Journal of Mrs. Eugenia Levy Phillips, 1861-1862
A sojourn of ten years in the city of Washington had made me part and parcel of the Southern society, all my sympathies, interests, and affections being with them. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, of course I could entertain no very great admiration for our Northern brethren, and partook in a measure of the prejudices which the interference of the Abolition Party in Southern rights fomented into a bitter hate. Thus the strife which was soon to assume gigantic proportions grew with a strength and bitterness, recognizing fearful civil war as the result, and men and women entered into this strife with a partisan furor, entirely ignorant and blind as to their responsibilities.
American women knew nothing of war, believed less in the cruelties and fearful vindictiveness of the Federal governm[en]t. Thus the Southern women gave free expression to the feelings which habit had made but second nature, and spoke of their hatred and determination to sustain their rights by encouraging in their husbands, sons, and fathers every resistance to tyranny exhibited by the Republicans.
The first sign of trouble in Washington was the total breaking up of Southern society by the senators: members resigning their seats in Congress and leaving with their families for the South. Some few could not leave in such haste, and among them was my unfortunate family. In constant correspondence with my parents, sisters, and brothers living [in] Savannah, Ga., my letters were filled with the sayings and doings of the two parties about to break up and convulsed by all the bitterness of the coming strife, [and I was] totally unprepared for such an event as having our letters broken open and their contents made history of by the Federal gover[n]ment.
"The Jailors of American Liberty"
Seated in my parlor, enjoying the company of a quiet but nervous friend, Miss Margaret L., on the morning of the twenty-third [twenty-fourth] August , 1 was suddenly attracted by a noise in the hall. On turning my head in that direction, I observed two men enter the room, and was immediately accosted with the enquiry: "Are you, madam, Mrs. Phillips?" Replying in the affirmative, I was again asked if the gentleman of the house was in. Comprehending at once the position, and hoping to give P. L. [my husband] time to collect his thoughts and determine his course, I answered evasively, I did not know. I was then informed that my family was arrested in the name of the government. My sister Martha [Levy] and my friend has [had] retired to the adjoining room, not knowing the object of this stranger's business. I called aloud and informed them of our arrest, and turning to my interrogator, who proved to be the chief of that delectable body called "Detective Police," I said: "I am not in the least surprised, sir."
The rooms soon swarmed with armed men, and we were peremptorily commanded not to stir from our positions. As the arrest in" included all who were in the house, I endeavored to explain that Miss M. was only a visitor and had no connexion with our family, but the explanation was fruitless. Despite, however, of orders and the presence of soldiery, we all rushed upstairs to our rooms, children crying, servants amazed, and confusion itself made worse confounded. Passing Phebe [Dunlap], my confidential maid, on the stairway, I hurriedly whispered: "The box in my washstand, destroy." This contained all my family letters. The "detective" saw the whispering, but heard it not. In the midst of a violent outbreak of passion and threats, Phebe slipped away, but was soon after taken downstairs and a guard placed over her. Other "detectives" then appeared, and the cry being well-opened, the chase began in earnest.
The game was sought for in every article about my chamber, each piece of furniture was scrutinised, and every article of dress taken from its place and carefully shaken out and searched. Even the bedding was overhauled, and the numerous books about the room had their leaves carefully turned over by men who sought for other information than their authors had written down on them. Approaching my secretary [desk], they carefully locked it for future investigation, in the full confidence that in this sanctum they had enclosed treason enough to sink a nation. Here they had no doubt they would find innumerable documents from [Confederate General Pierre G. T. de] Beauregard, the most important despatches from [Confederate President Jefferson] Davis, and thus enable the government to repeat once more they had the ready means "to break the neck of this vile rebellion."
How I amused myself with all this! They plainly saw, and subsequently made me pay dearly, for my whistle. But visions of Phebe, with the bosom of her dress, that feminine receptacle of good and bad things, stuffed to repletion with my private correspondence, came to disturb my quanimity, especially as I had heard that in their search of persons no rules of decency restrained them. I trusted much, however, to Irish shrewdness, and the result proved I was not deceived.
Having got through with the loose articles, they returned with a zeal, greatly quickened by disappointment, to the object of their highest hopes-the secretary! I was sorely tempted to tell them that this choice piece had been purchased at the sale of Mrs. Jeff Davis' furniture, when she left Washington, and was therefore of all other places the very one in which "treason" would find shelter. I watched the care and anxiety with which they proceeded to unlock it. They cautiously drew out drawer after drawer, but alas! found nothing but blank note paper and some small boxes of silver! Enjoying their confusion and disappointment, I quietly asked them if, in their line, they did not call this a poor haul.
They then rudely took from me my portmonnaie [purse], which contained a memorandum book. I stood at their side, and as they turned the leaves I read: "Four yards of tape"--treason! "Five pieces of ribbon"-important despatch!! "Bill at Harpers"-government will pay!!! "Turn over, sir, you will find something more awful still," [I said], and from between two folded leaves they drew forth a slip of newspaper and, lo!, then appeared [the London Times correspondent W. H.] Russell's account of the battle at Bull Run [July 21, 1861]!!! ! They had no further use for my portmonnaie, so I still possess it in peace.
In the midst of all this excitement, Fanny came down from her room, her countenance radiant with conscious triumph, to whisper: "My letters are all safe, mother, and here is the key of the wardrobe in which I have locked them." Poor child! She little knew that bars and bolts are no protection against despotism. I laughed outright at her simplicity, and still more at her amazement when I told her of her folly. Knowing that my letters written to her while at New Orleans, in which I spared neither Lincoln nor his advisers, were among her "preserves," I declared that in omitting to destroy them when she had the opportunity she would prove my "assassin."
While this was going on in my room, similar scenes were being transacted in the girls' apartments and in the room used by P[hilip] as his law office. In the quantity of matter collected there, they were much more fortunate than with me, for with the exception of one letter from Montgomery Alabama . . . kept for its amusing description of the "dramatis personae" of Lincoln's company at Washington, they obtained nothing. Phebe, in the meantime, had succeeded, under the pretext of being very thirsty, in procuring a temporary release from her guard and had made good use of her time executing my whispered order. How much do I regret the necessity which has deprived me of so many agreeable reminiscences of my eight years' residence in Washington, valued testimonials from friends of both sexes, distinguished for intelligence and positions!
After all the rooms had been thoroughly searched and all our correspondence collected, we were driven from the front to the back room to prevent our communicating with the passers-by, but not before Fanny had dropped a scrap of paper from the upper window, which was picked up by our good friend T. I am informed that a gallant officer (noticed in one of the official reports of the "great battle" as having behaved "perfectly beautiful"), spying through the blinds of the opposite house, immediately dispatched several agents to demand the delivery of this important document. T. refused until he could consult his lawyer, so they accompanied him to his solicitor, who advised that then [there?] was no law for protection but such as the military permitted, and counselled delivery. A copy was then taken and this much sought for, valued paper given up. What a blush of shame must have flushed the cheeks of these knight errants as they read these simple, truthful words: "We are all arrested and treated with indignity"!
The scene in our back room beggared description. Our nervous friend, Miss M., did all the crying, all the consoling, and all the appealing, devoutly crossing and recrossing herself the while, as a good Catholic, and constantly imploring me to tell the guard, who alternately looked amused and embarrassed, that she never wrote any letters South and but seldom visited my house. We were truly relieved and rejoiced when, after the lapse of a few hours, orders were received from the War Department for her release.
The harvest of treasonable correspondence having been thus reaped, our persecutors curried [carried] off their stores, leaving the house in the armed occupation of their fellows and the military. These soon took complete possession of the parlors, which they converted into their smoking and sleeping rooms and, to preserve our self-respect, we had to take refuge in our chambers. What a pleasant week we passed! Those who doubt it, let them try it. All night disturbed by the tramp of soldiers, save when this was varied by the still pleasanter sound of relieving guard, and all day fearing to move about lest you might find yourself in unpleasant proximity to a bayonet, or what was still worse, the disgusting presence of a vile spy!
When persons ignorant of our situation rung at the bell, the attempt, made against our protestations, was to induce them to come in and so make prisoners of them. All our cards, notes, or letters brought to the door were immediately taken possession of and detained from us. We asked ourselves over and over again what crime we had committed that we were thus treated. What charges were made against us? Who had made them? And on what facts were they founded? But no answer. Fears as to the future thronged thickly upon us, and Philip packed his trunk and made such arrangements for our young children as he could, expecting every hour of each night to be called from his bed, for transportation to Fort Lafayette, the American "Bastile"!
At Mount Vernon [George Washington's home], there is shown the key to the celebrated French prison of that name, sent as a present by Lafayette to Washington, being all that the Parisians under their inspiration had spared from destruction. As the American Republicans have re-established the institution in this country, that key should be placed in the hands of [Cabinet Secretaries William H.] Seward and [Simon] Cameron, for they are now the jailors of American liberty....
We had been locked up in our own house, but Mr. Seward, having found nothing to [in]criminate us, thought it best to remove us to Mrs. Greenhow's house (who was herself a prisoner), where all the female Rebels could be better cared for. [Mrs. Rose ONeal Greenhow was reputed to be a Confederate agent.] So my two daughters [Fanny and Caroline], sister, and myself were thrust into two dirty, small, attic rooms, evidently where negroes had lived, with no comforts of any kind. The stove (broken) served us for table and washstand, while a punch bowl grew into a washbasin. Two filthy straw mattresses kept us warm, and Yankee soldiers were placed at our bedroom door to prevent our escape. Low men took charge of us, their conduct becoming so rude that one of the soldiers [a Texan in the Union service], filled with pity, wrote us a note while his watch came round, saying he would take a note to Mr. Phillips, who had not been arrested but was at home with the young children that night. Fearing some more duplicity, it was some time ere we had the courage to believe in this noble heart; but convinced of his sincerity, I wrote a few lines begging Mr. P. to see Mr. Staunten [Edwin M. Stanton, then legal advisor to the Secretary of War] and get some relief from our tyrants, not knowing from hour to hour what these wretches might do, and more than anxious for the two young girls (my daughters) in their power. .
Extracts From a Prison Diary
[August 29, 1861] We seem not entirely deserted. A kind corporal brings us a sofa and chairs; we then place our little table in the middle of the room and on it a tumbler with flowers sent from home, and so feel respectable again.
One of our elegant lieutenants, dressed in all the smartness of his volunteer regimentals, has bowed himself in to enquire if we had received all we required. Being by common consent the Demosthenes of the party, I spoke most voluminously our thanks for what he had .not done and what we had not received, gracefully complimenting him at the same time for his extreme courtesy and kindness. This little satire repulsed the enemy, and he retired most violently, twisting his delicate, newborn moustache. . . .
Thursday, 5 Sept. Great despondency and illness have marked the interval since I last wrote in my journal. Nothing to raise our spirits, everything to depress them. Receiving notes from my husband with files of newspapers, baskets of fruit, etc., constitute the only break in the monotonous course of our condition.
We are warned to be very careful as spies surround us in every guise. Having nothing to conceal, we are puzzled to know how to shape our conduct. Every little playfulness on the part of the girls is tortured into an offense so that we have sunk down into a quiet gloom, suspecting everybody and enjoying nothing.
I was told that my family physician can no longer be permitted to visit us in case of sickness (an additional wrong as cruel as it is unnecessary), but that the army surgeon must be called for. My sufferings compel me to submit despite of all scruples. So I have duly received a visit from a very ponderous, worthy, and wordy gentleman who was announced as Dr. Poor man! he evidenced much confusion in being introduced to our elegantly furnished apartments. He, however, confined himself scrupulously to the materia medica ["medicines"] and concluded his visit with writing a prescription which he took with him. The prescription made its appearance two days afterwards, giving me full time ad interim to die as often as I pleased. But I determined to live to plague mankind a little more and in the hope of seeing a few of these "detectives" hung.
Some efforts are made at gaiety, but signally fail. None of our small pastimes bring any relief. Even our sacrifices on the stove-altar no longer burn, but I fear the fire of resentment within our hearts leaves no place for any other. Our daily routine is confined to getting up at seven, fighting over the discomforts of everything around us, dressing, going down to a cold breakfast, returning to cheerless rooms, sewing, reading, yawning, abusing, etc., etc., etc. But what right have "state prisoners" to expect better? We sometimes forget this and imagine that, by some mysterious dispensation, we have been suddenly dropped into our present position....
Saturday, 7 Sept. This is our wedding anniversary, having been married twenty-five years! The Germans term it a "silver wedding day." Although we cannot honor it by any particular celebration, memory will be pleasantly engaged in recalling the pleasures of the past. Few women have lived more in the sunshine of life. I fear the dark clouds of adversity are approaching. Did the wildest imaginings ever vision forth present realities? All of us under arrest, shut out from the world, torn from the blessings of home, forbidden to see our nearest relative or even our servants, and deprived of the common necessaries of life. The greatest criminals are allowed the sympathetic visits of their friends, but we are deprived even of this, and wonder that such things are.
But great as are these wrongs, they may but preclude [foreshadow] still greater atrocities, for we have only to go back a few months to understand how easy are the descending steps, when revolution and civil war show the way to anarchy and riot.
We have almost become accustomed to our prison life and feet decidedly tamed down to a state of monotonous forbearance. Poor girls! It is truly hard for them to realize that the gaiety of youth must give way to the contemplation of the wisest way of enduring such an imprisonment. But I am getting prosy and uttering mere moral platitudes.
Lina is permitted to go to the dentist today. This is a little excitement for us, and the discussions are as serious as if she were going to be executed. It is curious how circumstances will magnify the veriest trifles. How many veils should she wear? Ought they to be dark? Should her dress be grave? And which of her wardrobe should be selected? Should the carriage be open or ought it not to be closed? All this, as food for discussion, affords us relief. . . .
Lina has returned from the dentist, her face evidently excited, whether by the dentist, or her compagnon du voyage, or both, I am in doubt. She reports, as the sum of their conversation during the journey, the lieut.'s solitary remark, how painful was his position, and her equally laconic reply [that] she really pitied him. . . .
[September 10th] Read an editorial in the Baltimore Exchange and am struck with its independence, as contrasted with the timeserving spirit of the Washington papers. Speaking of the infamous police system inaugurated by [the Austrian military dictator Julius von] Haynau at Pesth [Budapest, Hungary,], the editor says:
What would [the Hungarian liberator, Lajos] Kossuth have said in those freedom-loving, eloquent speeches of his, if he had been told that Washington was to be the center of all this, and in going through the streets of Washington [in 1851-52], guided by the great [Daniel] Webster, he had been told that ... a certain dwelling house they were passing would be in a few years filled as a prison with women, arrested for political offenses? What would have been his comment?
What would he have said, too, if he had been further told that women, virtuous, refined, pure-minded women, would be arrested, searched, shipped, shut up as prisoners in the custody of men, attended as prisoners by armed men, precisely as if they were men themselves? Would he have credited that forbidden colours were torn from the bosoms of women and girls, and war be made on their mothers and nurses in daring to clothe them in garbs of unlawful stripe? Would he have foretold in these facts the prophecy which would so soon place on the chair of Washington a second Haynau? Would he have believed it possible that influential and honorable citizens would connive and applaud these acts, that the sense of shame and manhood among our people would die so sudden and disgraceful a death? We can imagine the Hungarian leader turning disgusted from the shores of the "Model Republic ... . . .
The outrages committed are enough to frenzy the blood of every man who reverences the sanctity that is around mother, sister, wife, and daughter. These are eloquent words and are enough "to point a moral and adorn a tale." How long, oh Lincoln, will honest men be permitted to speak honest thoughts? Think you the indignities heaped upon us will make us love our tyrants more or hate them less? Let those who have not read history in vain answer! To my six noble boys there will be bequeathed a lesson in their mother's sufferings, which will teach them jealous watchfulness of power and a timely resistance to despotism in whatever shape it may assume.
But this is rather too lofty a strain for an empty stomach, so I must tone myself down to my humble condition. P's note last evening was anything but encouraging. Judge Wayne [James Moore Wayne, Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court], Mr. Reverdy Johnson [Democrat from Maryland], and Mr. Edwin Stanton have been active for us but as yet without any success....
[September 12th] Tonight we mutinied against authority. Tired of our rooms, we seated ourselves at the head of the stairway and were amusing ourselves (not noiselessly, I confess), when the lieut. in a rude voice ordered the guard to "stop that noise." We launched this back with louder laughter, to teach the uncourteous officer that rudeness is not the equivalent of courtesy even in attaining obedience. What will come of this rebellion we know not, but women always act first and think afterwards. Nous verrons ["We shall see"]....
[September 14th] The papers report I have been sent South under a flag of truce. What is the meaning of this falsehood? Are they ashamed of their own tyranny and would thus delude the public?
The gloom which now reigns over us is so intense that none of us has spoken for hours. Absolute inactivity of body is having its corresponding effect on the mind. My limbs are fast losing their strength, and I tremble as I walk the little space afforded in my room. The arrests in Baltimore proclaim the hurry of events. The women there have now a foreshadowing of what is in store for them. The end must soon come.
P's letter today is very discouraging. From its tenor, he evidently thinks our imprisonment may end only with the War. We pray for courage to sustain us under such a trial.
Sunday, [September 15th]. Our astonishment increases in observing the change of conduct in Lieut. S. We know he has duties which he is bound to perform, and we to respect. But still, we also know that these duties may be discharged in a manner entirely consistent with his character as a gentleman, and ours as ladies. He has not only involved himself in inconsistencies, but also mystified us by so doing. He has denied us our comforts, taken the chambermaid from us, slammed the door rudely in our faces, and violently ordered the guard, while we were upon the stairs, to "clear the steps, and send them to their quarters." This mystery may be cleared up some day, so I will say no more. I would give vent to my indignation, but doubt the policy of endeavoring to command the respect of an officer whose government treats us with such indignity. My excitement is too great to permit me to take pleasure in writing, so I close my book with the prayer that a just God will give me the humility and patience to bear up courageously against these persecutions.
Monday, [September] 16. The harshness of the lieut. still continues. I believe my last notes to P. have been destroyed by him. This morning I wrote a most cautious note, that I might relieve P. from the anxiety of not hearing from us, entirely willing it should be read at the provost marshal's. This was sent back to me with the impertinent indorsement: "No comment. Nothing will be sent from here but a list of what you want."
I am determined now, if I can, to ascertain authoritatively what are our rights and privileges as prisoners, and no longer to take anything by sufferance or favor, willing to abide by the rules, but not to be subjected to rude refusals or absolute insults.
8:00 P.M. Providence has raised up a help where one was least expected. A kind soul under an humble guise has seen the wrongs inflicted upon us and offers to do anything for our relief. I cannot speak more plainly for fear of committing this good Samaritan. I send by him a note to P. entreating him to send some friend of his to visit us, for we can submit to this treatment no longer. Will our request be heard?
11:00 P.M. This has indeed proved an eventful day. We are in the midst of the most intense excitement. My appeal has been heard! And for the first time we have been permitted to look on friendly faces! A few minutes ago we were informed that two gentlemen below desired to see us. Our trembling hearts beat high with hope as we invited them up. Our new visitors proved to be Col. Thos. S. [M.] Key, the Judge Advocate attached to Gen'I McLelland's [George B. McClellan's] staff, and our noble friend Edwin M. Stanton. I at once read on their saddened countenances the indignation they felt on beholding four women in this miserable garret, sewing by the light of two tallow candles, stuck in a inkstand and empty bottle.
The interview was brief, our story being soon told. I handed to Judge Key the letter with the rude indorsement returned to me this morning and complied with his request that he might retain it. I was surprised by his statement that he had heretofore been ignorant of our position, but they both left us with the promise that we should have "fair play."
The news of this visit seems to have influenced everyone about the establishment. Some declare we will be instantly released, while others go so far as to say there will be court-marshals [courts-martial] for the wrongdoers. Our hopes are so high that for the first time we shall not go comfortless to bed. I forgot to mention that on going to dinner today, we found a new indignity put upon us, in the person of a guard with his musket, seated near our table, to watch and listen. It is but justice to this man to say he appeared much ashamed of the ignoble part assigned to him. Our rebel hearts, however, enabled us to rise superior to the devices of our enemies.
Our conversation, which was one of the merriest, was conducted in French. I was particularly voluble, the more especially as neither [I?] nor my hearers understood what I was saying. My French exercises were among the things of the past. But this only increased the laughter of Fanny and Lina, who prided themselves on their scholarship. It, however, answered our purposes, and whether laughed at or laughed with was not of the least consequence.
Miss M., a young lady held as a voluntary prisoner and companion of Mrs. G., has made her way up to us. She says the officers are moving about as if panic-stricken, and the whole discipline of the prison seems to be demoralized.
Enough for tonight. May the morrow bring forth good fruit for our starving souls. God be thanked for his mercies to the oppressed! . . .
Wednesday, [September] 18th. Three weeks today have we been imprisoned in this miserable garret! The seeming neglect with which our acquaintances have treated us, with few exceptions, is more painful to us than the rudeness we have suffered at the hands of insolent subordinates and tyrant masters. We may hereafter be told by those in authority, they knew nothing of the privations we are subjected to, such privations as delicacy forbids the mention, and which would shame the civilization of the day, but was it not their business to know, and can they plead ignorance of crimes committed in their name? ...
My heart is too full to write more. Col. Key has just called to say we are liberated and that we are to return home to make our preparations for a journey South. God be praised!
We have all signed what we are told is our parole, by which we agree, while we remain in Washington, neither to pay nor receive visits and only to go out for exercise in company with P. The col. has politely offered to accompany us home, so I close this prison record to make our preparations in such excitement as can only be felt by those who have had our experience....
I should not omit to mention that, before leaving our prison, our hearts overflowing "with the milk of human kindness," I wrote a note to the Lieut. S., thanking him for the kindness which he had for a long period extended to us, and hoping that the recent change in his conduct had proceeded from some cause which might justify him to himself. He replied he was sorry and would one day be able to explain, etc. We shook hands in parting, as we did with the obliging corporal, and the guards themselves seemed to share in our happiness.
As we passed down the stairway, the other two lady prisoners embraced us. My dream is still fresh in my mind. May they soon escape the crawling reptiles and again enjoy the liberty which is the right of all by inheritance! The promise I made in parting, that I would make an effort for their release, has been kept, and I pray may be successful.
To The Land Of Cotton
... On our return to our home on I St., between Seventeenth and Eighteenth, we learned that spies had been in and around the house for months. Indeed, it then came to my mind how often strange women (ere our arrest) had rushed upstairs pretending to be beggars, but, as it turned out, only some female friends of Messrs. Seward and Cameron, well-paid for their services and dirty work. How truly wearied and worn out with excitement were we all, for had we not gone thru all the agitation of seeing the preparation of the Grand Army, their millions of men, guns, cannon, every house and square filled up with such soldiery, who, in their drunken fits, thought nothing of insulting women and intruding into private houses? And when the day came, that fearful day that sent the Grand Army with cannon roaring, flags unfurled, guns bristling, music breathing anything but harmony and peace to our broken hearts-all this "On to Richmond," "Hang the Rebels," "No chance for the wretches," and all such scenes calculated to agonise those who had cause to fear the result.
Can it be wondered at that we all felt a despair which language fails to depict? Everyone knows the result of that battle of Bull Run [July 21, 1861]. Such a day as followed the defeat requires a much stronger pen than mine to depict. The night the news reached Washington, we few Southerners felt our danger in the return of the vanquished foe. So, seeing how necessary was a judicious and quiet course, we closed our house, put out all the lights, but were too excited to sleep that night, and altho' we observed this conduct some time after our arrest, we were charged with illuminating our house at the result of the battle, for which we were arrested, this being one of the charges....
We did not suffer much on hearing that the Grand Army had not gobbled up Richmond, but the day after the news I shall never forget. Standing at my window, I saw the dead bodies of the young men, whom I had known as friends a few weeks before, pass by, stiff in death; bodies of demoralized soldiers rushing about, cursing and vowing vengeance on the Rebels; officers locked up, fearing their own men, either the moral or physical courage of the poor soldier, many of whom lay wounded and starving in the streets. It became with me a question of humanity, to succor both friend or foe. So, giving orders to my cook never to take the soup from her fire, but keep a large share for the soldiers, I felt a generous revenge in thus doing my duty and have heard with cold indifference the many charges passed against me, regarding my bitterness and other (supposed) crimes.
On our release we were told that we could not go out of the house without being followed by a spy, which actually took place when Mr. P. walked with Lina. Of course, this put a stop to all desire for exercise and made us doubly anxious to leave the city, now so very odious. Mr. P. applied to Gen. [Winfield] Scott for a pass, which was given and, in a most courteous manner, recommending us to the civilities of the Federal army. We were forced to sell furniture, etc., etc., but the powers that reigned forbid us to leave the house until we were ready to start South, so we were locked up in the celler, while the auctioneer disposed of our household goods at any sacrifice. We received during the day very many interesting little loyal (?) notes from officers high in command, telling us to tell Jeff Davis what Mr. Lincoln intended doing in his war measures, the result proving that these officers knew all about the secrets they were sending over to the Confederacy so generously. But it is not my business to find fault with these gentlemen; I only hope Mr. Davis may have it in his power to reward them one of these days.
We required but a few days to make a hurried disposition of our little property and to prepare for our journey. As we were anxious for the return of our letters which had been seized, P. applied to the provost marshal, who handed him the package, saying that it contained all the government did not desire to retain. When the bundle was opened, we found three of our letters carefully folded and enveloped and indorsed, having been evidently intended for retention, but left by mistake. The indorsements are curiosities and show with what trifles the government concerned itself. I give a literal transcript of them.
We now commence our preparations for an immediate departure from this city to happier climes, at least to us. But then there is still a gloomy feature: a new home for us and a new professional struggle for P. These, with our limited means and illimitable family, are prolific of apprehensions. But what are they all compared to liberty and restoration to a land where our hearts will beat with sympathy to all around us, and where we may breathe out our prayers and speak out our sentiments with "none to molest or make us afraid"? Let us then live in the hope that the silver lining of the dark cloud will soon bless our vision again.
The hour arrived for our joyful departure; the neighbors, fearing spies, were waving their handkerchiefs in sad adieux from the darkest corners of their chambers. We happened to meet Mr. Seward while en route to the depot. We gave him our farewell in a loud "Hurra for Dixie!" but think it was all lost on him. We left Washington by the two o'clock train Thursday, 26 Sept., and in a few hours were quietly seated in the steamer bound from Baltimore to Fortress Monroe.
Reaching Fortress Monroe [at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay], we were stopped there in order to have our trunks examined. Every piece of newspaper was destroyed that could give "aid and comfort to the enemy," but they could not get those that I had enveloped my frozen body in, as I had been told that newspapers were great nonconductors of cold, and [which I] had prescribed for myself while disregarding war orders; but I think Mr. Davis found these papers warmer than I did, altho' I cannot tell why. At Fort Monroe there was the flag-of-truce boat waiting for us, while a fearful storm raged, and Captain Jones, Federal, said it was impossible for us to proceed. But we were determined to declare our freedom as soon as possible and soon heard the booming of the Confederate cannon, recognising the little boat filled with friends, for news of our departure had heralded us, and a perfect ovation was in store at Craney Island, near Norfolk [Virginia].
In Dixie Land I Took My Stand
Nearer and nearer did we approach, while the storm raged and the waves dashed over us all collected on the deck, and crazy with excitement on seeing the Stars and Bars of the Confederate flag. The captain, excited, too, at our rebellious demonstrations, declared we must respect his flag, but we were too highly demoralized, and the little Rebel boat coming right under, down we all jumped, yelling and screaming with delight, while the officers could ill conceal their pleasure as their strong arms caught us. Why we were not deep into the sea remains now a mystery, for our little Rebel boat could hardly stem the storm. After a fearful hour, spent fighting the storm and losing our hats and cloaks by the high wind, we were able to touch the shore of Craney Island, where stood all over the landing and beach hundreds of soldiers and officers. There was no shouting or noisy demonstrations, but, with heads uncovered, they received us with deep respect and emotion.
We were taken, completely exhausted and soaked through, to the quarters of Col. [William Proctor] Smith (former professor at the Virginia Institute). Warm drinks, tea and coffee (bye the bye, the last tasted until the war was over), restored to us life and animation, and few could resist the scene which loosened the tongue and satisfied hundreds of hungry listeners, while we replied to hundreds of questions as to our imprisonment and everything concerning the Federal government.
After a while, Gen. [Benjamin] Huger, commanding at Norfolk, sent a steamer to conduct us to Norfolk, where another ovation awaited us. The boat was crowded with officers from Norfolk to do us honor. Everybody came, and we gave out from sheer exhaustion, as we had talked ourselves sick, and yet nobody was satisfied.
At last we reached Norfolk, where Gen. Huger with his ambulance took us to the hotel, crowded with our friends awaiting our arrival. More dead than alive, I rushed to my room, as I had lost my voice entirely, and slept soundly until the morning, when I was aroused by a message that Col. [Lt. Col. Cullen Andrews] Battle of the Alabama Regiment had called to announce a dinner the regiment intended giving us. But we were anxious to get on to Richmond, and with many regrets we found ourselves next day in Richmond.
Here was assembled a miniature Washington. Everybody that I ever knew from the South at Washington seem to have met at the Spottswood Hotel, and again we were made heroines and forced to talk. People from Petersburg came to see Lincoln's late Rebel prisoners. Our party took advantage of the situation to pass many a joke on the too credulous. But after a while, we were allowed to act, eat, and speak like common folk, and right pleasant it was. Crowds of old friends claimed a good deal of our time. I was rejoiced to see that great and good man, Gen. Joe [Joseph Eggleston] Johnston and his bright wife, our old friend Mr. Mallory [Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Russell Mallory], indeed, dozens I have not the leisure to particularize.
Mrs. Jeff Davis wrote me a kind note to visit her at the [Confederate] White House, where I spent a pleasant evening. As early as this, there were many complaints of bad management in the officials [offices] at Richmond, and many a heart-rending scene of suffering and wounded soldiers met my eye as I travelled on to Savannah [Georgia], where I expected to rest, if the enemy did not scare me away. Having staid in Sav. [annah] some time, we heard that the Federals were approaching; so packing up again, we took advantage of the protection of Mr. Beverly Tucker [the Confederate politician] to take us to what we considered the safest point, the city of New Orleans.
Arriving at Charleston, we met the [John] Slidell and [James M.] Mason party, just about to start on their perilous trip [on the "Trent," to represent the Confederacy abroad]. We breakfasted together and enjoyed many a joke as to the chances of their falling into the hands of our Northern "friends." Mr. Mason appeared as bold as a lion and anticipated nothing of the kind. To history belongs what really happened, and I was terribly shocked when, near Oxford, Mississippi, Mr. Jacob Thompson [a former Secretary of the Interior] came on the cars and told us he had just heard the news of the arrest of this party [November 8, 1861].
We reached New Orleans worn out and some years older in sad experience of the horrors of war, as many a poor fellow had breathed his last in full view of us, as the cars were full of the sick and wounded trying to reach the home of love and comfort. Alas! Strangers closed those sad eyes, and many an hour did I stand with my camphor near some dying man's death struggle, striving vainly to keep the little life in him; but these scenes, from their repetition, soon grew into common events which excited our humanity, but only increased our bitterness towards the perpetrators of this bloody war.
"To Live And Die In Dixie"
We found Mr. P. had engaged a ready furnished house for us. Quiet and safety appeared in all their brightness and promised us many years of satisfactory life, the more acceptable in contrast to the excitement and war of passions we had been witnesses of while in Washington. We passed our days in doing what we considered our duty, giving our all to the poor soldiers, making their garments, and looking to the well-being of their poor families, making lint bandages, and as far as in our limited power, doing everything to encourage the cause we thought ourselves right in espousing. The churches were always filled by an enthusiastic crowd, listening in wrapt attention to what seemed to us an inspired divine [minister], I filling our hearts with hope and teaching forgiveness for those whose persecutions had already caused foreign nations to wonder!
Our officials were (or appeared to us) to be more than zealous in their efforts to do everything in their power for our safety. The talk as from day to day how impossible it would be for the Yankees to invade us: such batteries, such defences, such fine ships, and such fine monitors [heavily-armed war vessels]. I can bear witness to the last, .is we amused ourselves in going down to the river's edge, where, under Mr. Tift, was being put together that magnificent ram which r almost the world [Nelson and Asa F. Tift were the indeed, to doubt our safety, or even to express a doubt was treason. Thus lulled into a charming condition of safety, and our hopes buoyed up by recent victories, while all letters from Richmond conveyed hints of our speedy recognition by England, the I surface of society seemed unruffled, and we were but little prepared for the bitter fate which was in store. Our young men, stationed at the Forts Philip [St. Philip] and Jackson, etc., would come up to 'the city, encouraging and hopeful as to their strength and determination to resist the Yankee ships. Now and then some hopeless man would spread dismay by telling a few secrets he knew as to our weak and defenceless condition, but he was indignantly silenced, and Gen. [Mansfield] Lovell was brought up as doing everything that was right, and as he was receiving millions from Richmond for the defence of the city, how could the people be deceived? Such was the talk, and such the belief of the mass.
In the midst of our apparent safety came rumors of the approach of the Yankee fleet, but nobody placed any reliance on newspaper "news, for such a young man had just come from the forts and assured the people it was perfectly impossible that the enemy could pass. Was there not "an immense iron chain stretched across to stop the approach effectually," and fire ships? So we were quieted. But the wise ones could not be deceived, and many a sigh attested the fearful doubt and agonising anticipations struggling within their broken hearts, as the ruinous past only warned them for the worse future about to visit us. Rumors increasing, the citizens commenced to talk the subject over, and to prepare their families in case such a dreadful but (to their belief) impossible fate should befal us.
Opposite to our house was Lafayette Square, which the Confederate Guard had occupied for months, a guard consisting of the old citizens organized for the further protection of the citizens. To them we looked for the assent or denial of our fears, for should there be any danger, these guards would be the first to leave, and early morning and late night would we all go to the fort to see if there were any signs of preparing to leave. On the contrary, songs and music only greeted our ears. But the distant murmurings could not be concealed. People looked gloomy, talked as if it was time to seek some other place for their goods and chattels, some safety for their families; and the contagion of fear and distrust prevailed to an alarming extent.
When our danger could no longer be concealed, men and women met to talk over the chances of escape in case we were invaded. "But where to go to?" was the question, as there were no suburbs around the city, nothing but swamps and water. It was decided upon that, in the approach of danger, or in case the Yankee fleet passed our forts, that to give warning and to spread the fearful tidings the great bell of Christ Church would toll. The city had received no news, yet everyone still said: "The enemy cannot pass our forts."
The Coming Of The Yankees
On the morning of the fourteenth April [18621 (I think, but am not certain, about eight in the morning), the citizens of New Orleans were all aroused by the dreadful and ominous tolling of the bell. The people rushed out of their houses, asking what was the matter. They could not, would not, believe that the enemy were approaching. Women and children screamed, and dire confusion reigned. It was only necessary for us to look at the scenes enacting over in the Square. The wide gates were thrown open, soldiers with their knapsacks and guns were forming into regular squads, preparatory for a general move. Men left their houses, wives, and children without a farewell, equipped for battle. Trumpets sounded, calling the officers to move their commands. Women, fainting, screaming, were taking a last farewell of husbands and sons, in some instances senseless on the ground, while physicians were loudly called for. Vehicles of every description were in full career, violently seized to be used in carrying off the treasure from the banks. No time was to be lost, as the Yankee fleet were approaching and all means of egress cut off.
Such was New Orleans on this memorable and never-to-be-forgotten day. Strong men shed bitter tears at their humiliation; women turned pale, altho' their energies never deserted them. In less than an hour, destruction and desolation prevailed. Hundreds of bales of cotton, hundreds of barrels of sugar and molasses, entire wharves of steamers and fine vessels, all had the torch applied. People were rushing out by every conceivable outlet. Gen. Lovell and family had just energy left to supply themselves with safe passage out of the city, altho' the gen. did ride thro' the city, answering the appealing lament of hundreds of brokenhearted women by telling them he would do his best; but history will, I suppose, unravel the mystery of "for whom did he do his best?"
Not many hours after, the dreadful news seemed too true, but in the midst of these fearful scenes and dread excitement, when riot and carnage stared us in the face, came a message from [U. S. Admiral David G.] Farragut that "the flag must be hauled down from the City Hall and replaced by the Stars and Stripes." This inoffensive little bunting was but the state flag, nor had the Yankees yet taken possession of the city. The order said that unless the citizens acquiesced, the fleet would shell our city.
A large crowd collected around the Hall, where flaunted the guilty flag, all determined to resist this bold demand. Our mayor, assisted by Mr. [Pierre] Soule [the former U. S. senator], advised the crowd to act judiciously, as we were entirely in the power of the enemy. Shouts and hisses greeted this advice. Never, never should it be done. A paper was drawn up for citizens, male and female, to sign their names, preferring death (or shelling) to disgrace. Of course, all the women signed, while the more prudent men, seeing that neither swamp or wet cellars would prove safe for citizens to seek safety, quietly argued the matter over. Our house was next to this City Hall, so we were again in the midst of a fearful excitement. A mob of 16,000 excited rabble, yelling, hooting, crying "Death to the Yankees"' intent on mischief, forced upon us but one idea, that we were on the brink of a precipice which required but the least suggestion to hurl us all into bloodshed and ruin.
In one moment the cry arouse [arose] that the Yankees were approaching under a flag of truce. The mayor addressed the enraged mob, impressing upon them the inevitable fate which would overtake the city did one affront befal these officers, saying he had pledged his honor that they (the Yanks) should be unmolested. Then Mr. Pierre Soule addressed them in judicious words. By this time four navy officers approached, ascending the steps and presenting letters from the chief officer of the fleet, Farragut, I think. These letters were threats, and insisting on taking down the City Hall flag in two hours, or else shelling the city in case of refusal.
In the meanwhile, the mad crowd, no longer listening to reason, were determined on bloodshed, rushing in a mass into the body of the building to seek for these officers, and they were only the more excited when they had reason to believe that (fortunately) they had escaped, the mayor quietly taking them out of some private exit, and thus saving the city from a fearful retribution. Both prudence and self-preservation suggested that there was nothing else to do but acquiesce in the demands contained in these letters. Besides, there was an undercurrent taking hold of wise men's thoughts: that it was better for the enemy to rule, rather than the mob.
The latter was entirely unmanageable. So the mayor addressed again the crowd, telling them what he had done and preparing them for what was soon to follow: "the entrance into the city of the marines, and the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes." An ominous silence greeted these words. The mayor then in heartfelt sympathy advised the people to return quietly to their homes and prove themselves men of honor, as he had given his word that no disorder or riot should interrupt the proceedings. The crowd dispersed, and the citizens, feeling too humiliated at the degradation about to be inflicted, returned to their sad homes, closed in windows and doors, and thus the city already looked like a city of the dead, but few hearts but were bleeding, and eyes but were full of tears.
But this silence was not to be very long. On the dull heart came sounds as of a mighty power approaching; louder and louder it grew: loud voices, heavy footfalls, angry voices. Timid women, full of nervous fears, gave way to tears. Some, more courageous, ventured to look out to discover for themselves from whence came the threatening noises. Soon enough were all made aware of the approach of another fearful mob, but this time the cry of "Yankees!" was no idle tale, for in front of the Square, glittering in all the pomp of victory, came officers and marines. The crowd held their voices. The suspense was awful. Two brass cannon, enveloped in the Stars and Stripes, were placed just in front of the City Hall, while 100 marines formed a hollow square, the City Hall making the front. Two officers then advanced quietly, entered the building, tore down the obnoxious state flag, and amidst a silence too suggestive of bitter hate from the crowd, the Stars and Stripes were lifted over the rebellious citizens of N. 0.! [New Orleans surrendered on April 29, 1862.]
One could have heard a pin fall to the ground while the surrounding houses, closed in from all light and sound, proved too surely the suffering hearts within. The scene being over, the Federals being too small a body to take possession of the city, they all (the marines) wheeled around at the command of their officer. As the last Yankee turned with his company, a shout went up from some Southern heart, saying: "Three cheers for Jeff Davis!" As if an electric shock had descended from heaven to cheer and comfort, and as the words were heard, every window, door, verandah, as if by magic, became crowded with women and children, each of whom, on hearing the well-known name, had seized hold of some garment, rushed forth, and amidst the shout of 10,000, all exhausted their voices in this last tribute, for we were soon in [General Benjamin F.] Butler's power.
"His Terrible Swift Sword"
But the city still remained for two days without a ruler, and my pen fails to make graphic the mad scenes which brought to mind the awful riot of the French Revolution. Each hour witnessed some fearful lawlessness. Some drunken man shouted "Hurra for Lincoln!" He was seized by a vast mob, who advanced right under our window, where I beheld the poor victim literally cut in pieces, the blood pouring from various wounds, and a rope around his neck. This was repeated often during the day. At another time it was a drunken woman, while cries of "Hang her!" filled the air, and our excitement was terrible. But a dreadful tragedy eclipsed all these horrors.
The mob were heard advancing. On a shutter lay the dead body of a simple-minded youth. He had taken a drum and Confederate flag on the levee. A marine got up in the sail and shot him deliberately thro' the heart. His mother got his body, and her shrieks and those of the mad crowd still seem to ring in my ear. Few can imagine the condition of the citizens during these three days, not knowing from hour to hour what the passions of the rabble might bring upon them. Hardly had this last tragedy passed under our windows when that dreadful tramp was again heard advancing. On they came, by thousands; three men this time in advance. They held a Federal flag, the one [William B.] Mumford is said to have pulled down. Mumford and his two friends [at] each side. They came to a rest; then the infuriated mob tore this flag into tatters, each one struggling for a piece, dancing, yelling, howling over the mad act, which was too soon to be fatally expiated. [The Confederate, Mumford, pulled down the Union flag from the New Orleans Mint and destroyed it. Butler executed him.]
On the third day [May 1, 1862], about noon, the "gallant" Butler entered with 2,000 men, and we all proved that "desecration is the better part of valor," for sick and worn out with the horrors of mob rule, we were too glad to feel (our lives) at least safe.
So, once more did we feel ourselves under Federal rule, our ideas and experiences considerably enlarged from having felt what this meant. It would have been unwise in the extreme had we not learnt a useful lesson. So with the determination to keep entirely within doors and [to] avoid all antagonism with the powers that ruled, we kept to this system almost at the sacrifice of health, for we never went out, hearing from visitors that streets and corners were guarded at all points by white and black soldiery.
The city now became [came] under military sway, the "valiant" Gen. Butler, our master; he, intent on getting our money; we, as determined to keep it. Our solitude was most painful, cut off from reliable news of any kind, both from my family and from the Confederate government. The papers, all in the pay of the Federals, made the news to suit their interests. On one occasion, Butler, having bought up all the Confederate money, had extras [newspapers] printed, to wit, that "the Confederacy had been acknowledged by England, and the United States was soon to follow." Of course, Confederate money rose greatly, much to the advantage of the general's purse.
Every day ushered in a new victim to tyranny, generally some wealthy man, or rich woman. They were made to hand over their ill-gotten wealth or take the choice of being thrown into a filthy den. A friend, by name Mrs. Hunter (Miss Burroughs of Mississippi), and her husband, a dying man, were accused of secreting Confederate property. Some negroes, reported to Butler that a piece of an old tent had been found in his lot. They were summoned. Mrs. Hunter was questioned, while her husband was thrown into a dungeon, where he died. Mrs. H. denying all the charges, the valiant Butler roared out: "You are a liar," adding other insulting epithets. It mattered little that her house had been robbed of everything and her splendid diamonds all stolen by the Yankee soldiers or officers. I met Mrs. Hunter's brother afterwards, when he had heard nothing of the fate of his sister. He was then making ineffectual efforts to get her out of the Federal lines.
Each day brought with it some terrible order. The heart sinks at these memories of insulted humanity, which seem to have belonged more to fiction than fact, or to have been perpetrated by some barbarian let loose on mankind. Our master [Butler] made himself comfortable at the house of Gen. [David E.] Twiggs, very near us. We were never out of our rooms, but the swift gallop of horses at regular hours told us that none less than Butler was approaching with his bodyguard. Their movements were like evil men escaping some dread danger. In fact, Gen. B. was said to have lived in such fear of a chance shot, that the order of his movements was always one of great disorder. The furious galloping of horses, clanking of swords, jingling of various accoutrements of his cavalry were of the most formidable character and well calculated to strike terror into the hearts of the Rebels.
The citizens lived as if some great evil might overtake them at any moment. Tidings of cruelties to friends only brought the impending danger nearer home. Properties of all kinds were either stolen by the laws of confiscation or openly, by protected Union soldiers. Relics of household gods or articles of dearer memories were secretly committed to those who had taken the oath (and were considered loyal citizens) for safekeeping. But this was thought a great risk, in consequence of an order forbidding the citizens to help their friends, General Butler's chances of losing such valuable treasure being thus weakened.
Beast Butler At Work
Days and weeks and months rolled their weary hours under all this torture, while the power of this man had reached a tyranny which defied alike the laws of reason or humanity. Some thought Butler crazy; others pursued a course of prudence and kept so secluded as to hope to escape all responsibilities of the fearful reign of terror. Among the latter we fancied ourselves, and on a memorable Monday in June, while sewing and in conversation with my daughter Fanny, I was congratulating myself on the quiet we comparitively enjoyed, while all around was strife. I was aroused by my servant rushing upstairs and announcing a Yankee wished to see me. Inquiring if his message could not be delivered, the servant said that the soldier would not deliver it to anyone but Mrs. Phillips. I went below. A soldier handed me a strip of paper. On it was written: "Bring me Mrs. Phillips," signed "B. F. Butler." I turned to the soldier, saying quietly: "This is a mistake; it cannot be me," while memory was busy in trying to recollect even a faint excuse for my arrest.
I then remembered that I had been zealous in raising a subscription for the widow of the murdered Mumford, and supposed this my crime. However, there was no recourse but for me to obey; so, sending for Mr. Phillips to accompany me to the dread tribunal, with a strong heart feeling entirely unconscious of any crime, I dressed myself in a toilette of becoming hue to meet the enemy. The family were fearfully excited; therefore, there was greater necessity for me to guard myself from all excitement, and truly, I felt but a curiosity to know what all this meant.
Mr. Phillips soon made his appearance, also much excited, but I quieted him by declaring it all to be a mistake, and that as soon as we saw Butler, the matter, whatever it was, would be settled. My calmness had a good effect, and getting into the carriage with the Yankee soldier, up Canal St. we went, much to the wonder and horror of the staring crowd, who suspected the danger brooding.
The Hall of Justice was held in the Customhouse where presided the autocrat, or, as Butler styled himself, "Christ's vicegerent." All arrests or arrested persons were taken there. As I approached with my husband, I had to force my way thro' a horrible crowd of negroes, the heat of June in a New Orleans clime in no way diminishing the odors of the surroundings. Someone called out: "Has Mrs. Phillips yet arrived?" I looked up and saw an officer, while my reply, "Yes, here she is," actually caused him to blush. This individual, I afterwards heard, had been sent by Butler to arrest me, but from a deep sense of something (I do not know what they call it in Yankee land), he had delegated this honor to another, and thus avoided me. We walked thro' different rooms, all filled with supplicants of various color and sex, to find ourselves before a mysterious, green baize door. An officer whispered to Mr. Phillips that he could not enter that door (Butler's sanctum) with me. I deliberately seated myself, saying: "None but physical force can make me go alone in that room; so I advise some of you valiant men to get a rope, attach it to my neck, and pull me in." The men stood silent and, after a moment, said they would see what could be done, one of them leaving the field of battle. He soon returned with somebody's consent for Mr. P. to accompany me.
This baize door was then opened. In we entered to see the valiant gen. seated on high before a writing table, a Colt's revolver [on] one side, all around a hedge of his Yankee staff, seated in solemn grandeur. As I advanced, Butler's loud and vulgar voice greeted me, while an arm was thrust into my face. The greeting ran thus, while the face from which the bellowing came was distorted with passion, fury, and loyalty. He screamed: "You are seen laughing and mocking at the remains of a Federal officer. I do not call you a common woman of the town, but an uncommonly vulgar one, and I sentence you to Ship Island for the War."
Amazed as both of us must have felt at this attack, Mr. Phillips exclaimed: "Gen. Butler, I will not allow this language to my wife. I know who you are while you know who I am." At this, the general bawled: "Arrest this man, gag him, take him away." I turned around, cool and calm, touched Mr. Phillips, saying: "Mr. P., go out and leave this man to me." Again my insolence aroused this son of liberty, particularly as in reply to his accusation I had said: "I was in good spirits the day of the funeral."
I noticed that Butler's fury had roused one of his staff to whisper to him, but all restraint seemed to have deserted my master. With face inflamed, he snatched a blank and commenced to write out my order. I noted that he took a mighty long time to write my sentence, and I suspected that he hoped by delay I would throw myself on his mercy, or beg his pardon, or promise never to do so again. Nothing of this kind ever crossed my brain, and, full of holy indignation and determination to meet with silent contempt this outrageous insult, I quietly folded my arms and looked on him while he wrote. Not a word of appeal or explanation broke the ominous silence. My accuser had made the charge and sentenced me without judge or jury.
I became weary, the day fearfully hot, and seeing Butler's lunch waiter filled with good things, I walked up and helped myself (this by way [of] showing my extreme contempt of the crowd). Soon my attention was attracted by a large placard on the wall. On it was written, "She adders worse than he adders." I touched Mr. P. and attracted his attention to this witty epigram, while I laughed a good, hearty laugh.
Half an hour having elapsed, I saw the end coming and culminating in the "hero" clearing his throat for the purpose of reading my sentence. I listened in respectful attention to my banishment to Ship Island, to be fed on soldiers' rations, to be denied communication with everyone, to be allowed one servant to cook my rations, and a few other humane emanations. I replied by asking if Gen. Butler had finished with me. Turning to leave, I was commanded to follow some individual, who locked me up in an adjoining room, while Mr. Phillips found his way home to a heartbroken family. Seating myself before a table, with my heart beating too violently for safety, I endeavored to quiet myself and reflect on all I had undergone in the last hour. But indignation was the only feeling I could summon.
I suppose I must have felt like a man crazy for a fight with somebody, but I was only a wretched, weak woman, deprived even of the privilege of talking. But I saw pen, ink, and paper, and I thought I would write a billet-doux ["love letter"] to the subject of my thoughts, and the muse of admiration helped me right well. I wrote of my crimes, of my rebellious spirit. I appealed to the shades of departed heroines and martyred ones, too, whose wrongs paled to those of mine. But then I took the part of my persecutor, for it was beyond human nature for anyone, much less a general, to have to be kept from his champagne and ice on a summer day by a vile "she-adder." Of course, she deserved her fate; why, it was mild! She should feel grateful. Then, again, the curiosity of this "she-adder" had been violently excited by rumors as to the ugliness, depravity, and sordid nature of Gen. Butler; but what was her surprise, when brought before his dread presence, to find a face beautified, with eyes full of variety and expression, a foot small and suggestive of his aristocratic antecedents indeed, the muse was gallopping when the door opened and something presented itself, a man well-known as Mumford's hangman; his name, Stafford. He approached, telling me I must follow him: "But take your letter, Madam" (referring to the insolent one I had been killing time with). "Oh," replied I, "it is nothing," and out I followed the valiant Stafford, while the letter was carried to headquarters and, no doubt, increased my subsequent trials.
A Prisoner's Journey
The vehicle I was put in, seated next to the valiant hangman, Stafford, drew up at a residence on Canal St., owned by a Rev'd Mr. Cox, whom the Yankees had turned out and robbed of his house and furniture. I was placed in a front parlor, Yankee guards stationed at both doors, having their egress only thro' my room. I protested at this publicity, but was told they were "Butler's orders" and immutable. However, my gaolers, seeing the cruelty of such surveillance night and day, succeeded in relieving my room of the Yankee guard, who were placed outside.
Thus domiciled, torn from my husband and children, not allowed any communication, nor any satisfactory intelligence of the prison at Ship Island, so that a few comforts might be provided, I was hurried one morning, early, to prepare for Ship Island, the early morning being the best time for such dark deeds. I was allowed to say good-bye to my family at my prison, the children and Mr. P. perfectly heartbroken, while my own heart, almost full, still kept courageous and avoided the least indulgence of any weakness.
Up to this time, nobody could be made to believe that such an unjust sentence as tearing me from my family to be sent to such a fearful place as Ship Island would ever be carried into effect, so that nothing was done for my comfort or subsistence. Nothing would be told by the Yankees as to my future surroundings, [n]or could gentle, high-bred people suppose that I was to be received and treated worse than the vilest felon. But so it was, and God is my witness to the truth and sufferings herein recorded.
On my arrival at the Pontchartrain Depot, some thoughtless but kindhearted lady threw her arms around me and, in a flood of grief, committed me to the care of the "Good God." I begged her to leave me, as I was weak in body, and the least excitement would upset me (up to this time my efforts being to quiet my distressed children). I have never heard who this good lady was, filled with such courage at such times.
Landing from the depot to get into the cars which took me to the boat for Ship Island, I happened to look around, and my heart gave one bound which nearly thrilled me into fainting, for, for many yards there stood, uncovered and in reverential position, heads bowed, to offer me a silent ovation, some thirty of the oldest and most respected citizens of New Orleans. I wept unseen, and my heart gave them that quiet homage which the Cause, not the individual, determined to consecrate in her sacred memory and honor by a dignified submission to a tyrant's abuse.
In my sentence of imprisonment by Gen. Butler, I was allowed a servant to cook my soldier's rations. My own maid [Phebe], a faithful Irishwoman who had been living with me for fifteen years, sacrificed liberty and health to share with me my trials. But for this companionship and help I should have died. At eight o'clock, a fearful hot day in June, with my woman, I found myself on board for Ship Island. Up to this time, I had taken food of no kind, indeed, could not eat; therefore, was very much exhausted, suffering intensely from the heat. Capt. Blodget was detailed to take me to my prison, but from a mistaken sense of delicacy, which I give him full credit for, as his subsequent conduct proved him a gentleman. ... I never saw him until he came to land me.
I found myself on this boat in a crowd of drunken, low, filthy soldiers and officers. (I put the officers last as the soldiers were much more respectable.) Their conversation, evidently to insult me, was of the basest and foullest character. To avoid hearing it, I turned to my maid, requesting her to read aloud, in order to drown their detested voices. Sick almost to death, forced to hear where and how these elegant officers had passed their riotous evenings and days, expecting every moment to be in the midst of pistol firing or some drunken brawl, all I prayed for was to reach my prison, dungeon or den. It was mine and would be sacred from such fearful scenes. The captain, whom I sent for, to beg a private spot, free from insult, was reported drunk.
I was kept a day and night under what should have been [a] six hours' trip, not a mouthful of any kind to sustain me, entirely ignorant that I was under anyone's vigilance. When the boat reached its destination, everyone left but my maid and myself. Exposed to the burning heat, I was anxious to get to some refuge. After some time, I succeeded in seeing Capt. Blodget, when in an accidental manner I heard I was his prisoner. I appealed to him to take me to my prison, as I was nearly exhausted and very ill. By this time nature yielded, and I fell into violent spasms. Capt. B. questioned Phebe (my maid) as to the food I had been receiving. When told that I had had nothing, he became very indignant and got me, from some boat well-provided, cup of tea, etc.
Feeling stronger, I implored him to have me settled somewhere. He appeared very much annoyed. I heard afterwards that the valiant Gen. Neal Dow had told Capt. Blodget, when he applied for my prison, "that he had no quarters for damned Rebels"; I had better die where I was. On my pleading that I would die, were I left any longer on that boat, Capt. B. made another effort and after some time returned to me, telling me that he had succeeded and, helping me from the boat, I found myself wading up to my ankles in deep sand, scorching and sweltering heat.
Ship Island is a narrow sand bar [off the shore of Mississippi, in the Gulf of Mexico], formed from the workings of the water all around. Not a tree or blade of grass shades the eye or person from the fearful heat. Neither man or beast (ere our Yankee friends found the reverse) found the island inhabitable. Having walked about one fourth of a mile, Capt. B. suddenly stopped, saying he wished to prepare me for my home. In the path before me stood a box, or small room, fixed upright on a hill of sand; entering [it, we saw there] were two piles of dirt and not another evidence that a human being (and that "being" a delicate woman) was to make this den her abode. By this time hundreds of venomous insects, settling upon our faces, drew the blood and tortured us every second.
It seemed that the mind in great trouble generally seizes upon trifling annoyances. In this case, mine assumed gigantic proportions, and all I cared about was to get rid of these bloodthirsty insects. Visions of daily and nightly tortures seemed to pass quickly thro' my excited brain, while the desolation around me had vanished. Capt. B., as indignant as he should have been at my treatment, calmed me by promising to try and get a net, which he succeeded in. I believe some thoughtful person had put one in my trunk and thus saved me from a lunatic's death, which certainly would have been my fate, shut up in this den, with a padlock on the door to keep me, like some wild beast, from running away (the reason given afterwards for putting this padlock on my door).
Capt. B. nailed up this net to the boards, under which, and as if it were my paradise, both Phebe and I jumped for relief. Thus we passed that first night of our imprisonment. (Truly a fearful one to punish a woman and tear her from her family because she was enjoying herself with her young children.) Capt. Blodget, who had orders for the hospital, located some three miles away, as the island was too wretched for sick soldiers, left me, saying he would return next day for my letters to Mr. Phillips, as he would be anxious to hear. I saw that he was too indignant with my persecutors to indulge in anything like comfort. We demanded a guard, and had the comfort of bearing his tread all night, the only noise which greeted our anxious ears.
The sun rose, hours elapsed, to find us unwashed, unfed, unnoticed. Not a human being came near us, even to bring a drop of water. The question arose as to whether we were to be starved or treated as human beings. Noon came on to find me pretty ill for want of sustenance. Poor Phebe, worried to deathly paleness, thought she would appeal to the guard, to try and buy a loaf of bread or a cracker somewhere. She had no sooner spoken when a man appeared, a short, common-looking individual. He approached the little opening called window, thrust his arms in, and commenced uttering frightful curses at me for daring to speak to the guard. Some spy had heard Phebe and rushed up to headquarters, bringing down on us the "hero," Gen. Neal Dow. He said I ought to be hung or made to work at breaking stones for the fort (an amusement Gen. Butler inaugurated for the rich men of New Orleans when they would not disgorge their riches to him) with a forty-lb. chain on my leg (saw this also every day), and indulging in various epithets too low for my pen to write.
By this time my cup of sorrow was pretty full. I turned away, silence being my only safeguard. An hour after, Capt. B., pushing aside the gun which halted him on entering my prison, came up to me, saying: "Well, Mrs. Phillips, I hope you have been attended to." When I told him of all, and that not even a drop of water had been brought us, he exclaimed: "Good God, can such things be?", rushed out, and some time after a corporal approached with a cup of tea and toast from Dr. Avery of the hospital. I had hardly swallowed it ere the bearer was knocked down by this same Neal Dow, while Dr. Avery was arrested. Thus every hope seemed dead, and all my courage necessary to face the coming trials.
Capt. B. returned for my letter. I only shook my head; speech seemed to defy any explanation for such treatment, nor could I torture my husband and children with any idea of what I was enduring. They never knew until I had left my prison. (Memory has done every kindness to Capt. Blodget for his humanity in these dark days, nor shall I fail in rendering him this justice if we ever meet again.)
Thus the day was waning, and we had settled down into something like indifference to our wants, when an approaching step filled us with new terror. This time our visitor proved himself a redheaded Irish cook. In his hands and bare arms he held two tin pans, one spoon, one cup. Having delivered to me one of the pans, he scraped from the other a mess of beans and spoiled beef, something which was yellow with saleratus, which he called bread, and another mess called tea. At last we had been noticed and our meals (?) sent.
For three months and a half this man with the tin pan and its contents visited us with the good things of life to sustain and comfort. Whenever a barrel of this beef was opened, the island was redolent with the horrible smell of spoiled beef, but this was no consequence; it was our rations. Every day officers would call in their round of duty to see what the prisoners wanted, but by no means to gratify them. And I was told that they would so like to give me a little fresh food, or something warm, but that Gen. Butler would hear of it and punish them. The salt water, rendered drinkable by the sand, was given me. Entire hogsheads of ice melting, but none for the vile Rebels.
Having, after a month's imprisonment, being taken ill (brain fever, etc.), the surgeon was called. He never came near me for twelve hours, then prescribed perfect quiet and arrowroot. When
Phebe begged for a little warm water to make me tea, it was promised if the men could spare the time. Next day they brought it. The "quiet" prescribed was observed by the men being drilled twice a day at the head of my den. The zeal with which every cruelty was carried out was a striking feature in my gaolors. We were never allowed to breathe the fresh air, nor take any exercise. They punished Phebe as they did me.
The "great" Gen. Butler sent once a week to inquire after my health. He, no doubt, hoped I would at last cringe and beg. Thank God, who gave me strength and patience to keep me from this black stain. "Ask no favors," wrote I to my husband; "let me rot where I am, rather." Hints were made to reach Mr. Phillips' ear, that inasmuch as I was ill, I could go home on my parole, returning when I was better. Gen. Butler evidently did not know what to do with his "elephant," but I was not to be tricked in this way and waited patiently to see what ingenuity and rascality would invent to shelter my ennemies from the outrage going on, while they were trying their best to force me to commit myself. There was one officer particularly cruel. His name was Sherburne. After months of persecution towards me, he took a pleasure trip to New Orleans and was blown to pieces. I cannot yet foresee the fate of a few others.
Hundreds of petty annoyances tried my mind every day. I was allowed not even a piece of candle to cheer my dismal abode. But I could read, and sew, and write, and kept within me a strong heart, inspired by a sense of rectitude, to bear and forbear. The soldiers all sympathised with me, did everything to alleviate my trials. When those fearful storms came and the island overflowed, I always received assurances that I should be cared for, while curses loud and deep consigned Gen. Butler to regions worse than Ship Island, for they all hated him. I heard constantly from my family. Of course, the letters [were] sent open; but I managed to keep up my spirits and wrote imaginary incidents, and amused myself over the contrabands [Negroes] arriving every night, while the officers were on the wharf, ready to receive and entertain them, and get up dances for them.
All this I wrote, and months passed, hopeless and weary. One day I got particularly nervous, and Phebe anticipated a nervous attack. [While she was] trying to comfort me, the room was suddenly invaded by one of the officers (a former confectioner from New Hampshire), who fumbled and tried to read a paper in his hand. Finding that he could not read, I snatched the paper, filled with fears that it was an order for further ill-treatment, when these words met my eyes: "Mrs. Phillips, imprisoned at Ship Island, is hereby released, in order to prevent the sufferings of the wholly innocent" (insinuating that I was in an interesting [pregnant] condition). Was ever such a piece of Yankee subterfuge and smartness ever before resorted to but by a Gen. Butler? Of course, he had to invent something, and true to his vulgar instincts, he succeeded.
However, I did not cavil at this piece of Yankee bufoonery, but the idea of so soon being restored to my dear ones soon banished every feeling but delight. The Yankee cruelty still showed itself by keeping me a prisoner to the last moment. The soldiers, having heard I was to be released, all hastened to my den to show their joy, and a fear of some outbreak was the excuse given for keeping me guarded. However, when the hour came for me to leave, my room was besieged, everyone shaking hands and all begging for a relic; so my curtain was torn into a thousand pieces for these poor soldiers. The officers kept aloof, feeling, I suppose, more Yankee than ever (which must be a mighty mean feeling).
I must except one officer. When the valiant Gen. Neal Dow left the island, Col. [Lt. Col. Charles F.] Ruff was appointed to take command. During my long imprisonment I never saw this person, made to him no complaints, asked no favors, and neither did I receive any. It was sufficient to prove his character that he in no way lessened the severities of my condition. A few hours ere I was released, he entered my prison, extending his hand, which, of course, I had no desire to touch. Addressing me, he said: "Madame, I am not in the habit of calling to see the prisoners, many of whom have insulted me with rude notes, but I have called to say to you that I thank you for your politeness, good breeding, and ladylike qualities. I am nothing but a soldier under orders; but for this, I might have been less rigorous."
I felt my heart rise with indignant passion when all I had suffered passed rapidly thro' my brain, but I controlled myself and, replying, said: "Sir, do not imagine that my conduct during my imprisonment had for its guide any other motive than a holy and sacred respect for the cause for which I have suffered. To the women of the South I look for approval, while my own self-respect sustained me thro' all your persecutions. I cannot accept your tardy sympathy. I only hope God will forgive you for all you have done to me."
He vanished after this, and I went off with Phebe to the boat, weak and very sick. Arriving in New Orleans very early in the morning, I reached home to find that my family (true to Yankee cruelty) had been kept in perfect ignorance of my release. [Hearing me] ringing the bell, the servant opened the door. As he saw me, he slammed it in my face (afterwards declaring that he thought it was my ghost), rushed upstairs screaming "Mrs. Phillips!" and arousing the household. Immediately I was embraced, kissed, cried over, while Mr. Phillips, stunned by the news, not knowing whether I was dead or alive, remained in his room, overwhelmed and alarmed. I rushed upstairs. When he saw me, tears came to his relief and the reaction was painful to witness.
But the excitement of all I had undergone was not easily cured. My brain appeared on fire. My nerves lost all control, and I fell fainting and paralyzed on the floor. My screams were heard over the neighbourhood. I lost all consciousness, and physicians were summoned. I was pronounced in a very critical condition, and to be kept perfectly quiet, else the consequences would be fatal.
In the meanwhile, the news of my release spread over the city. Our house was besieged by friends, by the curious, by spies, by those who had sons and husbands suffering at Ship Island, so that a person had to be stationed at the door to satisfy all. Some had heard that I was dead; others, that I was crazy, and the interest remained unabated for some weeks, when new excitements claimed the Southern mind, for those were times when arrests and imprisonments followed in rapid succession.
Shortly after I was sent to my prison, Butler gave out the idea that I had been "released after a few days' confinement," so that everyone, including my family in Georgia, believed that I was safe, and even now but few have ever heard of this, the greatest outrage of the War. My pen could dwell on hundreds of events associated with the War: how after my release we were summoned either to take the [loyalty] oath or declare ourselves ennemies of the United States, how we preferred the latter alternative, how we were turned out of our homes again at New Orleans, chartering a small boat in which, after days and nights of exposure and want, we found ourselves in the Confederacy.
Settling in La Grange, Georgia, we at last found a home, devoting our lives and fortune to the support and clothing of the poor soldier, nursing the wounded and dying, alleviating in every way the desolation and misery which civil war surely brings. Our women were all heroines; everything like dress, amusement, or frivolity was abandoned, until Providence in his wisdom decided against us. To accept bravely was all that was left us, and to wiser heads and brighter pens is left the sad duty of teaching to mankind that in this American war history does not repeat itself. Those noble, old nations (altho' comparatively barbarous), history tells us, crushed not the conquered.