Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September 2, 1864: The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut

On this day 150 years ago, Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote in her diary that she feared Atlanta was lost, though official news had not yet reached her in Camden, South Carolina. Chesnut, shrewder than many Confederate diarists, feared that the loss of Atlanta would lead to the loss of the war by the Confederacy.
September 2d. - The battle has been raging at Atlanta, and our fate hanging in the balance. Atlanta, indeed, is gone. Well, that agony is over. Like David, when the child was dead, I will get up from my knees, will wash my face and comb my hair. No hope; we will try to have no fear.

At the Prestons' I found them drawn up in line of battle every moment looking for the Doctor on his way to Richmond. Now, to drown thought, for our day is done, read Dumas's Maîtres d 'Armes. Russia ought to sympathize with us. We are not as barbarous as this, even if Mrs. Stowe's word be taken. Brutal men with unlimited power are the same all over the world. See Russell's India - Bull Run Russell's. They say General Morgan has been killed. We are hard as stones; we sit unmoved and hear any bad news chance may bring. Are we stupefied?

Monday, September 1, 2014

September 1, 1864: The Diary of Judith White McGuire

On this day 150 years ago, the well-connected Southern refugee Judith White McGuire wrote in her diary about beginning work as a clerk in the Confederate government.
September 1, 1864.

----has this day entered on her duties as clerk in the “Surgeon-General's Department,” which she obtained with very little trouble on her part. We had always objected to her applying for an office, because we were afraid of the effect of sedentary employment on her health; but now it seems necessary to us, as the prices of provisions and house-rent have become so very high. Providence has dealt most mercifully with us from the beginning of the war: at first it seemed to be the pleasure of our friends as well as ourselves that we should be with them; then, when it became evident that the war would continue, Mr.-- obtained an office, which gave us a limited, but independent, support. Then, when prices became high, and we could not live on the salary, the chaplaincy came, with a little better income. As provisions continued to increase in price, and our prospect seemed very poor for the winter, my office was obtained without the least effort on my part, though I had often sought one in the Treasury without success; and now, when difficulties seem to be increasing with the great scarcity of provisions, the way is again made comparatively easy. So it seems that the Lord intends us to work for our daily bread, and to be independent, but not to abound.

September 1, 1864: The Diary of John B. Jones

On this day 150 years ago, the news of the impending fall of Atlanta had not yet reached the Confederate War Department. Confederate War Clerk John B. Jones was instead focused on the Northern presidential election, a crackpot taxation plan, and the process whereby women war clerks were to be hired from that class of people already able to subsist themselves, rather than from refugees who needed paid work.
September 1st.—Clear, bright, and cool.

The intelligence from the North indicates that Gen. McClellan will be nominated for the Presidency. Judge Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War, shakes his head, and says he is not the right man. Our people take a lively interest in the proceedings of the Chicago Convention, hoping for a speedy termination of the war.

Senator Johnson, of Missouri, has a project of taxation for the extinguishment of the public debt—a sweeping taxation, amounting to one-half the value of the real and personal estate of the Confederate States. He got me to commit his ideas to writing, which I did, and they will be published.

Gen. Kemper told me to-day that there were 40,000 able-bodied men in Virginia now detailed.

There is a project on the tapis of introducing lady clerks into this bureau—all of them otherwise able to subsist themselves—while the poor refugees, who have suffered most, are denied places. Even the President named one to-day, Mrs. Ford, who, of course, will be appointed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 27, 1864: The Diary of Margaret Ann Meta Morris Grimball

On this day 150 years ago, Margaret Ann Meta Morris Grimball mourned her son William.
27 August

It is just a month since my dear William was taken from us & each day seems but to add to the sense of the berevement . God's will be done, and may he sanctify to us this dispensation. It will certainly wean our hearts from the world, for by him, & through him we expected to be honored here. - and he is in heaven; I have now two children in heaven, Harriet & William. - May my hard, worldly heart be lifted up from this vain passing life to that eternal & with those redeemed & in heaven. -

Arthur came up with his father looking thin and shattered, he spent his furlough satisfactorily, he was docile, every day he read two chapters in the Bible to me, a small one I got for him, & said a Hymn, "Just as I am". I pasted the Hymn in the book for him, & hope he will read his Bible regularly. William was a great loss to him, he seemed like a wall of defence, always there to help & keep him up. His health seemed benefitted, but he smokes too much. He went down yesterday. -

Berkley got a furlough for a week & spent it with us, he looks well and is now to take Quinine regularly & may be in that way able to escape fever. - His father gave Arthur money to buy quinine. We have not heard from Lewis & are uneasy about him. There are notices of William in the papers commendatory of him, Charlotte writes me the notice from the Bar was very good, we have not seen it. Lasage Elliott sent Mr Grimball a paper drawn up at a meeting of some of his personal friends commending his character & talents, it was to have been published in the Guardian, we have not yet seen it. They also requested permission to place a tablet on his grave. - All this shews that his life, though short, was not without its use, his example may lead others to strive after good.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

August 23, 1864: Lincoln's "Blind Memorandum"

On this day 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln asked his cabinet members to sign a sealed memorandum without reading it. They complied. The text of the "Blind Memorandum" was later revealed to be the following:


This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterward.
The election of 1864 was rapidly approaching, and Lincoln feared he would be defeated. This was not an unreasonable belief. No American president had been re-elected to a second term since Andrew Jackson won his second term in 1832. And then there was the war news: despite months of bloody fighting, neither Richmond nor Atlanta had fallen.

Friday, August 22, 2014

August 22, 1864: The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut

On this day 150 years ago, in Columbia, South Carolina, Mary Boykin Chesnut surveyed the war news.
August 22d. - Hope I may never know a raid except from hearsay. Mrs. Huger describes the one at Athens. The proudest and most timid of women were running madly in the streets, corsets in one hand, stockings in the other- déshabillé as far as it will go, Mobile is half taken. The railroad between us and Richmond has been tapped.

Notes from a letter written by a young lady who is riding a high horse. Her fiancé, a maimed hero, has been abused. "You say to me with a sneer, 'So you love that man.' Yes, I do, and I thank God that I love better than all the world the man who is to be my husband. 'Proud of him, are you?' Yes, I am, in exact proportion to my love. You say, ' I am selfish.' Yes, I am selfish. He is my second self, so utterly absorbed am I in him. There is not a moment, day or night, that I do not think of him. In point of fact, I do not think of anything else." No reply was deemed necessary by the astounded recipient of this outburst of indignation, who showed me the letter and continued to observe: "Did you ever? She seems so shy, so timid, so cold."

Sunday Isabella took us to a chapel, Methodist, of course; her father had a hand in building it. It was not clean, but it was crowded, hot, and stuffy. An eloquent man preached with a delightful voice and wonderful fluency; nearly eloquent, and at times nearly ridiculous. He described a scene during one of his sermons when "beautiful young faces were turned up to me, radiant faces though bathed in tears, moral rainbows of emotion playing over them," etc.

He then described his own conversion, and stripped himself naked morally. All that is very revolting to one's innate sense of decency. He tackled the patriarchs. Adam, Noah, and so on down to Joseph, who was "a man whose modesty and purity were so transcendent they enabled him to resist the greatest temptation to which fallen man is exposed." "Fiddlesticks! that is played out!" my neighbor whispered. "Everybody gives up now that old Mrs. Pharaoh was forty." "Mrs. Potiphar, you goose, and she was fifty!" "That solves the riddle." "Sh-sh!!" from the devout Isabella.

At home met General Preston on the piazza. He was vastly entertaining. Gave us Darwin, Herodotus, and Livy. We understood him and were delighted, but we did not know enough to be sure when it was his own wisdom or when wise saws and cheering words came from the authors of whom he spoke.