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The Southern Homefront

As the war dragged on, hardship on the southern home front grew intense. In the besieged city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, families sought refuge in cliffside caves. A stray shell left one child, Lucy McCrae, buried under a mass of earth. “The blood was gushing from my nose, eyes, ears, and mouth,” she later wrote, “but no bones were broken.” Youngsters participated in bread riots in Richmond, Virginia; Montgomery, Alabama; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Columbia, South Carolina. A Richmond girl defended the looting: “We are starving. As soon as enough of us get together we are going to take the bakeries and each of us will take a loaf of bread. That is little enough for the government to give us after it has taken all our men.”

I was too young in the fifties to appreciate political questions, but, even so, I saw the foreshadowing of trouble. The military spirit ran high and in 1858 there were three uniformed military companies in Talbot County. Added to these there were two companies of cadets, one at Trappe, commanded by George M. Jenk¬ins, and one at St. Michaels, commanded by myself, then about thirteen years old. My company was very martial in spirit, though we were very juvenile, the members ranging in age from ten to fifteen years ....
As war drew near feeling ran high in Maryland. Abolitionists were working among the slaves, persuad¬ing them to desert. During the year 1859 it is believed that John Brown was on the Eastern Shore secretly inciting the slaves to rise and attack the whites. At this time an excited slave confessed to her mistress that there was a plot to attack the whites that night. This news spread rapidly and precautions were taken at once by the men to protect their homes and families.

Our cadet company was called on to do duty and set to guard some of the roads. We were proud to undertake the task and on this occasion we were pro¬vided with real guns. I am glad to say there was no need of guns of any kind, as no attack was made.

Joseph B. Seth in Joseph B. Seth and Mary W. Seth,
Recollections of a Long Life on the Eastern Shore
, 25 27

In these few months, my childhood had slipped away from me…. Necessity, human obligations, family pride and patriotism had taken entire possession of my little emaciated body.

Celine Fremaux, who was a twelve year old in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when the war began.
Quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 154

I was ten-years-old today. I did not have a cake. Times are too hard…. I hope that by my next birthday, we will have peace in our land.

Carrie Berry of Atlanta in August 1864. Quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 158-159

I hav nothing to write only that I hope that this dreadful war will soon be over and you will get home safe for o papy should eny thing happen I know it would kill mammy and when I was sick I was so fraid I would die and not get to see you but I am spared and hope to see you again.

Maria Lewis of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, whose father, Captain Andrew Lewis, died in July 1862
near Richmond. Quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 20

My Dear Dear Father:
I do want to see you so much. I do miss you so much in the evening when I come in and no one is in, and I am so lonesome by myself and if you were here you would tell me stories and so I would not be lonesome…. Write to me what your horse is named….. The Yankees have not got near the city yet. The other day some heavy firing was heard and it was them firing into one of our boats.

Ten-year-old Loulie Gilmore, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 20

In the year 1860, the Abolitionists became strong enough to elect one of their men for President. Abraham Lincoln was a weak man, and the South believed he would allow laws to be made, which would deprive them of their rights. So the Southern States seceded and elected Jefferson Davis for their President. This so enraged President Lincoln that he declared war, and has exhausted nearly all the strength of the nation, in a vain attempt to whip the South back into the Union. Thousands of lives have been lost, and the earth has been drenched with blood; but still Abraham is unable to conquer the “Rebels” as he calls the South. The South only asked to be let alone, and to divide the public property equally. It would have been wise of the North to have said to her Southern sisters, “If you are not content to dwell with us any longer, depart in peace.”

Marinda B. Moore, The Geographical Reader for the Dixie Children, 1863,
quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 54

How dreadfully sick I am of this war. Trully we girls whose lot it is to grow up in these times are unfortunate! It commenced when I was thirteen, and I am now seventeen and no prospect yet of its ending. No pleasure, no enjoyment - nothing but rigid economy and hard work - nothing but the stern realities of life. Those which should come later are made familiar to us at an age when only gladness should surround us. We have only the saddest anticipations and the dread of hardships and cares when bright dreams of the future ought to shine on us. I have seen little of the light-heartedness and exuberant joy that people talk about as the natural heritage of youth. It is a hard school to be bred up in and I often wonder if I will ever have my share of fun and happiness. If it had not been for my books it would indeed have been hard to bear. But in them I have lived and found my chief source of pleasure. I would take refuge in them from the sadness all around if it were not for other work to be done. I do all my own sewing now besides helping mother some. Now that everything is lost perhaps we will all have to work for a living before long. I would far rather do that and bear much more than submit to the Yankees.

Emma LeConte of Columbia, South Carolina, Diary, 1864-1865, 13

Nov. 12 [1864] We were fritened almost to death last night. Some mean soldiers set several houses on fire in different parts of the town. I could not go to sleep for fear that they would set our house on fire. We all dred the next few days to come for they said they would set the last house on fire if they had to leave this place.

Nov. 16 Oh what a night we had. They came burning the store house and about night it looked like the whole town was on fire. We all set up all night. If we had not sat up our house would have been burnt up for the fire was very near and the soldiers were going around setting houses on fire where they were not watched. They behaved very badly. They all left town about one o’clock this evening and we were glad when they left for nobody knows what we have suffered since they came in.

Ten-year-old Carrie Berry of Atlanta, Georgia, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 113

The streets and vacant lots were filled with homeless families, many…having nothing but the clothes they wore; when bringing bedding, raiment or provisions out of their burning homes, these were destroyed by the brutal soldiers. They stole much that was useless to them, for even Bibles were taken…. The yards and gardens were perforated with bayonets, men searching for buried treasure.

An unidentified girl in Winnsboro, North Carolina, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 130

I ventured to a front window that faced the two roads leading to the capital…. Looking out I screamed in horror [at] the rush of Yankee ruffians…. All day long the men and wagons poured into town…. No yards, no gardens were spared in our ill-fated village…. The soldiers…would walk up the steps of the back veranda on which we stood, and throwing down the hams and shoulders of our meat, would cut them up…in our very faces.

Next they found the sugar, flour, lard, salt, syrup which mother had stored away in a cellar dug beneath one of the Negro houses…. Like statues mother and I stood looking on, and saw them take all the provisions we had, then kill the milk cow and other stock about the lot—saw them find the wheat and grain we had hidden in the attic behind the wall; stood silent and sad as we saw the “potato hill” robbed,and knew that now our last hope for food was gone…. That night we went to bed supperless…. Sadly I had seen the rice, sugar coffee, and lard taken from the storerooms…but sadder now was the thought, “The cows are killed. I will be so hungry I cannot nurse Baby.”

A seventeen-year-old widow with an infant child known only by the initials L.F.J.,
from Sandersville, Georgia, quoted in Werner, Reluctant Witnesses, 121

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