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.
Stone offered throughout December 1862 a fascinating, detailed account of indoor life at Brokenburn, filled with sewing assignments, wedding preparations, boring visitors, and concern for the men at the front. Note her frustration over the loss of contact with her now-married friend, also named Kate. Some sentiments are timeless.
Stone’s 1862 ended amid cannon fire, her brother Johnny taken prisoner, and some terrible news that turned out to be not so terrible.
Have been busy for two days writing letters and notes. A letter of six pages to Uncle Bo giving general home news. … One to Mrs. Johnstone reproaching her for not letting Cousin Jenny send me one of her dresses to make into an over-shirt for Mr. Valentine. Also, notes and letters to the four quarters of the globe. All are to be sent by Jessy, who runs the blockade to Vicksburg tomorrow to get the new carriage springs and a $40 gallon of brandy, an awful price, but Jimmy must have it. He is improving slowly, slowly. He is not yet able to sit up and sleeps no better. He has not slept now for forty-eight hours and is very restless. …
Cousin Jenny gets married tomorrow in the church at Canton to a Dr. Saunders of that place. She wrote to Aunt Laura saying she wished to be married at her home, but when the letter came Aunt Laura had broken up housekeeping and was here with us. A day or two after the letter, Cousin Jenny and Mrs. Johnstone came driving up in Capt. Johnstone’s ambulance. It was when Jimmy was at his worst, and they only stayed all night. Mamma begged Cousin Jenny to come here to be married, and Aunt Laura wished her to do it. But she decided to stay in Canton. She wanted me to be bridesmaid, but under the circumstances it was impossible. I could not leave Jimmy, and there are too many Yankees between here and Canton to make it safe to leave home.
Neither her father nor sister will be present. They are both away. It is decidedly Cousin Jenny’s own wedding. She has selected her trousseau and made all arrangements for herself. It seems strange in her since she has always been of such a timid, yielding nature. We have all taken up a prejudice against Dr. Saunders and think she is doing a bad thing for herself. Our judgment, made without seeing the man, is based on his weak, sentimental-looking picture and the lackadaisical letter he wrote Aunt Laura asking her consent to the marriage. Poor dear girl. May she be happier than we all think she will be.
Mr. Valentine was over a few days ago. We are friends again, and I have knitted gloves for him and am embroidering a tobacco bag at Mamma’s earnest solicitation. He does not chew or smoke, and so he can only use it as a trophy. He aroused Mamma’s sympathy by complaining of the way the girls have all treated him. They have not given him a thing. He begged me so hard to make something for him that I relented and am now on a high hunt for something suitable to make a fancy over-shirt. Cousin Jenny promised me a dress, but Mrs. Johnstone so represented to her that Mr. Valentine was very wealthy and could get what he needed that Cousin Jenny kept the dress. And I have not a thing that will do.
We have cut up every silk and wool thing we have for the different boys. I wrote a note of reproach to Mrs. Johnstone and begged her to [sacrifice] one of her dresses for a poor shirtless Confederate. She promises to do the best she can and give me the first dress she wears out. That will not be until the end of the war. No one’s dresses are ever considered worn out these days as long as they can hold together. …
Tuesday Sister and I went to Mrs. Hardison’s to see Julia and Carrie Lowry. They were hard at work on soldier’s clothes. They have twenty-four jackets to make, a trying job. I came home feeling ashamed of myself for having done so little and begged Mamma to send to the camp for some of the clothes to make. Mamma refused, saying that we have enough to do already, and really we have. Sister has been sick for several days with severe sore throat, and Jimmy improves hardly at all. He is still in bed and tonight has fever.
We thought maybe Mrs. Curry would do some sewing for the soldiers, and so I went over to see her. Lou and Mary would each undertake a suit and Miss Jefferies, who was there, would also make one, and we thought the Miss Richardsons maybe would do some sewing. I came back well pleased and sent Webster to camp for seven suits. He soon came back with only two suits and a jacket. All the other sewing had been given out so that was a job well off hand.
Mamma and I are busy making my grey silk. Mamma bought it in Vicksburg the last time she was down, and it cost a pretty penny.
Mamma has turned off Mr. Blakely. He would not do at all, and she has engaged a Mr. Ellison who comes tomorrow. Hope he will prove a good overseer. One is hard to get. Mamma has rented a place on Joe’s Bayou above overflow from a Mr. Storey. Can send the Negroes there if the Yankees come again. …
No news from My Brother for weeks. Do not know his address even. Uncle Bo is still at Fredericksburg and the boys at Grenada [Miss.], and are well. We get neither papers nor letters these days. Not a word from Kate Nailor since her marriage months ago. Why does marrying change one so? Why is it impossible to care for your friends if you have a new husband or wife? I should not think one lone man could take the place of all the loved ones of a lifetime. But I suppose a man’s the reason. …
Well, the most exciting Christmas of our lives has come and gone, and the excitement still continues as the bombardment on the river is incessant. This evening for several hours it seemed to be heavy guns at Omega.
Two days before Christmas we all rode over to the camp, Johnny and I on horseback and the others in the carriage, to see Capt. Benton’s artillery drill. Capt. Harper and Mr. Valentine came to talk to us and to say, as orders were very strict, they would be unable to leave camp Christmas Day but would like to come to see us Christmas Eve. Of course, we would be glad to have them, and after a pleasant little chat with the soldiers gathered around gazing at us we started home. Johnny and I gathered a lot of mistletoe and crimson casino berries, and we decorated the parlor and hall prettily next day, getting through just as Mary Gustine drove up.
We sent some clothes out to camp and decided to write Capt. Harper to bring any of his friends. Soon after dark he, Capt. Martin from Monroe, Capt. Benton, Lt. Nolley, and Lt. Valentine came in. We gave them a first-class eggnog and intended giving them another after supper, but they went out and before we knew it took some of the brandy straight. Since brandy is $60 a gallon and far from plentiful, we would not let them have any more in eggnog or anything else. They had had plenty. We had a fine supper and all enjoyed the evening.
Next morning, Christine, Mary, and I were amusing ourselves at the piano when old Mr. Valentine came in and after some delay gave us to understand it was My Brother who was killed at Fredericksburg and not another Lt. Stone as we thought. Mamma was at once in despair and gave way to the wildest grief. We sent a messenger at once for Mr. Valentine’s paper, another to the nearest telegraph office, and Johnny got ready at once and started for Vicksburg to get full particulars. Mamma could not listen to reason. She was sure he was dead, and she was heartbroken. As soon as possible the man came with the paper, and reading it over we saw at once Mr. Valentine was mistaken. It was not our boy who had fallen but someone else’s darling with a similar name. The relief was very great but the mischief was done. Our Christmas was ruined, and Johnny was on his way to Vicksburg. Mr. Valentine was very contrite and so sorry for his great mistake.
We did not know until three days later that Johnny had been taken and was a prisoner on the gunboats. Mr. Valentine brought us the news of the arrival of a large Yankee fleet at Omega and the landing of the men. When the officers reached camp Christmas night, the enemy were landing in large force. They at once went on picket duty and the next morning were ordered to break camp and fall back on Tensas or to Delhi. We have heard nothing of them since. A force of 5,000 Yankees marched to Delhi or Dallas, burned some government stores and the bridges, tore up the railroad track, and upon returning embarked for Vicksburg. We expected the Yankees on the place for three days, and the overseer carried most of the Negroes back to the Joe’s Bayou place. But as they did not come, the Negroes were brought back in a pouring rain disgusted with their Christmas outing.
The houses were burned on Buckhorn, except the dwelling. All the mules and horses they could find were taken and some Negroes, and they made prisoners of all the men, the private citizens that came in their way. But they did better than on their previous raids as they did not pillage the houses.
They made a prisoner of Johnny as he was crossing the bridge at Sirs. Scott’s and kept him on the gunboat three days. They questioned Johnny, trying to find out what he knew of the troops, guns, government stores, etc., in the country, but he refused to tell them anything. Then the officers tried to frighten him. Col. Wright took him off privately and told him the men were anxious to hang him. If he would tell Col. Wright all he knew about the soldiers, he would be saved from the fury of the soldiers. Col. Wright said that they had hanged men at several points coming down the river for not talking, but as Johnny was a boy he wanted to save him. His threats had no effect on Johnny. He said that he knew the Colonel was telling a story and that they were not going to hang him.
He became quite a favorite with the soldiers. They called him Bub and amused themselves arguing with him. Some of them encouraged him with “That’s right, Bub. Stand up for your principles.” How much more of a man he proved himself than Duncan Gustine, nearly grown, who was frightened into piloting them through the country, and everybody has been abusing him for cowardice ever since. The Yankees released the prisoners taken after two or three days.
I am so afraid they will get my horse Wonka. I wish we had sent him to the Bayou. Webster has him in charge, hidden in the canebrake. Mary and Ella Gustine have gone home, and I am used up with sore throat and inflamed eyes.