From the Diary of a Young Southern Woman, 1862

From Sarah Morgan Dawson. A Confederate Girl's Diary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913. 4-5, 22-25, 27-28, 304-308.

April 7th 1862

      Until that dreary 1861, I had no idea of sorrow or grief. . . .How I love to think of myself at that time! Not as myself, but as some happy, careless child who danced through life, loving God's whole world too much to love any particular one, outside of her own family. She was more childish then÷yet I like her for all her folly; I can say it now, for she is as dead as though she was lying underground.

      Now do not imagine that Sarah has become an aged lady in the fifteen months that have elapsed since, for it is no such thing; her heart does ache occasionally, but that is a secret between her and this little rosewood furnished room; and when she gets over it, there is no one more fond of making wheelbarrows of the children, or of catching Charlie or mother by the foot and making them play lame chicken. . . .Now all this done by a young lady who remembers eighteen months ago with so much regret that she has lost so much of her high spirits÷might argue that her spirits were before tremendous; and yet they were not. That other Sarah was ladylike, I am sure, in her wildest moments, but there is something hurried and boisterous in this one's tricks that reminds me of some one who is making a merit of being jolly under depressing circumstances. No! that is not a nice Sarah now, to my taste.

      The commencement of '61 promised much pleasure for the rest of the year, and though Secession was talked about, I do not believe any one anticipated the war that has been desolating our country ever since, with no prospect of terminating for some time to come. True the garrison was taken, but then several pleasant officers of the Louisiana army were stationed there, and made quite an agreeable addition to our small parties, and we did not think for a moment that trouble would grow out of it÷at least, we girls did not. Next Louisiana seceded, but still we did not trouble ourselves with gloomy anticipations, for many strangers visited the town, and our parties, rides, and walks grew gayer and more frequent.


May 9th 1862

      Our lawful owners have at last arrived. About sunset, day before yesterday, the Iroquois anchored here, and a graceful young Federal stepped ashore, carrying a Yankee flag over his shoulder, and asked the way to the Mayor's office. I like the style! If we girls of Baton Rouge had been at the landing, instead of the men, that Yankee would never have insulted us by flying his flag in our faces! We would have opposed his landing except under a flag of truce; but the men let him alone, and he even found a poor Dutchman willing to show him the road!

      He did not accomplish much; said a formal demand would be made next day, and asked if it was safe for the men to come ashore and buy a few necessaries, when he was assured the air of Baton Rouge was very unhealthy for Yankee soldiers at night. He promised very magnanimously not to shell us out if we did not molest him; but I notice none of them dare set their feet on terra firma, except the officer who has now called three times on the Mayor, and who is said to tremble visibly as he walks the streets.

      Last evening came the demand: the town must be surrendered immediately; the Federal flag Must be raised; they would grant us the same terms they granted New Orleans. Jolly terms those were! The answer was worthy of a Southerner. It was, "The town is defenseless; if we had cannon, there were not men enough to resist; but if forty vessels lay at the landing,÷it was intimated we were in their power, and more ships coming up,÷we would not surrender; if they wanted, they might come and Take us; if they wished the Federal flag hoisted over the Arsenal, they might put it up for themselves, the town had no control over Government property." Glorious! What a pity they did not shell the town! But they are taking us at our word, and this morning they are landing at the Garrison.

      "All devices, signs, and flags of the Confederacy shall be suppressed." So says Picayune Butler. Good. I devote all my red, white, and blue silk to the manufacture of Confederate flags. As soon as one is confiscated, I make another, until my ribbon is exhausted, when I will sport a duster emblazoned in high colors, "Hurra! for the Bonny blue flag!" Henceforth, I wear one pinned to my bosom÷not a duster, but a little flag; the man who says take it off will have to pull it off for himself; the man who dares attempt it÷well! a pistol in my pocket fills up the gap. I am capable, too.

      This is a dreadful war, to make even the hearts of women so bitter! I hardly know myself these last few weeks. I, who have such a horror of bloodshed, consider even killing in self-defense murder, who cannot wish them the slightest evil, whose only prayer is to have them sent back in peace to their own country,÷I talk of killing them! For what else do I wear a pistol and carving-knife? I am afraid I will try them on the first one who says an insolent word to me. Yes, and repent for it ever after in sackcloth and ashes. O! if I was only a man! Then I could don the breeches, and slay them with a will! If some few Southern women were in the ranks, they could set the men an example they would not blush to follow. Pshaw! there are no women here! We are all men!


May 10th 1862

      Last night about one o'clock I was wakened and told that mother and Miriam had come. Oh, how glad I was! I tumbled out of bed half asleep and hugged Miriam in a dream, but waked up when I got to mother. They came up under a flag of truce, on a boat going up for provisions, which, by the way, was brought to by half a dozen Yankee ships in succession, with a threat to send a broadside into her if she did not stop÷the wretches knew it must be under a flag of truce; no boats leave, except by special order to procure provisions.

      What tales they had to tell! They were on the wharf, and saw the ships sail up the river, saw the broadside fired into Will Pinckney's regiment, the boats we fired, our gunboats floating down to meet them all wrapped in flames; twenty thousand bales of cotton blazing in a single pile; molasses and sugar thrown over everything. They stood there opposite to where one of the ships landed, expecting a broadside, and resolute not to be shot in the back. I wish I had been there!

      And this is WAR! Heaven save me from like scenes and experiences again. I was wild with excitement last night when Miriam described how the soldiers, marching to the depot, waved their hats to the crowds of women and children, shouting, "God bless you, ladies! We will fight for you!" and they, waving their handkerchiefs, sobbed with one voice, "God bless you, Soldiers! Fight for us!"

      We, too, have been having our fun. Early in the evening, four more gunboats sailed up here. We saw them from the corner, three squares off, crowded with men even up in the riggings. The American flag was flying from every peak. It was received in profound silence, by the hundreds gathered on the banks. I could hardly refrain from a groan. Much as I once loved that flag, I hate it now! I came back and made myself a Confederate flag about five inches long, slipped the staff in my belt, pinned the flag to my shoulder, and walked downtown, to the consternation of women and children, who expected something awful to follow. An old negro cried, "My young missus got her flag flyin', anyhow!" Nettie made one and hid it in the folds of her dress. But we were the only two who ventured. We went to the State House terrace, and took a good look at the Brooklyn which was crowded with people who took a good look at us, likewise. The picket stationed at the Garrison took alarm at half a dozen men on horseback and ran, saying that the citizens were attacking. The kind officers aboard the ship sent us word that if they were molested, the town would be shelled. Let them! Butchers! Does it take thirty thousand men and millions of dollars to murder defenseless women and children? O the great nation! Bravo!


December 26, 1862

      Yesterday, being a beautiful day, I was carried down in honor of Christmas, to meet Captain Fenner and Mr. Duggan who were to dine with us. The cars had brought Miriam a beautiful little set of collars and cuffs from Dellie, and the oddest, sweetest little set for me, from Morgan, for our Christmas gift. . . .

      We had an exquisite Christmas gift the night before, a magnificent serenade, a compliment from Colonel Breaux . . . .

      While all goes on merrily, another rap comes, and enter Santa Claus, dressed in the old uniform of the Mexican War, with a tremendous cocked hat, and preposterous beard of false hair, which effectually conceal the face, and but for the mass of tangled short curls no one could guess that the individual was Bud. It was a device of the General's, which took us all by surprise. . . Leaving us all wonder and laughter, Santa Claus retires with a basket much lighter than it had been at his entrance. . . .Then follow refreshments, and more and more talk and laughter, until the clock strikes twelve, when all these ghosts bid a hearty goodnight and retire.


January 1st, 1863

      1863! Why I have hardly become accustomed to writing '62 yet! Where has this year gone? With all its troubles and anxieties, it is the shortest I ever spent! '61 and '62 together would hardly seem three hundred and sixty-five days to me. Well, let time fly. Every hour brings us nearer our freedom, and we are two years nearer peace now than we were when South Carolina seceded. That is one consolation. . . .

      I learn, to my unspeakable grief, that the State House is burned down.

Houghton Mifflin Company