previous next

Chapter 70: account of journey to Savannah.

Letter to Dr. Craven.

I wrote to Mr. Davis, hoping from the youth of General Miles some sympathetic impulse, and that he would read such parts of the letter to him as he might think unobjectionable; but the letter was suppressed, and I wrote another to Dr. Craven, intended for Mr. Davis's information, which gives enough of the details of our travels. After this time I wrote often to the good doctor.

Mill View (Near Augusta, Ga.), October 10, 1865.
Colonel John J. Craven:
... I dread paralysis for him, his nerves have been so highly strung for years without relief. If you can, and perhaps you may, prevail upon the authorities to let him sleep without a light. He is too feeble to escape, and could not bear a light in his room when in strong health. The sequel of these attacks has always been an attack of amaurosis, and in one of them he lost his eye. It first came on with an attack of acute neuralgia. [709]

When he was taken from me on the ship, the provost-guard and some women detectives came on board, and after the women searched our persons, the men searched our baggage.

... They then told my servants that they could go ashore if they did not desire to go to Savannah. The husband of my faithful colored nurse forced her to go. I entreated to be permitted to debark at Charleston, as my sister, Miss Howell, still continued to be ill, and I feared to return on the ship with a drunken purser, who had previously required Colonel Pritchard's authority to keep him in order; and going back, Mrs. Clay, my sister, and myself would be the only women on the ship-but this was refused. Acting as my own chambermaid and nurse, and the nurse also of my sister, we started for Savannah. We had a fearful gale, in which the upper decks once or twice dipped water, and no one could walk.

God protected us from the fury of the elements; but the soldiers now began to open and rob our trunks again. The crew, however, gave us some protection, and one of the officers in the engine-room gave up his cabin and locked everything we had left up in it. The Lieutenant of the Fourteenth Maine, Mr. Grant, though a plain man, had the heart [710] of a gentleman, and took care of us with the greatest assiduity. Some of the soldiers and crew helped me to nurse, and saved me many an hour of wakefulness and fatigue.

My little daughter Maggie was quite like an old woman; she took her sister early every morning — for the nights were so rough I could not sleep, because it was necessary to hold the infant to avoid bruising it-and with the assistance of our faithful servant Robert, who held her still while she held her sister, she nursed her long enough for me to rest. Little Jeff and I did the housekeeping; it was a fair division of labor, and not unpleasant, as it displayed the good hearts of my children.

Arrived at Savannah, we trudged up to the hotel quite in emigrant fashion. My sister with the baby, and Robert with the baggage; I, with my two little sons, little Maggie, in quite an old-fashioned manner, keeping all straight and acting as parcel-carrier; for we could not procure any carriage and must walk until we reached the Pulaski House, where, after a day and night, we .procured comfortable rooms.

A black waiter, upon answering my bell, and being told to call my man-servant Robert, replied very impertinently that, “if he should see Robert he would give the order, but did not expect to see him.” When Robert [711] heard it, he waited till all the black servants had assembled at dinner, and then remarked that he should hate to believe there was a colored man so low as to insult a distressed woman; but if so, though a peaceable man, he should whip the first who did so. The guilty man began to excuse himself, whereupon Robert said: “Oh, it was you, was it? Well, you do look mean enough for that or anything else.” From that time all the greatest assiduity could do was done for me, first from esprit de corps, and then from kind feeling.

The people of Savannah treated me with the greatest tenderness. Had I been a sister long absent and just returned to their home, I could not have received more tender welcome. Houses were thrown open to me, anything and everything was mine. My children had not much more than a change of clothing after all the parties who had us in charge had done lightening our baggage, so they gave the baby dresses, and the other little ones enough to change until I could buy or make more.

Unfortunately for me, General--, who, I hear, was “ not to the manner born,” was in command of the district at the time. I asked permission to see him, and as I was so unwell that I could not speak above my breath with [712] a cold, and suffered from fever constantlythe result of exposure on the ship — I wrote to beg that he would come to see me, for his aide had told me the night before that I could not be permitted to leave Savannah, and having been robbed of nearly all my means, I could not afford to stay at the hotel. Besides, as soon as I reached the hotel, detectives were placed to watch both me and my visitors, so I did not feel at liberty, thus accompanied, to go to private houses.

General--‘s aide, whose animus was probably irreproachable, but whose orthography was very bad, was directed to tell me that, except under very extraordinary circumstances, he did not go out of his office, and “ all such” (which I afterward found to mean myself) “as desired to see him would call at his office.” To which I answered, that I thought illness and my circumstances constituted an extraordinary case; but that I was sorry to have asked anything which he “ felt called upon so curtly to refuse.” On the following day I went, accompanied by General Hugh Mercer. Need I say that General — did himself justice, and verified my preconceived opinion of him in our interview, in which he told me he “guessed I could not telegraph to Washington, write to the heads of departments there, or to anybody, except [713] through the regular channel approved;” and I could not write to my friends, “except through the Provost-Marshal's office;” and that I was permitted to pay my expenses, but must remain within the limits of Savannah.

With many thanks for this large liberty accorded so graciously, I bowed myself out, first having declined to get soldiers' rations by application for them to this Government.

In this condition I remained for many weeks, until, fortunately for me, General Birge relieved him, but had it not in his power, however, to remove the restrictions any further than to take the detectives away, of whom I heard, but did not see. General Birge permitted me to write unrestrictedly to whom I pleased, and appeared anxious, in the true spirit of a gentleman, to offer all the courtesies he consistently could.

My baby caught the whooping-cough, and was ill almost unto death for some days with the fever which precedes the cough; and then she slowly declined. I did what I could to give her fresh air; but the heat was so intense, the insects so annoying, and the two rooms such close quarters, that she and I suffered much more than I hope you or yours will ever know by experience.

My most acute agony arose from the publication and republication, in the Savannah Re- [714] publican of the shackling scene in Mr. Davis's casemate, which to think of stops my heart's vibration. It was piteous to hear the little children pray at their grace, “ That the Lord would give father something which he could eat, and keep him strong, and bring him back to us with his good senses, to his little children, for Christ's sake;” and nearly every day, during the hardest and bitterest of his inprisonment, our little child Maggie had to quit the table to dry her tears after this grace, which was of her own composition.

I believe I should have lost my senses if these severities had been persevered in, for I could neither eat nor sleep for a week; but the information of the change effected by your advice, relieved me; and I have thanked God nightly for your brave humanity.

Though I ate, slept, and lived in my room, rarely or never going out in the day, and only walking out late at night, with Robert for protection, I could not keep my little ones so closely confined. Little Jeff and Billy went out on the street to play, and there Jeff was constantly told that he was rich; that his father had “ stolen eight millions,” etc. Little two-year-old Billy was taught to sing, “ We'll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple-tree,” by giving him a reward when he did so. The little thing finally told me one day, “ You thinks [715] I'se somebody; so is you; so is father; but you is not; so is not any of us but me. I am a Yankee every time.” The rough soldiers, doubtless, meant to be kind, but such things wounded me to the quick. They took him and made him snatch apples off the stalls, if Robert lost sight of him for a moment.

Finally, two women from Maine contemplated whipping him, because they found out that he was his father's son; but a man took them off just in time to avoid a very painful scene to them as well as to me. These things went on in the street — I refer only to the street-teachings — as these women were, with one other, dishonorable exceptions to the ladies in the house. ...

Once, when our little boy Jeff had been most violently assailed by an officer's wife in the house, he came up with his face covered with tears after having stood silent during her abuse. I commended Jeff's gentlemanly conduct in making no reply; cautioned him against ever persecuting, or distressing a woman, or a fiend, if it took that shape, but made application the next day for permission to go away to Augusta; was refused, and then prepared the children to go where they would not see such people. ...

Hourly scenes of violence were going on in the streets, and not reported, between the [716] blacks and whites, and I felt that the children's lives were not safe. During General--‘s regime, a negro sentinel levelled his gun at my little son to shoot him, for calling him “ uncle.” I could mourn with hope if my children lived, but what was to become of me if I was deprived of them? So I sent them off with many prayers and tears, but confident of the wisdom of the decision. On the ship I understood a man was very abusive in their hearing of Mr. Davis, when my faithful servant Robert inquired with great interest, “Then you tell me I am your equal? You put me alongside of you in everything?” The man said, “Certainly.” “Then,” said Robert, “ take this from your equal,” and knocked him down. The captain was appealed to, and upon a hearing of the case, justified Robert, and required an apology of the levelled leveller.

... As soon as the dear children were gone, I hoped with my little weak baby (you see I am very honest with you) to make my escape out of the country to them; but when, upon coming to Augusta — which General Steadman gave me leave to do immediately upon his accession to command — through the very kind intercession of General Brannen, who succeeded General Birge--I was informed by a gentleman, who said he [717] had been told so authoritatively, that if I ever quitted the country for any possible object, I would — no matter what befell Mr. Davisnever be allowed to return; and then abandoned the intention. ...

My baby has grown fat and rosy as the “Glory of France,” a rose which Mr. Davis recollects near the gate of our house.

Under the kind treatment I have received, the fine country air (five miles from Augusta), and the privacy, I have also grown much better; can sleep and eat, and begin to feel alive again with the frosty air, and loving words, and letters which meet me here as in Savannah.

The whole Southern country teems with homes the doors of which open wide to receive me; and the people are so loving, talk with such streaming eyes and broken voices of him who is so precious to them and to me, that I cannot realize I do not know them intimately. Mr. Davis should dismiss all fears for me. I only suffer for him. I do not meet a young man who fails to put himself at my disposal to go anywhere for me. I cannot pay a doctor's bill, or buy of an apothecary. “ All things are added unto me.”

If I have written too long a letter, my dear sir, it is because I have not collected my facts, but sought “ quid scribam, non quem ad modum.”

Varina Davis.


Fortress Monroe, Va., October 2, 1865.
... My days drag heavily on. To what, I have no means to direct, or to foresee. Having no communication with the outer world except with you, and in that restricted by the judgment of the Commanding Officer as to what should be sent. The example you give will illustrate. The “new overcoat” I have not received, though, probably, when the statement was published on which you relied as telling at least one fact, it had reached this post. The matter being of such public importance as to have been followed in its progress through the tailor's shop, and down the Bay, the journals may give you the future history before it is known to me.

My daily walks continue, the hour dependent upon General Miles's engagements,1 as I only go out when he can be present.

Deprived of the opportunity to assemble with the members of the church, there is left to me the spirit communion with those I daily and nightly summon to meet together in His name, who is ever present, and thus I have read the morning service, including the lessons both of the Dominical and Calendar day. [719] How full they are of Providences. Holy innocence closes the mouths of fiercest beasts and triumphs over the crafts and subtleties of wicked men; conscious sinfulness silences those who came to arraign a guilty mortal and entrap the righteous judge; repentance working deliverance to an oppressed and dispersed people; the prayers of the Church affecting the miraculous preservation of one apostle from the fate which had a short time before fallen upon another.

I could not write daily as you wish, because I am not allowed to keep stationery. When it is specially granted it has to be accounted for, the whole being returned written or blank, as may be. ... With you it is otherwise, and the Attorney-General will probably indulge us by forwarding your letters as often as you write. His past courtesy warrants such expectation ...

William B. Reed, of Philadelphia, recently tendered to me his professional services in a very kind and handsome letter. Thomas J. Wharton, C. E. Hooker, and Fulton Anderson, are the Mississippi lawyers who offered their services and were recognized as counsel by the United States Secretary of State. I requested permission to acknowledge their kindness by a letter; it was not granted.

1 Sometimes General Miles said he forgot, sometimes was too busy, and often, very often, the walk was so late and so curtailed as to do the emaciated sufferer no good, but rather harm.

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)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
October 10th, 1865 AD (1)
October 2nd, 1865 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: