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.
On March 2, Kate Stone opened her journal and wrote in it for the first time since late January. She was disoriented. She didn’t know exactly what day of the week it was. She guessed it was Saturday. When Federal troops flooded the neighborhood in late January, Stone’s mother prepared to evacuate the family. But she changed her mind when she learned the roads west were already impossibly clogged with frightened refugees. When Stone learned they were not leaving Brokenburn after all, she was secretly relieved.
Whatever misery she endured, whatever property she lost, whatever horrors she witnessed, Stone seemed determined to stand her ground. Perhaps Brokenburn was her own line in the sand. Perhaps she had already seen too many retreats, too many defeats, too many surrenders. Perhaps Stone, fighting what she saw as her part of the war, decided that she would never surrender her ground to the dark, silent, sinister enemy. But it took another enemy, one she’d feared longer than any Yankee, to change her mind.
Saturday [Monday] I think. We have not had an almanac for more than a year, and so I can only guess at the time until someone better posted comes along. The Yankees have not visited us yet, and so after more than a month’s concealment I take my book out to write again.
The soldiers have been all around us but not on the place. At first we were frightened, expecting them all the time and preparing to start for the hills beyond the Macon, the Mecca for most of the refugeeing planters. Mamma had all the carpets taken up and the valuable clothes and everything but the furniture sent away or ready to send when My Brother came back from Delhi, where he left the Negroes until they could be shipped on the train. Such a crowd was there [that] it will be several days before they can get off.
He gave such a disheartening account of the roads — they are impassable for anything but a six-mule team — that he and Mamma concluded it was impossible to move at this time, and we would await further developments here. Mamma has had the house put in order, and we are again comfortable. I am so glad for I dreaded going into the back country, where we would never see or hear anything among total strangers, and to leave our pleasant home most probably to be destroyed by the Yankees, and we may be able to protect it if we are here.
Brother has been gone for more than a month. He has taken the Negro men to the salt works away beyond Monroe and put them to work. Jimmy returned from there two weeks ago, and Mamma sent out the overseer, Mr. Ellsworth. We have been looking for My Brother for ten days.
Mamma thought of sending Jimmy back to Virginia with My Brother to go to school at Lexington, but now that the conscription is being so rigidly enforced she thinks both Mr. Storey and Mr. Ellison may both be enrolled. She will have no one but Jimmy to depend on, and so she will keep him at home. I am begging her to send Johnny. One of the worst features of the war is that it deprives all the boys of an education. …
Jane, Aunt Laura’s cook, and Aunt Lucy had a terrible row Tuesday night. Jane cut a great gash in Lucy’s face with a blow from a chair and hurt her severely. Mamma had Jane called up to interview her on the subject, and she came with a big carving knife in her hand and fire in her eyes. She scared me. She is nearly six feet tall and powerful in proportion, as black as night and with a fearful temper. … Aunt Laura had a long, lingering illness lasting several months, and she always thought Jane kept her poisoned. Jane showed a very surly, aggressive temper while Mamma was talking to her, and so Mamma did not say much. Jane went to her room and that night took her two children, a girl and a boy about half-grown, and in company with one of Mr. Hardison’s men started for the camp at DeSoto. I think we are all glad she has gone. We felt her a constant menace. She must have had a bad trip. They were out in that blinding rain Wednesday and Wednesday night with only two blankets as protection and not much to eat. Mr. Graves saw them yesterday sitting on the levee at Mr. Utz’s in company with fifty others, waiting to be ferried across at the break there in a dugout. All the Negroes are running away now, and there are numbers of them. They have to stop at the break and wait to be ferried over by an old Negro in a dugout, and so there are crowds waiting all the time. Col. Graves went down there yesterday to try to reclaim three of his who had escaped. Three had just been drowned, trying to get over, and he thought from the description they were his.
Poor creatures, I am sorry for them. How horrible it all is. We had a scene of terror the night Jane left: The quarreling and screaming, the blood streaming down Lucy’s face, Jane’s fiery looks and speeches, Johnny and Uncle Bob’s pursuit of her as she rushed away, the discovery that the children were gone, and then just as we had all quieted down, the cry of fire. The loom room had caught from some hot ashes, but we at once thought Jane was wreaking vengeance on us all by trying to burn us out. We would not have been surprised to have her slip up and stick any of us in the back. Johnny was our only protector as Jimmy was away. I went around bravely in appearance with a five-shooter in my hand. Found out afterwards it was only dangerous to look at as it was not loaded.
Mamma spoke of sending next day for Jane, but Aunt Laura implored her not to. She was only too thankful to get rid of her. She had been a terror to her for years. I think everybody on the place was thankful to get rid of her. The Negroes dreaded her as much as the white folks. They thought her a hoodoo woman.
The place looks deserted now with its empty cabins and neglected fields, and the scene is the same wherever we go. … It has been a month of warm weather and constant rain and the roads are impassable. We have not been out of the house for three weeks. Already the fruit trees are a faint green and the grass is springing in the yard. Spring is early this year. Over the woods in front of the house hangs a faint green mist with the red of the maples shining through, and this morning Sister brought in a bunch of pale wild violets, sweet as a promise that winter is gone. The hardy garden violets and the quaint little heartsease have been perfuming the winter wind for weeks, and the garden is gay with jonquils and narcissus.
Last night it was reported that the Yankees were at Dr. Devine’s, and we looked for them here today. My Brother and Mr. Hardison, who is conscript agent, went out early this morning to stay in the woods until nightfall, as they do not want to be captured and ornament a Yankee prison. …
Johnny who has been out scouting reports the Yankees at Rescue, the adjoining place, yesterday hunting horses and Negroes, and today they are scattered all through the lower neighborhood on the same quest. This band is said to be Kansas Jayhawkers, the very offscourings of the Northern Army. They say they will take by force all Negroes, whether they wish to go or not. A great number of Negroes have gone to the Yankees from this section. Mr. Watson and his father-in-law, Mr. Scott … got up one morning and found every Negro gone, about seventy-five, only three little girls left. The ladies actually had to get up and get breakfast. They said it was funny to see their first attempt at milking. Mr. Matt Johnson has lost every Negro off one place and a number from the other places. Keene Richards has lost 160 from Transylvania and fifty of them are reported dead. The Negroes at work on the canal have what they call black measles, and it is very fatal to them.
When we heard from Brother Coley and Dr. Buckner nearly a month ago — they had furloughs and had reached Vicksburg on their way home when they heard that Gen. Van Dorn was to make a great cavalry raid into Kentucky. They at once turned back and rejoined their commands. Brother Coley wrote that he could not possibly miss such a chance for a good fight. Well, they could not come here with the slightest safety, now that there are wandering parties of soldiers all through the swamp. The Yankees are very daring, swimming the bayous, plunging through the mud of the unbroken swamp, often only two or three of them together. One company of good men could put a stop to all of this, but all our men are across the Macon with no desire to come this way. We hear they are panic-stricken at the name of a Yankee and run the other way. It is well that the honor of Louisiana does not depend on the troops on this side of the river.
We get no Southern papers but occasionally a Northern paper from the people who are still on the river. They are all said to have taken the oath and to have letters of protection from the general commanding. Dr. Taylor, Mr. Harris, Mr. Rucker, and Mrs. Nutt are some of the suspected parties. Gen. Grant is said to have been very rude to Mrs. Nutt when she applied for protection. What else could she have expected from a Yankee general? There are some troops still at Lake Providence. We cannot hear whether they are still working on their grand canal or not. We suppose they will harass this section until the river falls and they again attack Vicksburg.
Mr. Valentine came over last evening in very low spirits indeed. He says his Negroes will not even pretend to work and are very impudent, and he thinks they will all go off in a body the next time the Yankees come on his place. He brought the welcome news of the departure of that body of Jayhawkers that was on Mrs. Evans’ place. They have completely ruined Mr. Catlin’s, Mrs. Evans’, and Mrs. Stevens’ places, taking all the Negroes and all kinds of stock. The Negro women marched off in their mistresses’ dresses.
Jimmy has been for some time with the Negroes at the salt works. We are in a helpless situation, three ladies and two little girls and not a white man or even a gun on the place, not even a boy until Johnny gets back. And the scouts may take him. We can find rest only in the thought that we are in God’s hands.
There are only twenty Negroes left on Mrs. Tibbetts’ five places, and Dr. Tibbetts has only one left, a superannuated woman helpless to do anything. The ladies are cooking, washing, etc., while Hiram Tibbetts is wood chopper.
The Yankees have five thousand Negroes camped at Lake Providence, all they have taken from the places up the river. They had an army of 30,000 men camped there, but they find the canal through to the Macon not feasible. They have moved up to Ashton to try a new canal there, if they can close the break at that point.
Aunt Lucy’s little girl Linda died this morning from the effect of the measles. It is the first child she ever lost and she is much distressed. Little Dora is also very ill from the same cause. …
We have heard a good many guns today and a boat whistle at Omega. Must be landing troops there. There must be a large force at the Bend now, as they have been moving men up for some days. Young’s Point and DeSoto are said to be under water, and they are forced to leave. Mr. Joe Noland’s is to be headquarters we hear. We hear that Mr. Hans Harris is having trouble with the Yankees, notwithstanding his protection papers, and that it is not necessary to take the oath to be protected, and so I retract what I said about the traitors on the river. Am glad it was false except Dr. Taylor of Willow Bayou. We truly believe him to be false to the South. His wife has gone North with her children. She is from there and must have contaminated her husband. Mr. Montague’s last two sons, in company with two friends, have gone over to the Yankees. Now Mr. Montague has all five of his sons in the North. It is strange that he could raise five sons in the South to love the North better than their own native land. Let us hope he is satisfied with them, as no one else is. All have a hearty contempt for them. What a disgrace to belong to that family.
The fruit trees are in full bloom now and our young orchard makes quite a show. … Quite a variety of vegetables are up and growing nicely.