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.
The dark veil of sadness silenced Stone’s diary for more than two weeks. On April 10, 1863, she regained the strength to record what happened.
Brother Walter died Feb. 15, 1863, at Cotton Gin, Miss. Again has God smitten us, and this last trouble is almost more than we can bear. I can hardly believe that our bright, merry little Brother Walter has been dead for seven weeks. And we cannot realize that he is gone forevermore. Even peace will not restore him to us all. It is hard, hard that he should have to go, so full of life and happiness and with such promise of a noble manhood. We were always so proud of our six stalwart boys, and again one is snatched away and we cannot think of them without tears. …
For seven long weeks my dear little brother has been sleeping in his lonely grave, far from all who loved him, and we knew it not until a few days ago.
Even as I write, I feel his tears on my cheek and see him as I saw him last when I bade him good-bye in Vicksburg, reining his horse on the summit of the hill and turning with flushed cheeks and tearful eyes to wave me a last farewell. And by the side of this picture is another that has haunted me ever since reading that fatal letter: I see him lying cold and still, dressed in black, in his plain black coffin. His slender hands are worn and brown with the toil of the last four months and are crossed on his quiet breast. His handsome clear-cut features are glaring cold and white, and the white lids are drawn down over the splendid grey eyes, so easy to fill with tears or brighten with laughter. The smile we knew so well is resting on his lips. Happy boy, free from the toil and turmoil of life, safe in the morning of life in a glorious immortality.
It breaks our hearts to think of him sick and dying among strangers, a Negro’s face the only familiar one near him. I can hear him asking so eagerly, “Has Brother Coley come?” They say he longed so to see him, and he had been dead two weeks before Brother Coley knew it.
All we know of his death is from a letter of Brother Coley’s written on the sixteenth of March, the day Van Dorn’s cavalry left Arkalona for the raid into Tennessee. Brother Walter had fever but he rode all day. The next morning he still suffered with fever, and he and two other soldiers of his company were left at the house of Mrs. Owens near Cotton Gin, a little town in north Mississippi. Pompey, Joe Carson’s boy, was left to wait on him. The next morning the other two soldiers were well enough to follow on, and they carried a note from Mrs. Owens telling Brother Coley that his brother was very sick and that he had better return. He did not get the note for two weeks.
Brother Walter had developed a severe case of pneumonia, and on the fifth evening, Feb. 15 at 3 o’clock, he passed away with no friend but Pompey near him. It wrings my heart to think of him suffering and alone. I hope he did not realize that Death was so near and all he loved so far away. Poor little fellow, he was not used to strangers. He has been surrounded by loved and familiar faces all his short life. He was eighteen in December and died in February. He was but a boy and could not stand the hardships of a soldier’s life. Four months of it killed him.
We have no likeness of him. He has left only a memory and a name.