previous next

Diary of Rev. J. G. Law.

January 1st, 1862.—Spent the day at the hospital, having no heart for new year calls in these trying times. It is really frightful to reflect on the events of the past year, and I sometimes imagine that I am dreaming through an age of terrible import, but alas, I awake to the stern reality of the unhappy and distracted state of our country. I see no prospect of a speedy peace, and can only hope and pray for the best. It is said that every life must have its ‘rainy days.’ The same might be said of nations. We cannot always have prosperity, and enjoy peace and plenty. Grim visaged war must stalk through our fair land, uproot our institutions, both civil and religious, revolutionize society, and shake its foundations to [298] their very centre. But we must toil on, and try to recognize in this terrible calamity the hand of God, and believe that all things are working together for good. His ways are mysterious and past finding out.

February 20th.—Our infant nation is passing through the baptism of adversity. General Zollikoffer has been killed, and his army is routed. Fort Henry has fallen, and the enemy have possession of Tennessee river. Roanoke Island has been taken with 2,000 prisoners. Fort Donelson, after four days hard fighting, was compelled to surrender to an overwhelming force, and General Buckner, with his entire command are prisoners; and Nashville is about to fall into the hands of the enemy. My own native State is invaded by the vandal hordes of Lincoln, and from this time forth I am a soldier in the field, until the last footprint of the foe is removed from our fair land. I give up my profession, and lay my life on the altar of my country, with resignation to the will of the most high God.

February 21st.—Rode out this morning to see my mother and bid her good-bye. She said to me, ‘My son, I am glad to see that you know your duty.’ I do not return to the field for glory or renown, but from a stern sense of duty in this hour of my country's peril. I consider it to be the solemn duty of every son of the South to go into the ranks and fight until our independence is achieved.

February 22nd.—On board steamer DeSoto. Left Memphis at 5 o'clock this evening, to rejoin the old One Hundred and Fifty-Fourth at Columbus, with the intention of fighting as long as the war continues, or until my Heavenly Father calls me home. I am anxious to live to see the end of the war, but if it be the will of God that I should fall in battle, I am ready to exclaim, ‘Thy will and not mine be done.’ To-day Jefferson Davis was inaugurated permanent President of the Confederate States of America.

Sunday, February 23d.—This is a beautiful Sabbath day, but alas! how it has been desecrated. All day long the saloon tables have been surrounded by card-players, just as if there were no God to punish such wanton violation of his holy day. I tremble for my country when I see those who are to fight her battles manifesting such reckless disregard for the sanctity of the Sabbath.

February 24th.—Columbus. Arrived at this little city of mud and log cabins about noon to-day, and found everything in readiness to repel an anticipated attack by the Lincolnites. Ten gun-boats were in sight, and a number of transports were reported landing troops.

February 25th.—It is the general impression that we are about to [299] evacuate this place, as large quantities of ammunition and provisions are being sent away. The Federals are reported to be within ten miles of us—fifty-five thousand strong.

February 26th.—It is reported that a fight is now going on at New Madrid, and that General McCown's division has been ordered to reinforce our troops, but I am disposed to believe that it is the advance of our retreat. Dark clouds are hovering over our young Republic, but we must struggle on, trusting in God for the success of our cause. General Polk, it is said, has received a dispatch to the effect that France has recognized the Confederate States.

March 3d.—Jackson, Tennessee. On last Thursday I was detailed for picket duty. Soon afterwards the regiment was ordered to pack up baggage, and be ready to move at a moment's notice. I passed a miserable night, sleeping in the open woods with only one blanket to protect me from the chilling blasts of winter. Returned to camp at 3 o'clock Friday evening, and was detailed to go on the cars with the regimental baggage, expecting to leave that night. A long weary night passed away, and no train. Saturday, March 1st, dawned cold and cheerless, and we were doomed to wait another day and night for the expected train, with nothing to eat, save a few hard, indigestible crackers. On that day, our army burnt their cabins, and evacuated Columbus. I walked over the deserted town in the evening; it was a grand and gloomy sight, the lurid flames were shooting into the air from thousands of log cabins, and in some instances, private dwellings were consumed by the devouring element. Ere night the work of destruction was well nigh complete, and what had the day before been the homes of thousands of Confederate soldiers, now lay a heap of smouldering ruins. At two o'clock, our baggage was all on board the train, and we were ready to consign Columbus to the tender mercies of the Lincolnites. I made my bed on the top of a box car, and with one blanket slept soundly and sweetly, although the rain fell in heavy showers. Sunday morning I awoke feeling badly, and as the rain was still falling, I sought shelter in a car attached for the sick. At half past 2 o'clock, we started at a snail's pace, and reached Humboldt at seven o'clock this morning having travelled seventy-nine miles in nineteen hours. I suffered greatly from hunger and thirst. At Humboldt I got a good breakfast, and at nine o'clock, we were off for Jackson. I was obliged to ride in an open platform car, and notwithstanding Miss Fackler's comfortable helmet, Mrs. Pope's gloves, and mother's overcoat, I suffered intensely from the cold. Enjoyed a fine dinner [300] at the Jackson City Hotel; but had to borrow money to pay for it, as I had loaned my last cent to my hungry comrades to get breakfast at Humboldt. Such is my experience of the retreat from Columbus.

March 4th.—Humboldt. Left Jackson this morning at 8 o'clock, and rejoined my regiment at this place. Arrived here at ten o'clock, and pitched tents in the afternoon. Lost my knapsack with several articles of clothing, towels, and blacking brush. Raining hard.

March 6th.—A very cold day. As I was going to the depot this morning, I met Captain Mellersh, who said ‘Come with me,’ declining to tell me where he was going, but intimating that he was about to start on a secret and dangerous expedition in the direction of the enemy. He selected fifteen trusty fellows, and we were soon at the depot, waiting for the train. At 12 o'clock the conductor shouted ‘all aboard,’ and at 3 o'clock, we were at Paris, twenty miles from the Tennesee river. It is now understood that we are to go as near the river as we can and take down the telegraph wire. We all supped at the Yowell house. It is snowing, and we may look for a rough time.

March 7th.—We proceeded as far as West Sandy Creek with the cars, where our progress was arrested by the burning of the bridge. Our squad here divided-five going forward with a hand car that we lifted across the stream; the rest of us returning with the engine, and taking down the wire at the rate of one mile an hour. We secured about four miles of wire, and will probably get the remainder tomorrow. On our way down the car was thrown from the track, but we were fortunately running at a very slow rate of speed, and no damage was done. We enjoyed a fine country dinner at a farm house.

Sunday, March 9th.—Paris. Attended preaching this morning, land visited the cemetery. There were a few handsome monuments, but the place seemed greatly neglected. On the gate was this inscription, ‘Injure nothing here; it may be thy resting place.’ After dinner we started to West Sandy to meet our comrades who had been taking down the wire from the river to Big Sandy. John and Will Trigg, Claridge, Ed. Owen, and I were left with the train while the others went on to bring the wire. While they were gone we employed ourselves in getting wood and bailing water for the engine. At nine oa clock we went to supper. The early part of the night was beautiful and the moon was shining brightly, but dark clouds began to gather, and while at supper a heavy rain commenced [301] falling. As we returned to the creek with the engine, we struck the cars a tremendous blow that sent me reeling on my face. Fortunately none of us were seriously hurt, and the only damage done was the throwing of the hindmost car from the track. Our boys had begun to arrive with the wire, and in a few minutes they were all in, wet and hungry. We detached the box car, went up to the farm house, and will wait until daylight for further operations.

March 10th.—Bright and early this morning we were at work getting over the wire, which was rather a dangerous business, as the logs on which we crossed were slippery, and the creek very high, almost running over its banks. We, however, succeeded in getting over all the wire without an accident, and after putting the car on the track we turned our faces towards Humboldt, the whistle blew, and we were off. We stopped at the farm house and enjoyed a substantial breakfast. At 2 P. M., we left Paris, and arrived at Humboldt about five o'clock, all in fine spirits, and highly pleased with our trip, notwithstanding the fact that I returned minus my boots and hat. We secured the whole of the wire from Tennessee river to Paris.

March 15th.—Bethel, 12 M. We have had a hard time for the past twenty-four hours. On Thursday night we were ordered to get ready to march. At two o'clock our baggage was all on board the train, and we left at six o'clock yesterday morning, and reached here last night. The rain poured down in torrents all day and night, and the cars were so densely packed, that I was compelled to stand on the top of a box car, with no protection from the rain. I have not been in a horizontal position for two nights, and haversacks are empty. Wet and cold, sleepy and hungry—such are some of the hardships incident to a retreating army.

Sunday, March 16th.—Have just finished reading a few chapters in my Testament. We are cooking three days rations, and are expecting marching orders every moment. The enemy are reported advancing on Purdy, and it is supposed that we will be ordered to meet the advancing foe. General Bragg is in command of our troops, and I feel confident of our ability to drive the enemy back to their boats. Am getting anxious to hear from home. Suffered last night with severe pain in my bones. We have received intelligence confirming General Price's victory in the west; also that General McCown has repulsed the enemy at New Madrid. It is reported that General Price killed and captured 18,000 of the enemy. [302]

March 17th.—Purdy. A bright and beautiful morning succeeded the dark and gloomy weather of the past few days. We left Bethel at noon, and arrived here at 3 o'clock. We are encamped in the woods, without tents, having left everything except our blankets and such provisions as we could carry in our haversacks.

March 18th.—The weather is so pleasant that I lay under the shade of a large oak all the morning and read a worthless novel. This evening Colonel Smith secured comfortable quarters for us in the town of Purdy. We marched in about 3 o'clock, and after ‘dress parade,’ repaired to our quarters in the old College building. We had just laid aside our arms when a courier came galloping up at full speed, and reported the enemy just outside the town. We were soon drawn up in line of battle, and a body of Lincoln cavalry appeared on the top of a neighboring hill, overlooking the river. They presented a very imposing spectacle with their gay uniforms and sabres gleaming brightly in the rays of the setting sun. We charged with a cheer, when the enemy turned their faces towards the Tennessee river and fled without a single exchange of compliments.

March 19th.—Was delighted to find, this morning, in the college library, the ‘Life and Works of John Adams.’ Read a few extracts from his diary. Detailed to escort the provision wagons to Bethel. Soon after we reached here we were ordered to pack up everything for Corinth. The enemy are reported advancing in force on that place. The regiment arrived at 3 o'clock.

March 20th.—This morning we were ordered to leave our baggage in an old shop, and march back to Purdy with the Second Tennessee regiment, and two guns of Polk's battery.

Sunday—March 23d.—Have spent the past few days in the old College building at Purdy, lolling about lazily and indifferent to surrounding circumstances. The weather has been cold, dark and dreary, and my spirits are in sympathy with the weather. I see no bright ray of hope, no bow of promise in the cloud. Sad and weary I turn to the Word of God for encouragement and consolation.

March 24th.—On picket duty with the entire company. We lay in ambush for the enemy, but he did not pass this way. Spent a portion of the day reading the ‘Lost Heiress.’

March 25th.—This has been one of the loveliest of days. I am writing in the observatory of the college, and have a most enchanting [303] view of the little town of Purdy, and the surrounding country. The sun has just gone down, and this is the hour when I love to be alone for meditation on the works and nature of the great Creator. I form good resolutions, but alas, how soon they are shaken like a reed by the wind, when I descend from the mount and walk along the dusty highways of the busy world.

March 26th.—On guard to-day. The quiet of our camp was broken by a false alarm, caused by our cavalry. Fielding Hunt and his gang keep out of danger.

March 28th.—The weather is so mild and pleasant that I could not resist the inclination to bathe, and as I had not changed my clothing for four weeks, I washed my clothes and hung them out to dry while I was in the water.

March 29th.—Awoke this morning, after a very uncomfortable night, feeling quite unwell from the effects of my imprudence. Company drill in the morning, and battalion drill in the afternoon.

Sunday, March 30th.—This morning the solemn peals of the church bells, summoning the people to the house of prayer, reminded me that this was the day of our Lord. After inspection, I mechanically followed the crowd, and soon found myself seated in the house of God. The preacher dwelt upon the goodness of God, and made an urgent appeal to the soldiers to cease cursing and blaspheming the name of their Creator and best friend.

March 31st.—My company is on picket to-day. I was excused from duty on the ground of sickness. Remained in camp all day, and spent the time in reading a temperance novel.

April 2nd.—The enemy are reported advancing, and are said to be only five miles away. If the report is correct, we may look for warm work to-morrow. Am feeling quite unwell, but hope to report for duty before we are ordered to meet the enemy.

April 3d.—The regiment is under marching orders, and the sick are to be sent by rail to Corinth. I am not well enough to march, and am compelled to go to Corinth with the invalid corps. I hope, however, to rejoin the regiment before they meet the foe.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Sterling Price (2)
Leonidas Polk (2)
McCown (2)
Lincoln (2)
J. R. Jackson (2)
Zollikoffer (1)
John Trigg (1)
M. H. Smith (1)
S. J. Pope (1)
Edward Owen (1)
Mellersh (1)
J. G. Law (1)
Fielding Hunt (1)
Fackler (1)
Jefferson Davis (1)
S. B. Buckner (1)
Braxton Bragg (1)
John Adams (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: