From the wartime diary of Esther Alden, 1863
May 29, 1863
Heigh ho! I am to leave school today never to return! I suppose I am grown up! The war is raging, but we, shut up here with our books, and our little school tragedies and comedies, have remained very ignorant of all that is going on outside. Now, I suppose I will know more of the exciting events taking place, as I am going to Charleston to-morrow, and we will stay there as long as it is considered safe. We have had some hardships to endure this winter. Our fare has been very poor, but much better than that of poor C., who writes that at his school they have not had meat nor butter, tea nor coffee for a long time, but have lived entirely on squash and hominy! I do not think girls could stand that; they would rebel; but the boys all recognize that the master is doing his best for them. We have always had meat once a day; our supper consists of a huge tray of corn dodgers which is brought into the school-room and placed on the table, that we may help ourselves and the tray goes back empty. Most of us have been very quiet about it, but not long ago one of the girls left and it seems she had stowed away some dodgers in her trunk, which she got home, making a melancholy story of her sufferings. The dodgers, with age added to their actually adamantine character, were simply indestructible, and there was quite a stir made outside about our woes. We who remained at school, however, disapproved of her conduct as being very disloyal. In our own homes even there were many privations now, and we are rather proud to feel that we are sharing, at a very safe distance, some of the hardships borne by our brave soldiers.
Charleston, June 20.—It is too delightful to be at home! In spite of the war every one is so bright and cheerful, and the men are so charming and look so nice in their uniforms. We see a great many of them and I have been to a most delightful dance in Fort Sumter. The night was lovely and we went down in rowing boats. It was a strange scene, cannon balls piled in every direction, sentinels pacing the ramparts, and within the casemates pretty, well-dressed women, and handsome well-bred men dancing, as though unconscious that we were actually under the guns of the blockading fleet. It was my first party, and the strange charm of the situation wove a spell around me; every man seemed to me a hero—not only a possible but an actual hero! One looks at a man so differently when you think he may be killed to-morrow! Men whom up to this time I have thought dull and commonplace that night seemed charming. I had a rude awakening as we rowed back to the city. When we came abreast of Fort Ripley, the sentinel halted us demanding the countersign, the oarsmen stopped, but Gen. R., who was steering the boat, ordered them to row on. Three times the sentinel spoke and then he fired. The ball passed over the boat and Gen. R. ordered his men to row up to the fort, called the officer of the day, and ordered the sentinel put under arrest! Of course I knew nothing about it, but it seemed to me frightfully unjust, and I was so indignant that I found it hard to keep quiet until we got home.
From a letter by Sallie Todd, near Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1864:
Mother was awfully frightened, but I did not feel at all frightened; I did not think we would be killed. I was afraid the house would take fire, but thank God, our lives were spared, though everything else was destroyed. We have nothing in the world but what little we managed to conceal in the house. Our house was only searched once, and by the meanest kind of wretches, one came and tried to get into the milk closet, but I stood before him and would not let him go in. We had a guard, such as it was, but they were the meanest devils on earth, they killed all of our hogs, even the little pigs, and the cow as it was too poor to eat, but they said they were Secesh cows, killed every hen and took all of our food; broke every lock in the place; our corn, oat and wheat fields are nothing more than the main road; pulled all the pailings from around the yard and garden and played destruction generally, but if we can only whip them and gain our independence, I am willing to give up all, yes everything…
They have a number of killed and wounded now lying on the field. One old dead one is lying behind our barn, and you can see them everywhere you go. I think there are ten in the cornfield. Mr. Bradshaw has some wounded Yanks at his house. We have four we attend to out on the field; they cannot live, but still we cannot let them suffer. Their wounds have never been dressed; we simply wash their faces and carry them water and something to eat. I have said I never would do an act of kindness for one of them to save their lives, but I feel altogether different when I see them suffering. We have them in pens, and oil cloth and blanket thrown over them. One asked me yesterday if I would write to his friends after his death, and asked me to pray for him. I never saw men so hard to die in my life; I would be glad to see them dead and over their suffering, but I believe some of them will live a week longer.