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Kate Stone’s Civil War: The stir and mob of angry life

June 6, 2012

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 chronicled her turbulent life throughout the Civil War era.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

June began bright and warm. On June 5, 1861, Kate Stone wrote:

A lovely June day, and Mr. and Mrs. Curry with the three youngest children spent the day, their first visit in months. Annie, the baby, is a nice enough little tot, but what a time her mother has over her, washing, dressing, undressing, and fussing over her most of the day. One would never think it was about the eleventh child. I wonder if she worked so over all the others and why she has a nurse.

Late in the afternoon I went with Brother Coley and Ashburn to the blackberry patch, a glorious ride, a fresh breeze, splendid horse, and a sweeping pace, and the two frolicsome boys.

Mamma said the day had tired her out, but the berries refreshed her mind by supper and the merry chatter of the boys. After supper Mr. McRae, the overseer, came up for a long consultation with her. One by one the boys dropped off to bed, and when at last Mr. McRae took himself off and Mr. Newton, Mamma, and I had a most pleasant, non-sensical talking bee, while enjoying the nicest little meringues and custards.

I lost my comb riding. It just suited my heavy hair, and combs are combs these days. So Jimmy, the dear obliging fellow, has promised to go early in the morning and look for it. …

Stone tried to focus on the mundane details of life: sickness, her French lessons, visiting neighbors, and church services, but the war clouds building in the East could not be ignored.

On June 10, she vented her frustration with her life’s leisurely pace, far from the front lines.

When quietly our days are passing, when the whole planet is in such a state of feverish excitement and everywhere there is the stir and mob of angry life. Oh! to see and be in it all. I hate weary days of inaction. Yet what can women do but wait and suffer?

A week later, on June 17, Stone shared a sense of her intellectual curiosity as she explored the experiences of foreign-born visitors, She often yearned for different opinions and perspectives. But she was always sure when someone was wrong.

I had a long talk with Mr. Hornwasher on the subject of war and the battles he has been in. Both he and Mr. Kaiser are Hungarian refugees, political exiles. Mr. Hornwasher is a Count [or] something in his own land. He is now a teacher of music and languages, and his great friend, Mr. Kaiser, is tutor at Mrs. Savage’s. They are highly educated and refined men and are entertaining talkers, notwithstanding their odd pronunciation.

Robert had fever and Mrs. Savage was so unwell that both had to lie down. Dinner passed off most pleasantly, at least to me. I sat between Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Newton and they made themselves very entertaining. Mr. Valentine and Anna sat together and hardly spoke to each other a dozen times. They never hit it off somehow. I must not let them sit next to each other again.

War was the principal topic. Both Mr. Hornwasher and Mr. Kaiser speak of enlisting. I should think that they had had enough of war in their own country. Mr. Valentine treats the whole subject of the war in his usual sarcastic, cynical manner. To him, the whole affair is a grand humbug, the enthusiasm and patriotism of the South something to be mocked and sneered at. He cannot appreciate the earnestness and grandness of this great national upheaval, the throes of a Nation’s birth. I could shake him. …

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences.

You can read the entire journal online here.


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