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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20, 1864: "Homicide in a house of ill fame"

Wartime Richmond was filled with gambling "hells" and "houses of ill fame" during the American Civil War, and the August 20, 1864 edition of Richmond's Daily Dispatch carried the story of an incident in one of those establishments.
Homicide in a house of ill fame.

--Yesterday afternoon about four o'clock Benjamin Delarus was accidentally shot and killed by a companion named Joseph Johnson, in a house of ill fame kept by Catherine Blankinship of Twenty-first, between Main and Cary streets. The evidence at the inquest, given by Mary Vanderlip, Eliza Logan, and other inmates, showed that the two men entered the house very good friends and sent out for some whiskey.--They had not been in there more than ten minutes before a pistol was discharged, and immediately thereafter they heard Johnson remark, "Oh, Ben, I have shot you, I did not mean to do it" ! Delarne replied, "Yes, Joe, you have; and I fear I am gone." When they got in the room where the scene occurred Johnson was leaning against the bed, with Delarne in his arms. In a few minuted a physician was sent for, who, as soon as he saw the wound, announced it fatal, and that it was impossible to do anything for him. In about half an hour after the shooting Delarne died.
The weapon used was an exceedingly small-sized revolving pistol, with a barrel about two and a half inches long and probably a half inch in --The ball entered the lower part of the abdomen.--Delarue and Johnson hail from New York and deserted from the Yankee army a few months since.--The deceased then entered the Confederate army, but was not in the service long be deserted. Only the day before the was arrested for absence from his company; but by some means, succeeded in making his escape from his place of confinement. Johnson was in the habit of going to Mrs. Blankinship's house, but none of the inmates had ever seen the deceased before the evening proceeding the accident.

Information of the shooting being lodged at the lower station-house, officers Granger and Crone forthwith started in search of the man who committed the deed, each taking different directions.--Their informant stated that both the deceased and Johnson had just been closely shaved, and soon after Granger left the cage, be espied two men walking hurriedly along Main street, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth, one of whom had the appearance of a man who had just come from the barber's, which attracted his attention, and calling the other aside, he inquired who it was walking beside him. It turned out to be the very person he was in pursuit of. Johnson readily gave himself up, and stated to the officer that he was then looking for a physician to send to Delarne, whom he had just shot unintentionally. He stated that he had his pistol out, exhibiting it to the deceased, and undertook to show him now to cock it, when the hammer fell and exploded the cap.

The verdict of the jury of inquest was that Delarue came to his death from a wound inflicted by a pistol shot by Joseph Johnson, and that from the testimony before them they believed it was accidental.

The matter will be further investigated before the Mayor this morning.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 19, 1864: The Diary of John B. Jones

August 19th.—Damp and cloudy.

There was no serious battle. The wind was in a quarter which brought the sounds to us, even from the skirmishers, ten miles distant. But our gun-boats shelled the enemy out of their position on Signal Hill, and there was heavy cannonading along the line on the south side of the river. And, as appears by the papers, there was severe fighting at different points of the line.

We have now some further details of the battle of Tuesday. Our loss was 1000; the enemy’s, it is said, 5000 to 8000.

It is now, 5 p.m., raining gently, thank Heaven!

To-day we had a distribution of meats, etc. brought from North Carolina by our agent. Custis and I invested $200: we have received 26 pounds bacon and 24 smoked herrings—worth here about $200. Half the money remains in the agent’s hands, for which we expect to get 300 pounds of flour—if the enemy will let the railroads alone.

It is believed another raid has crossed the Weldon Road, and is sweeping in the direction of the Lynchburg and Danville Road. The speculators are on the qui vive already, and no flour can be had. I fear our flour will be intercepted, delayed, and perhaps lost! The meat we got to-day will supply but two ounces for each member of my family daily for two months. This is war, terrible war! But if Grant is not rapidly reinforced, at the present rate of his losses his army will be consumed in two months. There is some consolation in that prospect!

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15, 1864: Turnips and Cannon

On this day 150 years ago, as always, Confederate war clerk John B. Jones was intently focused on food, but off in the distance he could hear the booming cannon fire from the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, which had begun the day before. The Second Battle of Deep Bottom is not well remembered today, perhaps because it was so confused and inconclusive, but at the time it posed a real threat to Richmond.
August 15th.—Cloudy, damp, and pleasant. A rain fell last night, wetting the earth to a considerable depth; and the wind being southeast, we look for copious showers—a fine season for turnips, etc.

Cannon was distinctly heard from my garden yesterday evening, and considerable fighting has been going on down the river for several days; the result (if the end is yet) has not been officially stated. It is rumored that Pemberton lost more batteries; but it is only rumor, so far. Nor have we anything definite from Early or Hood.

Bacon has fallen to $5 and $6 per pound, flour to $175 per barrel. I hope we shall get some provisions from the South this week.

Sowed turnip-seed in every available spot of my garden to-day. My tomatoes are beginning to mature—better late than never.

The following official dispatch was received on Saturday:

“Mobile, August 11th.—Nothing later from Fort Morgan. The wires are broken. Gen. Forrest drove the enemy’s advance out of Oxford last night. 

“All the particulars of the Fort Gaines surrender known, are that the commanding officer communicated with the enemy, and made terms, without authority. His fort was in good condition, the garrison having suffered little. 

“He made no reply to repeated orders and signals from Gen. Page to hold his fort, and surrendered upon conditions not known here. D. H. Maury, Major-General.”

Gen. Taylor will cross the Mississippi with 4000 on the 18th of this month. Sherman must get Atlanta quickly, or not at all.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14, 1864: The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut

Mary Boykin Chesnut's new home in Columbia, South Carolina was on the route between Richmond and Atlanta and show frequently entertained officers traveling back and forth between the two fronts, and in doing so, she got firsthand war news.
August 14th. - We have conflicting testimony. Young Wade Hampton, of Joe Johnston's staff, says Hood lost 12,000 men in the battles of the 22d1 and 24th, but Brewster, of Hood's staff, says not three thousand at the utmost. Now here are two people strictly truthful, who tell things so differently. In this war people see the same things so oddly one does not know what to believe.

Brewster says when he was in Richmond Mr. Davis said Johnston would have to be removed and Sherman blocked. He could not make Hardee full general because, when he had command of an army he was always importuning the War Department for a general-in-chief to be sent there over him. Polk would not do, brave soldier and patriot as he was. He was a good soldier, and would do his best for his country, and do his duty under whomever was put over him by those in authority. Mr. Davis did not once intimate to him who it was that he intended to promote to the head of the Western Army.

Brewster said to-day that this "blow at Joe Johnston, cutting off his head, ruins the schemes of the enemies of the government. Wigfall asked me to go at once, and get Hood to decline to take this command, for it will destroy him if he accepts it. He will have to fight under Jeff Davis's orders; no one can do that now and not lose caste in the Western Army. Joe Johnston does not exactly say that Jeff Davis betrays his plans to the enemy, but he says he dares not let the President know his plans, as there is a spy in the War Office who invariably warns the Yankees in time. Consulting the government on military movements is played out. That's Wigfall's way of talking. Now," added Brewster, "I blame the President for keeping a man at the head of his armies who treats the government with open scorn and contumely, no matter how the people at large rate this disrespectful general."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 13, 1864: The price of food in Richmond

On this day 150 years ago, food--both from his garden and the market--remained very much on the mind of Confederate war clerk John B. Jones.
August 13th.—Hot and dry. Large green worms have attacked my tomatoes, and from the leaves are proceeding to the fruit. But not many of them will escape! I am warring on them.

No war news, except the continuation of the movement of troops northward. Hampton’s division of cavalry, at least three brigades, passed this morning.

From Mobile and Atlanta we have nothing of interest.

Flour is falling: it is now $200 per barrel—$500 a few weeks ago; and bacon is falling in price also, from $11 to $6 per pound. A commission merchant said to me, yesterday, that there was at least eighteen months’ supply (for the people) of breadstuffs and meats in the city; and pointing to the upper windows at the corner of Thirteenth and Cary Streets, he revealed the ends of many barrels piled above the windows. He said that flour had been there two years, held for “still higher prices.” Such is the avarice of man. Such is war. And such the greed of extortioners, even in the midst of famine—and famine in the midst of plenty!