After Vicksburg, Mississippi, fell to the Union army, the Federals had to keep a substantial garrison in the city to hold the place in the event of a Confederate attempt to retake the city. Thousands of Yankee troops lived and passed through Vicksburg during the remaining two years of the war, and numerous civilian aid organizations sent representatives to the Hill City to help provide comforts and necessities to the troops that Uncle Sam was unable to provide. Among the groups that established a permanent presence in Vicksburg was the Western Sanitary Commission, which opened a “Soldier’s Home” on August 6, 1863, in the residence of local citizen Duff Green. – The Western Sanitary Commission; a sketch of its origin, history, labors for the sick and wounded of the Western armies, and aid given to freedmen and Union refugees, with incidents of hospital life, page 80. Authored by Jacob G. Forman.
In the summer of 1864, the Western Sanitary Commission sent a representative down the Mississippi River to check on the soldier’s homes that
Mrs. Frances D. Gage – Wikipedia
the organization was running. That representative was Mrs. Frances D. Gage, a remarkable woman who had devoted her life to charitable causes such as the temperance movement, abolition, and the push for women’s rights. For Gage, the outbreak of war brought on a new cause: that of caring for the men in blue who were fighting to preserve the Union and destroy the evil institution of slavery. Gage also had a very personal reason for championing the cause of Union soldiers: she had four sons serving in the United States army during the war.
While doing some research recently I found the following blurb in the August 6, 1864, edition of the Vicksburg Herald:
THREE WEEKS IN THE SOLDIERS’ HOME AT VICKSBURG – Mrs. Francis D. Gage, one of the best writers in the United States, has kindly furnished us with an interesting paper under the above heading, which will be read with interest, not only by every soldier, but by the contributors to our Benevolent enterprises all over the loyal states. Its length renders it necessary to issue it in two numbers of our Daily, and it will be commenced in our next Tuesday’s paper. Soldiers and others desiring extra copies, containing this interesting paper, to send to their friends, will leave their orders at the HERALD office, on Monday, so as to be sure to obtain them.
With such an interesting teaser, I wasted no time looking up the first part of the article, which was published in the Herald on August 9, 1864. The article was preceded by the following statement:
THE SOLDIERS’ HOME – We publish on the outside, the commencement of Mrs. F.D. Gage’s sketch of her stay at the Soldiers’ Home in this city. We may state for the benefit of distant readers that the Soldiers’ Home is one of the finest residences in the city. It is a large and elegant brick mansion, erected just before the war by one of our wealthy citizens, Duff Green, Esq. It is therefore admirably adapted for the noble purpose to which it is applied. Mrs. Gage’s sketch is a frank, honest description of the occurrences during her stay; and when completed will fully justify the labor and expense of the establishment and furnish ample reason for our Northern friends to continue their contributions towards the support of the Western Sanitary Commission. It will also fully justify the military authorities for appropriating to this use so good a building.
Note: the Editions of the Vicksburg Herald containing Mrs. Gage’s articles about the Soldier’s Home were very difficult to read, as there was considerable bleed-through from the printing on the other side of the paper. I have done my best to transcribe the articles as accurately as possible, but there were a few places where the words were impossible to read.
Do not think, good folks, when you pick up this paper, that you are to have a romance, beginning with love at first sight, a terrible wound, almost a death scene in the middle, and a climax of sighs and a miraculous restoration to life, ambrosia and a wedding at the end: for if you do, you will lay it down in utter disappointment.
Young men with “lofty” or “marble brows,” shadowed by flowing masses of silken brown hair, and lustrous eyes, flashing out the light of “patriotic fire,” and all that sort of thing, are reserved for novel writers, who see them mostly in dreams or visions at the end of which comes in five dollars a column, and “_____ _____”.
What I wish to do, is to give you a little insight into what is doing away here at the Southwest, in this military department, with a fragment of the huge charities which you are sending out day by day, for the benefit of your soldier boys. A million of times is the question asked, “I wonder if the soldier will get this?” and a million of times has echo given back only the contemptuous answer – “get this?” and the questioners, with a large heartedness, such as no other people ever knew, have said, “what, if he does not; what if but a half, a third or even a tythe; my own soul is made richer by the gift, and I can spare, and so I will give,” and God’s blessing and the blessings of “them that are ready to perish,” will fall upon every one.
II. ARRIVAL – HELP AND MANAGMENT – FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Saturday, June 25, 1864 – I walked up the broad flight of wooden doorsteps that lead into the entrance hall that runs through the three story
Wartime image of Duff Green Mansion in Vicksburg. Note the “Soldier’s Home” sign on the second floor balcony.
building on the corner of Locust and First East streets, now used by the Government and “Sanitary Commission” as a Soldier’s Home. I was met at the threshold by three ladies, who gave me a cordial welcome on the introduction by letter of James E. Yeatman, President of the Western Sanitary Commission under whose auspices this Home was established.
I found the house splendidly located for the purpose designed; rooms large and ventilated, airy, sweet and clean. Its beds numerous and in perfect order. The detailed assistants doing their part cheerfully and faithfully and the servants (all colored) prompt, attentive and polite. But there were no sick, no feeble or wounded ones – no soldiers – only here and there a straggler – a great force of helpers and no one to help – so it seemed.
June 26 – Laura swept the floors and halls before breakfast, while Matilda filled the pitchers with fresh water from a splendid cistern, at the door. Henry, a detailed soldier, was at his post as head in the cook-room, with Tennessee to help; Uncle John and Bob set the soldiers’ table, while Cynthie and Maria attended to all matters that came and went between. Little Harry and Leonard scrubbed the well curb and cleaned the brick pavements. These are the household boys, while Marsh, a detailed soldier takes care of the horses, and drives the ambulance. James and John are watchmen; Mr. McDonald keeps the books, and Mr. M. N. Mann is superintendent. Of the three ladies, one Mrs. P, former matron, is gone up the river; one Miss Hattie Wiswell, sick and off duty, and the third, Mrs. Gov. Harvey, of Wisconsin, was managing for the time. Note: “Mrs. P.,” is Mrs. S.A. Plummer, who was Matron of the Vicksburg Soldier’s Home. The Western Sanitary Commission; a sketch of its origin, history, labors for the sick and wounded of the Western armies, and aid given to freedmen and Union refugees, with incidents of hospital life, page 84.
Oh! how pleasant the first Sunday. Bonquets of flowers gave their fragrance; mocking birds sung their merry trills; Duff Green’s cows and calves, and chickens made farm yard music, close by, and the green trees, washed in the last spring showers, robbed the burning sun of its hot fierceness and rendered life tolerable even with the excessive heat. A few dropped into tea, mostly reverends and shoulder-straps. “Ha ha” said I to myself, “so this is the way the money goes.”
Mr. Mann was as cool and quiet as the centre seed of a cucumber. Why shouldn’t he be, with a palace to live in, nothing to do, and kept at the public expense on a good salary – so much for first impressions; and Mrs. H—-, how sweet and childlike she was, floating about in her white wrapper, dealing out raspberry vinegar and ice water to sick Hattie, and some of her half fainting guests (for don’t you know in such hot weather as this, most everybody has a “misery.” Note: “Mrs. H” is probably Mrs. Cordelia A.P. Harvey, wife of Wisconsin Governor Louis P. Harvey. After her husband’s death in 1862, Mrs. Harvey dedicated herself to helping soldiers, and in the summer of 1864 she was working at the Soldier’s Home in Vicksburg. The Western Sanitary Commission; a sketch of its origin, history, labors for the sick and wounded of the Western armies, and aid given to freedmen and Union refugees, with incidents of hospital life, page 85.
III. HOT WEATHER – REFUGEES – GOOD NURSES – AMUSEMENTS
June 27 – Oh! how hot it was; the morning wind with scorching breath. Mrs. P—– had gone the day before, and the boat that took her away brought a load of refugees, or trash some folks call them. Mr. Mann was off on his work of mercy to _____ them into the Refugees Home, (You Northerners have not forgotten them). Mrs. Brooks, the Matron, and Mr. Nesbert, the Manager, were off too, and a hundred came into their family; men women and children, sick, weary, starved and baked. Miss Chapman, the refugee teacher, had to add another nurse to her main stock, as an additional force of juveniles forced their way into her school room from the new recruits of “dippers and clay eaters.” Note: “Miss Chapman” is probably Miss G.D. Chapman of Exeter, Maine, who was sent to Vicksburg by the Western Sanitary Commission to take charge of a school set up in the city for the children of refugees. Woman’s Work in the Civil War By Linus Pierpont Brockett and Mary C. Vaughan, page 714.
There was a call from Reg. —–, and the ambulance came to the door, and in bounded Mrs. H—–, with her arms full of sanitary. Here a sick soldier, there one, and each got something. One with sore eyes, eight months useless, stood looking wishfully at the earth, a widowed mother at home, prayed that he might not go blind in the coming heat and dust of August, another a year sick, just out of the hospital, turned out by an inhuman surgeon. “He will die in a week if kept here,” said the Captain. “He shall go home,” said Mrs. H. with a vim, “we can’t afford to have him die.”
The surgeon, the colonel, the medical director were visited. “jump into the ambulance boys,” said a cheery woman’s voice. We took them home, nursed them a week. They are both up North on a furlough today.
June 28 – Only those two in the sick room and only now and then a soldier below. Oh! fie, twenty and one around all the time to wait on them. How Laura scrubs and Matilda sweeps and laughs, and there is Mr. Mann actually playing chess with Mrs. H., and Hattie is rattling dice with James, and Tennessee and Cynthie are telling yarns and making their own garments on the door step of the kitchen. But there comes an orderly with a requisition; away go the chess; out comes the cans, bottles, bandages, and clothes; away we go to the regimental hospital of —– Wisconsin. Things are all right; those windows must be cleared, bring in certain stores, mosquito bars for those beds need more air for these patients, and Susan carry a bowl of soup to that white refugee mother, with the two sick boys, in the back room. “What no sacks or straw on these sick men’s bed?” said Mrs. H. “Can’t get it.” “We’ll see,” Straightaway we go to the Colonel. “Can’t those boys have their sacks filled?” “Certainly Mrs. H., if there is no straw they must have hay.” That’s done now.
VI. LARGE ARRIVALS OF SOLDIERS – WORK FOR ALL – THE SAMARITAN
June 29 – Here comes a crowd – the expedition is returning. Here they file in under the porch, into the hall, on the stairs, around the hall. Henry, God bless him, is not playing chess now. He’s a soldier, ready for anything, from superintending the broiling of a steak, to the laying down his life for his country, only he is too lame for the march, and skirmish, and does the next best thing, cooks and keeps up the spirits of those who are not lame. He is taking the cooking stove by assault. A hundred weary boys are to be fed, and comforted. “Hurrah, Tennessee, come old woman, we’ve had a week’s play spell, now we must go in – see them fellows! don’t I know how they feel! Hurry up the fires. Grind that coffee, they shall having a rousing good cup this morning. But the bread, John, hurry up, hurry up!”
“Laura, where are the towels? Hang the rollers up, get the wash basins in their places. Poor fellows, how they plunge into the cool, clear, cistern water, worn out, melting with heat. There goes a sunstruck man into the sick room. Matilda – cold water for his head, and hot water for his feet. Courage, my friend, you’ll soon be better.” He fell on the march, and the regiment left him, and his Colonel found him and sat him on his own horse, (Oh! the good Samaritan) and brought him in – won’t his wife thank you!
And another, and another – how they pour in. Bandages for this, compress for that, poultice for the other. Bind up that rheumatic knee; give that fainting one ice water. Yonder poor chap needs a spoonful of stimulus. Hurry, hurry; none too many ready hands and kind hearts to answer to the needs of one hundred or more, who come to be supplied with what could be found no where else. I go to bed thanking God in my soul for all your charities from the North, and all the patience and love that is here to distribute them.
June 30 – The one hundred and more _____ they had dinner, supper, beds, breakfast, all the sore feet mended, the swelled ones bathed and slippered; the boils poulticed, the wounds cleaned. The steamer whistled, and they are gone to join their regiments at Memphis, or Natchez, or somewhere. But here are more. Thirty or forty! Oh how wretched – boys with no shirts; lost in the skirmish. New ones are ready: no shoes, and feet worn and blistered; slippers plenty; crutches for the lame; bandages for the bruised; plasters for the fellows; tonics for the weak; restoratives for the fainting, and good for all.
July 1 – House full. Twenty going up; thirty going down; forty coming in, and sixty going out – and not a request is made reasonably that is not granted – because you have said it should be so. I tell you, Mr. Mann, is a faithful man. Only four in the sick room – but something goes out every hour, to the regimental hospital, prison, camp, company or squad. Miss Hattie, still sick, moaningly wishes she could assist and still Mrs. H. in her strength rises up at every call and says with the force of a true woman, she can, and she does it too. – May she live long for the work. Note: “Miss Hattie” is Hattie Wiswall, who was assistant matron of the Soldier’s Home. The Western Sanitary Commission; a sketch of its origin, history, labors for the sick and wounded of the Western armies, and aid given to freedmen and Union refugees, with incidents of hospital life, page 85.
TO BE CONCLUDED TOMORROW
The second part of Mrs. Gage’s story was published in the August 10, 1864, edition of the Herald:
V. SANITARY SUPPLIES; WHO USE THEM? A WORD FOR NURSES AND HELP – BECOMING “DEMORALIZED”
Now while there is a lull, and Mr. Mann is starting North on duty, I may as well tell you something else that you want to know. “Don’t the nurses and servants use the things we send for the soldiers” – asks Mrs. Prim, “why yes, to be sure they do; I have a pair of slippers on this very minute that came out of the sanitary – for you know Uncle Sam provides the rations and the Commissions help us to extras.” Yes, I have on a pair of your slippers, and so have Henry and James; and do you care? Do you want them to stump round here in army boots, to the annoyance of all the bursting heads in the sick room? And besides, are not they soldiers, and aren’t their feet as apt to blister as any body’s, when they work so hard? Henry’s did blister, and there, as I live, is Marsh in a Sanitary double gown? What right has he to that, I’d like to know? Is not a soldier’s coat, these hot July days good enough for him? Even if he does drive ambulance all day, and half the night, bringing in stores, and sick ones and wounded ones from streets, camps, regiments, and steamers, and I do not know what all. And George, another of our good boys, and brave soldiers, has a pocket-handkerchief!
Sanitary Commission Illustration from HARPER’S WEEKLY, April 9, 1864.
Now you, Mr. Grumbler, you hold on there. I’m glad Marsh has that loose calico gown, to rest in, when he finds a minute’s time to rest. Why, it would cost him a month’s soldier’s pay to buy a light coat of those Jews, and there are his wife and children at home, wanting all he can spare. You’d give it to him, yourself, if you were here to see how tenderly and kindly he helps the sick in and out in his strong arms. He cannot watch and work and toil and never a drop of comfort. And there is Miss. H. giving a glass of ale to Sam, the laundry man, and Laura, the waiter. Don’t your head swim, are you not ready to cry out against all Sanitary Commissions, and to utter your maledictions against all matrons and nurses. You’d do it yourself, I know you would if you were here. Yes, you would, you’d be “demoralized” in less than no time, and I’ll bet a flippin be running down stairs to treat Bob and John, some of these hot mornings, when they told you they felt like they was powerful weak, and most done gone gin out.”
VI. DEPARTURE OF THE SUPERINTENDENT AND MRS. HARVEY – MORE ARRIVALS
July 2 – Still they come – still they go – Mr. Mann leaves us today to see wife and children – we must all do a little more and make the gap he leaves a little less, for he will leave a big gap.
July 3 – What next will happen? Mrs. H. is called to see her father. “And will I stay a few days?” she asks; what can I say but, “yes.” But what shall we do without her?
July 4 – I go with a party to dine – sing songs, and make speeches on the hearth stone of Jeff Davis – and while I am gone Mrs. H. goes North.
July 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th – Still they come, still they go. Not less than a hundred, and sometimes twice that every day. The sick room is full. Oh, what washing and ironing Sam and Caroline do – for we will keep clean, and a hundred beds slept in every night make work – and John says, “why Madame (don’t say missus here,) I set them table three times a day, morning, noon and night, a hundred a lick, and dey keeps wanting and wanting sumthin, and wese all ready to drap.”
Well they may be with the thermometer at 96 and Stewart’s big stove at boiling, baking and roasting heat all day long. Oh you people up North, do you think we can watch and wait, and toil, and comfort sick folks, do up fellows, poultice boils, and spread plasters for sore feet, and dress old wounds; bathe aching heads, and give all clean clothes and comforts week in and week out, and not catch a little now and then for ourselves? If you do, you may think, and keep thinking, but you’ll be mistaken every time. I take the slippers because my feet are too much swelled for my own.
VII. A SAMPLE CASE – THE SICK – THE COOKING – WHAT THE HOME IS GOOD FOR
Do you see that poor fellow tramping in with his boots cut into strings? He has marched till his boots have taken the skin off. Bathing, soft rags and mutton tallow and a pair of slippers for him. “Oh what a dirty creature.” – “Madame, my clothes were lost. Sorry to look so. What would my wife say?” There are clean shirts, drawers, stockings, handkerchiefs, towels for all such, and many a one who loathed himself in the morning, stands in his manhood at night, clothed and thanking God for your good works. Oh “rejoice and be exceeding glad,” every one of you that you gave what you have never missed, to help him to be a clean, pure man once more, for he is fighting the great battle of liberty for you and me.
July 10, 11, 12, 13 – Our sick room is full, and five up stairs not able to come down, and yet this is not a hospital – only a stopping place, a home. Henry says some days he has made a barrel of soup, (good soup too), and cooked a barrel of beef and pork, with potatoes and beans to match, and three barrels of coffee is no uncommon affair. Don’t you see what a soldier’s home is good for? Where your good gifts go “Who are all these,” you say, “why are they not in the tents with their regiments?” There it is now, and just all you know about it. Here are fifty men left behind; when they get in the regiment has gone up or down, or out, or in, they can’t draw rations today, have not a cent in their pockets; as hungry as dogs, dirty and tired as men who have been out in service can be. Shall we tell them starve, or let them stand waiting for something to “turn up?” Of course they come to the Home.
And then a squad is ordered from Natchez to Memphis; the boat leaves them at Vicksburg; no tents no rations; two days before another boat comes; they come to the Home. A dozen are turned from hospitals not sick enough to remain, not well enough to go to regiment for duty; they come to the Home. And so in a thousand and one ways the soldier claimed his right here, and would suffer if there were no right and shelter here for him to claim.
VIII. HATTIE RETURNS AND RESUMES HER LABORS – VALUE OF CLEAN CLOTHING – PROLONGATION OF THE “WAR”
July 14, 15, 16 – Miss Hattie has been well a week, and the flies up stairs and down like a humming bird. She is in doors and out in the camp, and at prison even, with full hands. Jellies to these, wines to those, and medicine and clothes for all that need.
Shall I tell you a secret? Don’t for the world whisper it so it will get out. Some soldiers lose their clothes, or too sick to take care of themselves or something, and they are _____ no – I won’t tell you after all for in such as they get home and have soap and water and towels and combs and clean clothes, they are all right, if Miss Hattie did find them on her white waist _____, there, I’ve told.
But it aren’t their fault, and I’m so glad, oh so glad you send all these things; and you must keep sending, for the war is not over, and secessionism is not “played out” and I’ll just tell you while I’m telling secrets, and I don’t care if you tell Father Abraham and all his Cabinet, and the Congress to boot. It never will be while the “powers that be” are lots of them speculating in cotton, and the Shoulder Straps are hobnobbing with secesh ladies, and we feed the Confederates with the right hand with all our might, and fight them feebly with the left; giving them a chance to dot the whole of their country with the graves of our noble boys. “That’s what’s the matter,” and our soldiers “see it” too. But we must hope for the better, and you keep on praying and giving and we’ll keep on using and praying; for there are noble men that wear shoulder straps and stars too, and noble men who do not speculate, who will right up these things by and by.
IX. TWO THOUSAND MEALS A WEEK MOVING FROM ALL THE STATES.
July 17, 18, 19, 20 – Wash, iron, cook, scrub, nurse, poultice, bathe, bind, give – two thousand meals given out within a week, and as many more likely to be given out next week – and they say this is nothing to awhile ago. C— has been sent to hospital, I— furloughed; H—, mum for a whole week found his tongue at last, and gone up the river; W— gave one of his cheerful smiles and “thank you’s” would set a Northern girl’s heart into a quicker beat for a week as he receives some nice jelly or a canned peach as fresh and sweet as her own cheek.
Our sick room has but two occupants, and there is a lull or I should not scribble. It is useless to try to tell what happened every day. It is ever the same story – sending out delicacies to those that need, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and ministering to the suffering; whether artillery, cavalry, or infantry; from Maine or Missouri; no matter where, if loyal and true there is a home and welcome here for the soldiers of U.S. The soldier’s wife, too, sometimes has room, comfort and home while she hunts up a boat or waits for a dear one. School teachers shelter themselves and sing songs of home for a day.
And all this comes of your giving of your abundance in times past, that no one should suffer; and don’t you feel better for it as you sit rocking by your open doors and windows this hot July day, up there at the North? Don’t stop giving – you can’t afford to deprive yourself of such a luxury. Oh! it is such a luxury to do good! And every one of these soldier boys would have suffered but for “me and Betsy,” as the man said when he strided the beam while his wife killed the bear. You are “Betsy,” and we say “give it to him.”
Yes, they would have suffered – yet all, I think, have gone away feeling that this is truly a home. In the almost four weeks I have not heard a complaint; instead, many a time, “Don’t this seem like home.” “This makes me think of mother.” Soldiers say to me, “We used to think Sanitaries and Soldier’s Aids humbugs; but it’s better now; things go on without so much cheating and fraud.” So take heart and go forward, singing: Yankee doodle, keep it up, Yankee doodle dandy, The Soldiers’ Home is just the thing the soldiers find quite handy.
X. DEPARTURE – HOSPITALS NO. 2, 3, _____ ISLAND CONTRABAND
Saturday, July 23 – To-day I leave Vicksburg and the beautiful charities of the Soldier’s Home. Before I close, permit me to say I have visited Hospitals No. 2 and 3, the Contraband Hospital and several regimental hospitals, and with one or two exceptions I have found none in any better condition in the country, and many pleasant memories I shall carry North with which to solace the aching hearts of wives and mothers.
In her writing, Gage spoke of attending a Fourth of July Celebration at Jefferson Davis’ home Brierfield, which was located south of Vicksburg at Davis Bend. In doing some research on Gage, I found that she wrote a detailed article about this celebration which was published in The Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts), July 29, 1864:
FOURTH OF JULY AT THE HOUSE THAT JEFF BUILT
SOLDIERS’ HOME, VICKSBURG, JULY 5, 1864.
Celebrations of the glorious Fourth, made doubly glorious by the memories of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, were doubtless as thick as musketoes on the Mississippi yesterday, and as like one to another as they, for the most part. But the celebration of our natal day in the family mansion of the Arch-Traitor who now stands at the head of the Southern Confederacy, by agents of Freedmen’s Relief Associations, officers of colored regiments, and teachers of contrabands was quite a different affair, and deserves its place in the record of the times.
The entertainment was planned and executed under the auspices of Col. Thomas, Acting Superintendent of Freedmen in this Department in the absence of Col. Eaton. The party, over one hundred in number, left the wharf at Vicksburg at 7 A.M. on the steamer Diligent, a Government transport that is diligent in conveying rations and other stores to the soldiers and freedmen between Vicksburg and Natchez.
Perhaps I should say, en passant, that this was the form of our bidding to this extraordinary and never again (for there can never again be a first time) to be repeated entertainment.
PICNIC EXCURSION TO THE JEFF DAVIS PLANTATION, JULY 4, 1864.
You are respectfully invited to spend the 4th of July at the “Jeff Davis,” Davis’s Bend, Miss. It being leap year, the ladies have the privilege of inviting their own escort. The steamer Diligent will leave the landing at the foot of Crawford Street at 6 A.M. on the morning of the 4th. By order of the Committee of Arrangements.
There was quite a full proportion of ladies. This department at this time has a number of agents, teachers, and hospital nurses. We were a company of comparative strangers, coming from almost every Northern free state, meeting here for one great purpose. Though engaged in different branches, all were parts of one great whole.
The trip down, twenty-five miles, gave a chance for recognition and introduction. To have come from the same states was introduction enough – and if even the state lines met, we were not strangers. Three hours’ journey brought us to what used to be Joe Davis’ landing. The negroes say that Jeff owed his farm and his negroes, four hundred in number, to his brother who was very rich, and gave him a plantation, and erected the unpretending edifice that now has become so notorious.
As we landed, the colored people gathered in hundreds in their holiday attire to greet us. “It was a sight to see so many white ladies coming,” as one said. Carts, wagons, and ambulances were in attendance, to transport us two miles back to the famous spot. We passed through corn and cane fields of wide extent, some looking well, others as ill as need be, and little of either betokening a thrifty crop, prophetic of great gains to the speculators, unless present prices should continue to advance. These plantations stretched out for miles on nearly a level, very luxuriant, and bearing evidence of intelligent cultivation.
The slaves quarters are larger and more commodious than usual, and the surroundings of Joe Davis’s family mansion (the house now a pile of ruins) are beautiful. A winding road brought us to the mansion of the chief of Confederates, a one-story frame, expansive and commanding, skirted, as all such are in the South, with deep porches or piazzas, with immense windows opening to the floors, and looking altogether commodious, comfortable, and inviting. Over the main entrance, in front, wreathed in evergreens, were the words, “This is the house that Jeff built;” over the door opposite, at the rear and within, “Exit traitor.”
Photograph taken of Brierfield, Jefferson Davis’ home, during the July 4, 1864 party at the residence. – Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg.
Many were the jokes, anecdotes, and questionings, as we entered within that great hall, and trod the floors those feet have often pressed that are now trampling, as it were, upon the hearts of our brave and gallant dead. But my story must be short and simple. The romance of the post is enough, and needs no embellishment. Under the oaks that front the house, we assembled for the reading of the Declaration of Independence, oration and song. A rain compelled us to go into the house, where at the usual hour a dinner was served up, and the servants of the former master, rejoicing in emancipation, strove to excel each other in waiting on the Yankees who “comed to help us,” and then sentiments were proposed – Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, the Army and the Navy, the day, the Republic, were cheered, “till roof and rafters resounded.”
On the right and the left, at the back and the front, grouped picturesquely in all manner of costumes, from gay flounces to disgusting rags, (for these are free people,) were the freedmen which have been gathered to these plantations to labor for themselves, and to learn from actual experience the truths of the Declaration of Independence. They seemed to enjoy the scene hugely, yet I fancied they would have been prouder of their Northern friends if they had been more elegant and “‘spensive.'” As one old woman expressed it: “I knows a Northern lady quick’s I sees her; she don’t look so ‘spensive like as de tothers.”
But my story is told: we ate, we drank, we made speeches and cheered sentiments, we talked the rankest abolitionism under the portals of the traitor, and there were those who sung “We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a Sour Apple Tree.” But to us the prayer of old Isaac had in it more of the ring of the true Christian: -
“Oh! Massa Jesus, mighty God, Save Massa Jeff ‘fore it am everlastingly too late! Oh, Lord, take him by de nap of de neck, and shake him over de fiery furnace till he squeal like a pig in de barn! But don’t let him drop; oh, Massa Jesus, don’t let him drop, but fetch him to repentance, and save him sowl in de eberlasting kingdom ‘fore dem Yankees make him dry bones in a box.”
There, there is the whole spirit of the Gospel. Are we not in these days, – even amid wars and rumors of wars, – living a Christianity hitherto only theorized upon? We enter our enemy’s house only to do good. We give ourselves to the work of lifting up the poor and oppressed that be cast down. We find the poor white trash, sick and hungry, and we feed him; naked, and we clothe him; and while we strike for liberty, and right stalwart blows with the right hand, dealing death at every turn, with the left we lift up humanity, and every hour vindicate ourselves before God and the nations as being worthy to govern ourselves, as being worthy of the glory that shall enshrine our memory in the hereafter: we, the people. The great, true, common heart, ever good and brave, is doing this, and Abraham the honest is our strong arm to execute our will.
It was stirring thought as we bade good night to the house that Jeff built, that there was scarce one of all that multitude of white men and women that was not there to represent the feeling and charities of thousands of people who have commissioned them to do this holy work. At 5 P.M., amid the still dripping rain, we took our leave for Vicksburg, where all arrived in safety; no drinking, no profanity, no misdemeanors, no accidents marring the happiness of the closing hours of a day of rare festivity, mirth and enjoyment.
FRANCES D. GAGE.
Shortly after writing her columns for the Vicksburg Herald, Gage returned North to join the lecture circuit and help raise money for the Sanitary Commission. Her work was cut short, however, when she was seriously injured in a carriage accident. She eventually recovered, however, and lived to the ripe old age of 76, dying on November 10, 1884. She is buried in Second Congregational Church Cemetery, Greenwich, Connecticut. This kind and giving woman, who gave so much to aid her much-beloved soldiers, has no tombstone to mark her grave; sometime in the past it fell over, or was lost. Her grave may have been forgotten, but the good that she did during the Civil War will be long remembered.