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.
Kate Stone’s brother led a group of men back to the Brokenburn estate to recapture the slaves the Stone family left behind as they fled Union troops. Stone recounts with chilling nonchalance what the men saw when they arrived at the springtime plantation. The slaves, exuberantly basking in seeming freedom, had tended the season’s load of vegetables, gathered fruit, stocked fresh meat, made cream and butter, and seemed to be on the verge of re-imagining their liberated community. Little did the slaves realize the fluidity of freedom of the home front.
May 22, 1863
Near Monroe, La.
In the last ten days I have been too busy to write. Mamma was away at Delhi waiting for Jimmy to return from his perilous trip to the river until last Monday, when they returned in triumph with all the Negroes except Webster, who had joined the Federal Army some time ago, and four old Negroes who were left on the place to protect it as far as possible.
Jimmy went in with a Capt. Smith and five other men, but it was owing entirely to Jimmy’s exertions that the Negroes were secured at last. They had captured the Negroes and were pushing on for the bayou when they were pursued by a body of forty Yankees. They came within hailing distance of Capt. Smith and his men and fired volley after volley at them, but fortunately none were struck. Capt. Smith ran as fast as possible to escape and to tell Jimmy to let the Negroes go and escape for his life, but when he came up with Jimmy at the Tensas Bayou, he found Jimmy swimming the stream and the Negroes and mules already across. Jimmy had heard the firing and rushed the Negroes over in dugouts, he swimming over with the mules. He swam over two or three times.
The Yankees, having no boats, did not attempt to follow any farther, and so Jimmy saved all of the Negroes at last. They are now on their way to Texas in Jimmy’s care, trying to overtake Mr. Smith’s train.
Jimmy and the men with him hid all day in the canebrake just back of the fence and in the fodder loft at Brokenburn and stole out at night to reconnoiter. They found what cabins the Negroes were in, and while hiding under Lucy’s house they saw her sitting there with Maria before a most comfortable fire drinking the most fragrant coffee. They were abusing Mamma, calling her “that Woman” and talking exultantly of capering around in her clothes and taking her place as mistress and heaping scorn on her. Capt. Smith says that he never heard a lady get such a tongue-lashing and that Lucy abused the whole family in round terms. At daylight they surrounded the cabins, calling the Negroes out and telling them it was useless to resist. They were captured. William made an effort to escape by jumping from a window, but at sight of a bowie knife he gave up. … As they passed Capt. Allen’s on Bear Lake, Capt. Smith and his men stopped to cook something to eat, and it was there that he came so near being caught. The penalty would have been hanging, and I suppose there would have been no mercy shown as this is his fourth trip into the swamp to bring out property left there. He is a marked man by the Federals.
Mamma heard only after Jimmy left that the penalty for removing anything from the property confiscated by the government was hanging, and she was utterly wretched until she welcomed Jimmy back, sunburnt and tired but triumphant.
Capt. Smith says Brokenburn is lovely, a place of abundance flowing with milk and honey. The tall oaks in their summer finery of deep green are throwing shadows on the soft deep grass creeping to their very trunks, the white house is set in a very bower of green, and the flower garden is shining off at one side, a mass of bloom. He said he did want to stay and take one good breakfast with the Negroes, since he never saw so many good things to eat: a barrel of milk, jars of delicious pinkish cream, roll after roll of creamy yellow butter, a yard alive with poultry, and hams and fresh meat just killed. The garden is stocked with vegetables, the strawberry bed red with fruit, and then a supply of coffee, tea, flour, and such things bought from the Yankees. He says they would have been foolish Negroes to run off from a place like that. William and his family were occupying Mamma’s room, completely furnished as we left it, and all our other possessions had been divided up among the Negroes.