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Kate Stone’s Civil War: Fashion is an obsolete word

January 7, 2013

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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.

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 offers a fascinating portrait of how war changed even the smallest elements of daily life.

May 22

All yesterday and today we have heard cannonading at Vicksburg, sometimes so faint that it is more a vibration than a noise and again quite a loud, clear report. Oh, if we could only know just what is going on there. But it may be days before we get any authentic accounts. We do not know the importance of holding Vicksburg. We know nothing of the plans. Some say the resistance there is only a feint to give Beauregard more time at Corinth, Miss., but we hope it is a desperate attempt to hold the city against all odds. We are sick of hearing of these prudent, cautious retreats without firing a gun. Our only hope is in desperate fighting. We are so outnumbered. We think Dr. Buckner’s company is in Vicksburg, but being cavalry they may not be engaged.

Evening. Brother Walter rode out on the dangerous levee and he thinks it will hold. Heard that the attack on Vicksburg will be made this evening at 3 o’clock, the enemy landing at Warrenton and coming in the rear of the city. Brother Walter is almost wild to take part in the battle there. He has been in tears about it for the last week. … He says he must and will be in that fight, but we are not very anxious about him. We are sure all skiffs leaving Pecan Grove will have gotten away long before he reaches there, as it was two when he left. Mamma gave him some money but he took no clothes. He will be compelled to return soon. But Mamma feels that before many days she will be called on to give up this her third son to fight for his country. …

All the boats stopped running three weeks ago on the fall of New Orleans and we have not had a mail since. There is no communication with anywhere except by skiff as the levees are broken between here and Vicksburg.

All the boys are out on the river, and we expect them to bring Anna Dobbs back with them to stay a few days. It seems odd to be expecting company and no flour or any “boughten” delicacy to regale them on, but we have been on a strict “war footing” for some time cornbread and home-raised meal, milk and butter, tea once a day, and coffee never. A year ago we would have considered it impossible to get on for a day without the things that we have been doing without for months. Fortunately we have sugar and molasses, and after all it is not such hard living. Common cornbread admits of many variations in the hands of a good cook eggbread (we have lots of eggs), muffins, cakes, and so on. Fat meat will be unmitigated fat meat, but one need not eat it. And there are chickens, occasional partridges, and other birds, and often venison, vegetables of all kinds minus potatoes; and last but not least, knowing there is no help for it makes one content. …

Clothes have become a secondary consideration. Fashion is an obsolete word and just to be decently clad is all we expect. The change in dress, habits, and customs is nowhere more striking than in the towns. A year ago a gentleman never thought of carrying a bundle, even a small one, through the streets. Broadcloth was de rigueur. Ceremony and fashion ruled in the land. Presto-change. Now the highest in rank may be seen doing any kind of work that their hands find to do. The men have become “hewers of wood and drawers of water” and pack bundles of all sorts and sizes. It may be a pile of blankets, a stack of buckets, or a dozen bundles. One gentleman I saw walking down the street in Jackson, and a splendid-looking fellow he was, had a piece of fish in one hand, a cavalry saddle on his back, bridle, blankets, newspapers, and a small parcel in the other hand; and over his shoulder swung an immense pair of cavalry boots. And nobody thought he looked odd. Their willingness to fetch and carry is only limited by their strength. All the soldiers one sees when traveling are loaded down with canteen, knapsack, haversack, and blankets.

Broadcloth is worn only by the drones and fireside braves. Dyed linsey is now the fashionable material for coats and pants. Vests are done away with, colored flannel, merino, or silk overshirts taking the place. A gentleman thinks nothing of calling on half a dozen young ladies dressed in home-dyed Negro cloth and blue checked shirt. If there is a button or stripe to show that he is one of his country’s defenders, he is sure of warmest welcome. Another stops to talk to a bevy of ladies. He is laden down with a package of socks and tin plates that he is carrying out to camp, and he shifts the bundles from side to side as he grows interested and his arms get tired. In proportion as we have been a race of haughty, indolent, and waited-on people, so now are we ready to do away with all forms and work and wait on ourselves.

The Southerners are a noble race, let them be reviled as they may, and I thank God that He has given my birthplace in this fair land among these gallant people and in a time when I can show my devotion to my Country.

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