Kate Stone’s Civil War: The noble, gentle heart
From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana cotton plantation owners who chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.
Stone was an insightful, often self-deprecating, and intelligent writer, but she never wrote more beautifully than when she endured tragedy.
The sickness that ravaged the Stone family was too much for Stone’s brother Ashburn, who died soon after their older brother left to rejoin his Confederate unit. Their mother accompanied the soldier to his embarkation point at Vicksburg, Miss., and she was too far away to rejoin her dying son in his final moments. As Stone grieved, her journal sat silent for two weeks. In late November, she began to write again.
Amidst her sorrow she took a moment to reflect on her mother’s beauty and character. It’s a fascinating and affectionate celebration of the woman Stone admired above all others.
How can I write the record of the last two weeks? It seems that the trouble and grief of years has been pressed into that short space of time. Ashburn, our darling, has gone, never to return. Oh! how we miss him every hour in the day. The noble, gentle heart and the loving sensitive nature are stilled forever, passed from the world as though they had never been. What great thoughts, loving wishes, and proud hopes lie buried in his grave. So young, so bouyant, so full of life and happiness, brilliant with the very joy of living such a little while ago, and now dead. …
Ashburn died on Tuesday, November 12, at 11 o’clock at night of swamp fever. We sent for Mamma very early Tuesday morning, but she could not get here until Wednesday morning too late. She was so dreadfully distressed. As soon as he died, Brother Coley started at once to Vicksburg to meet Mamma and to make arrangements for the burial. He reached DeSoto just as she crossed the ferry, and as soon as she saw him she knew the worst.
Brother Walter had gone for her and brought her back. She so reproached herself for leaving him when he was sick, but we told her everybody on the place had been sick off and on all summer and she could not know this would be a serious illness. She loved him so. We always told her that she loved and indulged him more than any of us, and she always said, why, he was the best boy of them all and never gave any occasion to be scolded.
[Ashburn’s] was buried Thursday in a clump of woods just back of the house, the new family graveyard. Our Father and two little sisters were removed there from the old graveyard a year ago.
Here at home all seems strangely dull and sad. …
A warm lovely week, a wanderer from the April sisterhood. No frost and the flowers are still in fullest bloom roses and annuals, as gay as in May. “The Melancholy days have come” for our household but not for Dame Nature. The boys have been out hunting most of the day with poor success one duck but the woods are full of game and the lakes covered with ducks.
Brother Coley and Mr. Reading went to attend the drill at Willow Bayou and to bid adieu to Mr. Reading’s friends. They went from there to Omega. No mail. But Brother Coley brought back the paper containing the resolutions of sympathy passed by the Willow Bayou company on Ashburn’s death. How he loved all military matters.
Mamma was talking tonight of her early days. She was married before she was sixteen, before she had left school, but she had been out enough to reject ten lovers before she met papa. All of them are living still. She was and is a beautiful woman of most attractive manner and a brilliant conversationalist with a great power of attracting love, the first and greatest gift that can be bestowed on anyone. She has the most cheerful, brightest spirit and is a brave resourceful woman. None of the children bear a strong resemblance to either her or our Father. Brother Walter is most like her.
This is the last day of a month that brought us unmixed joy and hopeless sorrow. My Brother was with us at its commencement and now at the close he is in camp again, and one of our dearest and best has bidden farewell to Earth and floated out on the dark river.