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.
Union forces under U.S. Grant moved southward to take Vicksburg, Miss., the key to control of the Mississippi River and the last major link between the eastern and western Confederate regions. Stone watched with absolute contempt as Union gunboats floated into view. As word spread of blue armies marching closer, Stone’s mother ordered Brokenburn’s slaves were to run away if Northern troops entered the plantation. Stone noted with disgust as slaves from other communities and estates snuck away to the Union lines or were simply gathered up by Union soldiers like provisions and sent to work on Union military fortifications.
Stone also made a prescient observation on what some families did with their threatened labor force — they sent them “to the back country” farther west. Forthcoming entries in this series will illustrate how, as the Union forces poured into the area around Brokenburn to prepare for the Vicksburg assaults, the “back country” would not offer sufficient protection. Slaves were only the first wave of people from Louisiana to move westward. Slaveowners, frightened of marauding Union soldiers, would soon follow them. Stone had no idea that someday soon she also would be swept away into the growing river of refugees flowing into a new home: unconquered Confederate Texas.
Good news from My Brother … he is now Adjutant of the 2nd Miss. Battalion. I am so glad. He ranks now as Captain. He is not ambitious for himself, but I am very ambitious for him. All my dreams of future glory for our name center in My Brother. God bless him.
Well, we have at last seen what we have been looking for for weeks: the Yankee gunboats descending the river. The Lancaster No. 3 led the way, followed by the ram Monarch .We hope they will be the first to be sunk at Vicksburg. We shall watch for their names. They are polluting the waters of the grand old Mississippi. Monday when Mamma and I went out to Mr. Newman’s to spend the day and stopped at Mrs. Savage’s to get Anna, Mr. McGee came down and told us the gunboats were in sight at Goodrich’s, and about 4 o’clock, while at dinner, one of the servants said they were coming around the bend. We all ran out on the gallery for our first sight of the enemy, and soon we saw one craft bearing rapidly down the river, dark, silent, and sinister. Very few men were in sight, and no colors were flying. There were no demonstrations on either side, but oh, how we hated her deep down in our hearts, not the less that we were powerless to do any harm. Soon three others came gliding noiselessly by, and we could have seen every boat and all the men sunk to the bottom of the river without a pang of regret. One transport was crowded with men. It looked black with them, and they had the impudence to wave at us. We would have been glad to return the compliment with a shot from a battery crashing right into the boat. One passed, then turned, and rounded into the hole just in front of the house, blowing the whistle.
We were certain she was going to land, and since the house is just at the river, a scene of excitement ensued. The gentlemen insisted we should leave the house and hide somewhere until the carriage could be hitched up for us to flee to the back country. We rushed around the house, each person picking up any valuable in the way of silver, jewelry, or fancy things he could find, and away we ran through the hot, dusty quarter lot, making for the only refuge we could see, the tall, thick cornfield just beyond the fence. Two soldiers who were taking dinner with us were hurried ahead, as we knew they would be captured if recognized. Just as we were in full retreat, a motley crew soldiers, women, children, and all the servants, in full view of the boat we could see the spyglasses levelled at us. Some one called for us to come back. It was a feint. The gunboat was not landing. So we turned back to the house, a hot excited lot of people, and the dinner cold on the table.
The boats ran up and down for awhile and then anchored for the night at the foot of the Island. A boat came ashore with three men, and they had quite a conversation with some of our fireside braves assembled to see the sights. The Yankees, one a Col. Elliott, were in full uniform and armed cap-a-pie. Some of the men, notably Mr. Newman and Mr. Hannah, answered all their questions, told them all they knew, and then tried to buy provisions from the boats, telling the officers they were nearly starving. It was an awful story, for the country is filled with every eatable that could be raised. Mr. Cox acted like a man of proper spirit and denied what the other men had said about starvation. …
Mrs. Savage and Emily came out this morning to breakfast, and as she thought there was no further danger, she took Robert home with her. The Yankee officers said they came ashore to “assure the inhabitants that they meditated no injury.” They had seen some ladies very much frightened, and they regretted it, as the ladies were in no danger and would not be molested in any way. …
Brother Walter is safe at home again. He got back last night looking as brown and weather-beaten as any soldier of them all and so tired and stiff that he can hardly walk. He crossed the river in a skiff and walked all the way from Vicksburg to Willow Bayou in one day, following the railroad track. Mrs. Morris sent him on the next day on horseback, and we were delighted when he rode up. Brother Coley is well and in high spirits. Aunt Laura and Beverly are in Jackson. Brother Walter would have remained over for the fight at Vicksburg, but the battle on land is not expected to come off for some weeks yet. So he very wisely came home. …
We hear today that the Yankees are impressing all the Negro men on the river places and putting them to work on a ditch which they are cutting across the point opposite Vicksburg above DeSoto. They hope to turn the river through there and to leave Vicksburg high and dry, ruining that town and enabling the gunboats to pass down the river without running the gauntlet of the batteries at Vicksburg. They have lately come up as far as Omega, four miles from us, taking the men from Mr. Noland’s place down. We hear several have been shot attempting to escape. We were satisfied there would soon be outrages committed on private property. Mamma had all the men on the place called up, and she told them if the Yankees came on the place each Negro must take care of himself and run away and hide. We think they will.
From a late paper we see that Butler is putting his foot down more firmly every day. A late proclamation orders every man in the city to take the oath of allegiance. There will be the most severe penalties in case of refusal. Butler had Mr. Mumford, a gentleman of New Orleans, shot for tearing down the first flag hoisted in New Orleans over the mint. The most infamous order and murder of which only Butler is capable. Is the soul of Nero reincarnated in the form of Butler? Why can he not fall of the scourge of New Orleans, yellow fever?
The drought was broken last night by a good rain and the planters are feeling better. This insures a good corn crop, and it was beginning to suffer. It is so essential to make good food crops this year. When we heard the cool drops splashing on the roof. … Such a lovely morning. It is a pleasure to breathe the soft, cool air and look out over the glad, green fields, flashing and waving in the early sunlight. …
The excitement is very great. The Yankees have taken the Negroes off all the places below Omega, the Negroes generally going most willingly, being promised their freedom by the vandals. The officers coolly go on the places, take the plantation books, and call off the names of all the men they want, carrying them off from their masters without a word of apology. They laugh at the idea of payment and say of course they will never send them back. A good many planters are leaving the river and many are sending their Negroes to the back country. We hope to have ours in a place of greater safety by tomorrow.
Dr. Nutt and Mr. Mallett are said to be already on their way to Texas with the best of their hands. Jimmy and Joe went to the Bend and Richmond today. They saw Julia and Mary Gustine, who sent me word that I was a great coward to run away. Mary had talked to a squad of Yankee soldiers for awhile and found them anything but agreeable.
All on this place, Negroes and whites, are much wrought up. Of course the Negroes do not want to go, and our fear is when the Yankees come and find them gone they will burn the buildings in revenge. They are capable of any horror. We look forward to their raid with great dread. Mrs. Savage sent for her silver today. We have been keeping it since the gunboats came. They will all leave in two days for Bayou Macon. Would like to see them before they get off. …