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1865: The Happiest Year

February 16, 2012

This five-part essay series on Kate Stone and her Civil War is modified from a paper I presented at the New York Military Affairs Symposium in October 2011.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences.

As the new year dawned, Kate Stone held out hope that Southern victory was inevitable, no matter how long the war went on, asserting that “the darkest hour is just before the dawning.” She despised anyone who failed to share her fiery determination to win the war.

The mesmerizing images of handsome young officers, gleaming scabbards, soaring songs and fluttering banners were long since scourged from her mind. What remained was bitter anger and a lust for revenge. For years, her faith had sustained her as she endured one emotional maelstrom after another. Her faith gave a meaning to the destruction, it explained why her family’s suffering had to happen, and it justified in some elemental way the deaths of her brothers, of Ashburn, and of so many young friends.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Her world was destroyed. Her faith explained why it had to be destroyed. Buried in those ashes were the seeds of a new future. Somehow, she must have repeated to herself, Lee would find a way to defeat the North. Somehow, the light would reach those seeds, and a strong new independent nation would grow and blossom.

It may be true

Kate Stone refused to listen to any dejected opinions. She clung to every rumor that proclaimed success, every prediction that meant one more day of Confederate survival. Rumors began to fly about a possible surrender to the North. Stone remembered how people tried to act normally, and yet “over every pleasure sweeps the shadow of the evil news. It may be true. It may be true.” By April 28, she received news she could easily believe: Lincoln was dead. “All honor to J. Wilkes Booth, who has rid the world of a tyrant and made himself famous for generations.”

By May, the brutal military reality could not be denied. Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va., on April 9. Other Confederate units still limped through the smoldering landscape. Confederate warships still sailed the seas. President Davis and his officials were still unaccounted for. But for those who put their hopes in the Army of Northern Virginia, the war was over.

” ‘Conquered, submission, subjugation’ are words that burn into my heart,” she wrote in mid-May, “and yet I feel that we are doomed to know them in all their bitterness … [W]e will be slaves, yes slaves, of the Yankee Government. The degradation seems more than we can bear.” She may have asked herself what had been gained by the war? “The best and the bravest of the South sacrificed,” she wrote bitterly, “and for nothing.”

Not only had the Confederacy been defeated. Not only had Lee been defeated. Kate Stone had been defeated.

Out of time

Stone had struggled to build a life separate from the war. She was so successful, despite the losses and defeats, that she considered 1865 the “happiest year of my life.”

But her mother was anxious to return to Louisiana. By mid-June, her brother William rejoined the family in Texas. He then headed east to reclaim Brokenburn before the Federal government confiscated the estate.

Stone admitted both regret and dread over the prospect of leaving Texas. She had found a degree of serenity and happiness in Tyler. Perhaps, over time, she realized she had to leave the old Kate Stone behind, the defeated Kate Stone, and create a new woman in Texas. But now, it was time to go back to Brokenburn, and she could only imagine the ruins and memories that awaited her.

Also awaiting her was a new reality in which former slaves were now entitled to a fair wage for their labor. “Our future is appalling,” she wrote on Oct. 10. “[N]o money, no credit, heavily in debt, and an overflowed place.”

By Nov. 10, the Stone family had returned to Brokenburn. Stone was heartbroken over the neglected fields, the echo of empty rooms, the house stripped of furnishings. She admitted the estate was not as devastated as other plantations, and the towering trees and soft grass softened the starkness of a ravaged estate.

Nevertheless, she found herself looking back west with longing. “How I fear that the life at Tyler has spoiled us for plantation life. Everything seems sadly out of time.”

Beyond the war

Brokenburn ultimately failed as a plantation. Kate Stone married Henry Holmes on Dec. 8, 1869, a month before her 29th birthday, and they had four children. She died in 1907. Holmes died in 1912.

Stone’s daughter Amy lived long enough to see her mother’s journal admired as a gem of Southern literature. She was 77 when thousands gathered in Tallulah, La., on March 17, 1955, to celebrate “Kate Stone Day.”

In late 1900, a middle-aged Kate Stone revised her journal, and in November she wrote a sentimental introduction to the new edition. “Life seemed so easy and bright before us,” she mourned, before “the great events that swept away this joyous future and set our feet in new and rugged paths.” As Stone stood on the brink of a new century, she spoke for her generation when she wrote that “we are still walking the same rough path, laden with heavy burdens.”

The losses, tragedies and horrors she encountered and endured on those paths molded her into a strong woman who would withstand with silent defiance a life defined by Confederate defeat and the end of slavery.

Life goes on

John Q. Anderson, editor of Brokenburn, asserted that the journal “records the rosy optimism in the beginning; the dogged determination as war brought shortages, defeat and death; the hazardous flight of women and children before invading armies and their plight as refugees; the death struggle of the Confederacy; the bitter acknowledgement of defeat and the return to a devastated homeland; and finally the struggle against poverty after the war.”

Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard professor and president who wrote her own introduction to Brokenburn, celebrated Stone’s journal as “an invaluable portrait of the Confederate home front, of the world of women war created, or war’s challenges to accustomed privileges of race and class as well as assumptions and delineations of gender … War forced Kate Stone to question much of what the first two decades of her life had led her to assume about who she was and what she might expect to become.” Faust added that the diary was Stone’s way of playing a role in the war, “to claim the experience as her own.”

Anderson pointed out the tremendous value of the journal as more than a war diary. It was a social history of the upper class Louisiana society, of the frontier life of Texas and its friction with war refugees from its neighbor states. It was a bittersweet illustration of the intricacies of plantation society and a snapshot of how slaves were managed before and after the war. It was a chronicle of an educated Southern woman’s literary history.

We gain from Stone’s book a better understanding of the lives of ordinary people in wartime, enduring war’s physical and psychological violence, tormented by hopeful rumors of military victories, or staring hard across dark frontiers of a looming, unimaginable future. And yet, somehow, life goes on.

Nosy matrons still try to match up single men and women. Tutors still try to teach boys and girls. Thunderstorms rage. Toothaches annoy. Crops are harvested. Fevers decimate families. Babies are born and babies die. Broken, sobbing, contented and loving people move on with the emotional remnants of their lives.


Works cited or consulted for this essay series:
Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1996. Print.
. Southern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri, 1992. Print.
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. New York: Vintage, 1986. Print.
Johnson, Ludwell H. Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1958. Print.
Kronk, Gary W. “C/1861 J1 (Great Comet of 1861).” n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2011.
Long, E.B. and Barbara Long. The Civil War: Day by Day. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. Print.
McPherson, James M., ed. The Atlas of the Civil War. New York: Macmillan, 1994. Print.
. Battle Cry of Freedom. New York: Oxford UP. 1988. Print.
Parrish, T. Michael. Richard Taylor: Soldier Prince of Dixie. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP. 1992. Print.
Stone, Kate. Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone, 1861-1868. Ed. John Q. Anderson. Baton Rouge: Louisiana UP. 1995. Print.
Sullivan, Walter. The War the Women Lived: Female Voices from the Confederate South. Nashville: J.S. Sanders & Company. 1995. Print.
Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962. Print.
Wooster, Ralph A. Civil War Texas. Texas State Historical Association. 199. Print.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 1864: Day to Day « stillness of heart
  2. 1863: Demons « stillness of heart
  3. 1862: Ruin and Disaster « stillness of heart
  4. 1861: The Dark River « stillness of heart
  5. Kate Stone’s Civil War: ‘Death in defense of the South’ « stillness of heart
  6. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The stir and mob of angry life « stillness of heart
  7. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Whipped unmercifully « stillness of heart
  8. Kate Stone’s Civil War: They thought me so ugly « stillness of heart
  9. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The blood of her children « stillness of heart
  10. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Gallantly fought and won « stillness of heart
  11. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The fevers « stillness of heart
  12. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The war inches closer « stillness of heart
  13. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Gladden our hearts « stillness of heart
  14. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The noble, gentle heart « stillness of heart
  15. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Rainy days « stillness of heart
  16. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Sad Christmas « stillness of heart
  17. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Happy birthday « stillness of heart
  18. Kate Stone’s Civil War: They close in and kill « stillness of heart
  19. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The little creature « stillness of heart
  20. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Victory will be ours « stillness of heart
  21. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A perfect love of a lieutenant « stillness of heart
  22. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Burn our cities « stillness of heart
  23. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Fashion is an obsolete word « stillness of heart
  24. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The sleep that knows no waking « stillness of heart
  25. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Trembling hearts « stillness of heart
  26. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Capable of any horror « stillness of heart
  27. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The fire of battle « stillness of heart
  28. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Beyond my strength « stillness of heart
  29. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Tragedy after tragedy « stillness of heart
  30. Kate Stone’s Civil War: His sins against the South « stillness of heart
  31. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A lady’s favors « stillness of heart
  32. Kate Stone’s Civil War: She was heartbroken « stillness of heart
  33. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Preparing to run « stillness of heart
  34. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Hoodoo woman | stillness of heart
  35. Kate Stone’s Civil War: It made us tremble | stillness of heart
  36. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The pistol pointed at my head | stillness of heart
  37. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Tears on my cheek | stillness of heart
  38. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A horrid flight | stillness of heart
  39. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The greatest villian | stillness of heart
  40. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Flaming cheeks and flashing eyes | stillness of heart
  41. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The glory of the family | stillness of heart
  42. Kate Stone’s Civil War: His father’s sins | stillness of heart
  43. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Baffled beasts of prey | stillness of heart
  44. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Useless to resist | stillness of heart
  45. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Southern hearts | stillness of heart
  46. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Like mad demons | stillness of heart
  47. Kate Stone’s Civil War: On the road for Texas | stillness of heart
  48. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The dark corner | stillness of heart
  49. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The dirtiest people | stillness of heart
  50. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Scowling, revengeful faces | stillness of heart
  51. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Despondent and chicken-hearted | stillness of heart
  52. Despondent and chicken-hearted | Catching up with stillness of heart | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!
  53. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Makes us tremble for Texas | stillness of heart
  54. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Lose our scalps | stillness of heart
  55. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Conquer or die | stillness of heart
  56. Kate Stone’s Civil War: My pen is powerless | stillness of heart
  57. Kate Stone’s Civil War: They call us all renegades | stillness of heart
  58. Kate Stone’s Civil War: It makes us shiver | stillness of heart
  59. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Years of grinding toil | stillness of heart
  60. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Destroyed by the Yankees | stillness of heart
  61. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Two distressed damsels | stillness of heart
  62. Kate Stone’s Civil War: This is too disgraceful | stillness of heart
  63. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The heart of a boy | stillness of heart
  64. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Credulous mortals | stillness of heart
  65. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A fear of bad news | stillness of heart
  66. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Pride must have a fall | stillness of heart
  67. Kate Stone’s Civil War: So little to eat | stillness of heart
  68. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Nobly and fearlessly | stillness of heart
  69. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Alone in a strange land | stillness of heart
  70. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A charming little woman | stillness of heart
  71. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A sad 1863 ends | stillness of heart
  72. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A noted flirt | stillness of heart
  73. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Trouble and distress | stillness of heart
  74. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The story so far … | stillness of heart
  75. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The first desideratum | stillness of heart
  76. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The mournful whistle | stillness of heart
  77. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The petted darling | stillness of heart
  78. Kate Stone’s Civil War: A besom of destruction | stillness of heart
  79. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The easy conquest of Texas | stillness of heart
  80. Kate Stone’s Civil War: To every young lady | stillness of heart
  81. Kate Stone’s Civil War: To kill and destroy | stillness of heart
  82. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Our best fancy yellow organdies | stillness of heart
  83. Kate Stone’s Civil War: That land of desolation | stillness of heart
  84. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The breath of flowers | stillness of heart
  85. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Strangers in a strange land | stillness of heart
  86. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Those terrible battles | stillness of heart
  87. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Callous to suffering and death | stillness of heart
  88. Kate Stone’s Civil War: We enjoy our ease | stillness of heart
  89. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Lazy and languid | stillness of heart
  90. Kate Stone’s Civil War: One grand holocaust | stillness of heart
  91. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Too disgraceful if true | stillness of heart
  92. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The flower-wreathed scepter | stillness of heart
  93. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Fairy castles in the air | stillness of heart
  94. Kate Stone’s Civil War: I suffered intensely | stillness of heart
  95. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Living so delightfully | stillness of heart
  96. Kate Stone’s Civil War: The bloodiest battles | stillness of heart
  97. Kate Stone’s Civil War: Season of general disaster | stillness of heart

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