A Confederate Girl’s Diary

 Thursday, August 28th.

I am satisfied. I have seen my home again. Tuesday I was up at sunrise, and my few preparations were soon completed, and before any one was awake, I walked over to Mr. Elder’s, through mud and dew, to meet Charlie. Fortunate was it for me that I started so early; for I found him hastily eating his breakfast, and ready to leave. He was very much opposed to my going; and for some time I was afraid he would force me to remain; but at last he consented, — perhaps because I did not insist, — and with wet feet and without a particle of breakfast, I at length found myself in the buggy on the road home. The ride afforded me a series of surprises. Half the time I found myself halfway out of the little low-necked buggy when I thought I was safely in; and the other half, I was surprised to find myself really in when I thought I was wholly out. And so on, for mile after mile, over muddy roads, until we came to a most terrific cross-road, where we were obliged to pass, and which is best undescribed. Four miles from town we stopped at Mrs. Brown’s to see mother, and after a few moments’ talk, went on our road.

I saw the first Yankee camp that Will Pinckney and Colonel Bird had set fire to the day of the battle. Such a shocking sight of charred wood, burnt clothes, tents, and all imaginable articles strewn around, I had never before seen. I should have been very much excited, entering the town by the route our soldiers took; but I was not. It all seemed tame and familiar. I could hardly fancy I stood on the very spot where the severest struggle had taken place. The next turn of the road brought us to two graves, one on each side of the road, the resting-place of two who fell that day. They were merely left in the ditch where they fell, and earth from the side was pulled over them. When Miriam passed, parts of their coats were sticking out of the grave; but some kind hand had scattered fresh earth over them when I saw them. Beyond, the sight became more common. I was told that their hands and feet were visible from many. And one poor fellow lay unburied, just as he had fallen, with his horse across him, and both skeletons. That sight I was spared, as the road near which he was lying was blocked up by trees, so we were forced to go through the woods, to enter, instead of passing by, the Catholic graveyard. In the woods, we passed another camp our men destroyed, while the torn branches above testified to the number of shells our men had braved to do the work. Next to Mr. Barbee’s were the remains of a third camp that was burned; and a few more steps made me suddenly hold my breath, for just before us lay a dead horse with the flesh still hanging, which was hardly endurable. Close by lay a skeleton, — whether of man or horse, I did not wait to see. Not a human being appeared until we reached the Penitentiary, which was occupied by our men. After that, I saw crowds of wagons moving furniture out, but not a creature that I knew. Just back of our house was all that remained of a nice brick cottage — namely, four crumbling walls. The offense was that the husband was fighting for the Confederates; so the wife was made to suffer, and is now homeless, like many thousands besides. It really seems as though God wanted to spare our homes. The frame dwellings adjoining were not touched, even. The town was hardly recognizable; and required some skill to avoid the corners blocked up by trees, so as to get in at all.

Our house could not be reached by the front, so we left the buggy in the back yard, and running through the lot without stopping to examine the storeroom and servants’ rooms that opened wide, I went through the alley and entered by the front door.

Fortunate was it for this record that I undertook to describe the sacking only from Miriam’s account. If I had waited until now, it would never have been mentioned; for as I looked around, to attempt such a thing seemed absurd. I stood in the parlor in silent amazement; and in answer to Charlie’s “Well?” I could only laugh. It was so hard to realize. As I looked for each well-known article, I could hardly believe that Abraham Lincoln’s officers had really come so low down as to steal in such a wholesale manner. The papier-maché workbox Miriam had given me was gone. The baby sacque I was crocheting, with all knitting needles and wools, gone also. Of all the beautiful engravings of Annapolis that Will Pinckney had sent me, there remained a single one. Gentlemen, my name is written on each! Not a book remained in the parlor, except “Idyls of the King,” that contained my name also, and which, together with the door-plate, was the only case in which the name of Morgan was spared. They must have thought we were related to John Morgan, and wreaked their vengeance on us for that reason. Thanks for the honor, but there is not the slightest connection! Where they did not carry off articles bearing our name, they cut it off, as in the visiting-cards, and left only the first name. Every book of any value or interest, except Hume and Gibbon, was “borrowed” permanently. I regretted Macaulay more than all the rest. Brother’s splendid French histories went, too; all except “L’Histoire de la Bastille.” However, as they spared father’s law libraries (all except one volume they used to support a flour barrel with, while they emptied it near the parlor door), we ought to be thankful.

The dining-room was very funny. I looked around for the cut-glass celery and preserve dishes that were to be part of my “dot,” as mother always said, together with the champagne glasses that had figured on the table the day that I was born; but there remained nothing. There was plenty of split-up furniture, though. I stood in mother’s room before the shattered armoir, which I could hardly believe the same that I had smoothed my hair before, as I left home three weeks previously. Father’s was split across, and the lock torn off, and in the place of the hundreds of articles it contained, I saw two bonnets at the sight of which I actually sat down to laugh. One was mother’s velvet, which looked very much like a football in its present condition. Mine was not to be found, as the officers forgot to return it. Wonder who has my imperial? I know they never saw a handsomer one, with its black velvet, purple silk, and ostrich feathers.

I went to my room. Gone was my small paradise! Had this shocking place ever been habitable? The tall mirror squinted at me from a thousand broken angles. It looked so knowing! I tried to fancy the Yankee officers being dragged from under my bed by the leg, thanks to Charles; but it seemed too absurd; so I let them alone. My desk! What a sight! The central part I had kept as a little curiosity shop with all my little trinkets and keepsakes of which a large proportion were from my gentlemen friends; I looked for all I had left, found only a piece of the McRae, which, as it was labeled in full, I was surprised they had spared. Precious letters I found under heaps of broken china and rags; all my notes were gone, with many letters. I looked for a letter of poor ——, in cipher, with the key attached, and name signed in plain hand. I knew it would hardly be agreeable to him to have it read, and it certainly would be unpleasant to me to have it published; but I could not find it. Miriam thinks she saw something answering the description, somewhere, though.

Bah! What is the use of describing such a scene?[1] Many suffered along with us, though none so severely. Indeed, the Yankees cursed loudly at those who did not leave anything worth stealing. They cannot complain of us, on that score. All our handsome Brussels carpets, together with Lydia’s fur, were taken, too. What did they not take? In the garret, in its darkest corner, a whole gilt-edged china set of Lydia’s had been overlooked; so I set to work and packed it up, while Charlie packed her furniture in a wagon, to send to her father.

It was now three o’clock; and with my light linen dress thrown off, I was standing over a barrel putting in cups and saucers as fast as I could wrap them in the rags that covered the floor, when Mr. Larguier sent me a nice little dinner. I had been so many hours without eating — nineteen, I think, during three of which I had slept — that I had lost all appetite; but nevertheless I ate it, to show my appreciation. If I should hereafter think that the quantity of rags was exaggerated, let me here state that, after I had packed the barrel and china with them, it made no perceptible diminution of the pile.

As soon as I had finished my task, Charlie was ready to leave again; so I left town without seeing, or hearing, any one, or any thing, except what lay in my path. As we drove out of the gate, I begged Charlie to let me get my bird, as I heard Charles Barker had him. A man was dispatched, and in a few minutes returned with my Jimmy. I have since heard that Tick deserted him the day of the battle, as I so much feared she would; and that Charles found him late in the evening and took charge of him. With my pet once more with me, we drove off again. I cast many a longing look at the graveyard; but knowing Charlie did not want to stop, I said nothing, though I had been there but once in three months, and that once, six weeks ago. I could see where the fence had been thrown down by our soldiers as they charged the Federals, but it was now replaced, though many a picket was gone. Once more I stopped at Mrs. Brown’s, while Charlie went on to Clinton, leaving me to drive mother here in the morning. Early yesterday, after seeing Miriam’s piano and the mattresses packed up and on the road, we started off in the buggy, and after a tedious ride through a melting sun, arrived here about three o’clock, having again missed my dinner, which I kept a profound secret until supper-time.

By next Ash Wednesday, I will have learned how to fast without getting sick! Though very tired, I sat sewing until after sunset, dictating a page and a half to Anna, who was writing to Howell.


[1] In her book, From Flag to Flag, Mrs. Eliza McHatton Ripley gives a vivid description of Judge Morgan’s house as she herself saw it after the sacking. — W. D.


A Confederate Girl’s Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

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