Kate Stone’s Civil War: Tragedy after tragedy
From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.
Exchanged Confederate prisoners of war ready to fight again. A young recruit worried the war will be over before he can see combat. A barrel of flour priced at $50. These were some of the defining features of Stone’s wartime reality. The 1862 summer was washed away in a chilling, rainy introduction to fall, turning the roads into mud and darkening Stone’s mood. News of the Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg, in Maryland reached Brokenburn two weeks later, bringing relieving news that Stone’s brother had been only slightly wounded.
It’s interesting to trace Stone’s mention of certain now-historic events like Antietam, comparing when she records them to when the events actually took place. As the war moved into Louisiana — down from Memphis and up from New Orleans — news took longer and longer to reach Brokenburn. Access to magazines, fresh books, and newspapers was disrupted and then severed. Letters took longer to reach Stone’s family. Wild rumors from every direction swept across Stone’s imagination, testing her belief in the Cause and forming a bedrock of self-reliance that she would desperately need in the coming years.
Sept. 23, 1862
Three weeks of silence spent mostly in Vicksburg, a dull profitless visit. Nothing going on there and I was glad to get home as quiet as it now is and will be, I suppose, until the close of the war. So many friends are gone, but judging from our many recent victories the close may be near. We will conquer a peace.
The victories of Manassas and Richmond, Ky., were both won on the same day. Harper’s Ferry, Frederick [Md.], Kanawha Valley, and luka [Miss.], and various small successes, all within thirty days, make us very hopeful. … Most of our acquaintances are still out of town, and though the streets were crowded with soldiers I knew none of them. The old familiar faces are away fighting in Virginia and Tennessee and strangers are defending their city.
Our exchanged prisoners to the number of 1,500 arrived while I was there, and the place was crowded with them. There were no adequate preparations to provide for them, and many of them had to beg the citizens for something to eat. So happy as they all looked, as merry and free as uncaged birds, and all eager to begin the fight again. The ladies of Memphis gave them a heartfelt and enthusiastic welcome, kisses as plentiful as blackberries, but there was nothing of that kind in Vicksburg. Met a Lt. Polk of Tennessee, who gave an interesting and anecdotal account of his imprisonment. …
The first of the fall rains. How I dread this winter. I shudder in anticipation: The long rains, the impassable roads, no books, no papers, few letters, our friends nearly all away, and most of our loved ones in the army. Awful prospect. But thinking of it will make it no better. …
Brother Walter goes on Monday to join Dr. Buckner’s company in Bolivar County [Miss.] and all are busy preparing him for the start. The house will be desolate indeed when he is really gone, following in the perilous paths his brothers are treading before him. … There are so many victories he fears even now peace may be proclaimed before he is enrolled as a soldier fighting with his brothers. …
Mamma is suffering much with her arm but is busy knitting socks for Brother Walter and Coley. I am knitting gloves as I can do it well and rapidly now. Nothing like sticking to a thing to learn it. We are again in suspense about My Brother. Had just had a letter written after Manassas just before they crossed the Potomac into Maryland. Now there is news of a hard-won victory at Frederick and his division hotly engaged, and that is all.
I heard while in Vicksburg of the death of a cousin, Ruby Davis. She died on the plantation on the Yazoo, leaving a baby a few days old. Only her mother was with her. Her husband, who is in the army, arrived just as they were lowering her body in the grave. They had been married only a year or so. Her people are in New Orleans. Another cousin too is dead. Elam Ragan is dead on the field of battle, falling shot through the heart just as he mounted one of the enemy’s batteries shouting, “Hurrah! Come on, boys, it is ours.” Peaceful be the rest of the gallant boyish heart that knew no fear. …
A letter from Mrs. Rossman tells of the death of her young brother, Eugene Selser, another boyish soldier offering up his life, a sacrifice to his country. Mrs. Rossman says she hears regularly from My Brother. I hope Eugenia does not.
A telegram from My Brother to Mamma says he is slightly wounded in the leg, wounded in the battle of Sharpsburg, Md., one of the most hotly contested battles of the campaign. Tom Manlove was also slightly wounded in the arm in the same fight. If we do not hear soon again, Brother Walter will go to Vicksburg for further news. Maybe now My Brother can come home to recuperate for a little while. He has been marching and fighting almost constantly since the first of July. Letters from Uncle Bo. He is in excellent health and spirits, and his regiment has not been in any of the late battles. Brother Walter will not go to his company until we hear further from My Brother.
Sister has been quite sick for several days. Mrs. Carson, Anna, Miss Bettie, and the girls took dinner. Had a talkative, pleasant time. Mrs. Savage is back home again. She says now she will stay till driven off by Yankees or overflow.
Our usual round of visiting and visitors, now that Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Savage are back. We went to Mrs. Curry’s to call on Mrs. Frank Blunt from Hinds County. She told us Aunt Rebeckah Jones, Ruby’s mother, died on the plantation a few days after Ruby with only the servants and the doctor with her. All her life she had been so lapped around with love and care. Tragedy after tragedy.
Today we actually had cake, a most rare occurrence, due to Mrs. Hardison’s sending us a little homemade flour. But for them, we might forget the taste of wheaten bread, and Aunt Laura is using it lavishly at $50 a barrel.