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They say Sherman has burned Lancaster - that Sherman nightmare, that ghoul, that hyena! But I do not believe it. He takes his time. There are none to molest him.
357 He does things leisurely and deliberately. Why stop to do so needless a thing as burn Lancaster court-house, the jail, and the tavern? As I remember it, that description covers Lancaster. A raiding party they say did for Camden.
No train from Charlotte yesterday. Rumor says Sherman is in Charlotte.
February 29th. - Trying to brave it out. They have plenty, yet let our men freeze and starve in their prisons. Would you be willing to be as wicked as they are? A thousand times, no! But we must feed our army first - if we can do so much as that. Our captives need not starve if Lincoln would consent to exchange prisoners; but men are nothing to the United States - things to throw away. If they send our men back they strengthen our army, and so again their policy is to keep everybody and everything here in order to help starve us out. That, too, is what Sherman's destruction means - to starve us out.
Young Brevard asked me to play accompaniments for him. The guitar is my instrument, or was; so I sang and played, to my own great delight. It was a distraction. Then I made egg-nog for the soldier boys below and came home. Have spent a very pleasant evening. Begone, dull care; you and I never agree.
Ellen and I are shut up here. It is rain, rain, everlasting rain. As our money is worthless, are we not to starve? Heavens! how grateful I was to-day when Mrs. McLean sent me a piece of chicken. I think the emptiness of my larder has leaked out. To-day Mrs. Munroe sent me hot cakes and eggs for my breakfast.
March 5th. - Is the sea drying up? Is it going up into mist and coming down on us in a water-spout? The rain, it raineth every day. The weather typifies our tearful despair, on a large scale. It is also Lent now - a quite convenient custom, for we, in truth, have nothing to eat. So we fast and pray, and go dragging to church like drowned rats to be preached at.
358 My letter from my husband was so - well, what in a woman you would call heart-broken, that I began to get ready for a run up to Charlotte. My hat was on my head, my traveling-bag in my hand, and Ellen was saying "Which umbrella, ma'am?" "Stop, Ellen," said I, "someone is speaking out there." A tap came at the door, and Miss McLean threw the door wide open as she said in a triumphant voice: "Permit me to announce General Chesnut." As she went off she sang out, "Oh, does not a meeting like this make amends?"
We went after luncheon to see Mrs. Munroe. My husband wanted to thank her for all her kindness to me. I was awfully proud of him. I used to think that everybody had the air and manners of a gentleman. I know now that these accomplishments are things to thank G.o.d for. Father O'Connell came in, fresh from Columbia, and with news at last. Sherman's men had burned the convent. Mrs. Munroe had pinned her faith to Sherman because he was a Roman Catholic, but Father O'Connell was there and saw it. The nuns and girls marched to the old Hampton house (Mrs. Preston's now), and so saved it. They walked between files of soldiers. Men were rolling tar barrels and lighting torches to fling on the house when the nuns came. Columbia is but dust and ashes, burned to the ground. Men, women, and children have been left there homeless, houseless, and without one particle of food - reduced to picking up corn that was left by Sherman's horses on picket grounds and parching it to stay their hunger.
How kind my friends were on this, my fte day! Mrs. Rutledge sent me a plate of biscuit; Mrs. Munroe, nearly enough food supplies for an entire dinner; Miss McLean a cake for dessert. Ellen cooked and served up the material happily at hand very nicely, indeed. There never was a more successful dinner. My heart was too full to eat, but I was quiet and calm; at least I spared my husband the trial of a broken voice and tears. As he stood at the window, * * *
359 with his back to the room, he said: "Where are they now- my old blind father and my sister? Day and night I see her leading him out from under his own rooftree. That picture pursues me persistently. But come, let us talk of pleasanter things." To which I answered, "Where will you find them?"
He took off his heavy cavalry boots and Ellen carried them away to wash the mud off and dry them. She brought them back just as Miss Middleton walked in. In his agony, while struggling with those huge boots and trying to get them on, he spoke to her volubly in French. She turned away from him instantly, as she saw his shoeless plight, and said to me, "I had not heard of your happiness. I did not know the General was here." Not until next day did we have time to remember and laugh at that outbreak of French. Miss Middleton answered him in the same language. He told her how charmed he was with my surroundings, and that he would go away with a much lighter heart since he had seen the kind people with whom he would leave me.
I asked my husband what that correspondence between Sherman and Hampton meant - this while I was preparing something for our dinner. His back was still turned as he gazed out of the window. He spoke in the low and steady monotone that characterized our conversation the whole day, and yet there was something in his voice that thrilled me as he said: "The second day after our march from Columbia we pa.s.sed the M.'s. He was a bonded man and not at home. His wife said at first that she could not find forage for our horses, but afterward she succeeded in procuring some. I noticed a very handsome girl who stood beside her as she spoke, and I suggested to her mother the propriety of sending her out of the track of both armies. Things were no longer as heretofore; there was so much straggling, so many camp followers, with no discipline, on the outskirts of the army. The girl answered quickly, 'I * * *
360 wish to stay with my mother.' That very night a party of Wheeler's men came to our camp, and such a tale they told of what had been done at the place of horror and destruction, the mother left raving. The outrage had been committed before her very face, she having been secured first . After this crime the fiends moved on. There were only seven of them. They had been gone but a short time when Wheeler's men went in pursuit at full speed and overtook them, cut their throats and wrote upon their b.r.e.a.s.t.s: 'These were the seven!' "
"But the girl?"
"Oh, she was dead!"
"Are his critics as violent as ever against the President?" asked I when recovered from pity and horror. "Sometimes I think I am the only friend he has in the world. At these dinners, which they give us everywhere, I spoil the sport, for I will not sit still and hear Jeff Davis abused for things he is no more responsible for than any man at that table. Once I lost my temper and told them it sounded like arrant nonsense to me, and that Jeff Davis was a gentleman and a patriot, with more brains than the a.s.sembled company." "You lost your temper truly," said I. "And I did not know it. I thought I was as cool as I am now. In Washington when we left, Jeff Davis ranked second to none, in intellect, and may be first, from the South, and Mrs. Davis was the friend of Mrs. Emory, Mrs. Joe Johnston, and Mrs. Montgomery Blair, and others of that circle. Now they rave that he is n.o.body, and never was." "And she?" I asked. "Oh, you would think to hear them that he found her yesterday in a Mississippi swamp!" "Well, in the French Revolution it was worse. When a man failed he was guillotined. Mirabeau did not die a day too soon, even Mirabeau."
He is gone. With despair in my heart I left that railroad station. Allan Green walked home with me. I met his wife and his four ragged little boys a day or so ago. She * * *
361 is the neatest, the primmest, the softest of women. Her voice is like the gentle cooing of a dove. That lowering black future hangs there all the same. The end of the war brings no hope of peace or of security to us. Ellen said I had a little piece of bread and a little mola.s.ses in store for my dinner to-day.
March 6th. - To-day came a G.o.dsend. Even a small piece of bread and the mola.s.ses had become things of the past. My larder was empty, when a tall mulatto woman brought a tray covered by a huge white serviette. Ellen ushered her in with a flourish, saying, "Mrs. McDaniel's maid." The maid set down the tray upon my bare table, and uncovered it with conscious pride. There were fowls ready for roasting, sausages, b.u.t.ter, bread, eggs, and preserves. I was dumb with delight. After silent thanks to heaven my powers of speech returned, and I exhausted myself in messages of grat.i.tude to Mrs. McDaniel.
"Missis, you oughtn't to let her see how glad you was," said Ellen. "It was a lettin' of yo'sef down."
Mrs. Glover gave me some yarn, and I bought five dozen eggs with it from a wagon - eggs for Lent. To show that I have faith yet in humanity, I paid in advance in yarn for something to eat, which they promised to bring to-morrow. Had they rated their eggs at $100 a dozen in "Confederick" money, I would have paid it as readily as $10. But I haggle in yarn for the millionth part of a thread.
Two weeks have pa.s.sed and the rumors from Columbia are still of the vaguest. No letter has come from there, no direct message, or messenger. "My G.o.d!" cried Dr. Frank Miles, "but it is strange. Can it be anything so dreadful they dare not tell us?" Dr. St. Julien Ravenel has grown pale and haggard with care. His wife and children were left there.
Dr. Brumby has at last been coaxed into selling me enough leather for the making of a pair of shoes, else I should have had to give up walking. He knew my father * * *
362 well. He intimated that in some way my father helped him through college. His own money had not sufficed, and so William C. Preston and my father advanced funds sufficient to let him be graduated. Then my uncle, Charles Miller, married his aunt. I listened in rapture, for all this tended to leniency in the leather business, and I bore off the leather gladly. When asked for Confederate money in trade I never stop to bargain. I give them $20 or $50 cheerfully for anything - either sum.
March 8th. - Colonel Childs came with a letter from my husband and a newspaper containing a full account of Sherman's cold-blooded brutality in Columbia. Then we walked three miles to return the call of my benefactress, Mrs. McDaniel. They were kind and hospitable at her house, but my heart was like lead; my head ached, and my legs were worse than my head, and then I had a nervous chill. So I came home; went to bed and stayed there until the Fants brought me a letter saying my husband would be here today. Then I got up and made ready to give him a cheerful reception. Soon a man called, Troy by name, the same who kept the little corner shop so near my house in Columbia, and of whom we bought things so often. We had fraternized. He now shook hands with me and looked in my face pitifully. We seemed to have been friends all our lives. He says they stopped the fire at the Methodist College, perhaps to save old Mr. McCartha's house. Mr. Sheriff Dent, being burned out, took refuge in our house. He contrived to find favor in Yankee eyes. Troy relates that a Yankee officer s.n.a.t.c.hed a watch from Mrs. McCord's bosom. The soldiers tore the bundles of clothes that the poor wretches tried to save from their burning homes, and dashed them back into the flames. They meant to make a clean sweep. They were howling round the fires like demons, these Yankees in their joy and triumph at our destruction. Well, we have given them a big scare and kept them miserable for four years - the little handful of us.
363 A woman we met on the street stopped to tell us a painful coincidence. A general was married but he could not stay at home very long after the wedding. When his baby was born they telegraphed him, and he sent back a rejoicing answer with an inquiry, "Is it a boy or a girl?" He was killed before he got the reply. Was it not sad? His poor young wife says, "He did not live to hear that his son lived." The kind woman added, sorrowfully, "Died and did not know the sect of his child." "Let us hope it will be a Methodist," said Isabella, the irrepressible.
At the venison feast Isabella heard a good word for me and one for General Chesnut's air of distinction, a thing people can not give themselves, try as ever they may. Lord Byron says, Everybody knows a gentleman when he sees one, and n.o.body can tell what it is that makes a gentleman. He knows the thing, but he can't describe it. Now there are some French words that can not be translated, and we all know the thing they mean - gracieuse and svelte, for instance, as applied to a woman. Not that anything was said of me like that - far from it. I am fair, fat, forty, and jolly, and in my unbroken jollity, as far as they know, they found my charm. "You see, she doesn't howl; she doesn't cry; she never, never tells anybody about what she was used to at home and what she has lost." High praise, and I intend to try and deserve it ever after.
March 10th. - Went to church crying to Ellen, "It is Lent, we must fast and pray." When I came home my good fairy, Colonel Childs, had been here bringing rice and potatoes, and promising flour. He is a trump. He pulled out his pocket-book and offered to be my banker. He stood there on the street, Miss Middleton and Isabella witnessing the generous action, and straight out offered me money. "No, put up that," said I. "I am not a beggar, and I never will be; to die is so much easier."
Alas, after that flourish of trumpets, when he came with a sack of flour, I accepted it gratefully. I receive things I * * *
364 can not pay for, but money is different. There I draw a line, imaginary perhaps. Once before the same thing happened. Our letters of credit came slowly in 1845, when we went unexpectedly to Europe and our letters were to follow us. I was a poor little, inoffensive bride, and a British officer, who guessed our embarra.s.sment, for we did not tell him (he came over with us on the ship), asked my husband to draw on his banker until the letters of credit should arrive. It was a nice thing for a stranger to do.
We have never lost what we never had. We have never had any money - only unlimited credit, for my husband's richest kind of a father insured us all manner of credit. It was all a mirage only at last, and it has gone just as we drew nigh to it.
Colonel Childs says eight of our Senators are for reconstruction, and that a ray of light has penetrated inward from Lincoln, who told Judge Campbell that Southern land would not be confiscated.
March 12th. - Better to-day. A long, long weary day in grief has pa.s.sed away. I suppose General Chesnut is somewhere - but where? that is the question. Only once has he visited this sad spot, which holds, he says, all that he cares for on earth. Unless he comes or writes soon I will cease, or try to cease, this wearisome looking, looking, looking for him.
March 13th. - My husband at last did come for a visit of two hours. Brought Lawrence, who had been to Camden, and was there, indeed, during the raid. My husband has been ordered to Chester, S. C. We are surprised to see by the papers that we behaved heroically in leaving everything we had to be destroyed, without one thought of surrender. We had not thought of ourselves from the heroic point of view. Isaac McLaughlin hid and saved everything we trusted him with. A grateful negro is Isaac.
March 15th. - Lawrence says Miss Chesnut is very proud of the presence of mind and cool self-possession she showed * * *
365 in the face of the enemy. She lost, after all, only two bottles of champagne, two of her brother's gold-headed canes, and her brother's horses, including Claudia, the brood mare, that he valued beyond price, and her own carriage, and a fly-brush boy called Battis, whose occupation in life was to stand behind the table with his peac.o.c.k feathers and brush the flies away. He was the sole member of his dusky race at Mulberry who deserted "Ole Marster" to follow the Yankees.
Now for our losses at the Hermitage. Added to the gold-headed canes and Claudia, we lost every mule and horse, and President Davis's beautiful Arabian was captured. John's were there, too. My light dragoon, Johnny, and heavy swell, is stripped light enough for the fight now. Jonathan, whom we trusted, betrayed us; and the plantation and mills, Mulberry house, etc., were saved by Claiborne, that black rascal, who was suspected by all the world. Claiborne boldly affirmed that Mr. Chesnut would not be hurt by destroying his place; the invaders would hurt only the negroes. "Mars Jeems," said he, "hardly ever come here and he takes only a little sompen nur to eat when he do come."
Fever continuing, I sent for St. Julien Ravenel. We had a wrangle over the slavery question. Then, he fell foul of everybody who had not conducted this war according to his ideas. Ellen had something nice to offer him (thanks to the ever-bountiful Childs!), but he was too angry, too anxious, too miserable to eat. He pitched into Ellen after he had disposed of me. Ellen stood glaring at him from the fireplace, her blue eye nearly white, her other eye blazing as a comet. Last Sunday, he gave her some Dover's powders for me; directions were written on the paper in which the medicine was wrapped, and he told her to show these to me, then to put what I should give her into a wine-gla.s.s and let me drink it. Ellen put it all into the wine-gla.s.s and let me drink it at one dose. "It was enough to last you * * *
366 your lifetime," he said. "It was murder." Turning to I Ellen: "What did you do with the directions?" "I nuvver see no d'rections. You nuvver gimme none." "I told you to show that paper to your mistress." "Well, I flung dat ole brown paper in de fire. What you makin' all dis fuss for? Soon as I give Missis de physic, she stop frettin' an' flingin' 'bout, she go to sleep sweet as a suckling baby, an' she slep two days an' nights, an' now she heap better." And Ellen withdrew from the controversy.
"Well, all is well that ends well, Mrs. Chesnut. You took opium enough to kill several persons. You were worried out and needed rest. You came near getting it - thoroughly. You were in no danger from your disease. But your doctor and your nurse combined were deadly." Maybe I was saved by the adulteration, the feebleness, of Confederate medicine.
A letter from my husband, written at Chester Court House on March 15th, says: "In the morning I send Lieut. Ogden with Lawrence to Lincolnton to bring you down. I have three vacant rooms; one with bedsteads, chairs, washstands, basins, and pitchers; the two others bare. You can have half of a kitchen for your cooking. I have also at Dr. Da Vega's, a room, furnished, to which you are invited (board, also). You can take your choice. If you can get your friends in Lincolnton to a.s.sume charge of your valuables, only bring such as you may need here. Perhaps it will be better to bring bed and bedding and the other indispensables."
XX. CHESTER, S. C.
March 21, 1865 - May 1, 1865 CHESTER, S. C., March 21,1865.-Another flitting has occurred. Captain Ogden came for me; the splendid Childs was true as steel to the last. Surely he is the kindest of men. Captain Ogden was slightly incredulous when I depicted the wonders of Colonel Childs's generosity. So I skilfully led out the good gentleman for inspection, and he walked to the train with us. He offered me Confederate money, silver, and gold; and finally offered to buy our cotton and pay us now in gold. Of course, I laughed at his overflowing bounty, and accepted nothing; but I begged him to come down to Chester or Camden and buy our cotton of General Chesnut there.
On the train after leaving Lincolnton, as Captain Ogden is a refugee, has had no means of communicating with his home since New Orleans fell, and was sure to know how refugees contrive to live, I beguiled the time acquiring information from him. "When people are without a cent, how do they live?" I asked. "I am about to enter the n.o.ble band of homeless, houseless refugees, and Confederate pay does not buy one's shoe-strings." To which he replied, "Sponge, sponge. Why did you not let Colonel Childs pay your bills?" "I have no bills," said I. "We have never made bills anywhere, not even at home, where they would trust us, and n.o.body would trust me in Lincolnton." "Why did you not borrow his money? General Chesnut could pay him at his leisure?" "I am by no * * *
368 means sure General Chesnut will ever again have any money," said I.
As the train rattled and banged along, and I waved my handkerchief in farewell to Miss Middleton, Isabella, and other devoted friends, I could only wonder if fate would ever throw me again with such kind, clever, agreeable, congenial companions, The McLeans refused to be paid for their rooms. No plummet can sound the depths of the hospitality and kindness of the North Carolina people.
Misfortune dogged us from the outset. Everything went wrong with the train. We broke down within two miles of Charlotte, and had to walk that distance; which was pretty rough on an invalid barely out of a fever. My spirit was further broken by losing an invaluable lace veil, which was worn because I was too poor to buy a cheaper one - that is, if there were any veils at all for sale in our region.
My husband had ordered me to a house in Charlotte kept by some great friends of his. They established me in the drawing-room, a really handsome apartment; they made up a bed there and put in a washstand and plenty of water, with everything refreshingly clean and nice. But it continued to be a public drawing-room, open to all, so that I was half dead at night and wanted to go to bed. The piano was there and the company played it.
The landlady announced, proudly, that for supper there were nine kinds of custard. Custard sounded nice and light, so I sent for some, but found it heavy potato pie. I said: "Ellen, this may kill me, though Dover's powder did not." "Don't you believe dat, Missis; try." We barricaded ourselves in the drawing-room that night and left the next day at dawn. Arrived at the station, we had another disappointment; the train was behind time. There we sat on our boxes nine long hours; for the cars might come at any moment, and we dared not move an inch from the spot.
Finally the train rolled in overloaded with paroled * * *
369 prisoners, but heaven helped us: a kind mail agent invited us, with two other forlorn women, into his comfortable and clean mail-car. Ogden, true to his theory, did not stay at the boarding-house as we did. Some Christian acquaintances took him in for the night. This he explained with a grin.
My husband was at the Chester station with a carriage. We drove at once to Mrs. Da Vega's.
March 24th.-I have been ill, but what could you expect? My lines, however, have again fallen in pleasant places. Mrs. Da Vega is young, handsome, and agreeable, a kind and perfect hostess; and as to the house, my room is all that I could ask and leaves nothing to be desired; so very fresh, clean, warm, and comfortable is it. It is the drawing-room suddenly made into a bedroom for me. But it is my very own. We are among the civilized of the earth once more.
March 27th. - I have moved again, and now I am looking from a window high, with something more to see than the sky. We have the third story of Dr. Da Vega's house, which opens on the straight street that leads to the railroad about a mile off.
Mrs. Bedon is the loveliest of young widows. Yesterday at church Isaac Hayne nestled so close to her cap-strings that I had to touch him and say, "Sit up!" Josiah Bedon was killed in that famous fight of the Charleston Light Dragoons. The dragoons stood still to be shot down in their; tracks, having no orders to retire. They had been forgotten, doubtless, and they scorned to take care of themselves.
In this high and airy retreat, as in Richmond, then in Columbia, and then in Lincolnton, my cry is still: If they would only leave me here in peace and if I were sure things never could be worse with me. Again am I surrounded by old friends. People seem to vie with each other to show how good they can be to me.
To-day Smith opened the trenches and appeared laden * * *
370 with a tray covered with a snow-white napkin. Here was my first help toward housekeeping again. Mrs. Pride has sent a boiled ham, a loaf of bread, a huge pancake; another neighbor coffee already parched and ground; a loaf of sugar already cracked; candles, pickles, and all the other things one must trust to love for now. Such money as we have avails us nothing, even if there were anything left in the shops to buy.
We had a jolly luncheon. James Lowndes called, the best of good company. He said of Buck, "She is a queen, and ought to reign in a palace. No Prince Charming yet; no man has yet approached her that I think half good enough for her."
Then Mrs. Prioleau Hamilton, ne Levy, came with the story of family progress, not a royal one, from Columbia here: "Before we left home," said she, "Major Hamilton spread a map of the United States on the table, and showed me with his finger where Sherman was likely to go. Womanlike, I demurred. 'But, suppose he does not choose to go that way?' 'Pooh, pooh! what do you know of war?' So we set out, my husband, myself, and two children, all in one small buggy. The 14th of February we took up our line of march, and straight before Sherman's men for five weeks we fled together. By incessant hurrying and scurrying from pillar to post, we succeeded in acting as a sort of avant-courier of the Yankee army. Without rest and with much haste, we got here last Wednesday, and here we mean to stay and defy Sherman and his legions. Much the worse for wear were we."
The first night their beauty sleep was rudely broken into at Alston with a cry, "Move on, the Yanks are upon us!" So they hurried on, half-awake, to Winnsboro, but with no better luck. There they had to lighten the ship, leave trunks, etc., and put on all sail, for this time the Yankees were only five miles behind. "Whip and spur, ride for your life!" was the cry. "Sherman's objective point * * *
371 seemed to be our buggy," said she; "for you know that when we got to Lancaster Sherman was expected there, and he keeps his appointments; that is, he kept that one. Two small children were in our chariot, and I began to think of the Red Sea expedition. But we lost no time, and soon we were in Cheraw, clearly out of the track. We thanked G.o.d for all his mercies and hugged to our bosoms fond hopes of a bed and bath so much needed by all, especially for the children.
"At twelve o'clock General Hardee himself knocked us up with word to 'March! march!' for 'all the blue bonnets are over the border.' In mad haste we made for Fayetteville, when they said: 'G.o.d bless your soul! This is the seat of war now; the battle-ground where Sherman and Johnston are to try conclusions.' So we harked back, as the hunters say, and cut across country, aiming for this place. Clean clothes, my dear? Never a one except as we took off garment by garment and washed it and dried it by our camp fire, with our loins girded and in haste." I was snug and comfortable all that time in Lincolnton.
To-day Stephen D. Lee's corps marched through - only to surrender. The camp songs of these men were a heartbreak; so sad, yet so stirring. They would have warmed the blood of an Icelander. The leading voice was powerful, mellow, clear, distinct, pathetic, sweet. So, I sat down, as women have done before, when they hung up their harps by strange streams, and I wept the bitterness of such weeping. Music? Away, away! Thou speakest to me of things which in all my long life I have not found, and I shall not find. There they go, the gay and gallant few, doomed; the last gathering of the flower of Southern pride, to be killed, or worse, to a prison. They continue to prance by, light and jaunty. They march with as airy a tread as if they still believed the world was all on their side, and that there were * * *
372 no Yankee bullets for the unwary. What will Joe Johnston do with them now?
The Hood melodrama is over, though the curtain has not fallen on the last scene. Ca.s.sandra croaks and makes many mistakes, but to-day she believes that Hood stock is going down. When that style of enthusiasm is on the wane, the rapidity of its extinction is miraculous. It is like the snuffing out of a candle; "one moment white, then gone forever." No, that is not right; it is the snow-flake on the river that is referred to. I am getting things as much mixed as do the fine ladies of society.
Lee and Johnston have each fought a drawn battle; only a few more dead bodies lie stiff and stark on an unknown battle-field. For we do not so much as know where these drawn battles took place.
Teddy Barnwell, after sharing with me my first luncheon, failed me cruelly. He was to come for me to go down to the train and see Isabella pa.s.s by. One word with Isabella worth a thousand ordinary ones! So, she has gone by and I've not seen her.
Old Colonel Chesnut refuses to say grace; but as he leaves the table audibly declares, "I thank G.o.d for a good dinner." When asked why he did this odd thing he said: "My way is to be sure of a thing before I return thanks for it." Mayor Goodwyn thanked Sherman for promised protection to Columbia; soon after, the burning began.
I received the wife of a post-office robber. The poor thing had done no wrong, and I felt so sorry for her. Who would be a woman? Who that fool, a weeping, pining, faithful woman? She hath hard measures still when she hopes kindest. And all her beauty only makes ingrates!
March 29th. - I was awakened with a bunch of violets from Mrs. Pride. Violets always remind me of Kate and of the sweet South wind that blew in the garden of paradise part of my life. Then, it all came back: the dread unspeakable that lies behind every thought now.
373 Thursday. - I find I have not spoken of the box-car which held the Preston party that day on their way to York from Richmond. In the party were Mr. and Mrs. Lawson Clay, General and Mrs. Preston and their three daughters, Captain Rodgers, and Mr. Portman, whose father is an English earl, and connected financially and happily with Portman Square. In my American ignorance I may not state Mr. Portman's case plainly. Mr. Portman is, of course, a younger son. Then there was Cellie and her baby and wet-nurse, with no end of servants, male and female. In this ark they slept, ate, and drank, such being the fortune of war. We were there but a short time, but Mr. Portman, during that brief visit of ours, was said to have eaten three luncheons, and the number of his drinks, toddies, so called, were counted, too. Mr. Portman's contribution to the larder had been three small pigs. They were, however, run over by the train, and made sausage meat of unduly and before their time.
General Lee says to the men who shirk duty, "This is the people's war; when they tire, I stop." Wigfall says, "It is all over; the game is up." He is on his way to Texas, and when the hanging begins he can step over into Mexico.
I am plucking up heart, such troops do I see go by every day. They must turn the tide, and surely they are going for something more than surrender. It is very late, and the wind flaps my curtain, which seems to moan, "Too late." All this will end by making me a nervous lunatic.
Yesterday while I was driving with Mrs. Pride, Colonel McCaw pa.s.sed us! He called out, "I do hope you are in comfortable quarters." "Very comfortable," I replied. "Oh, Mrs. Chesnut!" said Mrs. Pride, "how can you say that?" "Perfectly comfortable, and hope it may never be worse with me," said I. "I have a clean little parlor, 16 by 18, with its bare floor well scrubbed, a dinner-table, six chairs, and - well, that is all; but I have a charming lookout * * *
374 from my window high. My world is now thus divided into two parts - where Yankees are and where Yankees are not."
As I sat disconsolate, looking out, ready for any new tramp of men and arms, the magnificent figure of General Preston hove in sight. He was mounted on a mighty steed, worthy of its rider, followed by his trusty squire, William Walker, who bore before him the General's portmanteau. When I had time to realize the situation, I perceived at General Preston's right hand Mr. Christopher Hampton and Mr. Portman, who pa.s.sed by. Soon Mrs. Pride, in some occult way, divined or heard that they were coming here, and she sent me at once no end of good things for my tea-table. General Preston entered very soon after, and with him Clement Clay, of Alabama, the latter in pursuit of his wife's trunk. I left it with the Rev. Mr. Martin, and have no doubt it is perfectly safe, but where? We have written to Mr. Martin to inquire. Then Wilmot de Saussure appeared. "I am here," he said, "to consult with General Chesnut. He and I always think alike." He added, emphatically: "Slavery is stronger than ever." "If you think so," said I, "you will find that for once you and General Chesnut do not think alike. He has held that slavery was a thing of the past, this many a year."
I said to General Preston: "I pa.s.s my days and nights partly at this window. I am sure our army is silently dispersing. Men are moving the wrong way, all the time. They slip by with no songs and no shouts now. They have given the thing up. See for yourself. Look there." For a while the streets were thronged with soldiers and then they were empty again. But the marching now is without tap of drum.
March 31st. - Mr. Prioleau Hamilton told us of a great adventure. Mrs. Preston was put under his care on the train. He soon found the only other women along were "strictly unfortunate females," as Carlyle calls them, beautiful and aggressive. He had to communicate the unpleasant fact to * * *
375 Mrs. Preston, on account of their propinquity, and was lost in admiration of her silent dignity, her quiet self-possession, her calmness, her deafness and blindness, her thoroughbred ignoring of all that she did not care to see. Some women, no matter how ladylike, would have made a fuss or would have fidgeted, but Mrs. Preston dominated the situation and possessed her soul in innocence and peace.
Met Robert Johnston from Camden. He has been a prisoner, having been taken at Camden. The Yankees robbed Zack Cantey of his forks and spoons. When Zack did not seem to like it, they laughed at him. When he said he did not see any fun in it, they pretended to weep and wiped their eyes with their coat-tails. All this maddening derision Zack said was as hard to bear as it was to see them ride off with his horse, Albine. They stole all of Mrs. Zack's jewelry and silver. When the Yankee general heard of it he wrote her a very polite note, saying how sorry he was that she had been annoyed, and returned a bundle of Zack's love-letters, written to her before she was married. Robert Johnston said Miss Chesnut was a brave and determined spirit. One Yankee officer came in while they were at breakfast and sat down to warm himself at the fire. "Rebels have no rights," Miss Chesnut said to him politely. "I suppose you have come to rob us. Please do so and go. Your presence agitates my blind old father." The man jumped up in a rage, and said, "What do you take me for - a robber?" "No, indeed," said she, and for very shame he marched out empty-handed.
April 3d. - Saw General Preston ride off. He came to tell me good-by. I told him he looked like a Crusader on his great white horse, with William, his squire, at his heels. Our men are all consummate riders, and have their servants well mounted behind them, carrying cloaks and traps - how different from the same men packed like sardines in dirty railroad cars, usually floating inch deep in liquid tobacco juice.
376 For the kitchen and Ellen's comfort I wanted a pine table and a kitchen chair. A woman sold me one to-day for three thousand Confederate dollars.
Mrs. Hamilton has been disappointed again. Prioleau Hamilton says the person into whose house they expected to move to-day came to say she could not take boarders for three reasons: First, "that they had smallpox in the house." "And the two others?" "Oh, I did not ask for the two others!"
April 5th. - Miss Middleton's letter came in answer to mine, telling her how generous my friends here were to me. "We long," she says, "for our own small sufficiency of wood, corn, and vegetables. Here is a struggle unto death, although the neighbors continue to feed us, as you would say, 'with a spoon.' We have fallen upon a new device. We keep a cookery book on the mantelpiece, and when the dinner is deficient we just read off a pudding or a creme. It does not entirely satisfy the appet.i.te, this dessert in imagination, but perhaps it is as good for the digestion."
As I was ready to go, though still up-stairs, some one came to say General Hood had called. Mrs. Hamilton cried out, "Send word you are not at home." "Never!" said I. "Why make him climb all these stairs when you must go in five minutes?" "If he had come here dragging Sherman as a captive at his chariot wheels I might say 'not at home,' but not now." And I ran down and greeted him on the sidewalk in the face of all, and walked slowly beside him as he toiled up the weary three stories, limping gallantly. He was so well dressed and so cordial; not depressed in the slightest. He was so glad to see me. He calls his report self-defense; says Joe Johnston attacked him and he was obliged to state things from his point of view. And now follow statements, where one may read between the lines what one chooses. He had been offered a command in Western Virginia, but as General Lee was concerned because he and Joe Johnston were not on cordial terms, and as the * * *
377 fatigue of the mountain campaign would be too great for him, he would like the chance of going across the Mississippi. Texas was true to him, and would be his home, as it had voted him a ranch somewhere out there. They say General Lee is utterly despondent, and has no plan if Richmond goes, as go it must.
April 7th. - Richmond has fallen and I have no heart to write about it. Grant broke through our lines and Sherman cut through them. Stoneman is this side of Danville. They are too many for us. Everything is lost in Richmond, even our archives. Blue black is our horizon. Hood says we shall all be obliged to go West - to Texas, I mean, for our own part of the country will be overrun.