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Kate Stone’s Civil War: The little creature

December 23, 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 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)

Boredom mixed with tragedy and sadness at Brokenburn throughout a chilly February 1862. Rain fell. Aprons were sewn. Novels were read. Detested quilts were produced.

Then, a slave baby died. Stone dutifully noted the tragedy with coolness, showing passion and frustration only when she imagined the violent and exciting world at war beyond her plantation’s muddy borders. News from the front was as dark as the winter weather.

Also, note Stone’s sharp tongue for women she disliked.

Feb. 1

It is raining and it is hailing, and it is cold stormy weather. The worst winter weather. … Practiced on the piano … until bedtime. I have commenced a set of linen aprons for Beverly. Will embroider them all, some in white and two or three in blue and red. I intend to make them pretty and dainty to suit the dear little wearer. Mamma’s trunk came today and so we will have plenty of sewing for some time.

Have nothing new to read. Thus I have taken up my old favorite, [Walter] Scott, the Prince of Novelists. Who of the modern writers can compare with him?

Another death among the Negroes today Jane Eyre, Malona’s baby. The little creature was lying in its mother’s lap laughing and playing when it suddenly threw itself back, straightened out, and was dead. It is impossible to know what was the matter as it seemed perfectly well a minute before it died. This is the third child the mother has lost since Mamma bought her, and she seems devotedly attached to her babies. This is her last child.

The boys have been out in the rain most of the day rabbit hunting. … We all accuse Johnny of growing misanthropic since mixing with his fellowmen. Going to school with so many seems to induce most sour and cynical ideas. Little Sister wearies of the tedium of home after three weeks of school and wants to go with the boys, but Mamma thinks it too cold and wet for her to venture out. So she must needs bide at home and play dolls.

No war news or any other kind. Oh, this inactive life when there is such stir and excitement in the busy world outside. It is enough to run one wild. Oh! to be in the heat and turmoil of it all, to live, to live, not stagnate here.

How can a man rest quietly at home when battles are being fought and fields lost and won every day? I would eat my heart away were I a man at home [during] these troublous times.

Feb. 4

Sister has been suffering for several days with neuralgia and it is but little sleep either she or Mamma has had. …

Mamma had several of the women from the quarter sewing. Nothing to be done in the fields — too muddy. They put in and finished quilting a comfort made of two of my cashmere dresses. Mamma had Aunt Laura’s silk one put in today and Sue is quilting on it. I am so afraid Mamma will commence work on it herself, and if she does I shall feel in duty bound to put up my linen embroidery and help her. And I simply detest making and quilting quilts. Precious little of it have I ever done. This will be a lovely silk affair. Aunt Laura always has so many pretty silks and wears them such a little while that they are never soiled. After quilting, one rises from the chair with such a backache, headache, and bleeding pricked fingers.

Feb. 5

Mamma is busy on the silk quilt destined for Sister. Both Walter and Sister are better. The others are at school. Worked myself half blind on Beverly’s aprons to- night. Have been intending to take up French again, but studying is too humdrum work for these times. The boys say there is a runaway about the country. That makes one feel creepy when alone at night. So out with the light and to sleep to dream.

Feb. 16

Last week the weather was fine and the roads improved, and so we went out in the carriage to Mrs. Savage’s, stopping by for Mrs. Carson, who had been ill for two weeks and could not go. We found all at Mrs. Savage’s in the hurry and bustle of wedding arrangements all working on white linen. Mrs. Savage is charmed at the match and is just in her element preparing for a wedding. She has bought two new carpets and a pretty ashes of rose silk for Anna. She had it made in New Orleans and also two pretty summer dresses. Rose looks perfectly happy and content with the prettiest possible engagement ring flashing and sparkling on her finger a big solitaire, the image of Aunt Sarah’s.

I had no idea Rose’s face could wear such a joyous look, but even joy and youth cannot make her pretty. Anna Dobbs, Mr. and Mrs. Norris, and Rose’s mother came in the evening from Bayou Macon by way of Richmond, the swamp being impassable. What a weary, bedraggled, tacky-looking set they were.

Rose’s want of beauty is explained as soon as you see her mother, a regular witch of an old lady with the most apologetic, deprecating air. She has put up with many a snob, you can see, and has Bayou Macon written all over her. Now is not it mean of me to write in that way of that harmless old lady and I know absolutely nothing of her? She may be in her daily life an uncannonized saint. …

The war news is very bad, only defeats Roanoke Island, fall of Fort Henry, and the ascent of the Tennessee River and shelling of Florence, Ala. We still hold Fort Donelson, though it has been under fire for two days.

A heavy snowstorm the deepest snow we ever had. The children enjoy snowballing and we all enjoy the ice cream. There is not much milk left for butter after the boys get out of the dairy.

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4 Comments
  1. I stumbled, quite by accident, to your blog and this particular post. Are these real entries from a real diary? I am definitely going to read more! I was amazed at the comments about Bayou Macon (also called Bayou Mason,) Louisiana. My great-grandfather was the constable of Bayou Macon in the early part of the 20th century. Thanks for sharing this interesting perspective on history!

  2. This is amazing. Are they real? They certainly sound real – – the part about the baby was heart wrenching. I love the language she uses, and the gender separation is so clear. Just a wonderful post. Tell me more about them. Where can I get this entire book?

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