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 mourns what has been lost as she finishes her tale of escape. “So passes the glory of the family.”
Near Trenton, La.
Mamma and Johnny are out hunting up bed clothes and anything else buyable since we need everything, and Sister and I are left to ourselves this rainy day. So I may as well finish the recital of our woes.
We left our clothes in care of Uncle Bob who has been as faithful as any white man could be. He is Mamma’s driver on the plantation. And we piled ourselves and our scanty luggage into two rocking, leaky dugouts and pushed off, Jimmy paddling one and Coffee, one of Dr. Carson’s hands, the other. The sight of a body of horsemen in the distance coming our way lent strength to their arms, and as fast as they could ply the paddles we glided through the water. The men came on down the road, and we saw they were Yankee soldiers. But the water was so deep that they could not ride fast and we kept ahead. At last after nearly a mile of this race, the boats shot out into deep water, and we were safe from pursuit. Then what a shout rang out for Jeff Davis and the Confederacy. The men could see and hear us distinctly, and we half expected a volley to come whizzing over the waters. But the boys would not be restrained, and their “Farewell to the Feds!” “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” and “Ho for Texas!” floated over the waters ’til we were out of sight. The Yankees followed us until their horses were nearly swimming.
After rowing a few miles, we joined Mr. Hardison and his family at the Jones place in the middle of Tensas swamp. They were in a skiff and had been waiting for us for some time. All his family and all his worldly possessions were in that skiff and it was not loaded, so quickly had he been reduced from affluence to poverty. We went on in company and were in the boats for seven hours in the beating rain and the sickening sun, sitting with our feet in the water. Not an inch of land was to be seen during the journey through the dense swamp and over the swift curling currents. The water was sometimes twenty feet deep, rushing and gurgling around the logs and trees. We all stood it very well except Aunt Laura. She was terrified nearly to death and was alternately laughing and crying. She insisted on giving the rower directions and, as he was a slow African, confused him so that he forgot how to pull and ran us into brush piles innumerable. At last he said, “Now, Mistress, you just tell me how to pull and I’ll do it.” So Aunt Laura and Mamma steered the boat viva voce, and he did the hard pulling. I thought they surely would make him turn us over, since a dugout goes over with such ease. At last we came to a clearing, and the boats had to be pulled over the land. We walked a path lined with brambles, and our dresses were nearly torn off. Johnny suffered with fever nearly all day.
As we were passing Mr. Anderson’s, heavy clouds rolled up, and it looked like a coming storm. Aunt Laura and Mrs. Hardison declared they would not go on but would stop right there, and so our boats were headed for the gallery.
They were all under water since it was a little bit of a house, but we carried it by storm without a remonstrance from the owners, who were as kind as could be. Mamma and I were wet nearly to our waists, and the floor looked like it had been scoured when we passed over it. But the dear little lady did not seem to mind it a bit. I had a great bag of Aunt Laura’s gold around my waist. It was very heavy, and just as I stepped on the gallery the belt gave way and it came down with a crash. A foot nearer and it would have fallen in the water, and I suppose we never would have found it. That evening Dr. Carson came to take us to his house but Aunt Laura felt too worn out to go. Mamma stayed with her, and Sister, the boys, and I went on with Dr. Carson. The next day the others joined us there. The whole family received us most kindly, and oh what a relief it was to get to a place of rest and to feel safe once more.
That night there was a most terrific storm which did not even waken me. I slept like the dead. I was completely exhausted by fatigue, excitement, and loss of sleep. … Aunt Laura and Mamma said they were worse frightened by the storm than they had been by anything else. They had not had a brutal Negro man standing on their dress and fingering a pistol a few inches from their heads. I can stand anything but Negro and Yankee raiders. They terrify me out of my wits. …
We spent nearly three weeks at Dr. Carson’s most delightfully. Books, music, rest, and pleasant company charmed the hours away until came news of our great bereavement.
The Negroes at Dr. Carson’s were almost as much demoralized as those on the river. The night after we reached there, a skiff load attempted to escape but were followed and captured after being fired on several times by Jimmy. Fortunately he did not hit any of them.
Now for a list of our losses. All the clothes left in the cart were taken by Mr. Catlin’s Negroes, Uncle Bob being unable to protect them. They comprised most of our underclothes and dresses, all my fine and pretty things, laces, etc., except one silk dress, all our likenesses, and all the little family treasures that we valued greatly. Little Sister did not get off with a change. Mrs. Carson kindly had a suit made for her. Mamma and I have barely a change and the boys have only what they have on. They lost theirs after getting them out here.
Aunt Laura has lost everything except barely enough to do with for a time. Beverly’s things were mostly saved. Aunt Laura’s trunk, packed with a quantity of beautiful clothes, laces, silks, velvets, and so on, was sent to Mr. Anthony’s in the vain hope that it would be safe. We hear, however, that the Yankees, informed by Webster, went there, demanded Mrs. Buckner’s trunk, took it to Grant’s headquarters, and that is the last of it. Some say they just broke it open and divided up the spoils. Both Mamma and Aunt Laura have lost all their bedding, table linen, etc. Our house is stripped of furniture, carpets, books, piano, and everything else, the carriage, buggy, harness, and everything of that kind. Also they have thirty Negroes still on the place we shall probably never see again.
Mamma regrets coming away as she did, but what else could she do? We could not stand more than anyone else, and nearly everyone left before we did. Our mistake was in not moving everything in the fall. Charles and Annie were the only two Negroes who would come with us, and they are only half-grown. So passes the glory of the family.