August 25th. About 12 at night.
Sleep is impossible after all that I have heard, so, after vainly endeavoring to follow the example of the rest, and sleep like a Stoic, I have lighted my candle and take to this to induce drowsiness.
Just after supper, when Anna and I were sitting with Mrs. Carter in her room, I talking as usual of home, and saying I would be perfectly happy if mother would decide to remain in Baton Rouge and brave the occasional shellings, I heard a well-known voice take up some sentence of mine from a dark part of the room, and with a cry of surprise, I was hugging Miriam until she was breathless. Such a forlorn creature! — so dirty, tired, and fatigued, as to be hardly recognizable. We thrust her into a chair, and made her speak. She had just come with Charlie, who went after them yesterday; and had left mother and the servants at a kind friend’s, on the road. I never heard such a story as she told. I was heartsick; but I laughed until Mrs. Badger grew furious with me and the Yankees, and abused me for not abusing them.
She says when she entered the house, she burst into tears at the desolation. It was one scene of ruin. Libraries emptied, china smashed, sideboards split open with axes, three cedar chests cut open, plundered, and set up on end; all parlor ornaments carried off — even the alabaster Apollo and Diana that Hal valued so much. Her piano, dragged to the centre of the parlor, had been abandoned as too heavy to carry off; her desk lay open with all letters and notes well thumbed and scattered around, while Will’s last letter to her was open on the floor, with the Yankee stamp of dirty fingers. Mother’s portrait half-cut from its frame stood on the floor. Margret, who was present at the sacking, told how she had saved father’s. It seems that those who wrought destruction in our house were all officers. One jumped on the sofa to cut the picture down (Miriam saw the prints of his muddy feet) when Margret cried, “For God’s sake, gentlemen, let it be! I’ll help you to anything here. He’s dead, and the young ladies would rather see the house burn than lose it!” “I’ll blow your damned brains out,” was the “gentleman’s” answer as he put a pistol to her head, which a brother officer dashed away, and the picture was abandoned for finer sport. All the others were cut up in shreds.
Upstairs was the finest fun. Mother’s beautiful mahogany armoir, whose single door was an extremely fine mirror, was entered by crashing through the glass, when it was emptied of every article, and the shelves half-split, and half-thrust back crooked. Letters, labeled by the boys “Private,” were strewn over the floor; they opened every armoir and drawer, collected every rag to be found and littered the whole house with them, until the wonder was, where so many rags had been found. Father’s armoir was relieved of everything; Gibbes’s handsome Damascus sword with the silver scabbard included. All his clothes, George’s, Hal’s, Jimmy’s, were appropriated. They entered my room, broke that fine mirror for sport, pulled down the rods from the bed, and with them pulverized my toilet set, taking also all Lydia’s china ornaments I had packed in the wash-stand. The débris filled my basin, and ornamented my bed. My desk was broken open. Over it was spread all my letters, and private papers, a diary I kept when twelve years old, and sundry tokens of dried roses, etc., which must have been very funny, they all being labeled with the donor’s name, and the occasion. Fool! how I writhe when I think of all they saw; the invitations to buggy rides, concerts, “Compliments of,” etc. —! Lilly’s sewing-machine had disappeared; but as mother’s was too heavy to move, they merely smashed the needles.
In the pillaging of the armoirs, they seized a pink flounced muslin of Miriam’s, which one officer placed on the end of a bayonet, and paraded round with, followed by the others who slashed it with their swords crying, “I have stuck the damned Secesh! that’s the time I cut her!” and continued their sport until the rags could no longer be pierced. One seized my bonnet, with which he decked himself, and ran in the streets. Indeed, all who found such, rushed frantically around town, by way of frolicking, with the things on their heads. They say no frenzy could surpass it. Another snatched one of my calico dresses, and a pair of vases that mother had when she was married, and was about to decamp when a Mrs. Jones jerked them away, and carried them to her boarding-house, and returned them to mother the other day. Blessed be Heaven! I have a calico dress! Our clothes were used for the vilest purposes, and spread in every corner — at least those few that were not stolen.
Aunt Barker’s Charles tried his best to defend, the property. “Ain’t you ‘shamed to destroy all dis here, that belongs to a poor widow lady who’s got two daughters to support?” he asked of an officer who was foremost in the destruction. “Poor? Damn them! I don’t know when I have seen a house furnished like this! Look at that furniture! They poor!” was the retort, and thereupon the work went bravely on, of making us poor, indeed.
It would have fared badly with us had we been there. The servants say they broke into the house crying, “Where are those damned Secesh women? We know they are hid in here, and we’ll make them dance for hiding from Federal officers!” And they could not be convinced that we were not there, until they had searched the very garret. Wonder what they would have done? Charles caught a Captain Clark in the streets, when the work was almost over, and begged him to put an end to it. The gentleman went readily, but though the devastation was quite evident, no one was to be seen, and he was about to leave, when, insisting that there was some one there, Charles drew him into my room, dived under the bed, and drew from thence a Yankee captain, by one leg, followed by a lieutenant, each with a bundle of the boys’ clothes, which they instantly dropped, protesting they were only looking around the house. The gentleman captain carried them off to their superior.
Ours was the most shockingly treated house in the whole town. We have the misfortune to be equally feared by both sides, because we will blackguard neither. So the Yankees selected the only house in town that sheltered three forlorn women, to wreak their vengeance on. From far and near, strangers and friends flocked in to see the ravages committed. Crowds rushed in before, crowds came in after, Miriam and mother arrived, all apologizing for the intrusion, but saying they had heard it was a sight never before seen. So they let them examine to their hearts’ content; and Miriam says the sympathy of all was extraordinary. A strange gentleman picked up a piece of mother’s mirror, which was as thick as his finger, saying, “Madame, I should like to keep this as a memento. I am about to travel through Mississippi, and having seen what a splendid piece of furniture this was, and the state your house is left in, should like to show this as a specimen of Yankee vandalism.”
William Waller flew to our home to try to save it; but was too late. They say he burst into tears as he looked around. While on his kind errand, another band of Yankees burst into his house and left not one article of clothing to him, except the suit he had on. The whole talk is about our dreadful treatment at the Yankees’ hands. Dr. Day, and Dr. Enders, in spite of the assertions of the former, lost nothing.
Well! I am beggared! Strange to say, I don’t feel it. Perhaps it is the satisfaction of knowing my fate that makes me so cheerful that Mrs. Carter envied my stoicism, while Mrs. Badger felt like beating me because I did not agree that there was no such thing as a gentleman in the Yankee army. I know Major Drum for one, and that Captain Clark must be two, and Mr. Biddle is three, and General Williams —God bless him, wherever he is! for he certainly acted like a Christian. The Yankees boasted loudly that if it had not been for him, the work would have been done long ago.
And now, I am determined to see my home, before Yankee shells complete the work that Yankee axes spared. So by sunrise, I shall post over to Mr. Elder’s, and insist on Charlie taking me to town with him. I hardly think it is many hours off. I feel so settled, so calm! Just as though I never meant to sleep again. If I only had a desk, — a luxury I have not enjoyed since I left home, — I could write for hours still, without being sleepy; but this curved attitude is hard on my stiff back, so good-night, while I lie down to gain strength for a sight they say will make me faint with distress. Nous verrons! If I say I Won’t, I know I’ll not cry. The Brunots lost nothing at all from their house, thank Heaven for the mercy! Only they lost all their money in their flight. On the door, on their return, they found written, “Ladies, I have done my best for you,” signed by a Yankee soldier, who they suppose to be the one who has made it a habit of continually passing their house.
Forgot to say Miriam recovered my guitar from the Asylum, our large trunk and father’s papers (untouched) from Dr. Enders’s, and with her piano, the two portraits, a few mattresses (all that is left of housekeeping affairs), and father’s law books, carried them out of town. For which I say in all humility, Blessed be God who has spared us so much.