From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.
A fresh March 1862 fever for war spread throughout the community surrounding Brokenburn, and Stone’s diary recorded a fascinating variety of situations that governed which men went off to war and which ones stayed home.
February has been a month of defeats — Roanoke Island, Forts Henry and Donelson, and now proud old Nashville. All have fallen. A bitter month for us. A grand battle is looked for today or tomorrow at Columbus [Ky.].
Another soldier is leaving our fireside. Brother Coley has joined Dr. Buckner’s cavalry company, and long before the month is over he will be on the field fighting to repel the invader. The first March winds find him safe in the haven of home. April will find him marching and counter-marching, weary and worn, and perhaps dead on the field of battle. He is full of life and hope, so interested in his company, and eager to be off. He says chains could not hold him at home. He has been riding ever since his return Wednesday trying to get the horses, subscriptions, and recruits for his company. Robert Norris goes with a sad foreboding heart to perform a dreaded duty. Brother Coley goes as a bridegroom to his wedding with high hopes and gay anticipations. Robert’s is really the highest type of courage. He sees the danger but presses on. Brother Coley does not even think of it — just a glorious fight for fame and honor.
Wonder of wonders. Mr. Valentine is at last alive to the issue. He is much excited and interested and is getting up a subscription of corn for the families of men who are volunteering back on the Macon. He is trying to raise a company and is getting an office in it. He will go as soon as possible. He and Mr. Catlin were here yesterday. Mamma subscribed 100 barrels of corn. When the two Mr. Valentines become enthusiastic warriors, times are growing warm. I did not see them — it was a business visit, and I had a rising on my face. Nothing but war talked of and companies are forming all through the country.
Mr. Davies, L’adorable, who is on a visit to Dr. Carson, and Mr. NcNeely spent the morning with us … Mr. Davies looks just as he did a year ago, except for his ravishing black mustache, and is as delightful as ever. He is wild to join the army but has his mother and four grown sisters absolutely dependent on him, and it seems impossible for him to get off. He says it is much harder to stay at home than to go.
Joe Carson is crazy to join the army. He cannot study, cannot think of anything else, but his parents will not consent. He is most wretched. The overseers and that class of men are abusing him roundly among themselves — a rich man’s son too good to fight the battles of the rich. Let the rich men go who are most interested. [The overseers] will stay at home. Such craven spirits. So few overseers have gone. …
Thursday we made two blue shirts for Brother Coley. Nearly all we can do for him. Made a comfort bag for him, one for Mr. Valentine, and will now make one for Robert.
Mr. Stenckrath is making himself wretched these last few days. He feels that he should join the army and he has not the requisite courage. He says, “It is a dreadful thing, Mees Kate, to go and be shoot at.” He is always harping on the dangers and trials of a soldier’s life, and his funny ways amuse us all. He says ill health will keep him here, and he is the picture of manly strength but is imagining himself into becoming a confirmed invalid. He says,”Mees Kate is driving me to the war. She talk so much about men going, and I so sensitive it move me silent for half an hour.” He says, ” I brave man but I no want to be shoot.” To look at it dispassionately, there does seem to be no reason why a foreigner, only here to teach and most probably opposed to all our institutions, should be expected to fight for our independence. And I really do not think it Mr. Stenckrath’s duty to go, but he will take all we say about other men who are shirking their duty as personal to him. And when we are all on fire with the subject, we cannot bridle our tongues all the time.
Well, Columbus [Ky.] is abandoned and with it Tennessee. Our Columbus army, without a shot or shell on either side, has retired to Island No. 10, and the Nashville army has fallen back to Decatur, Ala. They say the Island is much better adapted for defense than Columbus. Then how much time and money has been wasted at Columbus? How we would like to have a letter from Cousin Titia. I suppose she leads the retreat.
Robert came home with Brother Coley tonight. They must go to Vicksburg tomorrow. Robert is in much better spirits, and Brother Coley is jubliant.
Brother Coley and Robert got off just at sunrise. It was cold but they were well wrapped up. Robert returned the next day but Brother Coley is still there expecting to leave every day. Dr. Carson gave five bales of cotton to Dr. Buckner’s company and a horse, which Robert rode down, but he will not allow Joe to join, and the boy is nearly distracted with mortification and chagrin.
Mamma finished her silk quilt, I helped three days and then begged off. Quilting is a fearsome job. Have finished making the three “friends.”
Mr. Valentine failed to get an office in the company, and we fear he will not go, and that will make him fearfully unpopular with all classes. If we could see him, I am sure we could influence him. For his own sake he must join. Mr. Catlin’s last feint is that he will join a gunboat now in the docks. Robert has joined Sweet’s Artillery of Vicksburg and will get off Thursday.
Mamma and I went out by special invitation merely to call on the bride and Miss Lily and then to dine at Mrs. Carson’s, but Mrs. Savage would not hear of our leaving. She made us spend the day and a long, dull day it was, and so cold. We were the only invited guests for the day, but there are still sixteen grown people and numbers of children staying in the house. The dinner table was set on the back gallery. The bride had on a lovely dress of light blue silk with a silvery sheen, trimmed with dark blue velvet, black lace, and steel buckles. She looked as usual, sour and disagreeable, and was very silent, as was the groom. His powers of interrogation have not failed him. Talking alone with him, his first query was did I think his wife was handsome? With my opinion of Mrs. Lily’s looks it was “rather a staggerer” as I have a due regard for truth. I evaded the question, and he then wanted to know did I think her as good looking as he is? I could truthfully answer yes as Dr. Lily is not to say pretty. Still he was not satisfied but I cut the conversation short, tired of such a personal catechism.
Miss Lily is distinctly commonplace, rather a “muggins” and wears the oddest hairdress. Miss Bettie’s coiffure is mild compared to it. Rose attacked me for having said I thought Dr. Lily should go to the army. No doubt I have said so, for I certainly think it and am still of the same opinion, but I had not been rude enough to tell him so. With all of our relations going out to fight, I am not apt to think other men should sit comfortably at home.
Dr. Meagher was on hand, the handsomest, nicest looking of the lot. I told Anna I approved of her taste and if I had the opportunity might set my cap for him, a rival of hers. She declared there is nothing between them but there surely will be if they see much more of each other. All Mrs. Savage’s visitors leave today. The bride and groom go to Baton Rouge to visit his people. …
Mr. Stenckrath does not improve on acquaintance. He is very high tempered and irritable and so sensitive on the subject of the war. He says he cannot bear to hear us talk of it, which is too absurd, as if we could help talking in our own home circle of the most important and stirring facts in the world to us. He wants us to ignore the existence of any war and prattle on of the commonplaces of life as though victory and defeat, suffering and death, had never been heard of. He came back from Goodrich’s this evening wrought up to the highest pitch of rage and excitement. He had to drill with the militia and came back anathematizing on the militia, the officers, and everything connected with it. The greatest egotist applies everything said to himself — a hypochondriac. He complains all the time, often of an agonizing pain in his toe. But enough of this tiresome man!
We hear of a victory for us at Boston Mountain, Ark. No particulars. No news for days. The boats are all detained at Columbus removing government stores. The papers are making most stirring appeals to the people to give and to enlist. The Whig is most eloquent. A busy week for all of us. With morn comes toil but night brings rest.
Brother Coley came this evening. He will join his company Tuesday and they will leave for Jackson, Miss., Thursday and shortly after go to Jackson, Tenn. …
All of us but Mamma went out to the Lodge to hear Mr. Rutherford preach. He is a pleasant talker, and there was a large congregation. Better than all there were three soldiers in their uniforms, the two Mr. Buckners, one a captain and the other some officer, and a perfect love of a lieutenant in blue uniform and brass buttons galore. Six feet of soldier with brass buttons is irresistible, and all the girls capitulated at once. Did not hear his name, and my prophetic soul tells me he is married. Oh me!. He is one of the escaped heroes of Fort Donelson. He aroused my liveliest sympathy by being compelled to balance himself on a backless bench during the entire service. Is that the way to make our heroes love church?