An excerpt from A Virginia Girl in the Civil War, 1861-1865 being a record of the actual experiences of the wife of a confederate officer by Myrta Lockett Avary
Though the last act of our heroic tragedy was already beginning I was so far from suspecting it that I joined mother at the Arlington, prepared to make a joke of hardships and wring every possible drop of pleasure out of a winter in Richmond, varied, as I fondly imagined, by frequent if brief visits from Dan. The Arlington was kept on something like the European plan, not from choice of landlady or guests but from grim necessity. Feeding a houseful of people was too arduous and uncertain an undertaking in those days for a woman to assume. Mrs. Fry, before our arrival in July, had informed her boarders that they could continue to rent their rooms from her, but that they must provide their own meals. We paid her $25 a month for our room, the price of a house in good times and in good money. During my absence in Mansfield, Hicksford, and other places, mother, to reduce expenses, had rented half of her room and bed to Delia McArthur, of Petersburg. I now rented a little bed from Mrs. Fry for myself, and set it up in the same room. We had become so poor and had so little to cook that we did most of our cooking ourselves over the grate, each woman often cooking her own little rations. Sometimes we got hold of a roast, or we would buy two quarts of flour, a little dab of lard, and a few pinches of salt and treat ourselves to a loaf of bread. We boiled rice or dried apples or beans or peas in our stew-pan, and we had a frying-pan if there was anything to fry. Across the hall from us Miss Mary Pagett, of Petersburg, had a room to herself. Sometimes we all put what we had together and ate in company. When any of us secured at any time some eatable out of the common, if it was enough to go around we invited the others into breakfast, dinner, or tea, as the case might be. It must be understood that from the meal called "tea," the beverage from which the meal is named was nearly always omitted. Our fare was never very sumptuous; often it was painfully scanty. Sometimes we would all get so hungry that we would put together all the money we could rake and scrape and buy a bit of roast or something else substantial and have a feast. We all bought coal in common. And we had company! Certainly we seemed to have demonstrated the truth of the adage, "Ole Virginny never tire." We had company, and we had company to eat with us, and enjoyed it. Sometimes our guests were boys from camp who dropped in and took stewed apples or boiled peas, as the case might be. If we were particularly fortunate we offered a cup of tea sweetened with sugar. The soldier who dropped in always got a part (and the best part of) what we had. How we were pinched that winter! how often we were hungry! and how anxious and miserable we were! And yet what fun we had! We devised many small ways for making a little money. We knit gloves and socks and sold them, and Miss Beth Sampson had some old pieces of ante-bellum silk that she made into neckties and sold for what she could get. For the rest, when we had no money, we went without those things which it took money to buy. With money a bit of meat now and then, a taste of sorghum, and even the rare luxury of a cup of tea sweetened with sugar, was possible. Without money, we had to depend upon the bags of peas, dried apples, or rice. "If this war is ever at an end," sighed poor mother, "I hope I may sit down and eat at a decent table again. And I fervently hope that nobody will ever set a dish of rice, peas, or dried apples before me! If they do, I shall get up and leave the table." I never remember having more fun in my life than at the Arlington, where sometimes we were hungry, and while the country, up to our doors, bristled with bayonets, and the air we breathed shook with the thunder of guns. For hungry and shabby as we were, crowded into our one room with bags of rice and peas, firkins of butter, a ton of coal, a small wood-pile, cooking utensils, and all of our personal property, we were not in despair. Our faith in Lee and his ragged, freezing, starving army amounted to a superstition. We cooked our rice and peas and dried apples, and hoped and prayed. I had not heard from my husband for more than a week; indeed, there seems to have been in Richmond at this time a singular ignorance concerning our reverses around Petersburg. There were hunger and nakedness and death and pestilence and fire and sword everywhere, and we, fugitives from shot and shell, knew it well, but, somehow, we laughed and sang and played on the piano; and never believed in actual defeat and subjugation. Sunday morning, the second of April, as President Davis sat in his pew at St. Pauls Church, a slip of paper was brought to him. He read it, quietly arose, and left the church. General Lee advised the evacuation of Richmond by eight (p.m.) that night. That was what rumor told us at the Arlington. At first we did not believe it, but as that spring day wore on we were convinced. The Sabbath calm was changed to bustle and confusion, almost into riot. The streets were full of people hurrying in all directions, but chiefly in the direction of the Danville depot. Men, women, and children jostled each other in their haste to reach this spot. Loaded vehicles of every description rattled over the pavements. As darkness came upon the city confusion and disorder increased. People were running about everywhere with plunder and provisions. Barrels and boxes were rolled and tumbled about the streets as they had been all day. Barrels of liquor were broken open and the gutters ran with whisky and molasses. There were plenty of straggling soldiers about who had too much whisky, rough women had it plentifully, and many negroes were drunk. The air was filled with yells, curses, cries of distress, and horrid songs. No one in the house slept. We moved about between each others rooms, talked in whispers, and tried to nerve ourselves for whatever might come. A greater part of the night I sat at my window. In the pale dawn I saw a light shoot up from Shockoe Warehouse. Presently soldiers came running down the streets. Some carried balls of tar; some carried torches. As they ran they fired the balls of tar and pitched them onto the roofs of prominent houses and into the windows of public buildings and churches. I saw balls pitched on the roof of (the home of) General R. E. Lee. As the day grew lighter I saw a Confederate soldier on horseback pause almost under my window. He wheeled and fired behind him; rode a short distance, wheeled and fired again; and so on, wheeling and firing as he went until he was out of sight. Coming up the street from that end toward which his fire had been directed and from which he had come, rode a body of men in blue uniforms. It was not a very large body, they rode slowly, and passed just beneath my window. Exactly at eight (p.m.) the Confederate flag that fluttered above the Capitol came down and the Stars and Stripes were run up. We knew what that meant! The song "On to Richmond!" was ended: Richmond was in the hands of the Federals. We covered our faces and cried aloud. All through the house was the sound of sobbing. It was as the house of mourning, the house of death. Soon the streets were full of Federal troops, marching quietly along. The beautiful sunlight flashed back everywhere from Yankee bayonets. I saw Negroes run out into the street and falling on their knees before the invaders hail them as their deliverers, embracing the knees of the horses, and almost preventing the troops from moving forward. It had been hard living and poor fare in Richmond for Negroes as well as whites; and the Negroes at this time believed the immediate blessings of freedom greater than they would or could be. The saddest moment of my life was when I saw that Southern Cross dragged down and the Stars and Stripes run up above the Capitol. I am glad the Stars and Stripes are waving there now. But I am true to my old flag too, and as I tell this my heart turns sick with the supreme anguish of the moment when I saw it torn down from the height where valor had kept it waving for so long and at such cost.
Note: The City of Richmond was once part of Henrico County
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