Kate Stone’s Civil War: They close in and kill

As the winter of 1862 turned Brokenburn into a snowy, muddy landscape, Stone sensed the war was growing ever closer as the joys and comforts she had always enjoyed were slipping away.

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.

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.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone was in marginal command of Brokenburn as her mother and brothers attended to business in and around Vicksburg. As the winter of 1862 turned Brokenburn into a snowy, muddy landscape, she dutifully recorded the comings and goings of family friends, neighborhood gossip, and her brothers’ dreaded school lessons.

By the end of January, however, slaves and animals belonging to Ashburn, her late brother, were distributed to other owners, bringing Stone a degree of “distress,” and the demands and tragedies of a still far-off war were again felt in Louisiana. Stone sensed the war was growing ever closer as the joys and comforts she had always enjoyed were slipping away.

Jan. 16:

Real winter weather at last with sleet and snow whitening the ground a real winter landscape. We made some ice cream last night, ate it this morning, and pronounced it splendid. Today they are killing the last of the hogs, and all of the house servants with a contingent from the quarters are making lard, sausage, souse, etc., etc. ..

Jan. 17:

The snow is melting and running off the house in a continual rain and underfoot is too slushy for anything. It is too cold and wet for Sister to go to school, but the boys went and came in this evening covered with mud but in high good humor. Each one has an essay to write, their first attempt, and it seems to hang over them as a regular kill-joy. Brother Coley is studying at home for several hours a day. I have been sewing and reading “The Pilgrims of the Rhine,” a perfect prose poem. …

Jan. 20:

Sunday, though it was cloudy, windy, and so muddy, all of us went to church, leaving only Brother Walter at home. Mr. Holbury gave us an excellent sermon. We saw nearly everyone we know in that section and also met the new Presbyterian minister, Mr. McNeely, and Anna’s bright, particular star, Dr. Meagher from Franklin Parish. It looks like there might be serious intentions in that quarter, for Mrs. Savage permits no flirting on her premises and is a famous matchmaker. The Doctor is quite nice looking. …

Dr. Lily left last week, I suppose for the army, and did not come out to say farewell. And such a friend as he claimed to be to the Brokenburn household! I was sorry he left in a bad humor with us.

Mr. and Mrs. Goodrich were at church, his first attendance for years. The death of their little girl Sarah not long since was a dreadful blow to them. She was a bright, attractive child about thirteen who died of diphtheria. They have one little boy.

Jan. 22:

Gen. [Leonidas] Polk has called on the planters from Memphis to the lower part of Carroll Parish for hands to complete the fortifications at Fort Pillow, forty miles above Memphis. A great many Negroes have been sent from Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Mississippi, and now it comes Louisiana’s time to shoulder her part of the common burden. A man was here today with Gen. Polk’s appeal. He had been riding constantly since Monday from one plantation to another, and nearly everyone had promised to send some half of their force of men, some more, some less. As they get off tomorrow evening, Brother Coley had to go down to see Mamma about it.

Took a cozy dinner all to myself shut up in Mamma’s room, which I am occupying while she is away and which Frank keeps at summer heat. I find the piano a great resource as I am recalling some of my music. … We miss Mamma dreadfully.

The boys start to school immediately after breakfast and get home just at sunset, and directly after supper they commence on next day’s lessons. Brother Walter has just worried through his first essay. It is short and of course must be filled with mistakes, but he will not let us look at it. It is the first step that costs. Hereafter, hope he will not find it such a job. The other two boys are hammering away at their speeches. Sister has not attained to the dignity of either writing or speaking yet awhile.

Jan. 24:

Mamma and Other Pa (Stone’s maternal grandfather) got home late Thursday evening. We were not looking for them and no supper had been kept hot, as it was some time before then that hot supper was served. Other Pa only came on business and went back to Vicksburg carrying with him Ashburn’s Negroes, who are to be divided out among the heirs. Separating the old family Negroes who have lived and worked together for so many years is a great grief to them and a distress to us. I wish Mamma had been able to buy them all in and keep them here.

Stone reported the final distribution of her late brother’s slaves and animals on Jan. 30:

From Ashburn’s estate Mamma drew two Negroes, Mathilda and Abe. Patsy and John went to Cousins Jenny and Titia. They all came up on the boat this afternoon. Mat with Festus, the horse, goes to Uncle Johnny, Hill to Uncle Bo, Peggy and Jane to Aunt Laura, and Sydney and her two youngest children to Aunt Sarah. It is hard for Sydney and her older children to be separated. We are so sorry but cannot help it.

Jan. 27:

We went to hear Mr. McNeely preach Sunday rather dry and humdrum. Dr. Carson took him all around the country to introduce him to his new field of work. Quite pleasant socially, and could not be called ceremonious.

But I forget. I must give the real neighborhood news. Rose and Dr. Lily are to be married very soon — my pet prejudice, Rose Norris and the “Tiger Lily.” She will be Mrs. “Rose Lily.” She slipped quietly off with Mrs. Savage to New Orleans and is selecting her trousseau. … I never would have picked Rose Norris out of all the world to spend my life with. For that matter, neither would I have selected Dr. Lily for that post. But oh! how tastes differ. I cannot believe he is in love with her. It has been too recently that he was criticizing her severely her looks, her walk, her manner. If it proves a happy marriage, I shall be surprised. She is quite young, about seventeen I think. …

Jan. 30:

A late mail this evening. A letter from My Brother complains that it is dreadfully dull. They are just wearing the time away winterbound in their tents. The papers confirm our defeat at Fishing Creek and the death of Gen. Zollicoffer. Two lamentable events. Mr. McNeely knew Gen. Zollicoffer intimately and grieves for his death. He admired him greatly and considers his death a great loss to the Southern Cause.

The whole Northern Army is now on the move preparing to attack us at all points. We expect to hear of great battles within the next few days. God grant us victory in our just war. The manner in which the North is moving her forces, now that she thinks us surrounded and can give us the annihilating blow, reminds me of a party of hunters crouched around the covert of the deer, and when the lines are drawn and there is no escape, they close in and kill. …

It looks like we may have difficulty in getting summer clothes. The merchants are selling only for cash and that cash is hard to get, unless we can do as they seem to be doing in the towns make it. Judging from the looks of the paper money and the many signatures on odd-looking paper and pasteboard, one would be convinced that many people are making their own money. We have spent less this year than ever before. Have bought only absolute necessaries — no frills and fur belows for us. Affairs are too grave to think of dress.

Author: Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Handsome gentleman scholar, Civil War historian, unpretentious intellectual, world traveler, successful writer.

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