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 offers a vivid account of how the presence of Union forces nearby disrupted daily life, frightened Southern civilians, and inspired the slave population. Sometimes the slaves guided Federal soldiers back to their plantations.
No one seemed sure what would happen to Vicksburg. Nevertheless, attack or no attack, civilians like Stone and her family and neighbors felt virtually powerless as Union raiding parties scoured the countryside and slaves quietly slipped away to find freedom among Northern troops. As family acquaintances applied to the Union authorities for letters of protection, which supposedly protected them from raiders, Stone seemed proud her mother remained among the defiant holdouts not yet “forced to ask a favor of a Yankee.”
Note how Stone’s family found palatable substitutes for coffee.
When My Brother was at home, he heard a few days before he left that the Yankees had discovered quite a lot of cotton bales hidden by the planters on a ridge in the swamp near Mr. Valentine’s and of course were coming at once to get it. Cotton is so valuable now. So he rode over that dark night all alone with a pocketful of matches, and after fumbling around through the swamp for some time found it. With a good deal of trouble, he set it afire, staying by it until daybreak when he left for fear some of the Negroes would see him and tell the Yankees, who would come and burn us out. He did see two or three Negroes looking at him as he galloped through Mr. Valentine’s place. That morning a long train of wagons came pulling through the mud. All the Yankee teamsters were delighted at the idea of getting Midi a pile of cotton hidden by the Rebs, when, lo and behold, there was nothing but a burning, smouldering pile. The lovely cotton was all gone. We hear they were furious and threatened to burn every house within five miles and hang the men who did it. But they did not know the men, and by the time suspicion pointed at My Brother he was off and away. The affair has blown over, but it made us tremble in our shoes for several days for fear they would come and burn us out.
So many are getting letters of protection from the general at the Bend. We cannot hear his name. Aunt Laura, formerly so bitter against the Yankees, is now urging Mamma to go in to Omega and get letters protecting us.
The enemy have now been three months before Vicksburg doing nothing against the city, but scourging this part of the country. The opinion now is that they will not attack the place at all. The deserters say the soldiers will not fight at Vicksburg. They say that the place is impregnable, that they will not fight to meet certain defeat, and that there is great dissatisfaction both among the officers and men. They will not pay off the men for fear they will desert. For a time there were frequent desertions. I must think there will be an attempt to storm the city. I cannot think they will make all this preparation and gather this great army without at last making an attempt to capture it.
When the fortifications were commenced, no one dreamed that Vicksburg would hold out this long. If the Yankees had come right on after the fall of New Orleans, Vicksburg would have fallen with hardly a struggle. It was strange that they did not push on at once. Now it seems almost a second Gibraltar.
We hear that Gen. [Braxton] Bragg has resigned on account of the dissatisfaction of most of his officers with his retreat from Murfreesboro. Gen. Joseph Johnston is now in command. It seems a pity for an old soldier like Bragg to have no force under him.
For the last two days we have been in a quiver of anxiety looking for the Yankees every minute, sitting on the front gallery with our eyes strained in the direction they will come, going to bed late and getting up early so they will not find us asleep. Today as it is raining, they are apt to remain in camp, and so we have a little relief. Friday they were at Mr. Graves’, Mr. McPherson’s, and Mr. Hardison’s. Mr. Graves has a protection letter, and we did not hear how they fared. At Mr. McPherson’s they took two horses and all the chickens, eggs, and butter in sight. They ordered dinner cooked and sat in the dining room and ate it. Only two men came to Mr. Hardison’s, but they were ruffians, tough and impudent. They searched through everything for money or jewelry I suppose but found none and went off cursing and threatening another visit. Sister and I happened to go up on a little call soon after the men left and found everybody as mad as could be and feeling so helpless. Caroline, her favorite servant, and one of the Negro men went off the night before.
Yesterday afternoon Mr. Valentine was here, and we were all conversing quietly enough when the frantic barking of the dogs called us to the front gallery just in time to see a party of Yankees and three Negroes passing on the gin ridge. They turned and took a deliberate survey of the place and then went on. They were loaded with chickens, eggs, and such plunder and were guided by one of Mr. Valentine’s Negroes, who had run off some time ago, and had two more to carry the stuff they had stolen.
So far our Negroes 16 have shown no disposition to leave but may at any minute. They were hidden out for a day or so, but of course that could not be kept up with a Yankee camp as near as Winn Forest. The fields as far as we can see are sheets of green and gold, the weeds are growing unchecked and the yellow-top makes a brave show. …
Gen. Bragg is said to be in command at Vicksburg. His fame must now fall or stand with the city. Lincoln, it is reported, has been appointed a kind of military dictator with unlimited command of men and money. The Conscript Act has been passed and will be strictly enforced. That, with the abolishment of all state lines (if that be true), must make the war unpopular with the masses of the people. But the acts of Congress show that the rulers, at least, are not tired of the strife, and peace, blessed peace, seems farther off than ever. …
The plums and sassafras are in full bloom and the whole yard is fragrant. We all drank sassafras tea for awhile but soon got tired of it, pretty and pink as it is. Okra coffee is now the favorite drink. Mamma had several bushels of the seed saved. After experimenting with parched potatoes, parched pindars, burned meal, roasted acorns, all our coffee drinkers decided on okra seed as the best substitute. We have grown quite expert making shoes for ourselves. We cut up an old pair of gaiters and slippers for a pattern. We make the uppers of broadcloth, velvet, or any strong black goods we can get, and the shoemaker for the Negroes puts on the soles. They are not to say elegant looking but we are delighted to be able to make them, and they are far better than bare feet.
We have wakened three mornings to the booming of cannon and have gone to sleep to the same music, but we have not heard what they are doing. Sometimes we hear the beating of drums, supposedly at Omega. We are too near “the pomp and circumstance of glorious war” to find it pleasant. No Yankees in this section since Saturday. Perhaps the troops have been concentrated at Vicksburg. The Yankees who passed through the place discussed stopping to raid the house, but the captain with them said, as there were only ladies and children here, they would let us alone. We did not know a Yankee could have so much chivalry. Hope it will develop in the other raiding bands.
The two Mrs. Richardsons and Mrs. Spain went out to camp to get letters of protection. The general gave a letter to Mrs. Spain, as she was a widow, but refused letters to the others unless their husbands or brothers would come out and take the oath. Mr. A. Richardson started the next day to swear allegiance but was dissuaded by a friend. Miss W. Richardson went to the boat with her mother and came back boasting that she had caught a Yankee beau. Imagine any girl falling so low. No other girl in the country would acknowledge having even a Yankee acquaintance. Mrs. Graves’ papers did not prove a perfect safeguard as a squad took all their good horses.
Mamma, Mr. Hardison, Mr. Valentine, and Mr. Jeffries seem to be the only people left in the country who have not applied for protection. We hope we shall never be so pressed as to be forced to ask a favor of a Yankee.