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Kate Stone’s Civil War: Callous to suffering and death

June 26, 2014


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.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Hidden beneath her upper-class sneering at a Texas barbecue, Stone grimly illustrates the wartime reality of senseless death and the emotional and psychological numbing required to endure it from one day to the next. She feels adrift throughout an era where the past is too painful to remember and the future is too horrific to imagine.

June 26, 1864

Tyler, Texas

This has been a busy week, clouded by the thought of Jimmy’s departure. We are finishing off his clothes and renovating ours, for we will go with him as far as Monroe [La.]. …

We have had our own trials patching up our clothes. We had no idea we were so near being ragamuffins until we took an exhaustive survey of our underclothes. Oh, for bolts and bolts and more bolts of white domestic. If Mamma’s trip proves successful, we will be able to better our condition as regards habiliments. Mamma is having quite a store of Texas goodies made up … to solace the inner man while on the road. …

Friday there was a grand Masonic celebration that we, in common with all the town and county, turned out to see. Mr. Michele took possession of our party and Sally Grissman and established us in the most pleasant and also most conspicuous seats and then devoted himself to our entertainment. Lt. Alexander and Dr. McGregor took possession of a nearby window, and we all had a merry morning but did not profit by the speeches. A large crowd and barbecue dinner that Mr. Michele insisted was not clean enough for us to eat. “Why,” said he, “should we dine with plebians?” I hope no native heard him. We went out, as Mamma said, “to see the animals feed.” Then we (the select few) returned home to dinner …

That night there was a party given at the hotel by Col. Anderson. He is in command, I think, of the Ordnance Department here and is an old army officer. His wife is charming. Emily and I went, to our surprise, and spent a charming evening. It was a most mixed and odd-looking crowd. Neither Emily nor I possessed a party dress, but we did not bring discredit on the swamp and looked well enough.

I did not think two months ago I would ever dance or care to talk nonsense again. But one grows callous to suffering and death. We can live only in the present, only from day to day. We cannot bear to think of the past and so dread the future. The refugees remind me of the description of the life of the nobility of France lived during the days of the French Revolution thrusting all the cares and tragedies of life aside and drinking deep of life’s joys while it lasted. This was our debut in Tyler society, and without self-flattery I may say we were quite a success.

I took a buggy ride yesterday with Dr. McGregor, who has a fine span of horses, and we just flew up and down (especially down) the hills. Enjoyed it highly, though I did think we would capsize on every hill we rushed down. On our return all the boys met us at the gate and could scarcely contain themselves at such a splendid opportunity for teasing, but the dread of future punishment at my hands kept them fairly in bounds. …

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