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.
Sadness and worry filled Stone’s pages throughout August 1862. Some of her neighbors quickly packed up their belongings as rumors of pillaging blue soldiers and unshackled and vengeful slaves ravaging the community blazed through every slaveholder’s imagination. Vicksburg, thought to be cleared of Union threat and protected by strong Confederate forces, again faced a Federal gunboat fleet that appeared without warning. Sickness tormented her mother and brother. Night brought feelings of fear, uncertainty over the future, and a sense of isolation.
Despite her misgivings, note Stone’s overall determined confidence, despite the dangerous proximity of Union soldiers to her home. Confederate victories on far-off battlefields sustained her belief in eventual victory, even as the boom of Union cannons rattled the very journal she filled with her hopes.
Aug. 5, 1862
I have had my bed moved to the window; and looking out tonight on the pale moonlight, the far off, misty stars, and the light, fleecy clouds scudding across the sky, the shadows of the tall trees, ghostlike on the grass, I am very happy for my darling Brother has been mentioned for distinguished gallantry in the late battles. We are not surprised for we know him, but it is grateful to have others appreciate him. My Brother in his last letter of July 2 says nothing of himself but that he was ill from fatigue but would rejoin his regiment and go into the fight the next day. The paper did not say, and we will never know, any particulars.
The Yankees have called off their gunboats and quit the river in disgust. Sometimes now we can get the papers.
Nearly everybody in the country sent us word of My Brother’s safety. So many papers and messages. All knew how anxious Mamma and all of us had been. Brother Walter did not learn much by his hard trip to Vicksburg, only a confirmation that all was well with them, and he got back safely from a perilous trip canoeing down the river. I wonder that we could have sent him on such a quest so dangerous.
The house has been full of company for ten days. At first only Mrs. Payne and Julia with transient visitors, but later Mary Gustine, Missie Morris, callers most of the time, and others to spend the night, the two Lowry boys among the others. … But taken altogether we had a pleasant time. Missie is looking better than I ever saw her but is discontented and unhappy. Alary is not as handsome as usual but is more talkative, and Julia is the same gay, carefree soul as ever. … We four had a lovely time at Mrs. Carson’s Saturday with chess, music, singing, gossip, and fruit. I can still beat Missie at chess. It is an effort but I can do it. …
The road to Vicksburg is open again. …
The excitement of the last two days has been the entirely unexpected reappearance of the Yankees on the river. They came upon us like a thief in the night. The entire Yankee fleet was at Milliken’s Bend ready for a fight before anyone on the river knew they had left Memphis. It does not seem possible for thirty-nine boats to pass five hundred miles down the river without being discovered, but such was almost literally the case. The people of Lake Providence did not know until the next day that a fleet had passed by them. And at Vicksburg all were resting in perfect security, thinking the enemy far away, until Capt. White hurried into the city and told them the boats would soon be there. He put spurs to his horse as soon as the first boats reached the Bend and made all possible haste to reach Vicksburg. Fortunately, he roused them in time, and the little city will hold out as long as possible.
The surprise at the Bend was complete. The Fair Play was at the landing loaded with arms and passengers. All were captured. And the 31st La. Regt. was camped there and had only time to seize their arms and run away. The Yankees followed as far as Tallulah and there burned the depot and cars and tore up the track, returning to the Bend in time to steal anything they wanted. At dusk they went on board their boat and rejoined the fleet at Vicksburg. We heard such startling accounts that Mamma at once sent off the Negro men with Jimmy to take care of them to Bayou Macon, but tonight as all present fear is allayed, she sends for them again.
It was a time to be scared last night, and I, for one, did feel frightened. … We have heard such horrible stories of the outrages of the Yankees and Negroes that it is an anxious time for only women and children. …
We poor dwellers on this side of the river are not to be left entirely to the mercy of the enemy. The cry of distress from the river has roused the back country, and they report 3,000 men crossing the Macon today. So we will have a little army of our own something nearer than fifty miles. There are so many contradictory reports about the gunboats that we know not what to believe. There may be ten or forty before Vicksburg.
The Negroes enjoyed their hasty trip to Bayou Macon. It will give them something to talk of for a long time.
The last Yankee raid has quite decided Mrs. Savage, and they will go to the Macon Saturday, determined to remain until the war is over. They are awfully afraid of the Yankees. Four of her Negroes ran away today rather than be moved back. It is a plentiful, pleasant home to give up to destruction. I was out there a week recently nursing Anna and found it such a comfortable, abundant place. They had better hold it as long as possible. …
The strife and din of war is coming fearfully near us now. Tonight just as we were sitting down to tea, we heard the boom of cannon with the rattling report of small arms. Seemed so near. It continued about fifteen minutes, and we think it must have been at Omega or the Bend. It excited and startled us, but now we are only anxious to know whether it was a skirmish.
There are now quite a number of troops on this side of the river, and in a few days there will be many more with Gen. Blanchard at their head. And the Yankees will not be so free to land and seize whatever they choose. We hear that Gen. Blanchard has ordered all the women and children living in his district to leave the river as it is no longer safe for them, and he will dispute the landing of the foe at every point. The planters generally are moving back to the hills as fast as possible. There are two families refugeeing in our neighborhood. …
We should not mind our individual reverses on this side of the river when we hear how gloriously our arms are triumphing everywhere else. Our entire line is said to be advancing, and we read of a succession of small victories.
Brother Walter returned Saturday. He had been gone more than a week. Brother Coley is well again and with his regiment. He had been very ill, and like a foolish boy he refused to go to any private home to be nursed or take medicine until Mrs. Blanton, hearing of his sickness, sent him word she was not a stranger but a friend of his mother’s and he must come to her home. He went and she soon nursed him back to health. He was quite sick when his regiment engaged the gunboats but insisted on going into action. Like the high spirited, reckless boy “spoiling for a fight” he is, he stood up in one of the rifle pits firing until he grew so ill he had to be carried out. He recovered a little and returned to his post, and when his company was ordered to march he had just strength enough to drag himself to a tree, where he was found nearly insensible by the men who had been sent out to seek him. He is of a nervous temperament and suffers so when he is sick that it required heroism to hold up his head and fight when suffering so much, as we know he was. He is a thin, delicate boy but with an indomitable spirit. He has never been strong since he was poisoned by his nurse when a little fellow. He was at Death’s door then for weeks. …
The spirit of discontent is moving in my heart tonight. Gloomy thoughts will arise. Could I only be content to watch the Future as it unfolds instead of trying to pierce its mystery and mold it to my will, how much happier I would be. But as that is beyond my strength, I can only struggle against the evil spirit and exorcise it as best I may.
Mamma and I spent Wednesday with Mrs. Savage and Mrs. Carson. Both houses are in the greatest confusion, everything being pulled to pieces and packed up. Mrs. Savage and family left today. Mrs. Carson will go in a few days. It will be long, I fear, before we, all of us, spend another day together. …
The last gunboat went up the river today but may return at once.