Thursday, June 23, 2016

Diary of Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle: Friday, May 29, 1863

I took a walk before breakfast with Dr Quintard, a zealous Episcopal chaplain, who began life as a surgeon, which enables him to attend to the bodily as well as the spiritual wants of the Tennessean regiment to which he is chaplain. The enemy is about fifteen miles distant, and all the tops of the intervening hills are occupied as signal stations, which communicate his movements by flags in the daytime, and by beacons at night. A signal corps has been organised for this service. The system is most ingenious, and answers admirably. We all breakfasted at Mrs –––'s. The ladies were more excited even than yesterday in their diatribes against the Yankees. They insisted on cutting the accompanying paragraph out of to-day's newspaper, which they declared was a very fair exposition of the average treatment they received from the enemy.2 They reproved Mrs ––– for having given assistance to the wounded Yankees at Wartrace last year; and a sister of Mrs –––'s, who is a very strong-minded lady, gave me a most amusing description of an interview she had had at Huntsville with the astronomer Mitchell, in his capacity of a Yankee general. It has often been remarked to me that, when this war is over, the independence of the country will be due, in a great measure, to the women; for they declare that had the women been desponding they could never have gone through with it; but, on the contrary, the women have invariably set an example to the men of patience, devotion, and determination. Naturally proud, and with an innate contempt for the Yankees, the Southern women have been rendered furious and desperate by the proceedings of Butler, Milroy, Turchin, &c. They are all prepared to undergo any hardships and misfortunes rather than submit to the rule of such people; and they use every argument which women can employ to infuse the same spirit into their male relations.

At noon I took leave for the present of General Hardee, and drove over in his ambulance to Shelbyville, eight miles, in company with Bishop Elliott and Dr Quintard. The road was abominable, and it was pouring with rain. On arriving at General Polk's, he invited me to take up my quarters with him during my stay with Bragg's army, which offer I accepted with gratitude. After dinner General Polk told me that he hoped his brethren in England did not very much condemn his present line of conduct. He explained to me the reasons which had induced him temporarily to forsake the cassock and return to his old profession. He stated the extreme reluctance he had felt in taking this step; and he said that so soon as the war was over, he should return to his episcopal avocations, in the same way as a man, finding his house on fire, would use every means in his power to extinguish the flames, and would then resume his ordinary pursuits. He commanded the Confederate forces at the battle of Perryville and Belmont, as well as his present corps d'armée at the battles of Shiloh (Corinth) and Murfreesborough. At 6.30 P.M., I called on General Bragg, the Commander-in-chief. This officer is in appearance the least prepossessing of the Confederate generals. He is very thin; he stoops, and has a sickly, cadaverous, haggard appearance, rather plain features, bushy black eyebrows which unite in a tuft on the top of his nose, and a stubby iron-grey beard; but his eyes are bright and piercing. He has the reputation of being a rigid disciplinarian, and of shooting freely for insubordination. I understand he is rather unpopular on this account, and also by reason of his occasional acerbity of manner. He was extremely civil to me, and gave me permission to visit the outposts, or any part of his army. He also promised to help me towards joining Morgan in Kentucky, and he expressed his regret that a boil on his hand would prevent him from accompanying me to the outposts. He told me that Rosecrans's position extended about forty miles, Murfreesborough (twenty-five miles distant) being his headquarters. The Confederate cavalry enclosed him in a semicircle extending over a hundred miles of country. He told me that “West Tennessee, occupied by the Federals, was devoted to the Confederate cause, whilst East Tennessee, now in possession of the Confederates, contained numbers of people of Unionist proclivities. This very place, Shelbyville, had been described to me by others as a “Union hole.” After my interview with General Bragg, I took a ride along the Murfreesborough road with Colonel Richmond, A.D.C. to General Polk. About two miles from Shelbyville, we passed some lines made to defend the position. The trench itself was a very mild affair, but the higher ground could be occupied by artillery in such a manner as to make the road impassable. The thick woods were being cut down in front of the lines for a distance of eight hundred yards, to give range. During our ride I met Major-General Cheetham, a stout, rather rough-looking man, but with the reputation of "a great fighter. It is said that he does all the necessary swearing in the 1st corps d'armée, which General Polk's clerical character incapacitates him from performing. Colonel Richmond gave me the particulars of General Van Dorn's death, which occurred about forty miles from this. His loss does not seem to be much regretted, as it appears he was always ready to neglect his military duties for an assignation. In the South it is not considered necessary to put yourself on an equality with a man in such a case as Van Dorn's by calling him out. His life belongs to the aggrieved husband, and “shooting down"”is universally esteemed the correct thing, even if it takes place after a lapse of time, as in the affair between General Van Dorn and Dr Peters.

News arrived this evening of the capture of Helena by the Confederates, and of the hanging of a negro regiment with forty Yankee officers. Every one expressed sorrow for the blacks, but applauded the destruction of their officers.2

I slept in General Polk's tent, he occupying a room in the house adjoining. Before going to bed, General Polk told me an affecting story of a poor widow in humble circumstances, whose three sons had fallen in battle one after the other, until she had only one left, a boy of sixteen. So distressing was her case that General Polk went himself to comfort her. She looked steadily at him, and replied to his condolences by the sentence, “As soon as I can get a few things together, General, you shall have Harry too.” The tears came into General Polk's eyes as he related this episode, which he ended by saying, “How can you subdue such a nation as this!

1Losses Of William F. Ricks. — The Yankees did not treat us very badly as they returned from pursuing our men beyond Leighton (at least no more than we expected); they broke down our smokehouse door and took seven hams, went into the kitchen and helped themselves to cooking utensils, tin ware, &c.; searched the house, but took nothing. As they passed up the second time we were very much annoyed by them, but not seriously injured; they took the only two mules we had, a cart, our milch cows, and more meat. It was on their return from this trip that our losses were so grievous. They drove their waggons up in our yard and loaded them with the last of our meat, all of our sugar, coffee, molasses, flour, meal, and potatoes. I went to a Lieut.-Colonel who seemed very busy giving orders, and asked him what he expected me to do; they had left me no provisions at all, and I had a large family, and my husband was away from home. His reply was short and pointed — ‘Starve, and be d----d, madam.’ They then proceeded to the carriage-house, took a fine new buggy that we had never used, the cushions and harness of our carriage, then cut the carriage up and left it. They then sent about sixty of the slyest, smoothest-fingered rogues I have ever seen in the Federal army (all the rogues I ever did see were in that army), into the house to search for whisky and money, while the officers remained in the back-yard trying to hire the servants to tell them where we had money hid. Their search proving fruitless, they loaded themselves with our clothing, bed-clothing, &c.; broke my dishes; stole my knives and forks; refused the keys and broke open my trunks, closets, and other doors. Then came the worst of all — the burners, or, as they call themselves, the ‘Destroying Angels.’ They burned our gin-house and press, with 125 bales of cotton, seven cribs containing 600 bolls of corn, our logs, stables, and six stacks of fodder, a waggon, and four negro cabins, our lumberroom, fine spinning-machine and 500 dollars' worth of thread, axes, hoes, scythe-blades, and all other plantation implements. Then they came with their torches to burn our house, the last remaining building they had left besides the negro quarter. That was too much; all my pride, and the resolutions that I had made (and until now kept up) to treat them with cool contempt, and never, let the worst come, humble myself to the thievish cutthroats, forsook me at the awful thought of my home in ruins; I must do something, and that quickly; — hardened, thieving villains, as I knew them to be, I would make one effort for the sake of my home. I looked over the crowd, as they huddled together to give orders about the burning, for one face that showed a trace of feeling, or an eye that beamed with a spark of humanity, but, finding none, I approached the nearest group, and pointing to the children (my sister's), I said, ‘You will not burn the house, will you? you drove those little ones from one home and took possession of it, and this is the only sheltering place they have.’ ‘You may thank your God, madam,’ said one of the ruffians, ‘that we have left you and your d----d brats with heads to be sheltered.’ Just then an officer galloped up — pretended to be very much astonished and terribly beset about the conduct of his men — cursed a good deal, and told a batch of falsehoods about not having given orders to burn anything but corn — made divers threats that were forgotten in utterance, and ordered his ‘Angels’ to fall into line, — thereby winding up the troubles of the darkest day I have ever seen. Mrs. Ricks.

“Losses before this last raid: six mules, five horses, one waggon (four-horse), fifty-two negroes.”

2 This afterwards turned out to be untrue.

SOURCE: Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States: April-June, 1863, p. 141-8

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