A Confederate Girl’s Diary

August 10th, Sunday.

Is this really Sunday? Never felt less pious, or less seriously disposed! Listen to my story, and though I will, of course, fall far short of the actual terror that reigned, yet it will show it in a lukewarm light, that can at least recall the excitement to me.

To begin, then, last evening, about six o’clock, as we sat reading, sewing, and making lint in the parlor, we heard a tremendous shell whizzing past, which those who watched, said passed not five feet above the house. Of course, there was a slight stir among the unsophisticated; though we, who had passed through bombardments, sieges, and alarms of all kinds, coolly remarked, “a shell,” and kept quiet. (The latter class was not very numerous.) It was from one of the three Yankee boats that lay in the river close by (the Essex and two gunboats), which were sweeping teams, provisions, and negroes from all the plantations they stopped at from Baton Rouge up. The negroes, it is stated, are to be armed against us as in town, where all those who manned the cannon on Tuesday were, for the most part, killed; and served them right! Another shell was fired at a carriage containing Mrs. Durald and several children, under pretense of discovering if she was a guerrilla, doubtless. Fortunately, she was not hurt, however.

By the time the little émeute had subsided, determined to have a frolic, Miss Walters, Ginnie, and I got on our horses, and rode off down the Arkansas Lane, to have a gallop and a peep at the gunboats from the levee. But mother’s entreaties prevented us from going that near, as she cried that it was well known they fired at every horse or vehicle they saw in the road, seeing a thousand guerrillas in every puff of dust, and we were sure to be killed, murdered, and all sorts of bloody deaths awaited us; so to satisfy her, we took the road about a mile from the river, in full view, however. We had not gone very far before we met a Mr. Watson, a plain farmer of the neighborhood, who begged us to go back. “You’ll be fired on, ladies, sure! You don’t know the danger! Take my advice and go home as quick as possible before they shell you! They shot buggies and carriages, and of course they won’t mind horses with women! Please go home!” But Ginnie, who had taken a fancy to go on, acted as spokeswoman, and determined to go on in spite of his advice, so, nothing loath to follow her example, we thanked him, and rode on. Another met us; looked doubtful, said it was not so dangerous if the Yankees did not see the dust; but if they did, we would be pretty apt to see a shell soon after. Here was frolic! So we rode on some mile or two beyond, but failing to see anything startling, turned back again.

About two miles from here, we met Mr. Watson coming at full speed. The ladies, he said, had sent him after us in all haste; there was a report that the whole coast was to be shelled; a lady had passed, flying with her children; the carriage was ordered out; they were only waiting for us, to run, too. We did not believe a word of it, and were indignant at their credulity, as well as determined to persuade them to remain where they were, if possible. When told their plan was to run to the house formerly used as a guerrilla camp, we laughed heartily. Suppose the Yankees fired a shell into it to discover its inhabitants? The idea of choosing a spot so well known! And what fun in running to a miserable hole, when we might sleep comfortably here? I am afraid rebellion was in the air. Indeed, an impudent little negro, who threw open the gate for us, interrupted Ginnie in the midst of a tirade with a sly “Here’s the beginning of a little fuss!”

We found them all crazy with fear. I did not say much; I was too provoked to trust myself to argue with so many frightened women. I only said I saw no necessity. Ginnie resisted; but finally succumbed. Mr. Watson, whom we had enlisted on our side also, said it was by no means necessary, but if we were determined, we might go to his house, about four miles away, and stay there. It was very small, but we were welcome. We had in the mean time thrown off our riding-skirts, and stood just in our plain dresses, though the others were freshly dressed for an exodus. Before the man left, the carriage came, though by that time we had drawn half the party on our side; we said we would take supper, and decide after, so he went off.

In a few moments a rocket went up from one of the boats, which attracted our attention. Five minutes after, we saw a flash directly before us. “See it? Lightning, I expect,” said Phillie. The others all agreed; but I kept quiet, knowing that some, at least, knew what it was as well as I, and determined not to give the alarm — for I was beginning to feel foolish. Before half a minute more came a tearing, hissing sound, a sky-rocket whose music I had heard before. Instantly I remembered my running-bag, and flew upstairs to get it, escaping just in time from the scene which followed on the gallery which was afterwards most humorously described to me. But I was out of hearing of the screams of each (and yet I must have heard them); neither saw Miss Walters tumble against the wall, nor mother turn over her chair, nor the general mêlée that followed, in which Mrs. Walters, trying to scale the carriage, was pulled out by Uncle Will, who shouted to his plunging horses first, then to the other unreasoning creatures, “Woa, there! ‘T ain’t safe! Take to the fields! Take to the woods! Run to the sugar-house! Take to your heels!” in a frenzy of excitement.

I escaped all that, and was putting on my hoops and hastily catching up any article that presented itself to me in my speed, when the shell burst over the roof, and went rolling down on the gallery, according to the account of those then below. Two went far over the house, out of sight. All three were seen by Mr. Watson, who came galloping up in a few moments, crying, “Ladies, for God’s sake, leave the house!” Then I heard mother calling, “Sarah! You will be killed! Leave your clothes and run!”— and a hundred ejaculations that came too fast for me to answer except by an occasional “ Coming, if you will send me a candle!” Candle was the same as though I had demanded a hand-grenade, in mother’s opinion, for she was sure it would be the signal for a bombardment of my exposed room; so I tossed down my bundles, swept combs and hairpins into my bosom (all points up), and ravished a candle from some one. How quickly I got on, then! I saved the most useless of articles with the greatest zeal, and probably left the most serviceable ones. One single dress did my running-bag contain — a white linen cambric with a tiny pink flower — the one I wore when I told Hal good-bye for the last time. The others I left.

When I got down with my knapsack, mother, Phillie, and Mrs. Walters were —

A Confederate Girl’s Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

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