Refugees returned after battle to find chaos in old city.
What a scene met our eyes when we left the house after the shelling.
Our pretty garden was strewn with cannon balls and pieces of broken shells, limbs knocked off the trees and the grape arbor a perfect wreck.
The house had been damaged considerably, several large holes torn through it, both in front and back.
While we were deploring the damage that had been done Lieutenant Eustace
returned in breathless haste to say that he had just heard an order from General Lee
read on Commerce street, saying that the women and children must leave town, as he would destroy it with shell that night sooner than let it fall into the hands of the enemy, who were rapidly crossing the river on pontoon bridges.
They urged my mother to take her children and fly at once from the town.
After resisting until the men, in despair, were almost ready to drag her from her dangerous situation, she finally consented to leave.
The wildest confusion now reigned, the servants wringing their hands and declaring they could not go without their ‘chists,’ which they all managed to get somehow, and put upon their heads, but the men insisted so that we had only time to save our lives, that they would not even let my mother go back into the house to get her purse or a single valuable.
So we started just as we were; my wrapping, I remember, was an old ironing blanket, with a large hole burnt in the middle.
I never did find out whether Aunt
B—ever got her clothes on, for she stalked ahead of us, wrapped in a pure white counterpane, a tall, ghostly-looking figure, who seemed to glide with incredible rapidity over the frozen ground.
‘She stopped not for a brake and she staid not for a stone,’
, fences and bars delayed not her flight;
One bound and she cleared them, not breaking a bone,
Intent upon sleeping in safty that night.
We plodded along under the heavy cross-fire, balls falling right and left of us. We felt the town by way of the old ‘Plank Road,’ with batteries of Confederates on both sides.
The ground was rough and broken up by the tramping of soldiers and the heavy wagons and artillery that had passed over it, so that it was difficult and tiresome to walk, and the sun got quite warm by this time and the snow was melting rapidly, the mud was simply indescribable.
Mule would not leave town.
I think the only vehicle we encountered (of which I often heard my mother tell in after years), was a dilapidated wagon, to which an old colored man had hitched a decrepit but vicious-looking mule, hoping to drive off from the wars, but lo!
upon the steepest and most exposed place of a very high hill the mule had halted, planting his forefeet firmly in the ground, whilst with his hind legs he was displaying the usual agility of the mule species in kicking the spatterboard.
No coaxing, cajoling, beating or ‘cussing’ would induce him to budge one inch.
The exasperated driver, after many efforts, exclaimed, ‘foa the Lord
, Casbianca, you thick head brute, if t'warnt for de valeration uv yer harness I'd let you get kilt right heah.’
Suddenly his countenance brightened and he said, ‘But I gwine move yer now, 'cause I sees some corn comina!’
A man with a bag of corn was passing just then, and ‘Casbianca's’ attention directed toward it by the old driver, he unstiffened his forelegs and started after it in a brisk trot, dragging the broken wagon and his irate master, who rained unmerciful blows on his hardened back.
We had now reached the ‘resevoir,’ a wooden building over ‘Poplar Spring
,’ and about a mile from town.
I had already lost one of my shoes several times, because of having no string in it, and my little brother insisted on giving me one of his, so we
sat down by the ‘Reservoir,’ feeling very secure, but were terribly alarmed in a few moments by a ball coming through the building and whizzing very close to our ears.
No, this would not do, so we went, footsore and weary; sometimes we would meet a soldier who would carry one of us a short distance.
All of our servants, except Ca'line, who was only seven years old, had taken some other direction.
Reach Salem Church.
When we got about two miles from town we overtook many other refugees; some were camping by the way and others were pressing on, some to country houses which were hospitably thrown open to wanderers from home, and others to ‘Salem Church,’ about three miles from Fredericksburg
, where there was a large encampment.
Our destination was a house not far from ‘Salem Church,’ which we now call the ‘Refugee House.’
Exhausted, we reached the house by twilight, found there some friends who had been there some weeks, and who kindly took us into their room and gave us every attention.
And so great was our relief to feel that we had escaped from the horror of that day, that such small matters as having to sleep in the room with a dozen people, having no milk and no coffee, our principal diet consisting of corn bread, bacon and sorghum, seemed only slight troubles.
Next day G. F., the two L——boys and myself walked up to the church.
All was bustle and confusion.
I suppose there were several hundred refugees there.
Some were cooking outside in genuine gypsy fashion, and those who were infirm or sick were trying to get some rest in the cold, bare church.
The leafless trees, through which the winter wind sobbed mournfully, the scattered groups seen through the smoke of numerous fires, and the road, upon which passed constantly back and forth ambulances and wagons full of wounded soldiers, presented a gloomy and saddening spectacle.
To our great astonishment we beheld Aunt
B., the queen of an admiring group, giving orders right and left, her liveliness and self-importance in no degree abated, and being waited upon by all.
We remained at the ‘Refugee House’ for three weeks, my mother in the meantime making efforts to get into town; each day she would walk almost there.
When she did get there she found the vandalism was great, the beds ripped up, every mirror was run through with a bayonet, one panel of each door cut out, although none of the doors were locked, and the furniture nearly all broken up.
Chaos at home.
The confusion and dirt were appalling and it required a stout heart to begin to put things straight.
I think my mother had fondly hoped that she would find something left somewhere about the house, but of course everything of value was taken and all of the china broken into small bits.
Our house seemed to have been used as a storage house, or something of that kind, from the amount of provisions we found, but of course we could not use any of them.
We were very thankful to find no dead bodies there.
My mother went back to the ‘Refugee House’ that night, and after several days there, having found a wagon going into town, she took us out to the public road and we bade adieu to to refugeeing for a time.
My mother, with no assistance but what we children could give, succeeded in cleaning up the house and we took up our abode in one room, as we could barely find furniture for that.
A stove was found, and fortunately before the shelling, my mother had gotten a good supply of wood, which was in the cellar.
That night about dark we heard a low tap on the window, and my mother asking who was there, found it was Beverley Brooks
, a colored man, who had just heard she was in town and came with a loaf of bread and a pitcher of milk, and every night during the rest of that dreadful winter did he tap on the window and hand in a pitcher of milk and a loaf of bread.
He had staid in town during the shelling and had managed to keep his cow and all his belongings.
We three children with Ca'line would sit around the stove every night and toast our bread on the old bayonet brother had found on the battlefield.
My mother through the kindness of friends and through her own industry managed to find food during the winter, but each week did we stay in bed all day while she washed and ironed our clothes with her own hands, as she had no money to buy with, nor were there any stores in Fredericksburg
from which she could have bought.
After some weeks she succeeded in getting us more clothes, which was certainly more comfortable for us all.
In the spring, my mother, through the kindness of a friend, was enabled to go to Danville, Virginia
, where we remained until after the war was over, but never, even if I live to be a very old woman, will I forget the horrors of the ‘shelling,’ or the different events as they appeared to me as a child, and though I may have forgotten other scenes of later date, those enacted during that terrible time are as present with me as if they had only happened yesterday.