Hope for short war vanished by August of 1861

By Dr. Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journal

By August 1861, it was apparent the short war that everyone had predicted was not to be. The Confederates followed up their July victory at First Bull Run with another triumph at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, on August 10, but the Yankees showed no hint of recognizing Southern independence. The war would be a long one.

Louisiana units had played important roles in both battles, and the valor of the state’s troops were heralded in major newspapers. At Wilson’s Creek, the 3rd Louisiana was in the thick of the fighting and lost 60 men in this, its first engagement. More hard battles would follow, and the regiment would come to be known as the “Bloody Third” because of its high losses.

Five days after the battle, Capt. David Pierson of Winnfield wrote his father. Pierson had served as a delegate to the Louisiana Secession Convention, where he opposed leaving the Union (North Louisiana’s Winn, Ouachita, Catahoula, and Caldwell parishes all voted against secession). Nonetheless, Pierson went on to organize the Winn Rifles and marched off to war.

Pierson told his father, “I can’t give you a detail of the battle nor a precise description of the ground. It was a promiscuous fighting, up and down the creek & over hills for a distance of two miles. . . .Whilst we were in the bushes forming our line, they sent their bullets among us thick as hail and would have killed half of our Reg’t but we lay on our faces close to the ground and the balls passed just over us. Already every bush & tree was riddled above our heads. The first fire of the enemy brought down three of my Company in a few feet of where I was standing, one shot through the heart, the other two seriously wounded. . . . My Company fought bravely to the last and kept together & in line better than any other Company in the regt.”

After the war, a member of the 3rd Louisiana recalled how the men heard a rumor just before the battle that the Yankee army under General Nathaniel Lyon was moving into the rear to surround General Ben McCulloch’s Confederates. One soldier declared that “it didn’t make much difference to the Louisiana boys which side he attacked them on, as they were so far from home that all points of the compass seemed alike to them, and if Lyon wanted to attack us in the rear, and he were McCulloch, he would give him a pass through his camp and then lick him like hell.”

Captain Pierson’s brother Reuben was in Virginia with the 9th Louisiana’s Brush Valley Guards from Bienville Parish. That same month he wrote his sister Mary Catherine of conditions in camp. “It is very difficult for us to procure shoes and we have to pay nearly three prices for them when we get them. For such shoes as Ben Stall makes we have to pay from six to eight dollars a pair. . . .Tell Father to send me a pair of good strong water proof boots of Stall’s make if he has an opportunity before winter. And you must knit and send me 2 good strong pair of wool socks and one or 2 pair of homespun jeans pants. I see in the banner that the ladies are forming us societies to make and send us clothing for winter and Mr. Thurmond I understand agrees to bring them to us. Nothing could afford more pleasure to the care worn volunteers of Bienville than to see these things coming about the last of September as we will have frost by that time and nothing would add more glory to a young ladies name and character than to be first and foremost in carrying this project into effect.”

Across the state men continued to enter the ranks and depart for training camps or far away battlefields. Officers at Camp Moore had constant trouble with recruits slipping out of camp to get drunk in nearby Tangipahoa. One officer wrote he put a dozen or so men in the guard house but it did little good “until finally I called out my guard and shut up every store in the place, and then it was as much as I could do to keep them from breaking open the houses.” That night the 11th Louisiana’s Dillon Guards “commenced burning up their floors to their tents, their benches &c.” Order was not restored until the miscreants were confronted with loaded muskets. “The next morning one half of the Dillons, Home’s Light, and Cannon Guards had to be carried aboard the [train] cars. On the way two dropped off (one killed and one seriously wounded), Lieut. Favrot shot one of his men whilst attempting to bayonet another. Two Dillons cut one another very badly. . . .”

On the home front, women and children often found themselves alone on isolated farms having to assume the chores normally left to husbands. Black slaves and white masters alike suffered but, unfortunately, little is known of the slaves’ thoughts and activities because they left no written record behind. Frequently, soldiers’ wives would write their husbands that the slaves are all fine or a soldier would inquire how they were doing, but there is scant information on the day-to-day routine of slaves whose masters had left for the front.

For most white families, patriotic zeal still burned brightly, but life became increasingly difficult in this time before food stamps and the social welfare net. Sarah Lois Wadley, a seventeen-year-old girl in Northeast Louisiana, wrote in her diary how hard it had become for some of the local families whose men had gone into the army. “Mrs. Brantley has fifteen children, she has three sons, two sons-in law and one grandson in our army, she came down to try to get a little money from Father, she said one of her sons had returned home on account of sickness and was now going back again and she wanted to give him some money and send some to his brothers, she said that if she could only get a hundred dollars that she would be satisfied. We were very sorry that Father was not at home, if he had been he would have strained every nerve to have paid her under such circumstances, but we had no money in the house and Father was not here. . . .Mrs. Brantley says that around in her neighborhood every one has given almost their last cent of ready money to the war cause.”

Not far away from Miss Wadley lived Kate Stone, a vivacious twenty-year-old who tried to make ends meet with her widowed mother and two younger siblings on their Madison Parish plantation. Throughout August 1861, Kate noted in her diary how everything seemed to reolve around the war.

August 24: “Nothing but war news talked of and sewing societies being organized to sew and knit [for the soldiers].”

August 25: “After dinner Kate, Ashburn, and I went in the carriage to the levee to see the Swamp Rangers, Capt. Kup and Capt. Sweet’s artillery company, embark on their way to the front. All the military companies in [Vicksburg] escorted them down to the river and there was a great crowd. But the boats did not get off until the next morning. We saw the last leave-taking as we crossed on the ferry. Waving a farewell, we drove up to see the Southerns’ Co. B drill, then back to Aunt Laura’s and Kate started home.”

“Kate and I went to the Episcopal church to see the last sad honors paid to Mr. William Cowan. He was buried with military and Masonic honors, one of the victims of the war. Death claimed him in the prime of life before he could fire one shot for his country.”

August 28: “Mr. Abe Curry is home on furlough. He was in the battle at Springfield, Mo., and he was twice knocked down but unwounded. Wish he would come over and tell us his adventures.”

August 30: “Mamma and I, after knitting awhile, went to work on the boys’ uniform shirts. . . . Mr. Abe Curry gave an interesting account of his campaign in Missouri and the battle of Springfield but says fully half of the people are opposed to us. He thinks the army there will suffer for clothes and shoes when the winter sets in.”

Four of Kate’s five brothers served in the Confederate army. Only one escaped harm. William was wounded twice, Coleman died after his horse fell on him, and Walter, who volunteered when he was sixteen, died of disease. Sadly, the Stone family’s losses were not unique in Civil War Louisiana. Few families, black or white, would escape the death and destruction that was inexorably headed their way.

Kate Stone’s diary has been published under the title Brokenburn (LSU Press).

Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.