To edit oneself after the lapse of nearly half a century is like taking an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober.
The changes of thought and feeling between the middle of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century are so great that the impulsive young person who penned the following record and the white-haired woman who edits it, are no more the same than were Philip drunk with the wine of youth and passion and Philip sobered by the lessons of age and experience.
The author's lot was cast amid the tempest and fury of war, and if her utterances are sometimes out of accord with the spirit of our own happier time, it is because she belonged to an era which, though but of yesterday, as men count the ages of history, is separated from our own by a social and intellectual chasm as broad almost as the lapse of a thousand years. In the lifetime of a single generation the people of the South
have been called upon to pass through changes that the rest of the world has taken centuries to accomplish.
The distance between the armor-clad
knight at Acre and the “embattled farmers” at Lexington
is hardly greater than that between the feudal aristocracy which dominated Southern sentiment in 1860, and the commercial plutocracy that rules over the destinies of the nation to-day.
Never was there an aristocracy so compact, so united, so powerful.
Out of a population of some 9,000,000 whites that peopled the Southern States
, according to the census of 1850, only about 300,000 were actual slaveholders.
Less than 3,000 of thesemen owning, say, over 100 negroes each, constituted the great planter class, who, with a small proportion of professional and business men affiliated with them in culture and sympathies, dominated Southern sentiment and for years dictated the policy of the nation.
The more prominent families all over the country knew each other by reputation, if not by actual contact, and to be a member of the privileged few in one community was an ex-officio
title to membership in all. To use a modern phrase, we were intensely “class conscious” and this brought about a solidarity of feeling and sentiment almost comparable to that created by family ties.
Narrow and provincial we may have been, in some respects, but take it all in all, it is doubtful whether the world has ever produced a state of society more rich in all the resources for a thoroughly wholesome, happy, and joyous life than existed among the privileged “4,000” under the peculiar civilization of the Old South--a civilization which has
served its purpose in the evolution of the race and passed away forever.
So completely has it vanished that the very language in which we used to express ourselves is becoming obsolete.
Many of our household words, among them a name scarcely less dear than “mother,” are a dead language.
Others have a strangely archaic sound to modern ears.
When the diary was written, women were still regarded as “females,” and it was even permissible to have a “female acquaintance,” or a “male friend,” when distinction of sex was necessary, without being relegated forthwith to the ranks of the ignobile vulgus
. The words “lady” and “gentleman” had not yet been brought into disrepute, and strangest of all, to modern ears, the word “rebel,” now so bitterly resented as casting a stigma on the Southern
cause, is used throughout the diary as a term of pride and affectionate endearment.
It is for the sake of the light it throws on the inner life of this unique society at the period of its dissolution — a period so momentous in the history of our country — that this contemporaneous record from the pen of a young woman in private life, is given to the public.
The uncompromising attitude of the writer's father against secession removed him, of course, from all participation in the political and official life of the Confederacy
, and so this volume can lay claim to none of the dignity which attaches to the utterances of one narrating events “quorum pars magna fui.
this reason its testimony will, perhaps, be of more value to the student of social conditions than if it dealt with matters pertaining more exclusively to the domain of history.
The experiences recounted are such as might have come at that time, to any woman of good family and social position; the feelings, beliefs, and prejudices expressed reflect the general sentiment of the Southern
people of that generation, and this is my apology for offering them to the public.
As an informal contemporaneous record, written with absolutely no thought of ever meeting other eyes than those of the author, the present volume can claim at least the merit of that unpremeditated realism which is more valuable as a picture of life than detailed statistics of battles and sieges.
The chief object of the writer in keeping a diary was to cultivate ease of style by daily exercise in rapid composition, and, incidentally, to preserve a record of personal experiences for her own convenience.
This practice was kept up with more or less regularity for about ten years, but the bulk of the matter so produced was destroyed at various times in those periodical fits of disgust and self-abasement that come to every keeper of an honest diary in saner moments.
The present volume was rescued from a similar fate by the intercession of a relative, who suggested that the period dealt with was one of such transcendent interest, embracing the last months of the war and the equally stormy times immediately following, that the record of it ought to be preserved
along with our other war relics, as a family heirloom.
So little importance did the writer attach to the document even then, that the only revision made in changing it from a personal to a family history, was to tear out bodily whole paragraphs, and even pages, that were considered too personal for other eyes than her own. In this way the manuscript was mutilated, in some places, beyond recovery.
The frequent hiatuses caused by these elisions are marked in the body of the work by the usual signs of ellipsis.
The original manuscript was written in an old daybook fished out of some forgotten corner during the war, when writing paper was as scarce as banknotes, and almost as dear, if measured in Confederate money.
The pale, home-made ink, never too distinct, at best, is faded after nearly fifty years, to a light ocher, but little darker than the age-yellowed paper on which it was inscribed.
Space was economized and paper saved by writing between the closely-ruled lines, and in a hand so small and cramped as to be often illegible, without the aid of a lens.
The manuscript suffered many vicissitudes, the sheets having been torn from the covers and crumpled into the smallest possible space for better concealment in times of emergency.
As a discourager of self-conceit there is nothing like an old diary, and I suppose no one ever knows what a full-blown idiot he or she is capable of being, who has not kept such a living record against himself.
This being the case, the gray-haired editor may be pardoned
a natural averseness to the publication of anything that would too emphatically “write me down an ass” --to borrow from our friend Dogberry-though I fear that in some of the matter retained in the interest of truth, I have come perilously near to that alternative.
But while the “blue line” has been freely used, as was indispensable in an intimate private chronicle of this sort, it has not been allowed to interfere in any way with the fidelity of the narrative.
Matter strictly personal to the writer — tiresome reflections, silly flirtations, and the like — has been omitted, and thoughtless criticisms and other expressions that might wound the feelings of persons now living, have been left out or toned down.
Connectives, or other words are supplied where necessary for clearness; where more particular information is called for, it is given in parentheses, or in the explanatory notes at the heads of the chapters.
Even the natural temptation to correct an occasional lapse into local barbarisms, such as “like” for “as,” “don't” for “doesn't,” or the still more unpardonable offense of applying the terms “male” and “female” to objects of their respective genders, has been resisted for fear of altering the spirit of the narrative by too much tampering with the letter.
For the same reason certain palpable errors and misstatements, unless of sufficient importance to warrant a note, have been left unchanged — for instance, the absurd classing of B. F. Butler
with General Sherman
as a degenerate West Pointer, or the confusion between fuit Ilium
and ubi Troja fuit
that resulted in the misquotation on page 190
. For my “small Latin,” I have no excuse to offer except that I had never been a school teacher then, and could enjoy the bliss of ignorance without a blush.
As to the implied reflection on West Point
, I am not sure whether I knew any better at the time, or not. Probably I did, as I lived in a well-informed circle, but my excited brain was so occupied at the moment with thoughts of the general depravity of those dreadful Yankees, that there was not room for another idea in it.
Throughout the work none but real names are employed, with the single exception noted on page 105
. In extenuation of this gentleman's bibulous propensities, it must be remembered that such practices were much more common in those days than now, and were regarded much more leniently.
In fact, I have been both surprised and shocked in reading over this story of a bygone generation, to see how prevalent was the use of wines and other alcoholic liquors, and how lightly an occasional over-indulgence was regarded.
In this respect there can be no doubt that the world has changed greatly for the better.
When “gentlemen,” as we were not afraid to call our men guests in those days, were staying in the house, it was a common courtesy to place a bottle of wine, or brandy, or both, with the proper adjuncts, in the room of each guest, so that he might help himself to a “night-cap”
on going to bed, or an “eye-opener” before getting up in the morning.
It must also be taken into account that at this particular time men everywhere were ruined, desperate, their occupation gone, their future without hope, the present without resources, so that they were ready to catch at any means for diverting their thoughts from the ruin that enveloped them.
The same may be said of the thoughtless gayety among the young people during the dark days preceding the close; it was a case of “eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die.”
In the desire to avoid as far as possible any unnecessary tampering with the original manuscript, passages expressive of the animosities of the time, which the author would be glad to blot out forever, have been allowed to stand unaltered — not as representing the present feeling of the writer or her people, but because they do represent our feelings forty years ago, and to suppress them entirely, would be to falsify the record.
While recognizing the bad taste of many of these utterances, which “Philip sober” would now be the first to repudiate, it must be remembered that he has no right to speak for “Philip drunk,” or to read his own present feelings into the mind of his predecessor.
The diary was written in a time of storm and tempest, of bitter hatreds and fierce animosities, and its pages are so saturated with the spirit of the time, that to attempt to banish it would be like giving the play of Hamlet without the title-role.
It does not pretend to
give the calm reflections of a philosopher looking back dispassionately upon the storms of his youth, but the passionate utterances of stormy youth itself.
It is in no sense a history, but a mere series of crude pensketches, faulty, inaccurate, and out of perspective, it may be, but still a true picture of things as the writer saw them.
It makes no claim to impartiality; on the contrary, the author frankly admits that it is violently and often absurdly partisan-and it could not well have been otherwise under the circumstances.
Coming from a heart ablaze with the passionate resentment of a people smarting under the humiliation of defeat, it was inevitable that along with the just indignation at wrongs which ought never to have been committed, there should have crept in many intemperate and indiscriminate denunciations of acts which the writer did not understand, to say nothing of sophomorical vaporings calculated now only to excite a smile.
Such expressions, however, are not to be taken seriously at the present day, but are rather to be regarded as a sort of fossil curiosities that have the same value in throwing light on the psychology of the period to which they belong as the relics preserved in our geological museums have in illustrating the physical life of the past.
Revolutions never take place when people are cool-headed or in a serene frame of mind, and it would be as dishonest as it is foolish to deny that such bitternesses ever existed.
The better way is to cast them behind us and thank the powers of the
universe that they exist no longer.
I cannot better express this feeling than in the words of an old Confederate soldier at Petersburg, Va.
, where he had gone with a number of his comrades who had been attending the great reunion at Richmond
, to visit the scene of their last struggles under “Marse Robert.”
They were standing looking down into the Crater, that awful pit of death, lined now with daisies and buttercups, and fragrant with the breath of spring.
, whose lusty young roots had fed on the hearts of dead men, were waving softly overhead, and nature everywhere had covered up the scars of war with the mantle of smiling peace.
I paused, too, to watch them, and we all stood there awed into silence, till at last an old battle-scarred hero from one of the wiregrass counties way down in Georgia
, suddenly raised his hands to heaven, and said in a voice that trembled with emotion: “Thar's three hundred dead Yankees buried here under our feet.
I helped to put 'em thar, but so help me God, I hope the like ‘ll never be done in this country again.
Slavery's gone and the war's over now, thank God for both!
We are all brothers once more, and I can feel for them layin‘ down thar just the same as fur our own.”
That is the sentiment of the new South
and of the few of us who survive from the old. We look back with loving memory upon our past, as we look upon the grave of the beloved dead whom we mourn but would not recall.
We glorify the men and the memories
of those days and would have the coming generations draw inspiration from them.
We teach the children of the South
to honor and revere the civilization of their fathers, which we believe has perished not because it was evil or vicious in itself, but because, like a good and useful man who has lived out his allotted time and gone the way of all the earth, it too has served its turn and must now lie in the grave of the dead past.
The Old South, with its stately feudal regime
, was not the monstrosity that some would have us believe, but merely a case of belated survival, like those giant sequoias of the Pacific
slope that have lingered on from age to age, and are now left standing alone in a changed world.
Like every civilization that has yet been known since the primitive patriarchal stage, it was framed in the interest of a ruling class; and as has always been, and always will be the case until mankind shall have become wise enough to evolve a civilization based on the interests of all, it was doomed to pass away whenever changed conditions transferred to another class the economic advantage that is the basis of all power.
It had outlived its day of usefulness and was an anachronism in the end of the nineteenth century — the last representative of an economic system that had served the purposes of the race since the days when man first emerged from his prehuman state until the rise of the modern industrial system made wage slavery a more efficient agent of production than chattel slavery.
It is as unfair to lay all the onus of that institution on the Southern States
as it would be to charge the Roman
Catholic Church with the odium of all the religious persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The spirit of intolerance was in the air; everybody persecuted that got the chance, even the saints of Plymouth Rock
, and the Catholics did the lion's share only because there were more of them to do it, and they had more power than our Protestant forefathers.
In like manner, the spirit of chattel slavery was in the race, possibly from its prehuman stage, and through all the hundreds of thousands of years that it has been painfully traveling from that humble beginning toward the still far-off goal of the superhuman, not one branch of it has ever awakened to a sense of the moral obliquity of the practice till its industrial condition had reached a stage in which that system was less profitable than wage slavery.
Then, as the ethical sentiments are prone to follow closely the line of economic necessity, the conscience of those nations which had adopted the new industrialism began to awaken to a perception of the immorality of chattel slavery.
Our Southern States, being still in the agricultural stage, on account of our practical monopoly of the world's chief textile staple, were the last of the great civilized nations to find chattel slavery less profitable than wage slavery, and hence the “great moral crusade” of the North
against the perverse and
It was a pure case of economic determinism, which means that our great moral conflict reduces itself, in the last analysis, to a question of dollars and cents, though the real issue was so obscured by other considerations that we of the South
honestly believe to this day that we were fighting for States Rights, while the North
is equally honest in the conviction that it was engaged in a magnanimous struggle to free the slave.
It is only fair to explain here that the action of the principle of economic determinism does not imply by any means that the people affected by it are necessarily insincere or hypocritical.
As enunicated by Karl Marx
, under the cumbrous and misleading title of “the materialistic interpretation of history,” it means simply that the economic factor plays the same part in the social evolution of the race that natural selection and the survival of the fittest are supposed to play in its physical evolution.
The influence of this factor is generally so subtle and indirect that we are totally unconscious of it. If I may be pardoned an illustration from my own experience, I remember perfectly well when I myself honestly and conscientiously believed the institution of slavery to be as just and sacred as I now hold it to be the reverse.
It was according to the Bible
, and to question it was impious and savored of “infidelity.”
Most of my contemporaries would probably give a similar experience.
Not one of us now but would look upon a return to slavery with
horror, and yet not one of us probably is conscious of ever having been influenced by the economic factor!
The truth of the matter is that the transition from chattel to wage slavery was the next step forward in the evolution of the race, just as the transition from wage slavery to free and independent labor will be the next.
Some of us, who see our own economic advantage more or less clearly in this transformation, and others who do not see it so clearly as they see the evils of the present system, are working for the change with the zeal of religious enthusiasts, while the capitalists and their retainers are fighting against it with the desperation of the old Southern slaveholder against the abolitionist.
But here, in justice to the Southerner
, the comparison must end. He fought a losing battle, but he fought it honestly and bravely, in the open — not by secret fraud and cunning.
His cause was doomed from the first by a law as inexorable as the one pronounced by the fates against Troy
, but he fought with a valor and heroism that have made a lost cause forever glorious.
He saw the civil fabric his fathers had reared go down in a mighty cataclysm of blood and fire, a tragedy for all the ages — but better so than to have perished by slow decay through ages of sloth and rottenness, as so many other great civilizations of history have done, leaving only a debased and degenerate race behind them.
It was a medieval civilization, out of accord with the modern tenor of our time, and it had to go; but if it stood for some outworn
customs that should rightly be sent to the dust heap, it stood for some things, also, that the world can ill afford to lose.
It stood for gentle courtesy, for knightly honor, for generous hospitality; it stood for fair and honest dealing of man with man in the common business of life, for lofty scorn of cunning greed and ill-gotten gain through fraud and deception of our fellowmen — lessons which the founders of our New South would do well to lay to heart.
And now I have just a word to say on a personal matter — a solemn amende
to make to the memory of my dear father, to whose unflinching devotion to the Union
these pages will bear ample testimony.
While I have never been able to bring myself to repent of having sided with my own people, I have repented in sackcloth and ashes for the perverse and rebellious spirit so often manifested against him. How it was that the influence of such a parent, whom we all loved and honored, should have failed to convert his own children to his way of thinking, I do not myself understand, unless it was the contagion of the general enthusiasm around us. Youth is impulsive, and prone to run with the crowd.
We caught the infection of the war spirit in the air and never stopped to reason or to think.
And then, there were our soldier boys.
With my three brothers in the army, and that glorious record of Lee
and his men in Virginia
, how was it possible not to throw oneself heart and soul into the cause for which they were fighting so gallantly?
when the bitter end came, it is not to be wondered at if our resentment against those who had brought all these humiliations and disasters upon us should flame up fiercer than ever.
In the expression of these feelings we sometimes forgot the respect due to our father's opinions and brought on scenes that were not conducive to the peace of the family.
These lapses were generally followed by fits of repentance on the part of the offender, but as they led to no permanent amendment of our ways, I am afraid, that first and last, we made the old gentleman's life a burden to him. In looking back over the sufferings and disappointments of those dreadful years the most pathetic figure that presents itself to my memory is that of my dear old father, standing unmoved by all the clamor of the times and the waywardness of his children, in his devotion to the great republic that his father had fought for at Yorktown
I can see now, what I could not realize then, that the Union
men in the South
--the honest ones, I mean, like my father — sacrificed even more for their cause than we of the other side did for ours.
These men are not to be confounded with the scalawags and traitors who joined the carpet-baggers in plundering their country.
They were gentlemen, and most of them slaveholders, who stood by the Union
, not because they were in any sense Northern sympathizers, but because they saw in division death for the South
, and believed that in saving her to the Union
they were saving her to herself.
They suffered not
only the material losses of the war, but the odium their opinions excited; and worst of all, the blank disillusionment that must have come to them when they saw their beloved Union restored only to bring about the riot and shame of Reconstruction.
My father died before the horrors of that period had passed away; before the strife and hatred he so bitterly deplored had begun to subside; before he could have the satisfaction of seeing his grandson fighting under the old flag that his father had followed and that his sons had repudiated.
Which of us was right?
which was wrong?
I am no Daniel
come to judgment, and happily, there is in my mind no reason to brand either side as wrong.
In the clearer understanding that we now have of the laws of historical evolution, we know that both were right, for both were struggling blindly and unconsciously in the grasp of economic tendencies they did not understand, towards a consummation they could not foresee.
Both were helpless instruments of those forces that were hurrying our nation forward another step in its evolutionary progress, and whatever of praise or blame may attach to either side for their methods of carrying on the struggle, the result belongs to neither; it was simply the working out of that natural law of economic determinism which lies at the root of all the great struggles of history.
And now that we have learned wisdom through suffering; now that we have seen how much more can be accomplished by peaceful cooperation under the safe
guidance of natural laws, than by wasteful violence, we are prepared to take our part intelligently in the next great forward movement of the race — a movement having for its object not merely a closer union of kindred states, but that grander union dreamed of by the poet, which is to find its consummation in
The parliament of man, the federation of the world.