, that had died of starvation! Nothing
else, madam! Starved to death because we had a fool for a general.” “Don’t
you think you’re rather hard on Pemberton? He thought it his duty to wait
for Johnston.” “Some people may excuse him, ma’am, but we’ll curse him
to our dying day. Anyhow, you’ll see the blue-coats directly.” Breakfast
dispatched, we went on the upper gallery. What I expected to see was files
of soldiers marching in, but it was very different. The street was deserted,
save by a few people carrying home bedding from their caves. Among these
was a group taking home a little creature, born in a cave a few days previous,
and it’s wan-looking mother. About eleven o’clock a man in blue came sauntering
along, looking about curiously. Then two followed him, then another. “H_,
do you think these can be the Federal soldiers?” “Why, yes; here come more
up the street.: Soon a group appeared on the court-house hill, and the
flag began slowly to rise to the top of the staff. As the breeze caught
it, and it sprang out like a live thing exultant, H_ drew a long breath
of contentment. “Now I feel once more at home in mine own country.” In
an hour more a grand rush of people setting toward the river began, -foremost
among them the gentleman who took our cave; all were flying as if for life.
“What can this mean, H_? Are the populace turning out to greet the despised
conquerors?? “Oh,” said H_, spring up, “look! It is the boats coming around
the bend.” Truly it was a fine spectacle to see that fleet of transports
sweep around the curve and anchor in the teeth of the batteries so lately
vomiting fire. Presently Mr. J_ passed and called: “Aren’t you coming,
Mr. L_?” There’s provision on those boats; coffee and flour. ‘First come,
first served,’ you know.” “Yes, I’ll be there pretty soon.” But now the
new-comers began to swarm into our yard, asking H_ if he had coin to sell
for greenbacks. He had some, and a little bartering went on with the new
greenbacks. H_ went out to get provisions. When he returned a Confederate
officer came with him. H_ went to the box of Confederate money and took
out four hundred dollars, and the officer took off his watch, a plain gold
one, and laid it on the table, saying, “We have not been paid, and I must
get home to my family.” H_ added a five-dollar greenback to the pile, and
wished him a happy meeting. The townsfolk continued to dash through the
streets with their arms full, canned goods predominating. Towards five
Mr. J_ passed again. “Keep on the lookout,” he said; “the army of occupation
is coming along,” and in a few minutes the head of the column appeared.
What a contrast to the suffering creatures we had seen so long were these
stalwart, well-fed men, so splendidly set up and accountered. Sleek horses,
polished arms, bright plumes, - this was the pride and panoply of war.
Civilization, discipline, and order seemed to enter with the measured tramp
of those marching columns; and the heart turned with throbs of added pity
to the worn men in gray, who were being blindly dashed against this embodiment
of modern power. And now this “silence that is golden” indeed is over all,
and my limbs are unhurt, and I suppose if I were Catholic, in my fervent
gratitude, I would hie me with a rich offering to the shrine of “our Lady
July 7th. - I did
not enjoy quiet long. First came Martha, who announced her intention of
going to search for her sons, as she was free now. I was hardly able to
stand since the severe cold taken in the cave that night, but she would
not wait a day. A colored woman came in and said she had asked her mistress
for wages and she had turned out (wanting a place). I was in no condition
to stand upon ceremony then, and engaged her at once, but hear to-day that
I am thoroughly pulled to pieces in Vicksburg circles; there is no more
salvation for me. Next came two Federal officers and wanted rooms and board.
To have some protection was a necessity; both armies were still in town,
and for the past three days, every Confederate soldier I see has a cracker
in his hand. There is hardly any water in town, no prospect of rain, and
the soldiers have emptied one cistern in the yard already and begun on
the other. The colonel put a guard at the gate to limit the water given.
Next came the owner of the house and said we must move; he wanted the house,
but it was so big he’d just bring his family in; we could stay till we
got one. They brought boarders with them too, and children. Men are at
work all over the house shoveling p the plaster before repairing. Upstairs
they are pouring it by bucketfulls through the windows. Colonel D_ brought
work for H_ to help with from headquarters. Making out the paroles and
copying them has taken so long they wanted help. I am surprised and mortified
to find that two-thirds of all the men who have signed made their mark;
they cannot write. I never thought were was so much ignorance in the South.
One of the men at headquarters took a fancy to H_ and presented him with
a portfolio, that he said he had captured when the Confederates evacuated
their headquarters at Jackson. It contained mostly family letters written
in French, and a few official papers. Among them was the following now,
which I will copy here, and file away the original as a curiosity when
the war is over.
of TENN. Tupelo, Aug 6, 1862
CAPT: The Major-General
Commanding directs me to say that he submits it altogether to your own
discretion whether you made the attempt to capture General Grant or now.
While the exploit would be very brilliant if successful, you must remember
that failure might be disastrous to you and your men.
The General commends
your activity and energy and expects you to continue to show these qualities.
I am, very respectfully,
yr. obt. svt. Thomas L. Snead, A.A.G Capt. Geo. L. Baxter Commanding Beauregard
I would like to know if
he tried it and came to grief or abandoned the project. As letters can
now get through to New Orleans, I wrote there.
July 14th. - Moved
yesterday into a house I call “Fair Rosamond’s bower” because it would
take a clue of thread to go through it without getting lost. One room as
five doors opening into the house, and no windows. The stairs are like
ladders, and the colonel’s contraband valet won’t risk his neck taking
down water, but pours it through the windows on people’s heads. We sha’n’t
[sic] stay in it. Men are at work closing up the caves; they had become
hiding-places for trash. Vicksburg is now like one vast hospital - everyone
is getting sick or is sick. My cook was taken to-day with her bilious fever,
and nothing but will keeps me up.
July 23d. - We
moved again two days ago.
This is the last published
entry in the diary.