Saturday, August 12, 2017

Diary of John Beauchamp Jones: June 28, 1863

By order of Brig.-Gen. G. W. Custis Lee, the department companies were paraded to-day, armed and equipped. These, with the militia in the streets (armed by the government today), amounted to several thousand efficient men for the batteries and for guard duty. They are to rendezvous, with blankets, provisions, etc., upon the sounding of the tocsin. I learn that 8000 men in the hospitals within convenient reach of the city, including those in the city, can be available for defense in an emergency. They cannot march, but they can fight. These, with Hill's division, will make over 20,000 men; an ample force to cope with the enemy on the Peninsula. It has been a cool, cloudy day (we have had copious rains recently), else the civilians could not have stood several hours exercise so well. A little practice will habituate them by degees to the harness of war. No one doubts that they will fight, when the time for blows arrives. Gen. Jenkins has just arrived, with his brigade, from the south side of the James River.

I was in the arsenal to-day, and found an almost unlimited amount of arms.

We get not a word from Gen. Lee. This, I think, augurs well, for bad news flies fast. No doubt we shall soon hear something from the Northern papers. They are already beginning to magnify the ravages of our army on their soil: but our men are incapable of retaliating, to the full extent, such atrocities as the following, on the Blackwater, near Suffolk, which I find in the Petersburg Express:

“Mr. Smith resided about one mile from the town, a well-to-do farmer, having around him an interesting family, the eldest one a gallant young man in the 16th Virginia Regiment. When Gen. Longstreet invested Suffolk a sharp artillery and infantry skirmish took place near Mr. Smith's residence, and many balls passed through his house. The Yankees finally advanced and fired the houses, forcing the family to leave. Mrs. Smith, with her seven children, the youngest only ten months old, attempted to escape to the woods and into the Confederate lines, when she was fired upon by the Yankee soldiers, and a Minie-ball entering her limb just below the hip, she died in thirty minutes from the loss of blood. The children, frightened, hid themselves in the bushes, while Mr. Smith sat down upon the ground by his wife, to see her breathe her last. After she had been dead for some time, the Yankee commander permitted him to take a cart, and, with no assistance except one of his children, he put the dead body in the cart and carried it into the town. On his arrival in town, he was not permitted to take the remains of his wife to her brother's residence until he had first gone through the town to the Provost Marshal's office and obtained permission. On his arrival at the Provost Marshal's office, he was gruffly told to take his wife to the graveyard and bury her. He carried her to her brother's, John R. Kilby, Esq., and a few friends prepared her for burial; Mr. Kilby not being allowed to leave the house, or to attend the remains of his sister to the graveyard.

“Nor did the cruelty of the fiends stop here. Mr. Smith was denied the privilege of going in search of his little children, and for four days and nights they wandered in the woods and among the soldiers without anything to eat or any place to sleep. The baby was taken up by a colored woman and nursed until some private in the Yankee army, with a little better heart than his associates, took it on his horse and carried it to town. Mr. Smith is still in the lines of the enemy, his house and everything else he had destroyed, and his little children cared for by his friends.

“Will not the Confederate soldiers now in Pennsylvania remember such acts of cruelty and barbarism? Will not the Nansemond companies remember it? And will not that gallant boy in the 16th Regiment remember his mother's fate, and take vengeance on the enemy? Will not such a cruel race of people eventually reap the fruit of their doings? God grant that they may.”

SOURCE: John Beauchamp Jones, A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States Capital, Volume 1, p. 362-4

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