Kate Stone’s Civil War: Nobly and fearlessly
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.
Stone recalled with heartbreaking beauty the loss of yet another beloved brother.
Note how Bonham stressed Coleman’s dignity and comfort throughout his physical deterioration, his medical care, and his serene death and moonlit funeral. Her letter turned his decline into a graceful ceremonial journey from life to death. Bonham tried to reassure Coleman’s mother that all Christian values were fulfilled (the Bible under the pillow, the constant prayers read, his hopes for divine forgiveness). It promised that Coleman’s masculinity was preserved right to the end (adoring women always nearby to care for him and kiss him, his brave endurance of terrible pain, his resolve bringing grown men to tears). It illustrated his final moments as unforgettable and fitting for a Southern gentleman (no undignified or embarrassing “contortion,” the retention of “his senses,” his grim but religiously devoted bearing).
Dec. 10, 1863
Again we are called on to mourn one of our dearest and best. Brother Coley has crossed the Dark Valley, free from all pain and trouble. He lies at rest and we are desolate indeed. We had heard only the week before that he was well on October 10, when the letter came telling of his death at Clinton, Miss., on September 22. I can do no better than copy Mrs. Bonham’s letter to Mamma, telling how nobly and fearlessly a Christian soldier can die.
Sept. 25, 1863
My dear Friend:
It is with feelings of deep and heartfelt sorrow that I resume my pen to give you the particulars of the death of your noble son Coleman Stone. He breathed his last at a quarter before ten Tuesday morning, Sept. 22nd. I wrote you a week before his death giving you full particulars up to that time. Then fever set in which with his previous bad health and reduced state and wound combined soon brought him down. The injury, as I stated in my letter, was very serious from the first and never healed as it would have done on a strong, healthy person. Ten days or more before his death I had him moved from the hospital to an office in the yard next me so I could give him constant care. Mrs. Moore was on the other side so some female was with him all the time. I never saw so great a favorite. Everybody in town was interested in him. Someone was constantly calling to see if they could be of service. As for me, I loved him as a son and grieved for him as one. He was one of the most patient beings under suffering I ever saw.
I watched him three weeks and four days. Most of the time he was suffering the most excruciating pain, but he bore it with the most remarkable firmness, and to you, his mother, I bear the comforting assurance that he died a Christian. The first Sabbath after he came to the hospital I went in the evening to see him, fearing he would be lonely, and found him reading his Testament. I sat down by him and read aloud for some time. He kept his Bible lying always under his pillow. I used often to take my work and sit by him, and we had many conversations about you, his brothers, and sisters, and his last wish was that he could see you all once more, calling you all by name.
Two days before his death he told me he wished the doctor to tell him his exact condition. He was perfectly calm and composed. The doctor told him there was no chance of his recovery, and said to him, “Coley, you are a sensible thinking boy and must know the necessity of preparation for another world.” He replied that he did and asked me to send for a minister to converse and pray with him. I at once sent for Mr. Tom Markham, formerly of Vicksburg, who happened to be in this vicinity, and around the couch of that dying soldier boy I passed through some of the most impressive scenes of my life.
At sunrise on Tuesday morning, we all knelt around his bed and heard one of the most feeling and beautiful prayers I ever listened to. When I rose and stood by him my hand on his head, he looked in my face and said, “Mrs. Bonham, I don’t think I have ever been a very wicked boy, but since I have been in the army I have been striving to be a Christian, and I believe God has heard my prayers and has answered them. I believe He has forgiven my many sins, pardoned me, and will take me to my home in Heaven. Write to my dear Mother and tell her what I have said to you. I have longed, oh, so much, to see her and my Brothers and Sisters once more, but as I cannot on this earth I trust they will meet me in Heaven.”
He was perfectly calm and had his senses up to five minutes before his death. There was no struggle, no contortion. I stood on one side of him, Mrs. Moore on the other, Dr. Hunt, Mr. Markham, and several others around. I stooped and with sobs and tears pressed a kiss on his brow. He looked in my eyes and said audibly so that all could hear, “For my Mother.” Again I kissed him, and he said, “For my Sisters.” All were in tears.
The strong, stout man who waited on him turned to the window sobbing aloud. Of that good man, that kindhearted friend, I must speak. Mr. Galloway was sent at Coley’s request to wait on him. He watched by him day and night with the faithfulness and affection of a brother and the tenderness of a woman. He was never for a moment cross or impatient and always ready to gratify Coley’s slightest wish, and he grieved for him as for a brother. I shall always love the man for his devotion to Coley, who, on his death bed, told me he wanted Mr. Galloway to have his horse and other effects. He said his horse belonged to his brother, and Mr. Galloway would give it up if it was ever called for. He also has his pistol. …
I have his Testament and a few books. My Belle never let a morning pass without taking him a bouquet of flowers, which he always enjoyed.
Joe Carson came in the morning of his death. He grieved sorely to think he must give up forever his dearest friend. It made my heart ache to see his sorrow. … We dressed Coley in a nice suit of clothes furnished by a young friend of his, Tom Moore. When Coley was first brought in, Tom said to his mother, “Do all you can for Coley Stone as he is my best friend.” Everything of the best kind was prepared for his burial. I wish it was in my power to describe the funeral, but my pen is inadequate. It took place just after night. The moon was full and shone most beautifully. The burial service by Mr. Markham was long and most appropriate. Nearly all of his company were present and a large number of ladies. A stranger would have thought from the feeling shown that we were each seeing a loved brother or son to his last resting place. All were in tears. That burial was one we will all remember. You have my deepest sympathy in this, your great sorrow.
How many sad hearts and broken households has this terrible war caused.
Most sincerely your friend,
Mary T. Bonham
My heart bleeds for Mamma. Sorrow after sorrow rolls over her, almost more than she can bear, but she is a most brave woman and will not sink beneath the burden.
The moonlight falls clear and cold on the graves of three of those who made the mirth and happiness of our home only two short summers ago, three of the glad young voices are hushed, three of the bright young heads lie low. Now what remains of the high hopes, the stirring plans, and the great ambitions that burned in the hearts and filled the brain of these gallant boys — only a handful of dust. All have fallen in the dew and flower of their youth. Ashburn was the first to sink to his dreamless sleep. For two long years the grass has been springing fresh and green over his grave at Brokenburn. He died Nov. 12, 1861, aged eighteen years and three months. Brother Walter was the next to obey the dread summons. He crossed the black waters of the River of Death Feb. 15, 1863, aged eighteen years and two months, and now in the autumn of the same year Brother Coley has passed from Time to Eternity, his short life numbering twenty years and six months.
What charms can peace have for us when it does come bereft of our nearest and dearest?
We can never return to the bright and happy home of three years ago. These three graves darken the threshold.
Mamma was in Shreveport when we received the letter and did not get home for several days. She had heard all were well and came home cheerful and happy to be greeted by such news. It was an awful shock to her.
Brother Coley had such a brave and dauntless spirit in that frail, sensitive body, a love for all that was pure and noble, and a scathing contempt for all that was low and mean. Joe Carson has just left after a short furlough home, and from him we learned all that we can know of Brother Coley. He had not grown to strong manhood, as we fondly imagined, but was still a beardless boy, tall and slender, the same fragile form and unbending energy and spirit that we knew at home. He had been offered a position as 2nd lieutenant in Bragg’s army through Uncle Bo’s influence. He had accepted it and expected to join his new company in a few days, when he received the injury that caused his death.
He was out scouting near Clinton with several others when something scared his horse, a powerful black of Dr. Buckner’s. Brother Coley was sitting sideways on the horse, his leg thrown over the pommel. They had stopped to rest when the horse reared and Brother Coley’s spur caught in the bit as he threw his leg over, and the horse fell backward crushing Brother Coley’s shoulder and arm against a root — a most painful injury. He was a splendid rider, and to meet death that way. He had been in many skirmishes and engagements but never was wounded. In the desperate charge that the 28th Mississippi, made in the Franklin, Tenn., battle, he had his cartridge box shot off and fell from his horse but was unhurt. Once acting as regimental orderly he rode through a fire of shot and shell that none of the couriers would brave to carry orders to his squadron.
Brother Walter was only once under fire but acted with such coolness and courage that he was highly complimented by his officers. A small party were sleeping at a picket post on the bank of a little stream when they were surprised by the enemy, who opened artillery fire across the creek. The men rushed for their horses and galloped off, but Brother Walter after mounting rode to the banks of the stream and fired several shots at the gunners, saying afterwards, “Boys, I was just obliged to take a few shots at them.”
Well may we be proud of our brave boys, and we can never be grateful enough to the kind friends at Clinton who nursed Brother Coley so tenderly.