A Confederate Girl’s Diary

 

October 2d, Thursday.

With what extraordinary care we prepared for our ride yesterday! One would have thought that some great event was about to take place. But in spite of our long toilet, we stood ready equipped almost an hour before Colonel Breaux arrived. I was standing in a novel place — upon the bannisters looking over the fields to see if he was coming —and, not seeing him, made some impatient exclamation, when lo! he appeared before me, having only been concealed by the wood-pile, and O my prophetic soul! Captain Morrison was by his side!

There was quite a cavalcade of us: Mr. Carter and his wife, Mrs. Badger and Mrs. Worley, in two buggies; the three boys, who, of course, followed on horseback, and the two gentlemen, Miriam, Anna, and I, riding also. It was really a very pretty sight, when Captain Morrison and I, who took the lead going, would reach the top of one of the steep hills and look down on the procession in the hollow below. Fortunately it was a very cloudy evening; for, starting at four, it would have been very unpleasant to ride that distance with the sun in our faces.

As we reached the town we heard the loud report of two cannon which caused the elder ladies to halt and suggest the propriety of a return. But if it was a gunboat, that was the very thing I was anxious to see; so we hurried on to the batteries. It proved to be only practicing, however. At the first one we stopped at, the crew of the Arkansas were drilling. After stopping a while there, we followed the river to see the batteries below. It was delightful to ride on the edge of a high bluff with the muddy Mississippi below, until you fancied what would be the probable sensation if the horse should plunge down into the waters; then it ceased to be so pleasant. The great, strong animal I rode could have carried me over without a protest on my part; for the ridiculous bit in his mouth was by no means suited to his strength; and it would require a more powerful arm than mine to supply the deficiency. Miriam had generously sacrificed her own comfort to give him to me; and rode fiery Joe instead of her favorite. But it was by no means a comfort to me. Then Anna was not reconciled to her pony while I was on such a fine horse, until I proposed an exchange, and gladly dismounted near an old mill two miles and a half below Port Hudson, as we returned home.

In leaving the town, we lost sight of the buggies, as there was no carriage road that might follow the bluff; and though there was one just back, we never saw our buggies again. Once, following a crescent, far below us lay the water battery concealed by the trees that grew by the water’s edge, looking, from where we stood, like quite a formidable precipice. Then still beyond, after leaving the river, we passed through a camp where the soldiers divided their attention equally between eating their supper and staring at us in the most profound silence. Then, through an old gate, down a steep hill, past a long line of rifle-pits, a winding road, and another camp where more men stared and cooked their supper, we came to the last battery but one, which lay so far below that it was too late to visit it. We returned highly delighted with what we had seen and our pleasant ride. It was late when we got back, as altogether our ride had been some fifteen miles in length. As soon as we could exchange our habits for our evening dresses, we rejoined our guests at the supper-table, where none of us wanted for an appetite except poor Captain Morrison, who could not be tempted by the dishes we so much relished. After supper, Colonel Breaux and I got into a discussion, rather, he talked, while I listened with eyes and ears, with all my soul. . . . What would I not give for such knowledge! He knows everything, and can express it all in the clearest, purest language, though he says he could not speak a word of English at fourteen!

The discussion commenced by some remark I made about physiognomy; he took it up, and passed on to phrenology — in which he is no great believer. From there he touched on the mind, and I listened, entranced, to him. Presently he asserted that I possessed reasoning faculties, which I fear me I very rudely denied. You see, every moment the painful conviction of my ignorance grew more painful still, until it was most humiliating; and I repelled it rather as a mockery. He described for my benefit the process of reasoning, the art of thinking. I listened more attentively still, resolving to profit by his words. . . . Then he turned the conversation on quite another theme. Health was the subject. He delicately alluded to my fragile appearance, and spoke of the necessity of a strong constitution to sustain a vigorous mind. If the mind prevailed over the weak body, in its turn it became affected by decay, and would eventually lose its powers. It was applicable to all cases; he did not mean that I was sickly, but that my appearance bespoke one who had not been used to the exercise that was most necessary for me. Horseback rides, walks, fresh air were necessary to preserve health. No man had greater disgust for a freckled face than he; but a fair face could be preserved by the most ordinary precautions and even improved by such exercise. He illustrated my case by showing the difference between the flower growing in the sunshine and that growing in a cellar. Father’s own illustration and very words, when he so often tried to impress on me the necessity of gaining a more robust frame than nature had bestowed! And a letter he had made Hal write me, showing the danger of such neglect, rose before me. I forgot Colonel Breaux; I remembered only the ardent desire of those two, who seemed to speak to me through his lips. It produced its effect. I felt the guilt I had incurred by not making greater efforts to gain a more robust frame; and putting on my sunbonnet as I arose from the breakfast-table this morning, I took my seat here on the wide balcony where I have remained seated on the floor ever since, with a chair for a desk, trying to drink an extra amount of fresh air.

I was sorry when Colonel Breaux arose to take his leave. As he took my hand, I said earnestly, “Thank you for giving me something to think about.” He looked gratified, made some pleasant remark, and after talking a while longer, said goodnight again and rode off. While undressing, Miriam and I spoke of nothing else. And when I lay down, and looked in my own heart and saw my shocking ignorance and pitiful inferiority so painfully evident even to my own eyes, I actually cried. Why was I denied the education that would enable me to be the equal of such a man as Colonel Breaux and the others? He says the woman’s mind is the same as the man’s, originally; it is only education that creates the difference. Why was I denied that education? Who is to blame? Have I exerted fully the natural desire To Know that is implanted in all hearts? Have I done myself injustice in my self-taught ignorance, or has injustice been done to me? Where is the fault, I cried. Have I labored to improve the few opportunities thrown in my path, to the best of my ability? “Answer for yourself. With the exception of ten short months at school, where you learned nothing except arithmetic, you have been your own teacher, your own scholar, all your life, after you were taught by mother the elements of reading and writing. Give an account of your charge. What do you know?” Nothing! except that I am a fool! and I buried my face in the sheet; I did not like even the darkness to see me in my humiliation.


A Confederate Girl’s Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson

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