Editor’s Note: A Mother’s Day special dedicated to all Southern wives and mothers, this piece was originally published in 1877 in Bledsoe’s The Southern Review.
It is strange how we undervalue the historical interest of contemporaneous events, and how careless most persons are of preserving any record of the most stirring incidents that mark their own pathway through life. While in one sense, no period excites our sympathies as does the present, in another, we seem, totally indifferent to its issues, and undervalue as small and insignificant what we are accustomed to admire and extol in the records of a remote generation. ‘True, an impartial verdict as to political action must always be waited for until time shall have modified the asperities of party feeling; but how shall this verdict ever be rendered without material furnished by contemporaneous evidence, be it partisan, or coldly neutral in tone? Partial testimony cannot be rejected; but the judgment as to its value must be held in abeyance until a careful comparison has been made with that given on the other side. It is astonishing, too, how plainly truth is often discovered under color of most violent exaggeration; and when a writer is trying most laboriously to produce a certain impression, some unguarded word, some naive statement of facts, may produce upon the reader’s mind exactly the opposite conviction to that which the writer meant to convey. The only hope that a true verdict shall be rendered in future time, rests upon the honest and fearless testimony of contemporary writers.
One cannot read the record of the American Revolution and the recent civil war, without being impressed with the close resemblance between the rebel women of 1776 and those of 1861. The story of the one seems but a repetition of that of the other, except that the women of ’61 passed through the more fiery ordeal, and the more terrible in its character, inasmuch as no triumph rewarded their sacrifices, no glad conclusion wiped out the memory of their griefs.
A candid comparison will show that a century of republican institutions with the anomalous accompaniment of domestic slavery, has not produced a degenerate race in the southern portion of our country, as compared with the heroic men and women of Revolutionary fame. So far as the men are concerned, the glorious record of the armies of the Confederacy, with such leaders as Lee, Jackson, Polk, and their compeers, furnishes a sufficient answer. But, to spend a little while in reviewing the character of the women who acted a true, if subordinate, part on that trying arena, and so many of whom, alas! are already beyond the reach of praise or blame, cannot surely be found amiss. In speaking of the living, the greatest delicacy and reserve shall be used; for it is the poorest compliment that can be paid a woman, to drag her from modest retirement into the glare of public notice. Thither some of their sex must be thrust, by the force of circumstances, or the necessities of the case; but it is not the highest type of woman who willingly sees herself brought before the public, or becomes a candidate for their favor. No invidious discriminations, then, are meant if we extol the actions of the dead, and are silent, or only mention in general terms, those yet living who have performed equally meritorious services. It is only done out of deference to their own womanly feeling.
In history of all kinds, the natural course is, first to consider the conduct and character of those lifted by station above their fellows, so as to become leaders of the people. The first question, then, to ask concerning the women of the Southern Confederacy, relates to the character of those who composed the home-circles of our great men. Who does not desire a more intimate acquaintance with the women who reigned in the hearts and shared the fortunes of the men who filled the places of responsibility and power in the Confederacy, which had yet to fight its way to an acknowledged existence? Of course, in the brief review article, only specimens can be chosen of a class, and such information given as scanty materials supply. In the case of Southern women, the difficulties are peculiarly great that beset the path of one who would chronicle their deaths or lay bare the story of their inner lives; for, in that section of country, with the conservatism for which it is noted, women still shrink painfully from being in anywise dragged before the public.
In pursuance of our plan, let us consider, in so far as the meagre material at hand will allow, the character of those women with whom General Lee was associated in the ties of family consanguinity, who, doubtless, had their share in moulding his character, most certainly in promoting his happiness. The maiden name of General Lee’s mother, to whom he was accustomed to say he ‘owed everything’, was Anne Hill Carter, and she was a daughter of that branch of the well-known Virginia family of Carters residing at Shirley, a scat of old-time splendor and hospitality, on the James river. Some idea of the dimensions of the Shirley mansion may be formed from the well-authenticated fact, that as many as one hundred guests have not infrequently slept beneath its roof. Its windows commanded a magnificent prospect, and its ivy-mantled walls were built of fine old English brick, imported in colonial days. Its imposing hall of entrance and several long galleries were lined with family portraits, many of them possessing historical and antiquarian interest. The garden was laid off in beds divided by prim but neat rows of dwarf-box, and recent visitors say that the place still preserves in large measure its pleasing quaintness. It is true that wealth gave to this family a share of the consideration it enjoyed, but not wealth alone, for the inmates of Shirley were known as people of refinement and culture. Here, as in all those old Virginia country-homes, a peculiar state of society existed, in which wealth seemed to be divested of its advantages as well as its temptations. The most liberal income was barely adequate to the demands made upon it for the maintenance of these large establishments, with their troops of servants. In summer, an open-handed hospitality brought such an abundance of company to their homes, that the young people found little occasion for seeking amusement in places of dissipation and pleasure. And in the long winter months, the reading of English classical authors, foreign periodicals, new books, the study of music, etc., laid the foundation for thorough and practical education, such as is not always supplied in the famous boarding-school of to-day. No more skilled housekeepers, faithful nurses, and pleasant companions, were to be found than the Virginia matrons and maids of that day. Such was the home of Anne Carter, who became the second wife of that Henry Lee of the Revolutionary war, so well known under the sobriquet of ‘Light Horse Harry’.
For some years after their marriage they resided at Stratford, in Westmoreland county, Va., the old seat of the Lee family, and a most charming residence, situated on the banks of the Potomac. Here their illustrious son Robert Edward was born, January 19th, 1807, in the same chamber where two signers of the Declaration of Independence had first seen the light—Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee. President Th. Lee, of the Colonial Council, is spoken of in history as the first native Governor of Virginia. After having suffered a heavy loss of property by fire, Stratford Hall was built for him with funds contributed by the East India Company, aided by a magnificent donation from the privy purse of Queen Caroline herself. ‘Stratford Hall’ has been rendered famous, not only from the circumstances under which it was built, but as a great centre of genial old Virginia hospitality. Here was the headquarters of the fashion and nobility of the Old Dominion; and its extensive halls and massive corridors not only resounded to the strains of martial music and the festive dance, but also to the powerful voice of genius, as it eloquently went forth to establish the political events of the country.
When his son Robert, however, was only four years old, General Henry Lee moved to Alexandria, that his children might enjoy greater advantages of education. But in a few years his health failed, and, after sustaining a severe injury in endeavoring to quell a riot in Baltimore, in 1814, he continued rapidly to grow worse. In a vain attempt to recover his strength he repaired to the West Indies, hoping for beneficial effects from the change of climate; leaving his wife, also an invalid, in charge of their children, with the exception of the eldest son, Charles Carter Lee, who was absent from home, going through a collegiate course at Cambridge. In his correspondence, the husband showed that he had perfect confidence in the guardianship to which he had committed his sons as well as daughters. In one place he thus speaks of his wife and youngest son: ‘Robert, who was always a good boy, will be confirmed in his happy turn of mind by his ever watchful and affectionate mother’. At this time the family consisted of three sons and two daughters, all of whom survived their parents. We are told by one who knew Mrs. Lee intimately, that ‘she inculcated upon her children, by precept and example, the difficult duties of self-denial and self-control, as well as the strictest economy in all financial concerns’. This is the more remarkable, as we have seen she had been reared in the lap of wealth, and been used to living in style and elegance. General Henry Lee was never to be reunited to his family, but died on his way home to the United States, in 1818, on Cumberland Island, near St. Mary’s, Georgia. Speaking of Mrs. Lee at this period, Miss Emily V. Mason writes:—’ This good mother was a great invalid; one of her daughters was delicate, and many years absent in Philadelphia, under the care of physicians. The oldest son, Carter, was at Cambridge; Sidney Smith was in the navy, and the other daughter was too young to be of much aid in household matters. So Robert was the kousekeeper, carried the keys, attended to the marketing, managed all the out-door business, and took care of his mother’s horses. At the hour when the other school-boys went to play, he hurried home to order his mother’s drive, and would then be seen carrying her in his arms to the carriage, and arranging her cushions with the gentleness of an experienced nurse. . . . When he left her to go to West Point, his mother was heard to say:—” How can I live without Eobert? He is both son and daughter to me”.’
General Lee always preserved a tender recollection of those scenes of his childhood and youth. Upon one occasion, after the war, he was seen to gaze wistfully over the palings of the garden which was attached to the house that had once been occupied by his mother, and when he found himself observed, remarked, ‘ I am looking to see if the old snowball trees are still there. I should have been sorry to miss them’. It was the same case with Stratford, his birthplace; for when a young lady sent him a drawing of it, he said that, although unseen for years, every feature of the house was familiar to him; and he expressed the greatest pleasure at being thus reminded of the scenes of what he terms his ‘ earliest recollections and happiest days’.
For a long series of years Mrs. Lee was a sufferer, and, being left a widow in reduced circumstances, cumbered with the care of children, her trials must have been of a complicated nature. Yet she seems not only to have submitted with uncomplaining gentleness to the hardships of her lot, and not only to have risen superior to her own trials, but also to have sustained and cheered all about her. Her sick-room was airy and bright; all its arrangements were conducive to cheerfulness and comfort; the invalid, tall and stately in form, with finely cut features, added to these marks of a born gentlewoman a saintliuess and purity of expression, which made still more beautiful her naturally lovely countenance. Her declining days were cheered by the most tender nursing on the part of her children, especially Robert, who, after graduating at West Point, devoted himself most tenderly to his mother, of whose fostering care and judicious counsels he was so soon to be deprived.
In this quiet, dignified and Christian matron, we discern a striking resemblance to the mother of Washington. A parallel may be likewise drawn between the prominent events of their lives. Both were left widows, with children to bring up and educate; in each case the great son was eleven years of age when left fatherless, and both these sons seemed to entertain a like reverence for the one parent left to guide their feet in the difficult paths of life.
There can be no doubt that General Lee, from his very earliest years, felt the highest admiration for the character of General Washington, which had a powerful influence in shaping his own character into a similar mould, and leading him, in a like conjuncture of circumstances, to imitate, and in some respects even surpass, the excellencies of his model. There was already a connection existing between the Washington and Carter families ; Charles Carter, of Benheim, his near relation, having married Betty Lewis, the only daughter of General Washington’s gister. This influence was strengthened by a new tie uniting him with the family of Mr. Washington Parke Custis, at Arlington. Here the playmate of his childhood had been the only daughter of the house, Mary Randolph Custis, and their childish friendship ripened into a warmer feeling as they both grew to maturity. Everybody knows what a perfect mania it was with Mr. Custis to hold up Washington’s exploits and virtues to admiration; and we can imagine the awe and veneration with which one of young Lee’s ardent and impressible nature would listen to this old Virginia gentleman’s eulogiums upon one whom he, of all others, had a right to know and praise. Everything about Arlington aided to strengthen these impressions. The house was filled with mementoes of Washington, in the shape of portraits, furniture and other objects which had belonged to the General or his wife. The dining-room windows at Arlington were draped with sailcloth which had once served as Washington’s tent; and in its owner’s eyes, no satin, damask or gorgeous tapestry could compare with it in value. Mr. Custis was also an amateur artist, and no doubt found an interested auditor in the young soldier, if, with glowing words, he would go into the details of those glorious battles, which it had been his delight to portray upon canvas for the benefit of posterity. Not a word was, we may be sure, lost upon young Lee, cherishing as he did a sweet hope of one day coming into closer connection with the hero, whose achievements had already kindled in his soul a profound admiration, which none dreamed was to bring forth such rich fruit. A little family incident is told illustrative of Mr. Parke Custis’s veneration for Washington, that may not be out of place here. On one occasion he was speaking at the breakfast-table of Washington’s beautiful reverence for his mother. He mentioned, as an example of this feeling, that he did not even venture unannounced into her chamber, upon his return from his first campaign, after an absence of some months.
‘Indeed !’ said Mrs. Custis; ‘I do not know but that I should have liked him better for casting aside ceremony, and rushing to embrace his mother like any other boy, mindful only of the joy of seeing her again’. .
‘What!’ exclaimed Mr. Custis—’what, my dear! Do not ridicule one of the most sublime acts of his life’; and his tone was expressive of actual horror.
But to return to Mary Custis Lee. In youth she was not beautiful, although fine dark eyes, a bright color, and an open, expressive countenance gave brilliancy to features otherwise rather plain. But as years went on she seemed to improve even in outward appearance, through the glorifying influences of a pure and saintly character, until in her last pictures we behold a most beautiful old lady, whose lovable, benign expression of face is captivating indeed. Her figure was rather short, and inclined to embonpoint; yet her beaming countenance, ingenuous manners, and agreeable conversation, at every period of life gave to her society a charm superior to that of mere physical beauty.
What we said before of Southern women in general, is true of Mrs. Lee in particular, namely, that little material for biographical detail is found in her life, hidden as it was in the bosom of her family. Yet she has left an enviable record, in the fond affection cherished for her by husband, relatives, and friends. Rev. J. W. Jones, in his ‘ Personal Recollections of Gen. Robert E. Lee’, gives the following graphic sketch of this lady, as he knew her, in later years, at Lexington :—’ Of Mrs. Lee it may be truly said, that she was worthy to grace the home and cheer the eventful life of this king of men. Though rendered by sickness incapable of walking, and never free from pain, she bore her sufferings with Christian cheerfulness, and always seemed contented and happy. Very domestic in her tastes and habits, and of unconquerable industry, she would paint, knit, sew, write, or entertain her friends, and was an earnest worker for all of the interests of her church, as she was a liberal contributor to every charity that presented itself. Noted for her extraordinary common-sense and sound judgment — thoroughly educated and very accomplished — fond of reading, and remarkably well read in general literature — a fine conversationalist, and a most genial, pleasant entertainer — in a word, a Virginia matron of the old school—she combined domestic virtues worthy to link together the families of Washington and Lee, was the light and joy of her home, and the recognized Reader of the social circle of Lexington. The friend of the poor, she was beloved by all, and her death last year excited in the community a sorrow such as it had not experienced since General Lee died ‘.
A little anecdote is preserved of Mary Custis at sixteen, that illustrates the simplicity of her tastes. At a gay party to which Miss Custis was invited, she appeared in plain Swiss muslin, without ornament of any kind. An elderly lady and near relation, who was accustomed to call her by way of endearment ‘little Moll’, thus remarked upon it, in talking over the party in her family, the next morning, as ladies will do:—’ It always will be so — Girls, did you notice the contrast between ” little Moll” and poor Miss B—? The father of the one has thousands at his disposal, while that of the other has scarcely anything to call his own. And yet there was ” little Moll” in plain white muslin, while her poor neighbor was robed in satin and lace’. That her simple style of dress remained the same in after years is attested by the photographs which were taken of her at different times, in all of which the costume is perfectly plain, and in the last, the neatly folded kerchief reminds forcibly of the same primitive article of attire frequently worn by Lady Washington. Confined to her couch for the greater part of the time during the war, she used to ply the needles busily, knitting socks for the poor soldiers, who enjoyed the fruits of her charity and industry in many another way beside. She was simple and unassuming in manners as well as dress. When her husband had become famous, and enjoyed the highest military title in the power of his country to bestow, he was to her, in society, the plain ‘ Mr. Lee’ of early days, while in the privacy of the home circle she used his yet more familiar Christian name. Contrasted with the greed for eclat and distinction shown even in politest circles, this trait becomes significant, if at first sight too trivial for notice. Mrs. Lee’s superiority to considerations of sordid interest is worthy of remark. She possessed indeed that rare incorruptibility of nature which is not accessible to the blandishments of flatterers, nor even to be swerved from the path of right by the persuasions of real friends.
Everybody knows the story of Arlington —how it was lost to its rightful owners, plundered of its treasures, and then made desolate. What true patriot of any clime can think, without burning indignation, of the injustice and wrong done in this case to the direct representatives of Washington, by adoption and will? Mrs. Margaret J. Preston embodied a petition in noble verse, and presented it to the President of the United States from the women of the South, pleading eloquently for the restitution of this estate to its lawful heir, concluding in this strain:
“‘You do not war with women!” Good
Let such your boast still be;
We do not ask a single rood
Of ground for Mary Lee.
Yet though our hero’s wife be banned,
As touched by treason’s stain,
For Mary Custis we demand
Her Arlington again’.
But those who had the power did not see fit to restore what could never again, under any circumstances, become the sweet home of bygone days, for its noble old groves had been felled, and its grounds converted into a soldier’s graveyard. The object in mentioning it here is not to arouse feelings of bitterness and resentment, but only to revert with admiring reverence to the spirit in which this noble woman submitted to the spoliation of her treasured patrimony, and to its desecration by unhallowed feet. No one ever heard vain words of lament, anger, or revenge pass her lips. In meekness she bowed to this sorrow as to a dispensation of Providence; in the silence of a true magnanimity she quietly laid this sacrifice beside many heavier ones upon the altar of country, and unmurmuringly, even cheerfully, accepted her lot among the reprobated ‘refugees’ of her stricken laud.
That Mrs. Lee’s conduct in this respect was not the result of a stoical indifference, or disregard, to her own rights, is proved by a note she affixed with her own hand, on going a second time into exile from ‘The White House’ on the Pamunkey, which had also come to her family from the Washington estates, and was now the home of her second son. Rev. Mr. Jones gives her note thus: —’ Northern soldiers who profess to reverence Washington, forbear to desecrate the home of his first married life, the property of his wife, now owned by her descendants.—A Granddaughter of Mrs. Washington’. With a proper pride she sought to ask of her countrymen, even if enemies, a boon based upon a too high estimate of the power of patriotism to soothe and restrain passions kindled to fever-heat by war. Her gentle appeal was heeded, it was true, at first, but was so ruthlessly disregarded afterwards, that ere long ‘The White House’, which had witnessed Washington’s courtship, was a mere blackened ruin; its fences were torn down, and its fields of grain trampled under foot, and the whole plantation left a desert waste.
Again Mrs. Lee’s disinterestedness was proven in this way. When, after the war, General Lee lived upon a moderate salary, the compensation for his yearly labors as president of Washington and Lee University, the authorities of the college, who were so gratefully reaping the benefits of those labors, voted him a new and handsome residence as a gift, the General declined most positively to accept the gift, and would only reside in the new mansion which they persisted in rearing for him, on condition that it should remain college-property, and be called ‘The President’s House’, and reserved for future incumbents of the chair. All unknown to himself and to his family, the board of trustees deeded the property to Mrs. Lee. When, after his death, the fact was delicately communicated to her, in order that she might know that the affliction of leaving her comfortable, pleasant home was not to be superadded to the irreparable one she had just experienced, and that, moreover, an annuity of $3000 per annum was hers for life, with the same high-mindedness as her husband had shown, she gracefully, but politely, declined to accept the annuity so generously proffered her, the house, or in anywise to tax the funds of the college for her support. Founded as the institution had been by Washington, and fostered into a sudden prosperity beneath her husband’s rule, surely Mary Custis Lee might have accepted these offers with dignity; but she did not think so; and who can fail to admire the lofty self-respect and uprightness of soul which dictated the refusal of that which would have softened for her the asperities of life?
After General Lee’s death, in 1870, his widow grew rapidly more infirm; yet still her fingers, stiff though they were with rheumatism, were employed mainly in a work of piety and love —her object being to aid in completing the memorial chapel which was to commemorate her noble husband’s deeds and the love borne him by the people. Mrs. Lee seemed to find a sad, sweet solace for her grief in tinting the photographs of General Lee and herself, the proceeds of their sale to be used for the benefit of the chapel fund. It was sad to see almost a fevered glow flush her pallid cheek, as she would go on with her task, despite pain, weariness and soul-sickening grief. And another proof she gave, even then, of the modesty and humility of her character, in the low estimate she made of the value of this work; although those who are now fortunate enough to own them, regard them as inestimable mementoes, to be treasured with sacred care.
But, her labors were soon to cease. In the fall of 1873, her lovely daughter Agnes — the sweet and congenial sharer of her every fortune — sickened unto death. Day after day the agonized mother was moved, in her invalid’s chair, to her daughter’s bedside, her only comfort seeming to be in clasping the hand of the sweet sufferer, or gazing with fondest grief upon her loved and lovely form. Often too she was seen to be wrestling in prayer, that the word of healing might yet be spoken. But when finally the stroke of death came, the strength of the mourner gave way, and she was lifted to a bed from which she never arose. Nature seemed to have no power to rally from the shock, and in a few weeks more, Mary Custis Lee was released from the pains and sorrows of this mortal life, and admitted to the dear companionship of her loved ones, who had ‘but gone before’. The whole Southern people grieved for her loss; and, as when General Lee died, the fountains of their grief for the disastrous close of the war seemed to open afresh, and from one end of the land to the other was heard the voice of mourning.
If, in completing our sketch of the female members of the Lee family, we merely quote entire Mrs. Margaret J. Preston’s two poems on General Lee’s daughters, it is because they not only furnish perfectly reliable and truthful pictures of the characters she delineates, but because they also supply fine specimens of a Southern woman’s poetical genius; whose powers were never fully evoked, until the ardent patriotism kindled in her bosom by the afflictions of her country, found vent in truly inspired verse. Surely harp never echoed to sweeter music, than may be heard in the following just and feeling tribute of woman to woman’s worth. If Margaret J. Preston’s name is to go down to posterity, with that of other poets, she will not be the one to regret that her fame can never be dissevered from the history of that struggle for independence, whose defence and whose glory she so nobly sung in the darkest days of her country’s adversity. Here is her true picture of—
‘A HERO’S DAUGHTER.
(if. C. L.)
She boasts no Amazonian charms,
Minerva’s helmet never bound her;
And though she finds delight in arms,
“Tig—when her father’s are around her.
She does not aim to make a mark,
Like Philippa — (as Froissart wrought her);
She is no modern Joan d’Arc,
Like Garibaldi’s wife or daughter.
And while there meets in her young veins
Ancestral blood — the patriot’s, sage’s—
Whose fame, rung out in trumpet strains,
Goes gathering glory down the ages;
She is not proud, nor cold, nor grand;
No haughtiness her tone evinces;
Her heart is open as her hand —
Her hand as liberal as a prince’s.
She does not awe you with her eye,
And yet its glance goes straightway through you;
A latent fire to warm you by,
A steady, stiller light to woo you.
Her smile is like the golden day’s,
Irradiating every feature;
you catch its influence as you gaze,
And own — she is a gracious creature.
So genial her responsive mind,
With every varying mood agreeing,
you wonder how she comes to find
The very key note of your being.
Beneath her sparkling surface flow,
The breezy freshness and the laughter,
Well deep and strong, an undertow
Of rare and racy wisdom after.
Sweet fireside graces all are hers;
The chatelaine beside the bodice
Is but one token that avers
She is a very household goddess.
Accepting with unmurmuring lips
War’s stern decree, its griefs, its losses;
And nobler through that blood-eclipse,
And stronger for its burdening crosses,—
She folds no hands in languid pause;
Child of her father — true to duty,
She weeps at heart the dear “lost cause,”
Yet fills the busy hours with beauty.
Her heroism holds in view
Our people’s strife for life the lesser,
Yet bitterer one I There’s work to do,
And well she does it: so—God blett her/’
What a contrast to the playfulness of the above is found in the slow, sad movement of this touching dirge for —
Surely there hangs a dimmer shine
Over the sky than a month ago;
And it seems to me this soughing pine
Has tears in its voice — it is sobbing so!
Yonder a lonely robin weaves
Whole heart-breaks into his plaintive weet;
And even the scarlet maple leaves
Fall with a sigh about my feet,
And the Indian-summer haze droops wan,
Agnes has gone!
There is the reason:—Out of the sky,
Purpled and paled with dreamy mist,
Shaken from breezy wafts that lie
Calmed in their isles of amethyst,—
Gurgling from every bird Ihat croons,—
Heard in the leaf-fall — heard in the rain—
Under the nights and under the noons,—
Ever there sounds the sad refrain,
Throbbing and sobbing over and on,
Agnes has gone!
Ah, for the left — who bear to miss
Out of their lives this life how rare!
Tender, so tender!—an angel’s kiss
Hallowed it daily unaware:
Gracious as sunshine, sweet as dew
Shut in a lily’s golden core,
Fragrant with goodness through and through,
Pure as the spikenard Mary bore,
Pensive as twilight, calm as dawn,
Agnes has gone!
Close by the side of our hero lay,
(Said she not so?) the darling down;
Close, that the shadowings of the bay
Jointly their resting-place may crown.
Has she not borne her woman’s part,
Bitterness, exile, loss — as hef
Pillow me then on the royal heart,
Daughter with father — Lee with Lee —
Soothed, that to him, though from us withdrawn,
Agnes has gone!
We cannot take leave of this family group without passing allusion to the perfections of that beloved daughter-in-law, to whom General Lee indited letters as charming as they are uncommon between persons bearing to each other such a relationship; and displaying the characters of both in a most pleasing light. This lady, too, fell a victim to the civil war, dying, it was supposed, a prey to anxiety and grief, during the enforced absence of her gallant husband, who lay wounded and languishing in a Northern prison. ‘Like sweet incense poured forth’ is the memory also of Charlotte Wickham Lee.
And now may we not in all candor challenge any country, at any age of the world, to produce more shining models of all that is lovely and exemplary in woman, than those whose names we have just cited? The South may indeed rejoice, amid her tears, not with pride, but with humble gratitude, that Divine grace has vouchsafed, as the heritage of her people, the records of such pure and gentle lives.
General Jackson, who, with the commander-in-chief, shared the enthusiastic devotion of the Southern people, had also a pious mother. It is true that she died when he was very young, and that, oppressed by poverty and sore trials, she moved in a very contracted sphere. But her orphaned boy bore testimony to the fact that he never lost the impression made by her prayers and religious instructions—simple though they must have been, to suit his years. It is noteworthy that even the color of his creed was affected by his childish memories; for, his mother having been a Methodist, he could not at once accept the Calvinistic creed, and made it a proviso, in connecting himself with the Presbyterian Church, that he should not be obliged to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The seed of Divine truth thus sown by a mother’s hand, was blessed in bearing fruit most abundantly, through the immeasurable influence exerted by that Christian hero. The significance of the touching story (familiar as it is) can never be lost, which tells that his old bodyservant always knew when a battle was impending, by one certain sign :—
‘For whenever de master’s wakeful,
And whenever lie prays and groans,
Why dem dat lies by his campfire,
Feel, battle in dere bones.’
He was emphatically a man of prayer; and, although dead, his example yet lives, a powerful good to his arflicted land; and every heart throughout its domains may well rejoice that Stonewall Jackson was born of a pious mother.
But having shown the character of the women who influenced our greatest men, those who now stand on the pinnacle of fame, let us glance at the record of those who filled the less conspicuous spheres of private life. What were their feelings and actions, when the thunderbolt of war burst upon their devoted heads? The survivors of that stormy era can never forget their impressions of those opening scenes. In the first place—before the Confederacy was established—the women were a strong peace party; they loved the traditions of the past, and hated to see the dismemberment of the Union. But, when, one by one, the States seceded, hoping to be allowed peacefully to depart, and Virginia finally threw herself into the breach, forced by the dreadful alternative of taking’ arms for the one side or the other, the women too gave in their allegiance to the Confederate Government, ceased to sigh over the past, and cheerfully cast in their lots with what they hoped would be a whole—an undivided South.
To the restless misery of suspense, succeeded the most earnest and concentrated effort on the part of all classes of the people. Every village-green became a camping ground, and its courthouse or public hall a rendezvous for busy women engaged in making soldiers’ garments. Nothing could exceed the ardor of public spirit shown on the occasion by women of all degrees; and it was wonderful indeed to behold the cleverness with which fingers, hitherto unused to such work, put together the heaviest articles of soldiers’ clothing. Ladies, old and young, worked together under the direction of regular tailors, who volunteered their services and instructions for the occasion; and a company of enthusiastic volunteers, on drill, was a sight fair to behold in the eyes of those who had taken such active part in their equipment. It is very true that inexperience and ignorance as to the true and dread significance of war, helped to carry women bravely through the initiatory steps towards conflict. No adequate idea of the slaughter and woe to follow, wrung the hearts of wife, mother, and sister, as they bade their fond, and often exultaut, farewell. For, was not their cause righteous? Would not the arm of one true man, defending the sacred cause of justice, be equal to that of six hired invaders of a soil to which they had no right? Such was the fond persuasion of nine-tenths of the Southern women. They reasoned, as women will reason, from their feelings, and believed what they hoped. To them, success was a foregone conclusion. And in this spirit they cheered the men, and sped them on to battle with tears, with smiles, with prayers.
A learned surgeon, Dr. E. S. Gaillard, in a grave disquisition upon the medical and surgical lessons of the late war, gives the following well-won tribute to the services of the Southern women, as they came under his own observation :—’ Lastly comes the lesson most welcome and dear to us all—the lesson taught by the women of the South. Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning has embalmed in verse the memory of the Italian countess, who, in her rarest robes and purest diamonds, visited the Italian hospitals, to do homage to the heroism and valor of her wounded and dying countrymen. What is to be said of those, who, discarding their costliest silks and brightest jewels, also visited the hospitals of their country, not to render a passing homage, but to perpetuate this by their presence and make it immortal by their acts? We have justly admired the Sisters of Charity for their patient self-denial, the faithful discharge of arduous and revolting duties, for their personal sacrifices and their noble vocation ; their record has been regarded as heroic and wonderful; so wonderful, that their order has been limited and with difficulty sustained; but at the first booming of the cannon, Sisters of Charity sprang up at every Southern fireside. Reared in luxury and refinement, in delicacy and seclusion, they made a noble sacrifice of womanly instincts and shrinking timidity, cheerfully surrendering everything to minister to the suffering and wants of their stricken countrymen. Unlike that of the Italian princess, theirs was not a passing tribute; it was the fire of a sublime devotion, which, kindled at Sumter,, burned brightly even at Appomattox; burned long after the flag they loved so well was furled amid glodm and disappointment. Oh! the women of the South ! they have always been distinguished for their great purity of personal character, for their exalted virtues and noble characteristics; but, by their action during this war, they have built up in the hearts of Southern men an altar, at which they will be loved and praised and worshipped forever’.
It is true, hospital service was performed, as this good doctor says, faithfully and efficiently from the time of the first battle to the last. Almost every hospital had its kitchen, where ladies took regular turns in superintending the preparation of dainties for the sick, and gathering contributions of fruit and delicacies from all the country round. And many a young girl here received important lessons in the art of cookery, never to be forgotten. The economy forced upon them by the scarcity of the times quickened their powers of invention, and taught them many a contrivance undreamed of before, by which they could unite thrift with benevolence, and make a little go a great way, or render a common morsel tempting. Many women devoted their lives as entirely to this humble work as any paid officer in any branch of the service. Eternity only can reveal the amount of misery thus relieved — the number of recoveries thus effected, by the intervention of tender womanly hands between the sick soldier and his rations as given out by an ordinary commissary. Unmurmuringly, too, they worked, unstintingly bestowed their time, looking for no thanks, but gladly giving all they possessed. As soon as the wounded or ill men could bear removal, country-homes were thrown open to receive them; and the story of the motherly old woman who brought her wagon full of good things to dispense with her own hands to the patients at Culpeper hospital, and then took back a whole load of poor fellows to cure, herself, at home, not, however, until she had administered stern rebuke to the young ‘ insisting surgeons’, whom she found neglecting their duty, is no exaggeration of the wholesale generosity of the plain farmer’s wife, who could not do enough for the ‘dear boys’ who were fighting their country’s battles, nor scorn too contemptuously those in authority over them who seemed to look down upon or rob them of their rights.
England has had her Florence Nightingale, and the North her individual cases of self-devotion as hospital nurse; but the steadily organized bands of volunteer helpers, the idea of the home-like ladies’ kitchen, it was reserved for the Southern women to conceive and to carry out, with unexampled tenacity of purpose and success in execution. Those who visited the wards, to read, counsel, and cheer, to administer comfort by writing letters, carrying flowers, &c., were another and as serviceable a band, equally untiring and patient in the discharge of their painful and difficult duties. There was nothing pleasing to the senses in waiting upon men — often from the lower strata of society—infested with vermin, tormented with putrefying sores, presenting in many cases the most ghastly spectacles, from the frightful nature of their wounds.
One noble surgeon’s wife we may venture to instance among many others. This lady, herself the mother of a large family, was never weary of nursing her husband’s patients; and many and many a poor fellow, who needed especial attention, was carried to her own home in Richmond, there provided with clean clothes, and nursed until well. The cases included a foreigner, as well as those who might have been supposed to have greater claim to her sympathy. She visited the battle-field, undaunted by its horrid sights and foetid odors,— in short, was a very angel of mercy in cases too numerous to mention. And yet, if you were to see this lady, so quiet and unpretending is her air, so modest her address, that you would not for a moment suppose she had performed such intrepid actions, just as a matter of course, no heroine in her own eyes, but only performing in an humble, imperfect manner, imperative duties. Yet Southern women may well be proud to claim Mrs. B , of Richmond, as a representative of their class.
It has always seemed to the writer that the following anecdote fitly illustrates the genuine republicanism, the disinterestedness and true self-respect, characterizing women of the better class in the Confederacy. In the rich grazing district of the Rappahannock, two cavalry-men were wearily wending their way along a country-road, towards nightfall, after a hard day’s ride. They were on detached service, whose nature we have forgotten. One was the son of a man distinguished throughout the South, the other a true gentleman, and yet they were privates —had been so during the whole war. They were discussing their chances for a good night’s rest; when the first, whom we shall call Mr. H., suggested a call upon Mrs. S., a widow, whose farm was only a few miles off, and whose hospitality he had often experienced when his regiment had been quartered in this plentiful district. They had to make a considerable detour, it was already late, yet the prospect of a good, hot supper, and provender for their tired steeds, was too tempting to be neglected, and they spurred their horses to a quicker pace. As they came within a short distance of the house, their experienced eyes detected a picket posted directly in their path. His back was turned, so, approaching as silently as possible, they speedily made the fellow prisoner. Riding on, they captured another sentinel, but almost immediately discovered them to be their own comrades, only belonging to another corps of the army. For a while they kept up the joke, but nearing the house, released their prisoners, charging them to be more on the alert next time, lest they should fall into the hands of enemies. The sentinels proved to be the outpost of the guard of General—–, who was in the house, with his staff, purposing to spend the night there. At this news the two friends were rather discouraged, lest the resources of the house should not be equal to the entertainment of a fresh incursion of hungry guests. However, it was too late now to retreat, and they determined to ask for accommodation merely in the barn. When they rapped at the door, their summons was answered by a servant-girl, who excused her mistress, as she was busy preparing for the General’s accommodation, volunteering the further communication that she knew ‘Missus could not find a corner to stow another creature in ‘. Mr. H. was explaining the modest nature of their requirements, viz. a mere restingplace on the barn-floor and provender for their horses, when the lady of the house herself appeared, and upon perceiving Mr. H., seemed mortified that any difficulty had been made. ‘Oh!’ said she, ‘why did you not send in your name? You know I charged you never to pass my house unrefreshed; and crowded as we are, you are more than welcome’. With cordial hospitality she invited them into the parlor, where sat her distinguished guests. The General looked anything but pleased at this intrusion of strangers, and with haughty mien scarcely noticed the courteous salute of the two young soldiers; but presently turning with cold severity, he addressed the youths in a tone warranted maybe by the difference of their military stations, but in the domestic circle not at all soothing to the feelings of those equal in social position to himself—noble though he truly were. ‘By what authority do I see you here, young men? Show me your passports!’ said he sternly, curbing his resentment. Mr. H. quietly replied,’By the invitation of a lady to enter her own parlor; and for the rest, by the same authority as yourself, General, viz., by order of my superior officer—I am on duty’. ‘No words, show your passports’. Submitting with what meekness he could, the young man drew out the order under which he was acting; and when everything was found to be correct, the General had no further occasion for reprimand—but made no apology—neither did those of his party take the slightest notice of the new-comers. Mrs. S. had been a silent spectator of the scene; her indignation burned in behalf of the poor privates. For born gentlemen to be treated in that way, because they had shouldered their muskets and gone into the file of the army, without seeking office or counting cost, it was a shame! No such injustice should be tolerated in her house; she honored all the brave defenders of her country, but most of all those upon whom fell the brunt of the battle without its glory. Soon supper was announced, and such a supper. Cream, milk, butter and honey were there in profusion, hot waffles, beaten biscuits, even fragrant coffee, juicy ham, and what not. The young men, however, were the favored guests. The hostess was the perfect lady in her manners to the General; but for them was the genial smile, the choicest bits of every dish, and the servants, catching their mistress’s cue, were lavish in attentions. And when the hour for retiring came, theirs was the softest couch in the handsomest apartment, while some of the General’s staff had to content themselves with extempore beds, made up upon the parlor floor. The sleep of those young men was sound, nor the less sweet, because they rested under the roof of a woman, the delicacy of whose appreciative sympathy they well knew how to understand. No time-serving panderers to rank and fortune were such women as Mrs. S., whose delight it was to minister to the wants of the humblest soldiers, throughout the slow, dragging years of that one-sided struggle.
It would be uncandid, however, if we were to conceal the fact that war in some instances had its baneful effects upon female character. Quite innocently, so far as intention went, young girls grew too demonstrative and flattering in their manners towards those of the other sex. It was considered admissible to display a warmth of regard for the departing soldier (seeing that it might be a last farewell), that would have been deemed shocking and unmaidenly under other circumstances. And thus it came to pass that manners were insensibly revolutionized, and a lack of womanly reserve and modest dignity was often visible in the behavior of young ladies, that women of the older school could not but deplore and deprecate. There were, as has always been the case in seasons of general calamity, instances of unseemly levity, shocking at the time, bitter and painful in the retrospect. Truth demands that it be mentioned, not dwelt upon. Southern women have always been noted for a certain outspoken candor, and this frankness sometimes degenerated into undignified vituperation, when the presence of enemies and a sense of injustice combined to tempt them into a too free use of their tongues—a privilege indulged in with a reckless disregard of consequences, which they were often made to rue.
During the war, woman was subjected to every vicissitude of fortune that can try the human soul. Lured onward by the will-o’-the-wisp of ‘recognition by foreign powers’, there was in the beginning high hope, quickly followed by the exultation of triumph, then a long season of suspense, whose alternations of feeling were to end only in one prolonged agony of despair. Perhaps the best way to present a view of the manner in which woman deported herself under circumstances so varied, is to quote facts from the records of the Southern Historical Society, drawn from reliable sources. Only wishing that our space allowed us to quote the letter entire, we make extracts from an unstudied effusion of a young married lady to her sister, written on the third day after the first battle of Manassas, when the Confederates were in the first flush of victory. We see mirrored here both the intellectual culture and tender heart of the writer, and the horrors of the period:
‘The morning of the 21st dawned splendidly, with no premonition either in earth or air of the fearful scenes it was to witness ere its close. The sky wore the cloudless blue of midsummer, not a breath of wind moved the tree-tops, and all nature seemed reposing after the tremendous excitements of the past few days; but not long did this repose continue. The cannonading which had been heard all the morning, about 9 o’clock became so violent as to shake the windows. Unable to stay in the house, where we could see nothing, Aunt L. ordered the carriage, and we all went out on a high hill now known as the ” Douglass Heights “, from the summit of which we could see distinctly to Centreville. Even the most ignorant among us knew that so far the battle was going against us, and words are powerless to describe our feelings — too far off even with the aid of glasses to ascertain the fate of friends, yet near enough to see the rapidly-thinning ranks of our defenders, and to know that our enemies were triumphant. Yet the axiom that shallow feelings make more noise than deep emotions was exemplified there; few signs of excitement came from the group, composed entirely of gray-haired men, women and children, each of whom had some dear one exposed to those murderous volleys. The men discussed the probabilities of Beauregard’s being able to meet the overwhelming forces against him, the women exchanged remarks in awe-struck whispers, while the children — happy innocents — frolicked upon the green grass. I was perhaps naturally the most timid of the group; yet I stood for hours upon the elevated seat of a wagon, overlooking this strife of man’s unholy passions, hearing every discharge of cannon, feeling every volley of musketry, seeing in each wounded man Murray’s [her husband’s] features distorted in the agonies of death; yet not only outwardly calm, but conscious in the same subtle way in which in moments of great emergencies we hear trivial noises, of all that was passing around me — the brilliant light of the sun, the fleeting clouds, the hum of the bees rifling the wild flowers, the laughter of the children — and the only tears I shed during the dreary hours were drawn forth by an incident in our midst. Near me, on a noble horse that bore the marks of long and hasty travel, sat a boy of about twelve years of age, the son of Col. B., who had come from his home near Aldie that morning. His large blue eyes were fixed upon the distant scene, and his handsome features were convulsed with pain, as he exclaimed aloud: “My father is in the midst of the fight; I must go to him!” More than one detaining hand was laid upon his bridle, and several old men, gathering around him, represented the impossibility of finding his father in such a scene. Perhaps the folly of the attempt forced itself upon his own mind, for, throwing himself from his saddle, he leaned his head against the neck of his horse, and burst into tears, while the faithful animal uttered a low neigh and rubbed his head against his little master, as if in sympathy with his grief. It was a touching scene, and I felt the tears dimming my eyes as I strove to speak some words of comfort to the boy. . . . ‘Thus, after twelve hours of desperate fighting against almost overpowering odds, the victory was ours, thanks to the Great Being who giveth all victory. The sun sank; darkness came down with its dew and gentle presence, alike upon our homes and the bloody battle-plain, where—
“Thousands had sunk to the ground overpowered,
The weary to sleep, aud the wounded to die.”
Little sleep visited our pillows that night; morning brought pouring rain, yet in spite of it, Aunt Lizzy and I started for the battle-field, but were stopped at Groveton by the storm and the advice of friends, who said there were many scenes there too revolting for a lady’s eye. Surely, though, the place of every true woman is where she can best relieve suffering; though I must admit, the receipt of a note from Murray, announcing that all our immediate friends were unhurt, dampened my ardor for hospital duties. Yet such a feeling is wrong, for every soldier ought to be dear to every Southern heart.
‘Tuesday we all went to the battle-field to attend a burial. Oh! the horrors — the horrors that met us on every side. Although it was the third day after the battle, dead men lay on every part of the field, their sightless eyes glaring up at the sky, and corruption making fearful strides, under the influence of the brilliant July sun. Our soldiers had all been removed, and they were burying the others as fast as possible, but it will still be the work of several days.
‘The papers will have told you, before this reaches you, that old Mrs. Henry was killed during the battle. It was her funeral we went to attend. She was buried by the soldiers. How wonderful are the dealings of God with the creatures he has made! The old lady was eighty-five, had been spared to pass more than the allotted threescore years and ten in peace and quiet, to at length suffer a violent death on the battle-field. When the firing first began around their house, her son, an old man himself, carried his mother to a gully near, but the balls fell so thickly there that he carried her back to the bed, to which she had been confined for many years. I have already said “that the house was taken and retaken several times, as each party gained the advantage. Seventeen cannon-balls passed through the roof, and the building was riddled with shot, every window being shattered to atoms. During the conflict Mrs. Henry was killed, receiving three wounds, in the neck, arms and ankle. Miss Ellen remained with her mother, and her escape was almost a miracle—a huge Yankee being killed a few feet from the spot where she was crouching. I do not think I ever felt more deeply than when I stood among the wreck and ruin of her home, and saw the poor, mangled body of the old lady placed in the coffin and borne to her last resting place by stranger hands. Her requiem was the cannon’s roar; God grant that a holier, sweeter strain welcomed the aged pilgrim to a brighter shore! Truly the mystery of life and death was curiously intermingled on that day; for at her home, which, you know, is scarcely a mile away and on another part of the battleground, Mrs. W gave birth, in the thickest of the fight, to a little girl, who has been named Victory.
‘Around the Henry garden, where a fence had stood on Sunday morning, was a hedge of althea, the only things that had escaped destruction. They were loaded with crimson and white blossoms, and you cannot imagine how strangely they looked in their purity and beauty amidst that scene of desolation and death. I stopped to gather a few of those ” roses of Sharon” to place on the coffin, and as I did so, dropped my riding-whip; stooping to regain it, I found it had fallen in a pool of blood. Some poor soldier had lost his life there, for in it was a Confederate cap, and near by a grave. I turned hastily away, my heart swelling and my eyes misty with tears, that were not all for the one who had thus lain down his life, away from home and friends, but a dim premonition of a similar sorrow to myself—a shadow which did not leave me till Murray came that evening and gently chided me for my sadness and forebodings. Pray for me, dear sister, that I may be truly thankful that he is spared to me, while so many have been bereft of their dear ones; for the loss of life has been fearful on both sides’.
This letter is simply signed, ‘From your loving sister Florence’. Here is the record of a lady’s experience during the bombardment of Fredericksburg, in the second year of the war, given in a letter to her son in the army. She wrote:
‘Our lives are all spared, and you must help us to adore the goodness which has intervened between us and the great perils to which we have been exposed. We had no warning of the intention of the enemy, and were awakened on the morning of the 11th, at five o’clock, by the booming of the cannon, and heard instantly that the enemy were crossing the river. We hurried on our clothes and rushed into the cellar as the second shot struck the house. The servants made up a fire, and we had just gathered around it, when the crashing of glass and splintering of wood caused us to run towards the door leading into a woodcellar. As we reached it, poor little S. exclaimed, “I am struck, mamma!” and fell into my arms. We bore him into a closet in the cellar, and tore his clothes off, and found only a large, black bruise on his right arm, near the shoulder; the ball which struck him was so nearly spent that it had only force left to inflict this hurt. We afterwards found the ball near where he stood—a twelve-pounder. After this, we did not venture even into that room again, but sat crouched together in the dark hole for thirteen hours, while the cannonading was tearing everything to pieces above our heads. There are holes in the upstairs rooms large enough to put a barrel through. About one o’clock, brother J. came in from his farm, at the risk of his life, to see if we could be moved. A hasty council was held, but the firing was so tremendous and the destruction in the streets so great, that it was thought best for us to remain where we were. So there we sat upon the floor of the closet, “looking upward in the strife “. Susan and Martha got us a furnace of live coals, and even cooked us a little food at the fireplace in one of the rooms. They got us all the counterpanes and blankets they could hastily snatch, and made poor a bed, as he has never recovered from his late attack.
‘Just at dark we heard your uncle’s voice again calling, “Come out; I have an ambulance at the back door, and you must not stay to get a single thing. They are in town, only a square off, and you must be gone at once!” We needed no second call, but wrapping the blankets around us, we rushed through the yard, over the branches of trees. The palings were all down and the yard was” ploughed up, and we stepped over many a ball and fragment of shell in our hasty progress to the ambulance. Brother J. put us all in and remained a few moments to lock up the house, when our driver put the whip to his horses, and we tore through the town at a rate that, at any other time, would have frightened me for the safety of our lives, but now seemed all too slow for our anxiety to be beyond the reach of those fearful shot and shells, which were still crashing through the streets and tearing the houses to pieces. I never ventured to look back until we reached the top of the high hill beyond the mill, and then the scene was so awfully grand and terrible that I cannot venture upon its description. The railroad bridge across Hazel Run was burning, and large fires at several points in the town. There were hundreds of camp-fires, around which bands of men under arms were gathered, and the road was lined with soldiers, wagons and ambulances. Every object could be distinguished, even the fierce, swarthy countenances of our soldiers, every one of whom looked defiance towards the foe who had caused the destruction of our homes.
‘We came on at rather a lessened pace, and when Mrs. T met us in the yard with her warm, cordial welcome, and led us into the bright, cheerful-looking room, where a good fire was blazing, and kind, sympathizing friends were all around, my wrought-up agony gave way in floods of tears which could not be controlled. We thanked God for our deliverance; and when we lay down in comfortable beds, far away from the sound, the sight and the smell of battle (for the atmosphere we had breathed all day was so impregnated with gunpowder that it was oppressive), ‘we felt indeed, that after all we were dealt with by a kind Father’.
Does the character of this writer need exposition, other than is found in the natural pourings out of her heart in this strictly private letter?
The Honorable R. M. T. Hunter has preserved the following interesting facts bearing on our subject. He says in a memorable address:—’I think it may be shown that no people ever encountered greater difficulties with greater courage and patience than did our Southern people in their recent contest. Let its history be fairly written, and I believe the world will accord with me. But in commemorating the deeds and self-denial of the men, we must not forget the women. When did they ever fail to respond promptly to any demand which was made upon them for food or raiment, or anything they could furnish our men in. the field? In how many instances did they rebuke desertion? Or when were they heard to complain of any sacrifices necessarily imposed upon them by the war? It was one of the last acts of the war, when the Confederate Government appealed to the women of Virginia for food for the soldier. How cheerfully was it given! In how many instances did the woman say, upon examining her stores, “I and my family will live upon the bread; let the soldier have the meat!” And at the time of Lee’s surrender, depots were being formed in the State, which were wasted or destroyed without ever helping those for whom they were designed. I well remember myself the instance of a lady who dwelt not far from here. Several Federal officers were quartered in her house. One of them said to her one day:— “Madam, you astonish me. Your slaves are deserting you, or being spirited away daily; your barns are sacked, your farm is wasted, your teams taken away, your stock destroyed; and yet you make no complaint. How is this?” “Sir!” said the young lady, in the spirit of the Roman matron,” you do not understand the feelings of our Southern women in their estimation of the’ cause for which you are making them suffer. I lost my husband not very long ago. He owed his life to his country, and nobly he paid the debt, dying fighting, as he did, in the field. I shed no tear over him; and do you suppose I would mourn over property, when I made no moan over him? When I lost him, I lost my all. My sex forbids me to take his place in the ranks; I cannot fight, but I can endure”. And nobly did she endure all the trials of war’.
March 11th, 1865, Mrs. McGuire writes in her diary:— ‘Ladies are offering their jewelry, their plate, anything which can be converted into money for the country. I have heard seme of them declare, that, if necessary, they will cut off their long suits of hair, and send them to Paris to be sold for bread for the soldiers; and there is not a woman, worthy of the name of Southerner, who would not do it, if we could get it out of the country, and bread or meat in return’.
Her next entry recalls so vividly the peculiar severity of woman’s trials during the war that we cannot forbear to quote it as it stands:—’ 12th. A deep gloom has just been thrown over the city (Richmond) by the untimely death of one of its own heroic sons. General John Pegram fell while nobly leading his brigade against the enemy, in the neighborhood of Petersburg. But two weeks before he had been married in St. Paul’s Church, in the presence of a crowd of relatives and friends, to the celebrated Miss H. C, of Baltimore. All was bright and beautiful. Happiness beamed from every eye. Again has St. Paul’s, his own beloved church, been opened to receive the soldier and his bride —the one coffined for a hero’s grave, the other pale and trembling, though still by his side, in widow’s garb’.
From the same diary, we might extract the account of more than one scene like that which occurred at Captain Latane’s burial, which has been made the theme of poet and painter, where, upon the spur of necessity, woman could even take the clergyman’s place and discharge the last sad duties to the dead, when she could no longer comfort the living.
Major Scott, in his ‘ Partisan Life with Mosby’, mentions two distinct occasions upon which that chieftain was saved from ambuscades, through the timely warning of women, given at the risk of their own lives. In the same work we read of the heroism of a lady, who, when they were about to set fire to her home, taking her little boy by the hand, seated herself in one of the parlors, saying:—’ Well, my son, if they will burn this dear old home, let us perish in the flames’. The spectacle of such heroism, in one so young, gentle, and beautiful, was too much to be withstood, even by those hard-hearted soldiers, and the order was given to spare the property, for that time.
And now, having reached the utmost limit of a review article, we find that we have treated in the most insufficient and inadequate manner, a subject to which we would have wished to do full justice. Only a tithe of the material even within our reach seems to have been utilized, and yet we must stop.
Shall we close with bare allusion to woman’s sacrifice upon her country’s shrine of all the littlenesses of her sex as regards personal adornment, or still more, to show how her ingenuity and taste triumphed over the perplexities of the situation, and she learned to plait straw, weave, spin, and manufacture gloves and shoes with a neatness and dexterity surprising to herself? All the gifts and graces with which she was endowed by nature and education were called in requisition to serve a cause she loved so well. And when hope had fled, and all her sacrifices seemed proven to have been in vain, who so ready to submit to the humiliations of the hour, to part unmurmuringly with the attendance to which she had been accustomed from infancy, and to work with her hands—head—any way—to aid in building up again the fortunes of her stricken land? To her keeping too has been committed, as if by common consent, the guarding of the dust of those who died for their country—if unavailingly—and many a beautiful monument throughout the land attests her estimate of the sacredness of the trust.
Even in this cursory view of the subject, has it not been made plain, that the women of the late Confederacy were in no whit behind their noble predecessors of Revolutionary fame, in piety, patriotism, heroism and long-suffering? Shame will it be then to the Southern women of the present day, if, under the more auspicious auguries of peace, they prove unworthy of such glorious antecedents. Let them rather verify the eulogy which has been pronounced upon them by lips unused to flatter, ‘Faithful amongst the faithless are the women of the South’.