Kate Stone’s Civil War: The fire of battle
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.
News of major combat in Virginia between Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan elated Stone. But she was tormented when for weeks she waited for any confirmation that her brother and uncle had survived the brutal fighting.
July 5, 1862
Another Fourth of July has gone by without any festivities, not even a dinner for the Negroes, but they have holiday. The Yankees told Mr. McRae, while they were holding him prisoner, that they would celebrate the day by a furious attack on Vicksburg. But we have heard few guns since the third. That day we heard them very distinctly, almost a continuous roar. It was said both mortar fleets were firing on Vicksburg. We have not heard the result.
The Yankees are gathering the Negroes on the river as fast as possible. They have taken all the men able to work from Lake Providence to Pecan Grove and from Omega to Baton Rouge. They are hourly expected at Pecan Grove. Robert is with us to be out of the way when they do come. He is nearly well. The Negroes are eager to go, leaving wife and children and all for freedom promised them, but we hear they are being worked to death on the canal with no shelter at night and not much to eat.
There has been no attempt at resistance. Some of the plantations have been deserted by the owners, some of them burned by the Yankee bands, and some of them not molested. It depends on the temper of the officer in charge. If he feels malicious, he burns the premises. If a good-natured enemy, he takes what he wants and leaves the buildings standing. Most of them are malicious. Mamma will have the Negro men taken to the back country tomorrow, if she can get them to go. Generally when told to run away from the soldiers, they go right to them, and I cannot say I blame them. …
The trading boats are coming down the river again with groceries at ridiculously low prices, but of course no patriot could think of buying from them. Mamma was able to sell her surplus corn, and that helped her on wonderfully. She had such quantities of it. And we certainly will have eatables this year, judging from the looks of the great fields of corn, peas, and potatoes. Not much cotton planted. Mamma so longed for ice while she was ill, but it was impossible to get it, while those wretches on the gunboats could even have ice cream if they wished it. …
We hear rumors of a great battle in Virginia and the utter discomfiture of McClellan with Gen. Lee attacking him in front and Stonewall Jackson with 2,800 men in the rear. That was a “stone wall” McClellan found hard to climb. My Brother and Uncle Bo must both have been in the fight, but we have had no news from them for such a long time. It is heart-sickening.
Johnny and Mr. Hardison, just from the Bend, say the victory over McClellan is assured. We attacked and after a three-day fight utterly routed them, capturing most of the force. It is such good news that we can hardly believe it is true.
We are so anxious about My Brother. Any disaster … would nearly kill Mamma in her weakened state. She loves him more than anything on earth, and he is to me the dearest person in the world, next to Mamma. Uncle Bo must have been in the battle, and we cannot hear how he has fared. Suspense is hard to bear. …
Sister and I went this morning to Judge Byrnes’ below the Bend to see Julia. Heard many rumors but nothing reliable and much about the Negroes and the Yankees. Saw several gunboats go by. The two-story house is just at the river, and they have an excellent view both up and down the river. By the way, it is named River View. As we passed Omega, a gunboat had landed and a number of soldiers in the hateful blue uniform with shining guns and bristling bayonets were lounging on the levee. We did not stop to look at them but drove by as rapidly as Webster could make the mules go. …
They say we are to have two Texas regiments over to protect us tomorrow. We certainly hope so, for we seem to be given up to the evil one now. The suspense about our loved ones is hard to bear, but then not so bad as the certainty of evil would be.
Continuous and heavy cannonading all day in the direction of Vicksburg ceased soon after dark.
We have the finest melons and in this excessively hot weather they are a luxury. Lou Whitmore brought down for me a beautiful guitar, given her by her father. She does not play and insists on my keeping it, but neither do I. She is the most generous girl. She wants to give away everything, even her clothes, and when do we know we are going to get any more?
Brother Walter and Jimmy have been riding for several days helping to raise partisan bands for home protection. …
Oh, this long, cruel suspense. No news yet. Surely, if they were both alive, they would have communicated with us by this time. Every day adds to my conviction that My Brother is desperately hurt. I cannot think of him as dead. We see in one of the last papers that his brigade suffered terribly nearly all of the field officers disabled, and My Brother’s colonel, John G. Taylor, whom he loved so much, among the killed. We are relieved about Uncle Bo. His regiment did not suffer greatly. We have seen the list of killed and wounded, and his name is not there. We are thankful for his escape. But my heart leaps to my lips and I turn sick with apprehension whenever I hear a quick step, see a stranger approaching, or note a grave look on the face of any of the boys coming in from a ride. And I must conceal it all for Mamma’s sake. She has been very ill since my last writing but is better tonight. We have been sitting up with her for two nights. She is in the east room, and I am occupying hers for the time. We did not let her see the report of My Brother’s brigade. If there is trouble, she can bear it better when she regains her strength. She noticed the torn place in the newspaper, and I had to tell a story to account for it. I pray the Recording Angel may mercifully blot it out.
Brother Coley’s company is now at Skipwith’s Landing with one other company to support a battery planted there. Wish the authorities would send them to this side of the river.
The man has just returned from Dr. Carson’s with a wagonload of fruit. Everybody in the house is asleep, but, oh, as it is, I shall eat some of those lovely blue figs shining up through the leaves covering the basket. How the boys would enjoy them if I would wake them up, but morning is a better time for them to devour them.
Good news! Good news! We thank God who has preserved our loved ones unhurt through the fire of battle after battle. The news came today in a letter from Mrs. Narcisse Johnson at Lake Washington to Mamma telling her that Brother Coley had passed there on his way to camp at Greenville [Miss.]. He asked her to write to Mamma and to say that he had heard of My Brother since the battles and he escaped unhurt. Truly God has been merciful to us all. It was kind of Mrs. Johnson to write. We know her very slightly.
Mamma had grown so anxious that Brother Walter started to Vicksburg at daybreak this morning to get news. He will go all the way in a canoe, paddling himself. Truly navigation on the Mississippi is returning to the customs of the aborigines. Mamma is still in bed and improves very slowly. …
A partisan band camped at the schoolhouse last evening and Lou and Sister, returning from Mrs. Curry’s, saw them. They said they would be back this evening. Johnny and I walked out to see, but ne’er a soldier was in sight, only several Negroes returning from their Yankee pleasure trip, weary and footsore and eager to get home. Numbers of them pass here going home, bending their necks to the yoke again, preferring the old allegiance to the new. But numbers are still running to the gunboats. I would not be surprised to hear that all of ours have left in a body any day. …