RICHMOND, Va., Nov. 28, 1863.—I gave a party; Mrs. Davis very witty; Preston girls very handsome; Isabella's fun fast and furious. No party could have gone off more successfully, but my husband decides we are to have no more festivities. This is not the time, or the place, for such gaieties. Maria Freeland is perfectly delightful on the subject of her wedding. Lucy Haxall is positively engaged to Captain Coffey, an Englishman. She is convinced that she will marry him. He is her first fancy. Mr. Venable, of Lee's staff, was at our party, so out of spirits. He knows everything that is going on. His depression bodes us no good. To-day, General Hampton sent James Chesnut a fine saddle that he had captured from the Yankees in battle array. Charleston is bombarded night and day. It fairly makes me dizzy to think of that everlasting racket they are beating about people's ears down there. Bragg defeated, and separated from Longstreet. It is a long street that knows no turning, and Rosecrans is not taken after all.

Nov. 30.—Anxiety pervades. Lee is fighting Meade.2 Misery is everywhere. Bragg is falling back before Grant. Longstreet, the soldiers call him Peter the Slow, is settling down before Knoxville. And now I am in a fine condition for Hetty Cary's starvation party, where they will give thirty dollars for the music and not a cent for a morsel to eat. My husband bought yesterday, at the commissary's one barrel of flour, one bushel of potatoes, one peck of rice, five pounds of salt beef, and one peck of salt—all for sixty dollars. In the street a barrel of flour sells for one hundred and fifteen dollars. Spent seventy-five dollars to-day for a little tea and sugar, and have five hundred left. My husband's pay never has paid for the rent of our lodgings. My husband laid the law down last night. I felt it to be the last drop in my full cup. "No more feasting in this house," said he. "This is no time for junketing and merrymaking." "And you said you brought me here to enjoy the winter before you took me home and turned my face to a dead wall." He is the master of the house; to hear is to obey.

Sunday, Christopher Hampton walked to church with me. Coming out, General Lee was seen slowly making his way down the aisle, bowing royally to right and left. I pointed him out to Christopher Hampton when General Lee happened to look our way. He bowed low, giving me a charming smile of recognition. I was ashamed of being so pleased. I blushed like a schoolgirl.

We went to the White House. They gave us tea. The President said he had been on the way to our house, coming with all the Davis family, to see me, but the children became so troublesome they turned back. Just then, little Joe3 rushed in and insisted on saying his prayers at his father's knee, then and there. He was in his nightclothes.

December 19th.—A box has come from home for me. Taking advantage of this good fortune and a full larder, have asked Mrs. Davis to dine with me. Wade Hampton sent me a basket of game. We had Mrs. Davis and Mr. and Mrs. Preston. After dinner we walked to the church to see the Freeland-Lewis wedding. Mr. Preston had Mrs. Davis on his arm. My husband and Mrs. Preston, and Burton Harrison4 and myself brought up the rear. Willie Allan joined us, and we had the pleasure of waiting one good hour. Then the beautiful Maria, loveliest of brides, sailed in on her father's arm, and Major John Coxe Lewis followed with Mrs. Freeland. After the ceremony such a kissing was there up and down the aisle.

Christmas Day.—Yesterday dined with the Prestons. Wore one of my handsomest Paris dresses (from Paris before the war). Three magnificent Kentucky generals were present, with Senator Orr from South Carolina, and Mr. Miles. Others dropt in after dinner; some without arms, some without legs; von Borcke, who can not speak because of a wound in his throat. Isabella said: "We have all kinds now, but a blind one." Poor fellows, they laugh at wounds. "And they yet can show many a scar." We had for dinner oyster soup, besides roast mutton, ham, boned turkey, wild duck, partridge, plum pudding, sauterne, burgundy, sherry, and Madeira. There is life in the old land yet!

My husband says I am extravagant. "No, my friend, not that," said I. "I had fifteen hundred dollars and I have spent every cent of it in my housekeeping. Not one cent for myself, not one cent for dress, nor any personal want whatever." He calls me "hospitality run mad."

To-day, for a pair of forlorn shoes I have paid $85. Colonel Ives drew my husband's pay for me. I sent Lawrence for it (Mr. Chesnut ordered him back to us; we needed a man servant here). Colonel Ives wrote that he was amazed I should be willing to trust a darky with that great bundle of money, but it came safely. Mr. Petigru says you take your money to market in the market-basket, and bring home what you buy in your pocketbook. . .

January 18.—Lamar5 was asked to dinner here yesterday; so he came to-day. We had our wild turkey cooked for him yesterday, and I drest my self within an inch of my life with the best of my four-year-old finery. Two of us, my husband and I, did not damage the wild turkey seriously. So Lamar enjoyed the réchauffé, and commended the art with which Molly had hid the slight loss we had inflicted upon its mighty breast. She had piled fried oysters over the turkey so skilfully, that unless we had told about it, no one would ever have known that the huge bird was making his second appearance on the board. Lamar was more absent-minded and distrait than ever. My husband behaved like a trump—a well-bred man, with all his wits about him; so things went off smoothly enough.

January 25.—The President walked home with me from church (I was to dine with Mrs. Davis). He walked so fast I had no breath to talk; so I was a good listener for once. The truth is I am too much afraid of him to say very much in his presence. We had such a nice dinner. After dinner Hood came for a ride with the President.

February 9.—This party for Johnny was the very nicest I have ever had, and I mean it to be my last. I sent word to the Carys to bring their own men. They came alone, saying, "they did not care for men." "That means a raid on ours," growled Isabella. Mr. Lamar was devoted to Constance Cary. He is a free lance; so that created no heart-burning. Afterward, when the whole thing was over, and a success, the lights put out, etc., here trooped in the four girls, who stayed all night with me. In dressing-gowns they stirred up a hot fire, relit the gas, and went in for their supper; réchauffé was the word, oysters, hot coffee, etc. They kept it up till daylight. Isabella says that war leads to love-making. She says these soldiers do more courting here in a day than they would do at home, without a war, in ten years. In the pauses of conversation, we hear, "She is the noblest woman God ever made!" "Goodness!" exclaims Isabella. "Which one?" The amount of courting we hear in these small rooms. Men have to go to the front, and they say their say desperately. I am beginning to know all about it. The girls tell me.

February 23d.—At the President's, where General Lee breakfasted, a man named Phelan told General Lee all he ought to do; planned a campaign for him. General Lee smiled blandly the while, tho he did permit himself a mild sneer at the wise civilians in Congress who refrained from trying the battle-field in person, but from afar dictated the movements of armies.

February 26th.—We went to see Mrs. Breckenridge, who is here with her husband. Then we paid our respects to Mrs. Lee.6 Her room was like an industrial school; everybody so busy. Her daughters were all three plying their needles, with several other ladies. Mrs. Lee showed us a beautiful sword, recently sent to the General by some Marylanders, now in Paris. On the blade was engraved, "Aide toi et Dieu t'aidera."7 When we came out some one said, "Did you see how the Lees spend their time? What a rebuke to the taffy parties!"

March 11th.—Letters from home, including one from my husband's father, now over ninety, written with his own hand, and certainly in his own mind still. I quote: "Bad times; worse coming. Starvation stares me in the face. Neither John's nor James's overseer will sell me any corn." Now, what has the Government to do with the fact that, on all his plantations, he made corn enough to last for the whole year, and by the end of January his negroes had stolen it all? Poor old man, he has fallen on evil days, after a long life of ease and prosperity.

March 12th.—Somebody counted fourteen generals in church to-day, and suggested that less piety and more drilling of commands would suit the times better. There were Lee, Longstreet, Morgan, Hoke, Clingman, Whiting, Pegram, Elzey, Gordon, and Bragg.

March 15th.—Old Mrs. Chesnut is dead. A saint is gone and James Chesnut is broken-hearted. He adored his mother. I gave $375 for my mourning, which consists of a black alpaca dress and a crape veil. With bonnet, gloves, and all it came to $500. Before the blockade such things as I have would not have been thought fit for a chambermaid. Everybody is in trouble. Mrs. Davis says paper money has depreciated so much in value that they can not live within their income; so they are going to dispense with their carriage and horses.

Yesterday, we went to the Capitol grounds to see our returned prisoners. We walked slowly up and down until Jeff Davis was called upon to speak. There I stood, almost touching the bayonets when he left me. I looked straight into the prisoners' faces, poor fellows. They cheered with all their might, and I wept for sympathy, and enthusiasm. I was deeply moved. These were so forlorn, so dried up, and shrunken, with such a strange look in some of their eyes; others so restless and wild-looking; others again placidly vacant, as if they had been dead to the world for years.

April 1st.—Mrs. Davis is utterly deprest. She said the fall of Richmond must come; she would send her children to me and Mrs. Preston. We begged her to come to us also. My husband is as deprest as I ever knew him to be. He has felt the death of that angel mother of his keenly, and now he takes his country's wo to heart.

CAMDEN, S. C., May 8, 1864.—My friends crowded around me so in those last days in Richmond, I forgot the affairs of this nation utterly; tho I did show faith in my Confederate country by buying poor Bones's (my English maid's) Confederate bonds. I gave her gold thimbles, bracelets; whatever was gold and would sell in New York or London, I gave. My friends grieved that I had to leave them—not half so much, however, as I did that I must come away. Those last weeks were so pleasant. No battle, no murder, no sudden death, all went merry as a marriage bell. Clever, cordial, kind, brave friends rallied around me.

It is sad enough at Mulberry without old Mrs. Chesnut, who was the good genius of the place. It is so lovely here in spring. The giants of the forest—the primeval oaks, water-oaks, willow-oaks, such as I have not seen since I left here—with opopanax, violets, roses, and yellow, jessamine. The air is laden with perfume. Araby the Blest was never sweeter. Inside, creature comforts of all kinds—green peas, strawberries, asparagus, spring lamb, spring chicken, fresh eggs, rich, yellow butter, clean white linen for one's beds, dazzling white damask for one's table. It is such a contrast to Richmond, where I wish I were.

September 19th.—My pink silk dress I have sold for $600, to be paid in instalments, two hundred a month for three months. And I sell my eggs and butter from home for two hundred dollars a month. Does it not sound well—four hundred dollars a month regularly. But in what? In Confederate money. Hélas!

A thousand dollars have slipped through my fingers already this week. At the commissary's I spent five hundred to-day for candles, sugar, and a lamp, etc. Tallow candles are bad enough, but of them there seems to be an end, too. Now we are restricted to smoky, terrabine lamps—terrabine is a preparation of turpentine. When the chimney of the lamp cracks, as crack it will, we plaster up the place with paper, thick old letter-paper, preferring the highly glazed kind. In the hunt for paper queer old letters come to light.

Sherman is thundering at Augusta's very doors. My General was on the wing, somber, and full of care. The girls are merry enough; the staff, who fairly live here, no better. Cassandra, with a black shawl over her head, is chased by the gay crew from sofa to sofa, for she avoids them, being full of miserable anxiety. There is nothing but distraction and confusion.

We have lost nearly all of our men, and we have no money, and it looks as if we had taught the Yankees how to fight since Manassas. Our best and bravest are under the sod; we should have to wait till another generation grows up. Here we stand, despair in our hearts ("Oh, Cassandra, don't!" shouts Isabella), with our houses burning, or about to be, over our heads. The North have just got things ship-shape; a splendid army, perfectly disciplined, with new levies coming in day and night. Their gentry do not go into the ranks. They hardly know there is war up there.

Serena's account of money spent: Paper and envelopes, $12.00; tickets to concert, $10.00; toothbrush, $10.00; total, $32.00.... To-day Mrs. McCord exchanged $16,000 in Confederate bills for $300 in gold—sixteen thousand for three hundred.

LINCOLNTON, N. C., February 16, 1865.—A change has come o'er the spirit of my dreams. Dear old quire of yellow, coarse, Confederate home-made paper, here you are again. An age of anxiety and suffering has passed over my head since last I wrote and wept over your forlorn pages. My husband urged me to go home. He said Camden would be safe enough. They had no spite against that old town, as they had against Charleston and Columbia. My husband does not care a fig for the property question, and never did. Perhaps, if he had ever known poverty, it would be different. He talked beautifully about it, as he always does about everything. I have told him often that, if at Heaven's gate St. Peter would listen to him a while, and let him tell his own story, he would get in, and the angels might give him a crown extra. Now he says he has only one care—that I should be safe, and not so harassed with dread; and then there is his blind old father. "A man," said he, "can always die like a patriot and a gentleman, with no fuss, and take it coolly. It is hard not to envy those who are out of all this, their difficulties ended—those who have met death gloriously on the battle-fleld, their doubts all solved. One can but do his best and leave the result to a higher power."

CHESTER, S. C., March 21, 1865.—Another flitting has occurred. As the train rattled and banged along, and I waved my handkerchief in farewell to Miss Middleton, Isabella, and other devoted friends, I could only wonder if fate would ever throw me again, with such kind, clever, agreeable, congenial companions? The McLeans refused to be paid for their rooms. No plummet can sound the depths of the hospitality and kindness of the North Carolina people.

April 7th.—Richmond has fallen, and I have no heart to write about it. Grant broke through our lines and Sherman cut through them. Stoneman is this side of Danville. They are too many for us. Everything is lost in Richmond, even our archives. Blue-black is our horizon. Hood says we shall all be obliged to go West—to Texas, I mean, for our own part of the country will be overrun. Yes, a solitude and a wild waste it may become, but, as to that, we can rough it in the bush at home. . . .

April 22.—It has been a wild three days, with aides galloping around with messages, Yankees hanging over us like a sword of Damocles. We have been in queer straits. We sat up at Mrs. Bedon's drest, without once going to bed for forty-eight hours.

CAMDEN, S. C., May 2, 1865.—Since we left Chester nothing but solitude, nothing but tall, blackened chimneys, to show that any man has ever trod this road before. This is Sherman's track. It is hard not to curse him. I wept incessantly at first. The roses of the gardens are already hiding the ruins. My husband said Nature is a wonderful renovator. He tried to say something else and then I shut my eyes and made a vow that if we were a crusht people, crusht by weight, I would never be a whimpering, pining slave. When we crossed the river coming home, the ferryman at Chesnut's Ferry asked for his fee. Among us all we could not muster the small silver coin he demanded. There was poverty for You.

May 18th.—A feeling of sadness hovers over me now, day and night, which no words of mine can express. There is a chance for plenty of character study in this Mulberry house, if one only had the heart for it. Colonel Chesnut, now ninety-three, blind and deaf, is apparently as strong as ever, and certainly as resolute of will. Partly patriarch, partly grand seigneur, this old man is of a species that we shall see no more—the last of a race of lordly planters who ruled this Southern world, but now a splendid wreck. His manners are unequaled still, but underneath this smooth exterior lies the grip of a tyrant whose will has never been crossed. I will not attempt what Lord Byron says he could not do, but must quote again: "Everybody knows a gentleman when he sees him. I have never met a man who could describe one." We have had three very distinct specimens of the genus in his house—three generations of gentlemen, each utterly different from the other—father, son, and grandson.

African Scipio walks at Colonel Chesnut's side. He is six feet two, a black Hercules, and as gentle as a dove in all his dealings with the blind old master, who boldly strides forward, striking with his stick to feel where he is going. Sometimes this old man will stop himself, just as he is going off in a fury, because they try to prevent his attempting some feat impossible in his condition of lost faculties. He will ask gently, "I hope that I never say or do anything unseemly! Sometimes I think I am subject to mental aberrations." At every footfall he calls out, "Who goes there?" If a lady's name is given, he uncovers and stands, with hat off, until she passes. He still has the oldworld art of bowing low and gracefully.

Colonel Chesnut came of a race that would brook no interference with their own sweet will by man, woman, or devil. But then such manners has he, they would clear any man's character, if it needed it. Mrs. Chesnut, his wife, used to tell us that when she met him at Princeton,8 in the nineties of the eighteenth century, they called him "the Young Prince."

1 From Mrs. Chesnut's "Diary from Dixie." By permission of the publishers, D. Appleton & Co. Copyright 1905.
Return to text.

2 At Mine Run, Orange County, Virginia, where Meade retired after some desultory fighting. The battle of Gettysburg had occurred in July of this year.
Return to text.

3 "Little Joe" was Jefferson Davis's son, much petted in Confederate society at Richmond. A few weeks after this incident he fell from an upper window in his father's house and was killed.
Return to text.

4 Burton N. Harrison was Davis's private secretary. After the war he settled in New York to practise law, and became the father of Francis Burton Harrison, who has served several terms in Congress. His wife was Constance Cary, whose name appears often in Mrs. Chesnut's "Diary." In later years Constance Cary Harrison became widely known as the author of successful novels.
Return to text.

5 L. Q. C. Lamar, afterward a member of Congress and United States Senator from Mississippi, and a member of Cleveland's Cabinet. He died a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Return to text.

6 Mrs. Robert E. Lee, wife of the General.
Return to text.

7 This is the sword that Lee wore at the time of the surrender at Appomattox.
Return to text.

8 Princeton, New Jersey, where Mr. Chesnut was educated. His wife was from Philadelphia.
Return to text.

Table of Contents
Return to Main Page
© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman