Three Lives Grappling with a New Reality:
By Fernando Ortiz Jr.
It's easy for a casual enthusiast of the Civil War to be seduced by the arrows and lines on battlefield maps and to forget the rich lives those engagements destroyed. It's easy to skim past the details when armies ravage entire regions, easy to blink past sterile, blurred photos of the scorched buildings in Richmond, the rows of corpses at Atlanta, or the terrified refugees from all parts of the collapsing Confederacy.
But the Civil War can never be completely understood without a closer look at the men and women who endured this cataclysm, those who endured the brutal strangling of conquered cities, those who fought on the front lines, and those who littered the blasted landscapes.
Consider, for example, Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri, both Confederate soldiers, both from San Antonio. Consider Kate Stone, the daughter of Louisiana plantation owners. What did these three ordinary individuals see from their places in a war-torn world? What can they tell us? What can they teach us? We can’t truly understand the story of the war until we understand their story of the war.
For twenty-year-old Kate Stone, her story begins in Brokenburn, the chronicle she began in 1861 to record the momentous era dawning over her life.
The diary was named after her family’s cotton plantation in northeastern Louisiana, near the Mississippi River, about 30 miles northwest of Vicksburg. Stone shared the mansion with her widowed 37-year-old mother, two uncles, five brothers and a younger sister. Her father died in 1855, and three other siblings had died before 1861. About 150 slaves served in the house or tended the estate, more than 1,200 acres of bayous, forests and cleared fields.
Stone was born in Mississippi Springs, Miss., on Jan. 8, 1841. She was educated at Nashville Female Academy in Tennessee. "I am tall," she wrote in 1861, "Not quite five feet six, and thin, have an irregular face, a quantity of brown hair, a shy, quiet manner, and talk but little" (35). She was a rich girl, essentially, who generally enjoyed a life of leisure, and under normal circumstances she could expect much more of the same for the next several decades.
She spent her days playing chess and playing the piano, attending Sunday church and reading the Bible, picking berries, embroidering, entertaining visitors, and visiting friends and family. She loved riding her horse, Wonka. She was intelligent, well-educated and well-read. She loved literature, particularly the works of Victor Hugo, Alfred Tennyson, Edgar Allen Poe, Walter Scott, and William Shakespeare.
She was a romantic who admired her mother’s "great power of attracting love, the first and greatest gift that can be bestowed on anyone" (70).
Stone viewed her world with affection and optimism, and she strolled through it armed with a sharp wit, a smart self-deprecating sense of humor, and acidic sarcasm -- qualities that glitter throughout her diary.
Stone never thought she was beautiful, even when her mother insisted she was. "I was the ugly duckling of the whole family," she recalled (34). Her grim self-image, she wrote, "has been the shadow on my life" (34).
In 1861, Stone’s mother explained why her father doted on her so often. Stone had always thought that her father praised her mind because he found so little to praise in her appearance. Her mother assured her that he had considered Stone wholly "perfect" (34). Stone confessed to her diary that she was surprised but tremendously relieved: "The knowledge of this will change my life from this night" (34).
She promised herself that would "try to put away the morbid thoughts … [including] ... the fear that, being ugly and unattractive, no one could ever really care for me, and that I was doomed to a life of loneliness and despair" (34).
As the spring days of 1861 warmed, Stone and her family, at first, saw a bright future ahead. She recalled that the latest cotton crop had at last made a profit for the family, "and hereafter we would have nothing to do but enjoy ourselves" (11). She looked forward to long months of leisure through the rest of the year, and 1862 promised a family vacation in Europe.
But in the months after the 1860 presidential election, dark political clouds quickly building in the East cast long, chilling shadows over Brokenburn's blossoming gardens. Spring 1861 brought a virulent war fever to the region, especially after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in April. Stone and her relatives regularly read Northern newspapers, and the publications' "horrible stories" about the South infuriated her (14).
Stone felt herself swept away by the waves of aggressive emotion swirling through Southern society. "Throughout the length and breadth of the land," she wrote in May 1861, "the trumpet of war is sounding ... men are hurrying by thousands, eager to be led to battle against [President Abraham] Lincoln's hordes ... willing to meet death in defense of the South. ... Never again can we join hands with the North, the people who hate us so" (14). A few days later she added, "We should make a stand for our rights -- and a nation fighting for its own homes and liberty cannot be overwhelmed. Our Cause is just and must prevail" (19).
She was deeply offended whenever she encountered someone who failed to share her depth of passion for the Confederate cause. When a dinner companion, an immigrant from Hungary, regarded the South's motivations as "a grand humbug ... something to be mocked and sneered at," she seethed with contempt. "I could shake him," she wrote (27). Stone and her neighbors also kept a bitter eye on a handful of known Unionists living in a hamlet nearby. "[W]e think they should be sent North to a more congenial people," she grumbled (32).
The prospect of glory and honor gained from a victorious struggle for independence electrified Southern imaginations, and Stone was no exception. John Q. Anderson, the editor of Stone’s journal, wrote in his introduction that "Kate shared the widespread belief of Southerners that the war would be an outing for dashing young officers in splendid uniforms, inspired to deeds of valor by patriotic maidens" (xviii).
Stone's very first entry in her new journal focused on one such man hoping to be a dashing young officer: her brother William. On May 15, she wrote the journal's first lines: "My Brother started at daybreak for New Orleans. He goes as far as Vicksburg on horseback. He is wild to be off to Virginia" (13).
Five hundred miles away, in San Antonio, two other young men were also wild to be off to war.
Joseph Rafael de la Garza and Manuel Yturri were both brave, intelligent, cultured young men, both excellent marksmen and excellent horseback riders. Both were intoxicated by what they thought a great war offered them. A conflict that would last little more than three months, drape their entire generation of Southern gentlemen with lifelong honor, and result in the independence of their new nation -- how could they not play a part in such a monumental turning point in history?
Yturri was born in San Antonio on March 19, 1838.
There is no official record of when de la Garza was born. However, Texas A&M professor Jerry Thompson, the editor of Tejanos in Gray, a collection of their letters, estimated that de la Garza was born around the same time.
Like Kate Stone’s family, the de la Garza and Yturri families of South Texas stood among the honored landowning elite. They owned ranches and tracts of property in and around San Antonio, and their ancestors had fought in wars of independence, the Mexican-American War and in frontier fights against Native Americans.
The Yturris and de la Garzas did not own slaves. But their strong marital, political and business unions with men from other Southern families energized their commitment to the Confederate cause.
Like Kate Stone, Yturri and de la Garza were well-educated. De la Garza was taught by Jesuits, and he mastered theology and Greek and Latin literature. Yturri attended the University of Pennsylvania. They spoke English and Spanish fluently.
On April 25, 1860, Manuel Yturri married Elena, de la Garza’s older sister.
Feverish from their patriotism and confident in the superiority of Confederate arms, Yturri and de la Garza, along with more than 2,000 other Tejanos, prepared to join Confederate units. Combat could be dangerous, yes, but with danger came glory. The war’s vague threat of danger was a price they were willing to pay. But they soon learned it was a price far higher than anyone ever imagined.
1861: The Dark River
Kate Stone's brother William, whose departure she mentioned in her first diary entry, arrived at the assembly area too late to join his preferred infantry company, so he returned to Brokenburn. By May 25 he was on the road again, this time with their Uncle Bo, intent on joining the Jeff Davis Guards. Mourning his departure for a second time, Stone admitted feeling more than a twinge of guilt. "They go to bear all hardships," she wrote, "while we whom they go to protect are lapped safe in luxurious ease" (17). The Jeff Davis Guards were sent to fight in Virginia.
Stone's mother sent the new soldiers on their journey with three well-supplied horses and Wesley, a slave. Stone said Wesley "was very proud of the honor of being selected" to accompany "Marse Will" into the war (17). Uncle Bo, Stone reported, expected to be a private in a unit named the Volunteer Southerns, and he elected not to take a "body servant" because he didn't think an enlisted soldier should have one. "[B]ut if he changes his mind," Stone added confidently, "a boy can be sent to him at any time" (17).
A few weeks later, on June 19, Stone reported seeing a fugitive slave run across the grounds. Men were sent to catch him, but he escaped. "I was glad he escaped," she wrote. "I hate to think how he will be punished." She imagined the slave, if caught, would be "whipped unmercifully" (28). On June 29, she complained that the "house servants have been giving a lot of trouble lately -- lazy and disobedient" (33). She warned that they may have to be sent out to work in the fields. "I suppose the excitement in the air has infected them" (33).
Stone's view of slavery, as reflected in her journal, was typical of her time and class. The slaves were described warily, from a distance, with amusement and with pity. From her perspective, the slaves were shadowy, abstract beings, occupying their natural, proper and deserved place in her Southern civilization, forming the foundation of the life she and her family enjoyed. But she also saw the slaves as a threat -- a potential threat before the war, and a real, looming threat during the war. Stone and her neighbors were tormented by rumors of a general slave uprising scheduled for sometime in July 1861. She added that the slaves were "well watched in every section where there are any suspects," sounding like a prison guard who wondered if she was the real prisoner (28).
As spring turned to summer, domestic worries darkened the thoughts Stone poured into her journal. She reminded herself to save seeds from the family’s flourishing garden, "as we will get no more from the North" (18). Her mother ordered as much planted as possible because she anticipated the plantation would have to become as self-sufficient as possible. "Strict economy," Stone sternly determined, "is to be the order of the day" (18). She anxiously looked forward to the arrival of mail and newspapers, improved her sewing, studied French, critiqued the books she read, and savored the ripening fruit on the trees, vines and bushes around the plantation.
It was as if, despite her attempts to lose herself in her pre-war hobbies, Stone felt the power of distant events and marching armies move the ground beneath her feet. "Oh! to see and be in it all," she wrote with anxious frustration. "I hate weary days of inaction. Yet what can women do but wait and suffer?" (24).
As she made the best of the imperfect serenity around her, Stone was pleasantly and briefly distracted by a celestial gem soaring across the summer sky. On the last day of June she wrote, "There is a comet visible tonight. ... It is not very bright but has the appearance of a large star ... with a long train of light seen dimly as through a mist" (35). It was the Great Comet of 1861, officially named C/1861 J1. It passed closest to Earth on June 30, the day Stone first noted its appearance. By July 4, as more and more volunteers rushed to form new military units under consecrated flags, Stone reported that the "comet increases in brilliancy and beauty every night" (36). Astronomers around the world studied the object for months before it faded away in May 1862. They calculated that Earth would not see it again for more than 400 years.
By the end of July, Stone calmly rejoiced when news arrived of a great battle at Manassas Junction in Virginia. "[O]ur side victorious, of course," she wrote (44). Her optimism was eclipsed, however, by journal entries reporting severe fevers, chills, and coughs among her relatives, her neighbors and the slaves. Incessant rain drenched the region for weeks, and malarial fever spread. As summer gave way to fall, wave after wave of sickness swept through Brokenburn.
On Nov. 11, Stone reported that Ashburn, her young maternal uncle, was terribly ill. Her next entry came 16 days later, and the first few lines said it all: "How can I write the record of the last two weeks? … Ashburn, our darling, has gone, never to return" (68). Stone could write little more than that. Two days later, she officially reported that Ashburn died at 11 p.m. on Nov. 12; the cause was "swamp fever," most likely malaria (68).
On Nov. 29, Stone recorded that "[h]ere at home all seems strangely dull and sad" (70). She would write most beautifully during great tragedy, and Ashburn’s death inspired grievous words: "[O]ne of our dearest and best has bidden farewell to Earth and floated out on the dark river" (71).
Stone’s 1861 ended quietly, the household still mourning Ashburn’s death. "This is the first Christmastime in our recollection that was not a time of fun and feasting" (77).
1862: A Time of Threatened Ruin and Disaster
On her birthday, Jan. 8, 1862, Stone swore herself to a new motto: "Live for today. Tomorrow’s night, tomorrow’s cares shall bring to light" (79).
By the end of January, the newspapers confirmed a Confederate defeat in the Battle of Logan's Cross Roads, in Kentucky, and Stone felt under siege. "The whole Northern Army is now on the move preparing to attack us at all points" she wrote. "The manner in which the North is moving her forces, now that she thinks us surrounded and can give us the annihilating blow, reminds me of a party of hunters crowded around the covert of a deer, and when the lines are drawn and there is no escape, they close in and kill" (85).
By early February, word came that Fort Henry, a Confederate installation on the Tennessee River, had surrendered to Union Brig. Gen. U.S. Grant. Stone despaired: "The war news is very bad, only defeats -- Roanoke Island, the fall of Fort Henry ... and shelling of Florence, Ala. We still hold Fort Donelson, though it has been under fire for two days" (90). But she had little sympathy for the Kentucky region falling under Union domination. "We do not care for those Kentucky towns; they deserve their fate. But Nashville, so true to the South, is a different matter" (90). She was even gloomier a day later: "The general impression is that both Nashville and Memphis are doomed. ..." (91). But that discouragement was only temporary, and it only served to strengthen her resolve as she accepted the fact that the war would be longer and harder than she originally expected.
A key to Federal strategy was control of the Mississippi River. The struggle became one of the great sagas of the Civil War, and Kate Stone found herself in a front-row seat to that drama. On Feb. 22, 1862, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard -- deputy to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander of the Department of Kentucky and Tennessee -- asked the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee to contribute 5,000 to 10,000 men to supplement the defense of the Mississippi River above Memphis. "There have been calls from the governors of all the river states for all the able-bodied men to come forward," Stone reported. "Every man is speaking of joining the army, and we fear within a week Brother Coley will away" (92). By March, Coleman Stone was serving with a cavalry company.
As she watched her brothers, relatives and friends don uniforms and voluntarily ride off to the front, Stone was deeply offended by men who refused to serve in the military. She saw military service as a solution to her own anxiety: "How can a man rest quietly at home when battles are being fought and fields lost and won every day? I would eat my heart away were I a man at home [during] these troubled times" (87). She saw service as a cornerstone of a man's character: "I would not trust any man now who stays at home instead of going out to fight for his country" (92). She saw service in terms of fairness: "With all our relations going out to fight, I am not apt to think other men should sit comfortably at home" (97).
Stone found uniformed officers enchanting. She once encountered three Confederate officers at a Sunday church service, including "a perfect love of a lieutenant in blue uniform and brass buttons galore. Six feet of soldier with brass buttons is irresistible, and all the girls capitulated at once" (99)But war's reality soon stripped the romance from her memory. Two months later, she reported the beautiful lieutenant was dead.
Stone always tried to do her part to help the war effort. Emulating her mother, Stone learned how to sew gloves for the soldiers. She hemmed towels. She made hats from palmetto, grass and straw. She sewed pillow cases, underwear, and blankets, and she helped others make uniforms for local units. She never figured out how to make socks, though. "It is too complicated for my head" (51). Her younger brothers also tried to help with knitting.
Stone wrote that at first she sewed and knitted items that could be shipped to Confederate soldiers. As the war progressed, she limited her efforts to the needs of her relatives on the front. As the home front situation grew more desperate, the fruits of her labor went exclusively to her family. "No one's dresses are ever considered worn out these days -- as long as they can be held together" (161). In late 1862, she learned how to weave. "It is like going back to the days of the Revolution," she joked (147). Later in the war, she resorted to buying linen sheets just to make fresh underwear. "Clothes have been a secondary consideration," she concluded glumly. "Fashion is an obsolete word, and just to be decently clad is all we expect" (109).
Union naval blockades grew more effective as the war progressed, choking off or at least delaying vital Confederate imports and exports. Army movements left regional textile economies paralyzed. Prices for daily necessities skyrocketed. Flour grew scarce, and by 1862 Stone reported that it sold for $50 a barrel. She called cake "a most rare occurrence" (145). A pair of shoes cost $15 to make, and as Anderson noted in a footnote, civilians tried to make their own shoes "out of leather furniture, saddles, belts and trunks" (181). A pair of boots cost $50. A gallon of brandy cost $40 to $60. Later in the war a knife cost $25. A deck of playing cards cost $5.
Coffee was scarce. People tried to replicate it with parched potatoes, roasted acorns and okra seeds. Quinine, used to treat malaria, was no longer available. As 1863 neared, Stone ominously predicted that "there will soon be no dry goods in the Confederacy" (147).
Back in Texas, by late April Lt. Joseph de la Garza and elements of the 6th Texas Infantry were gathered at Camp McCullough, four miles north of Victoria. He eventually served in Co. K, 6th Texas Infantry.
By July, the 6th Texas was marching to Arkansas to supplement Confederate forces protecting Little Rock and a section of the Mississippi River. During a pause near Rockport, Ark., de la Garza wrote to his mother. "I'm already desirous to see all of you," he wrote. "I hope this war ends quickly and God grant me life to see you again. ... Up to now I don't think I would like a military career, but we'll see later" (3).
Any initial personal worries about army life were justified by the end of the month when he reported illness sweeping through the ranks. About 150 men were sick, he said, and another 175 had to be left behind. "[I]t's very sad to see them lying on the ground exposed to the sun and the air with measles" (5). But de la Garza reported that he was in good health and getting along with the troops. "The boys in our company seem to like me well. ..." (5).
Rumors bombarded the soldiers -- "We hear sometimes of the great battles fought in Virginia and other places" -- but de la Garza refused to report anything he wasn't sure of (9).
He enjoyed the changing of the guard. "It's very nice," he wrote (6), adding that women from nearby houses would gather to watch the shift change. He was on guard duty every 18 days, he said. It should have been less frequent, but of the 30 lieutenants assigned to his unit, evidently a dozen were not fit for duty. He was not impressed with the people of Arkansas. "The young ladies in this state," he wrote to his wife, "look miserable pale and thin. I have not seen a real beautiful girl yet" (9).
One aspect of military life he did not enjoy was the lack of regular correspondence with his family, coupled with frustration over the lack of paper. The long weeks between letters from home worried him. "You cannot know how troubled I am some times. Awful dreams will visit me once in a while" (8).
Despite his concerns, de la Garza made the most of his situation. He was proud of his men and of their progress in becoming better soldiers. He fretted over their lack of winter uniforms but embraced an optimistic, opportunistic outlook. "We'll see if we can take enough [clothes] from the Yankees to dress ourselves" (11).
Despite her vow to be optimistic as 1862 began, Stone was disgusted with the poor defense of New Orleans, which she called the "greatest City of the South," and the subsequent collapse of any network to defend Louisiana. The state, she wrote, "lies powerless at the feet of the enemy" (100). And so does Brokenburn, she may have thought to herself. And so do I.
And then the skies over Brokenburn darkened, literally.
As Federal forces closed in, in early May Gen. Beauregard urged Louisiana's plantations to destroy their cotton to keep it out of Federal hands. Soon, Stone wrote, "as far as we can see are the ascending wreaths of smoke ... we hear that all the cotton of the Mississippi Valley ... is going up in smoke" (100). At Brokenburn, Stone's mother ordered $20,000 worth of cotton to be incinerated. Stone reported that the bales burned for two days. "The planters look upon the burning of the cotton as almost ruin to their fortunes," she wrote, "but all realize its stern necessity. ..." (101).
As a long summer loomed, Stone felt the coils of the Union anaconda tighten around her. Union victories at Fort Donelson and New Orleans brought her closer to the war than ever before. Her aloof observations of what were once far-off battles now turned into bitter rage and iron determination, compounded by the frustration that Union forces cut her off from regular contact with her relatives.
From the conquered Mississippi delta the Federal naval forces moved north. From Memphis, a Union army marched south. Their supreme objective was the conquest of Vicksburg, a target only 30 miles away from the pen with which she recorded her predicament, was their supreme objective. By mid-May, a new, horrifying sound echoed throughout Brokenburn's tense, humid air: the booming of cannon fire focused on Vicksburg. By late June she saw the enemy for the first time with her own eyes. Union gunboats, "dark, silent and sinister," sailed past as she watched from a friend's riverside home.
As she imagined the sacrifices the future may demand, Stone radiated if not confidence then apocalyptic defiance. "How much better to burn one's cities than to let them fall into the enemy's hands" (105).
Once Federal commanders decided new canals were needed to bypass the strong Vicksburg batteries, soldiers swept the region's plantations to find the black workers they needed to do the digging. Stone wrote that her mother instructed all the Brokenburn slaves to immediately hide if Union soldiers entered the property. The slaves, however, had other intentions. Stone reported that some planters marched their slaves westward, and her mother planned to do the same. Stone worried what the consequences would be when Federal troops arrived, looked for slave workers and found none. "Our fear is when the Yankees come and find them gone they will burn the buildings in revenge. They are capable of any horror. We look forward to their raid with great dread" (127).
In April, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan decided he would assault Richmond, Va., and he glacially moved his army up the peninsula between the York and James rivers. On May 31, after contesting the Union advance, Confederate commander Joseph E. Johnston was injured at the Battle of Seven Pines, and field command passed to Robert E. Lee. As McClellan timidly waited for almost a month, Lee, a former military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, reorganized his new army, strengthened the Richmond defenses, and gathered intelligence. Lee united with forces under Maj. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and on June 26 he launched a massive, week-long, blood-soaked counterattack that hammered the Union army away from Richmond.
News of the Seven Days fighting reached Brokenburn in early July with a list of the units engaged in combat. Stone's Uncle Bo survived the battles, but her brother's unit had also been involved. She silently grew frantic as she awaited word of his survival and none came. "Oh, this long, cruel suspense. ... Every day adds to my conviction that My Brother is desperately hurt" (133). In desperation, she studied the faces of any visitors to the house, searching for any shade of sadness a bearer of the worst news would express. By July 24, her anguish evaporated as word finally arrived that William had also survived the Seven Days.
By mid-August, de la Garza had also heard of the Seven Days. "I have just been hearing some accounts of the Battle of Virginia, it must have been awful but the Yankees are pretty badly [whipped]" (10).
The recent conscription law passed by the Confederate Congress called for all suitable men between ages 18 and 25 to sign up for military service, and Stone reported that Mr. Hazelitt, who taught her brothers, had to close his school and enroll in a military unit. "One of the worst features of the war," she wrote, "is that is deprives all the boys of an education" (170).
Federal determination to conquer Vicksburg intensified, and more and more blue-coated troops poured down the Mississippi and raided the area around Brokenburn. By mid-August, Stone illustrated the first wave of refugees moving west. "The planters," Stone wrote with frustration, "generally are moving back to the hills as fast as possible. There are two families refugeeing in our neighborhood" (139). As cold winter rain drenched Brokenburn, Stone, emotionally exhausted, wondered what lay ahead for her family and her plantation. Depression and hopelessness consumed her, "Could I only be content to watch the Future as it unfolds instead of trying to pierce its mystery and mold it to my will, how much happier I would be" (141).
Adding to the grim feeling in the air was the departure of her brother Walter, who joined their brother Coleman in ranks of the 28th Mississippi.
After Lee's victory over McClellan on the Peninsula and over John Pope at Manassas, he turned his armies north and invaded Maryland. McClellan, armed with a copy of Lee's deployment orders, pursued him with uncharacteristic speed. Lee confronted him at Sharpsburg, and their armies fought the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17. After a day of unprecedented bloodshed, Lee was the first to withdraw his stunned army from the area, and Lincoln took the Union non-defeat as an opportunity to announce the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22. The executive action, theoretically freeing all slaves held in areas still controlled by Confederate forces, would become official on Jan. 1, 1863. By Oct. 1, word of the proclamation reached Brokenburn. Stone was outraged by what she called Lincoln's "diabolical move" (145). "How can he ever sleep with the shades of the thousands he has consigned to a bloody death darkening his soul?" (146).
Lincoln replaced a recalcitrant McClellan with Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, who foolishly attacked Lee's impregnable defenses at Fredericksburg, Va., in mid-December. Union forces were massacred. On Christmas Day, an old neighbor came to Brokenburn to report that Stone's brother William was killed in the battle. "Mamma was at once in despair," Stone recalled, "and gave way to the wildest grief" (165). But the neighbor's information was wrong. Later the Stone family learned William was only injured. Nevertheless, Stone complained, "our Christmas was ruined" (165).
Adding to their misery, Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman landed 30,000 troops at Milliken's Bend, just a few miles from Brokenburn, and a brigade was sent south to destroy the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Texas Railroad on the eve of his attack on Chickasaw Bluffs, just north of Vicksburg. But brigade's soldiers did not molest the Stone family, and Stone's second year of war, later brightened by news of Sherman's bloody defeat, ended quietly.
By early December, de la Garza was still in Arkansas, confident in eventual victory over Federal forces but utterly routed by the forces of disease. Pneumonia swept through his brigade, and "we buried from three up to fifteen daily for two weeks. ... You could not hear anything but the dead march from morning to night" (12).
He was sick, he was frustrated, but he was also lucky. Sometime before Jan. 9, 1863, de la Garza was temporarily transferred from Arkansas to Austin, Texas. Between Jan. 9 and Jan. 11, a Federal force attacked Fort Hindman, and the 6th Texas was captured. The regiment’s men were sent to Northern prison camps and paroled in April 1863.
Kate Stone began 1863 with optimism. Her brother William was sent home to recuperate from his wounds. Federal moves on Vicksburg were all repulsed, and Lee's victory over Burnside at Fredericksburg still warmed her spirits. "Altogether," she concluded, "we are getting the better of our foes" (168). Perversely, her renewed confidence in an inevitable Federal defeat at Vicksburg mutated into a new fear of what that defeat would inspire in the Federal troops. She worried they would "lay this whole country [to] waste, send out bands of Negroes and soldiers to burn and destroy" (169).
And then, on Jan. 26, Stone wrote, "Preparing to run from the Yankees, I commit my book to the bottom of a packing box with only a slight chance of seeing it again" (169). She would not write again for six weeks. On March 2, Kate Stone opened her journal and wrote in it for the first time since late January. She was disoriented. She didn't know exactly what day of the week it was. She guessed it was Saturday.
When Federal troops flooded the neighborhood in late January, Stone's mother prepared to evacuate the family. She changed her mind when she learned the roads west were already impossibly clogged with frightened refugees. When Stone learned they were not leaving Brokenburn after all, she was secretly relieved. She dreaded moving into "the back country ... to leave our pleasant home most probably to be destroyed by the Yankees. ..." (170).
Whatever misery she endured, whatever property she lost, whatever horrors she witnessed, Stone seemed determined to stand her ground. Perhaps Brokenburn was her own line in the sand. Perhaps she had already seen too many retreats, too many defeats, too many surrenders. Perhaps Stone, fighting what she saw as her part of the war, decided that she would never surrender her ground to the dark, silent, sinister enemy. But it took another enemy, one she'd feared longer than any Yankee, to change her mind.
The close proximity of Federal troops inspired the slaves to leave their plantations for good, and Stone reported dozens of them regularly gathered on the riverbank, hoping to be ferried over to a new camp closer to the Federal lines. "All the Negroes are running away now," she wrote. [P]oor creatures, I am sorry for them. How horrible it all is" (171). At the nearby Hardison home, Stone wrote, the slaves "walked off in broad daylight ... other Negroes declare they are free and will leave as soon as they get ready" (183). Some slaves, however, returned to their estates, guiding Union soldiers ready to strip the properties of any valuables. Some slaves returned not just with soldiers but also with weapons, a horrific new reality to plantation owners. "The country," Stone wrote, "seems possessed by demons, black and white" (184).
On March 21, Stone and her family picked lilacs in the garden. Webster, a slave, appeared with Wonka, Stone's beloved horse. She had kept the horse hidden for weeks to protect it from the eye of Federal raiding parties. Webster said mosquitoes tormented the horse, and it needed some exercise. Stone agreed that Wonka needed some activity, and the horse was set loose to run around the yard near the house.
After ten minutes, two Union soldiers on horseback appeared without warning, demanding to trade one of their old horses for young Wonka. Stone refused. Her mother offered to give the men money instead. The soldiers insisted on the trade. The first soldier galloped toward Wonka to catch it, and Stone ordered a slave nearby to open the gate. When the slave hesitated, Stone ran to open it herself. The second soldier yelled and pointed his gun at her head. Stone ignored him and ran to open a second gate. Her mother screamed. Wonka was caught. The soldiers changed saddles and rode off, leaving their "pack of animated bones" behind (182).
Stone, utterly devastated, watched them ride away. The scent of lilacs filled the air, she remembered. "I will never see lilac blooms again without recalling this sad incident" (183).
"The life we are leading now," she wrote dejectedly, "is a miserable, frightened one, living in constant dread of great danger, not knowing what form it may take, and utterly helpless to protect ourselves."
Stone's mother agreed completely. Her cotton crop was destroyed. Damaged levees flooded the region. Life's daily necessities were impossibly overpriced. New Orleans was gone, and Vicksburg would not hold out forever. Relatives and friends dead. Home defense forces utterly impotent. Union soldiers taking what they wanted whenever they wanted it. Union gunboats defiling the Mississippi River. Slaves more a threat than ever before. Her mother came to a single solution. At long last, she decided, it was time to lead her family west.
In late March, Stone reported that a childhood friend, Joe Wicks, was killed during a skirmish with Union troops in Mississippi. She wrote that he died "as a Southern boy should, leading his men in action" (186). Stone's journal then fell silent.
Two weeks later, on April 10, she began to write again, this time from Anchorage, La., mourning an even more terrible loss. Her brother Walter became sick and died on Feb. 15 in Cotton Gin, Miss. "For seven long weeks," she wrote, "my dear little brother has been sleeping his lonely grave, far from all who loved him, and we knew it not until a few days ago" (186). She remembered hugging him goodbye, his tears on her face, how he reined his horse on a hilltop and turned to wave at her one last time. And now, a final image haunted her mind: his dead body in a black coffin, a once sweet and handsome young man now "cold and white" (187). "He was but a boy and could not stand the hardships of soldier's life. Four months of it killed him." Not even the hope of victory, that great fire burning in her heart, escaped the shadow of her sorrow. "Even peace," she wrote, "will not restore him to us all" (186).
As her grief eased, she explained what convinced the family to leave Brokenburn once and for all. On March 26, as Stone and her mother visited a neighbor, an armed slave captured them and contained them in one room as other slaves ransacked the house. After fleeing the house, she saw more slaves descend on the home and walk off with all the possessions. The horror of this incident finally convinced Stone's mother that it was time to move. In the middle of the night, defying Federal orders that civilians could not leave their homes, the Stones left Brokenburn. They navigated flooded fields, endured broken roads and swam in the bayous when necessary. Slaves betrayed them at points, riding off with their clothes and other possessions.
Stone agreed with her mother, who "regrets coming away as she did, but what could she do? We could not stand more than anyone else, and nearly everyone left before we did. ... So passes the glory of the family" (203).
From Anchorage, they moved on to a chaotic scene at the train station at Dehli and managed to secure some space on the westbound train to Monroe. From Monroe, they settled temporarily in Trenton. Stone's mother and brother went back to Dehli, gathered some soldiers and returned to Brokenburn to gather the remaining slaves and bring them west. Stone spat with contempt at the reports of the house stripped of all valuables and of Webster, "our most trusted servant," who proclaimed himself the new owner of Brokenburn. He is, she wrote, "the greatest villain in the country" (193).
In July, they crossed into Texas, where it seemed they were met with one tragic blow after another. A starved, ravaged Vicksburg finally surrendered to Grant's siege on July 4. In September, word arrived that Stone's brother Coleman died from injuries sustained in fighting near Clinton, Miss. "Again we are called on to mourn one of our dearest and best," she wrote (259). The tragedy was no less painful, but her heart, she found, seemed stronger, more able to endure. "Death does not seem half so terrible as it did long ago," she sighed with sad serenity. "We have grown used to it" (258).
When she heard of the death of Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson after the Battle of Chancellorsville, she mourned him deeply. "We have lost the conqueror on a dozen fields, the greatest general on our side. ... As long as there is a Southern heart, it should thrill at the name of Stonewall Jackson. ..." (211).
Manuel Yturri began the war with the Alamo Rifles, and then he enlisted with Co. H, 6th Texas Infantry, then transferred to the 33rd Texas Cavalry, and then moved to the 3rd Texas Infantry.
Joseph de la Garza may have enjoyed some aspects of army life, but Yturri enjoyed none of it. He was sick of the marching and the guard duty, sick of the worthless paper currency, of letters being sent to wrong regiments, of the separation from his wife. His missed his dog, Guess. He had little or no money. He had no idea if the war would ever end. He had no idea if he would ever see his wife again. "I'm almost crazy," he wailed (35).
He loved his son, Manuel Yturri III. The frequently ill infant was nicknamed "Lito," and Yturri's constant worry for his son sometimes turned into criticism for his wife: "You tell me as always that Lito is neither better nor worse from his illness ... this is what saddens me most. ... you always let it go, when it may be too late and he can't be cured" (39).
Yturri also worried about how his son was disciplined: "They tell me that he's very chatty and very fat ... that he calls you stinking dog (or) tricky pig ... when you make him angry" (39). Yturri demanded to know who taught his son those insults. He asked his wife not to spank Lito until he was older. He asked her to keep Lito out of the sun and to teach him the alphabet, how to read and how to count. The couple would soon add a daughter to their family.
After several weeks spent in Austin, by July 1863 de la Garza was back in the field, with what he called Company 16, 17th Consolidated Regiment. On July 7 he wrote his mother from Shreveport, "I saw some thirteen federal flags captured by General Taylor, very beautiful flags" (15). He referred to Confederate Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, in command of Confederate forces in Louisiana. At the end of the month, he reported proudly, "For about two weeks I have been in command of our company. The captain," he wrote, "was away hunting deserters" (17).
By September, de la Garza was near Alexandria, La. His units were closer to the Federal lines, and he complained to a friend that "many of the men composing this division have gone home ... Yankees are close by and I suppose they are afraid" (18).
De la Garza was not impressed with his rations, which consisted of boiled beef and corned bread, supplemented by some sugar cane, which he ate as he marched. Overall, despite the annoyances and hardships, de la Garza was a realist: "When I went into the service I determined that I would go through, and I am of the same mind yet. ..." (19).
The persistently poor communication with home angered him. "Days, weeks and months have gone by and I have not even received a line from you," he wrote his wife. "I am tired of writing home but it seems all of you have forgotten me completely. ... How much work can it be for you to sit down and write a few lines?" (19).
Throughout the subsequent weeks, De la Garza wrote that Confederate forces would make brief contact with Federal troops, then the order would come to retreat, then stop, then retreat again. As a result, he wrote, "the Yankees are advancing little by little" deeper into Louisiana (23).
The maneuvering, however inconclusive, provided de la Garza a stark tour of the ravaged state Kate Stone had left behind. "All the plantations are destroyed," he wrote. "It is sad to see everything ruined. Now that the Yankees are coming they'll finish desolating everything" (24).
As the temperatures dropped, de la Garza and some colleagues spent two days building their winter quarters. It was eight feet long, six feet wide and seven feet high. It included, he proudly wrote, a bed, table, a trunk, "guns and sabres hanging all around" (25). "It's very cold, and there's sleet, but I don't even care, I'm very comfortable in my little home" (26).
Kate Stone, now in Texas, despised her new home, calling it "the dark corner of the Confederacy" (237). She concluded that "there must be something in the air of Texas fatal to beauty" (224). As her family moved from one rented room to another, from town to town, the former plantation princess detested the people she encountered: "We have not seen a good looking or educated person since we entered the state" (224). She ridiculed their clothes: "Nothing looks funnier than a woman walking around with an immense hoop [skirt] -- barefooted" (225). Their causal approach to hygiene sickened her. Before one meal "with the dirtiest people we have met yet," she lost her appetite when she saw servants washing the plates "at the duck pond right out in the yard" (226). She hated the fleas, the ticks, the huge snakes.
And Texans hated her right back, her and people like her. They made no sympathetic effort to call people from Louisiana refugees. They called them renegades. Texan boys bullied her younger brothers. Sometimes their requests to spend the night in someone's home were denied. The hostility left Stone mystified. "It is strange the prejudice that exists all through the state against refugees," she sniffed, seemingly blind to her own condescending attitudes. "We think it is envy, just pure envy. The refugees are nicer and more refined people" (238).
The violence in the communities shocked her. "Nothing seems more common or less condemned than assassination," she wrote (226).
Despite all the complaining over fleas, hoop skirts, and duck ponds, Stone made the most of the journey through East Texas as her mother tried to find the family a quiet home. Louisianans had flooded the region since the Vicksburg campaign began, and as the weeks passed the Stones found friends more often, even people from the old Brokenburn neighborhood. Stone found herself admiring the wide open skies, the endless prairies, fields filled with wildflowers of every color. She munched on ripened berries and fruit. At night she watched fireflies dance around her, listened to the crickets sing, and stared into the huge, star-filled sky.
Near the end of 1863, the family arrived in Tyler, Texas, to live with old friends already there, and there they tried to make a new, long-term home. Stone became less haughty and more sociable. A big step in her acceptance of her new home came when she finally came across a volume of Shakespeare. Her belief in final Confederate victory remained strong -- "Our only hope is in Lee the Invincible" -- but the war itself, once again, was far away (230). Even letters reminding her of its terrible cost simply became part of normal life. "Nearly every household mourns some love lost" (265). Joe Wicks. William. Coleman. Perhaps Stone saw her pain reflected in the eyes of so many others. She saw how they endured despite losing as much she had, if not very much more. Perhaps her new life finally began once she sensed a shared sorrow binding her to her new Texas community. She allowed herself to appreciate natural beauty in the Confederate's dark corner, found old and new friends amid an air of hostility, and found a degree of peace as the war raged on.
Stone ended 1863 quietly, reviewing her family's still-not-settled situation in Tyler, and writing at last, "Our old neighborhood is scattered to the four winds" (271). Facing an enormous opportunity to restart her life, perhaps she thought that wasn't such a bad thing.
1864: Day to Day
As the war ground on, the men and women around Stone made the most of their lives. Dances were held. Men and women married. new boys studied for classes. Stone cleaned the house, played chess, and read. The wall Stone built in her mind to hold back the crush of mounting tragedies in the Eastern Theater became a permanent fixture. Not even the drama of death breached the barrier anymore. "People do not mourn their dead as they used to," she wrote. "Everyone seems to live only in the present -- just from day to day -- otherwise I fancy many would go crazy" (279).
On the front lines, in February Yturri was elected lieutenant in Company F, 3rd Texas Infantry, Waterhouse's Brigade, Walker's Division (46).
In 1864, Confederate victories brightened the situation in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. In the spring of 1864, Federal forces under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks began the Red River Campaign, in which Federal forces from Vicksburg, New Orleans and Arkansas were supposed to meet near Shreveport, seize Louisiana once and for all, amputate Texas from the Confederacy, and then abort any nascent relationship between the Confederacy and the French-controlled Mexican government. But the plan failed to consider Confederate audacity. In early April 1864, Maj. Gen. Taylor beat back the Federal invasion at the Battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill.
Stone practically leapt for joy in her journal. "It is our first great success on this side of the river. ... We will never laugh at our soldiers on this side of the Mississippi again. ..." (278-279).
That audacity had a bloody cost. On April 19, one of those soldiers, Confederate Capt. H.B. Adams, camped near Minden, La., wrote a letter to his friend Bart De Witt. In the letter, he wrote, "Joe Garza fell while gallantly fighting at the head of his company at the Battle of Mansfield. ... He was shot above the knee and died soon after" (29).
After Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, Banks retreated south. From Alexandria, Yturri wrote that "the Yankees almost burned the whole city during their retreat down the [Red] River" (45). The victories rang hollow and tragic for him, however, as he thought of his brother in law. Writing of de la Garza's death, Yturri admitted that "I felt it tremendously and cried very much since I considered him my best friend in this world and the friend I most appreciated since I came back from college. ..." (45). The weight of army life also suffocated his spirits. "The marches we undertake," he wrote, "are for eighteen to twenty ... miles per day. ... I think that if I survive this war you won't catch me in another one in this world" (46).
The Union troops in Arkansas assigned to the Red River Campaign had maneuvered from Little Rock to attack Camden in the southern part of the state, hoping to tie up troops that could be sent against Banks in Louisiana. But when the Federal advance was checked at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, Federal forces in Arkansas moved back to Little Rock. On April 30, 1864, as Federal forces in Arkansas crossed the Saline River, the Confederates attacked. Yturri was among them. At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, his first battle, the Southern troops were beaten back.
The carnage at Jenkins' Ferry, almost a month after de la Garza’s death, haunted Yturri for weeks. "I assure you my darling," he wrote to his wife, "that it is very sorrowful to see the wounded, some with a shattered arm ... others with head wounds ... one of them mortally. ... His head was injured and we could see his brains. ... In the end he died crazed" (48-49). He added later, "It is an ugly thing to see a camp after a battle, to see the number of dead people and the blood" (49).
Aside from the blood, one more detail from the battlefield that stayed with him: "After the battle our soldiers found many pictures of the dead Yankees, of their families, fiancées, etc. I don't ask for yours because we might fight with the Yankees and I might be killed and they would keep your picture" (54).
Yturri later insisted that he wasn't afraid during his first battle. "I was just waiting to fall dead each minute" (53). He couldn't understand why so many had been wounded all around him and he had emerged virtually unscathed. What really bothered him during the fighting, he said, was the thought that he would die, his wife would re-marry, and he would be forgotten.
As the summer heat bore down, Yturri wrote that he was sick, as were most of the soldiers around him. He was thin and enduring a diet of lean meat, beans, a cup of water and corn bread. "What a sad life I experience as a soldier," he sighed (50). "I have seen very much since I became a soldier and I can't tell you everything nor the hardships I have endured" (53). He was tempted to resign his officer's commission and re-enlist as a private again, if only so he would have a better opportunity to secure a leave to see his family.
The Confederate conscription act lowered the age range for enlistment to seventeen, and in August, Kate Stone lost a third brother to the Confederate Army. James Stone joined a unit named Harrison's Brigade at Monroe, La. She and her mother accompanied him into Louisiana, and Federal raids through the area frightened her, especially when conducted by black soldiers. "The Paternal Government at Washington," she wrote, "has done all in its power to incite a general insurrection throughout the South, in the hopes of thus getting rid of the women and children in one grand holocaust. We would be practically helpless should the Negroes rise, since there are so few men left at home" (298).
By October, Yturri was still in Camden, Ark., and no one was sure what was next. "We're now in such a situation that we don't know where we'll be going" (57). In the meantime, the threat of further Federal attacks on Camden still hung in the air, and Yturri's men spent their time fortifying the city. He seemed shaken after witnessing the execution of a captain who told his soldiers to refuse any orders sending them across the Mississippi River to attack Federal forces. By the end of the month, he reported that he had been sick for two weeks. "I'm tired of this bloody war and it seems that there will not be peace for one or two more years" (62).
1865: The Happiest Year
As the new year dawned, Kate Stone held out hope that Southern victory was inevitable, no matter how long the war went on, asserting that "the darkest hour is just before the dawning" (323). She despised anyone who failed to share her fiery determination to win the war.
The mesmerizing images of handsome young officers, gleaming scabbards, soaring songs and fluttering banners were long since scourged from her mind. What remained was bitter anger and a lust for revenge. For years, her faith had sustained her as she endured one emotional maelstrom after another. Her faith gave a meaning to the destruction, it explained why her family's suffering had to happen, and it justified in some elemental way the deaths of her brothers, of Ashburn, and of so many young friends.
Her world was destroyed. Her faith explained why it had to be destroyed. Buried in those ashes were the seeds of a new future. Somehow, she must have repeated to herself, Lee would find a way to defeat the North. Somehow, the light would reach those seeds, and a strong new independent nation would grow and blossom.
As he and his men marched from Arkansas to Louisiana, Manuel Yturri shared none of Kate Stone's aspirations. "I believe that if I were single and I knew that this war was going to last four years more, I would kill myself," he wrote from Shreveport, La., on Feb. 28. (65). He was tired and depressed. He endured pain in his legs, stomach and head. He fought lice. He was constantly wet, hungry and tired. "Military life is the most miserable there is in this world. I'd rather be a Negro than [be in the] military" (71).
By April, Yturri and his men were back in Texas, limping to Hempstead. "[T]his war," he wrote his wife, "has ruined all my physical well-being for the rest of my life" (67). His men were not much better. By April 26, he reported that only 20 men remained in his company. "[M]ost of the troops on the other side of the Mississippi have surrendered," he wrote in mid-May, and he worried that if Federal forces attacked his soldiers would be too weak or dispirited to fight them off. At Hempstead, Yturri and his men waited for the end to come. As far as he was concerned, his war was finally over.
Kate Stone refused to listen to any dejected opinions. She clung to every rumor that proclaimed success, every prediction that meant one more day of Confederate survival. Rumors began to fly about a possible surrender to the North. Stone remembered how people tried to act normally, and yet "over every pleasure sweeps the shadow of the evil news. It may be true. It may be true" (331). By April 28, she received news she could easily believe: Lincoln was dead. "All honor to J. Wilkes Booth, who has rid the world of a tyrant and made himself famous for generations" (333).
By May, the brutal military reality could not be denied. Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va., on April 9. Other Confederate units still limped through the smoldering landscape. Confederate warships still sailed the seas. President Davis and his officials were still unaccounted for. But for those who put their hopes in the Army of Northern Virginia, the war was over.
" 'Conquered, submission, subjugation' are words that burn into my heart," she wrote in mid-May, "and yet I feel that we are doomed to know them in all their bitterness ... [W]e will be slaves, yes slaves, of the Yankee Government. The degradation seems more than we can bear" (339-340). She may have asked herself what had been gained by the war? "The best and the bravest of the South sacrificed," she wrote bitterly, "and for nothing" (340). Not only had the Confederacy been defeated. Not only had Lee been defeated. Kate Stone had been defeated.
Stone had struggled to build a life separate from the war. She was so successful, despite the losses and defeats, that she considered 1865 the "happiest year of my life" (358). But her mother was anxious to return to Louisiana. By mid-June, her brother William rejoined the family in Texas. He then headed east to reclaim Brokenburn before the Federal government confiscated the estate. Stone admitted both regret and dread over the prospect of leaving Texas. She had found a degree of serenity and happiness in Tyler. Perhaps, over time, she realized she had to leave the old Kate Stone behind, the defeated Kate Stone, and create a new woman in Texas. But now, it was time to go back to Brokenburn, and she could only imagine the ruins and memories that awaited her.
Also awaiting her was a new reality in which former slaves were now entitled to a fair wage for their labor. "Our future is appalling," she wrote on Oct. 10. "[N]o money, no credit, heavily in debt, and an overflowed place" (362). By Nov. 10, the Stone family had returned to Brokenburn. Stone was heartbroken over the neglected fields, the echo of empty rooms, the house stripped of furnishings. She admitted the estate was not as devastated as other plantations, and the towering trees and soft grass softened the starkness of a ravaged estate. Nevertheless, she found herself looking back west with longing. "How I fear that the life at Tyler has spoiled us for plantation life. Everything seems sadly out of time" (365).
Beyond the war
Yturri’s 3rd Texas Infantry was disbanded at Hempstead, and the Department of Texas was surrendered in late May 1865. Yturri was officially paroled in San Antonio on Aug. 12, 1865. He and Elena eventually had ten children. He became a rancher, businessman and city alderman. He died in 1913, 49 years after de la Garza. He was 75. Elena died in 1925.
De la Garza’s 17th Consolidated Regiment returned to Texas in March 1865 and disbanded in May. De la Garza was buried at the Mansfield battlefield, but DeWitt, his brother-in-law, recovered his remains several months later and re-buried de la Garza in San Antonio. In 1876, the Texas Legislature named Garza County for his family.
Brokenburn ultimately failed as a plantation. Kate Stone married Henry Holmes on Dec. 8, 1869, a month before her 29th birthday, and they had four children. She died in 1907. Holmes died in 1912. Her daughter Amy lived long enough to see her mother’s journal admired as a gem of Southern literature. She was 77 when thousands gathered in Tallulah, La., on March 17, 1955, to celebrate "Kate Stone Day."
We gain from Stone’s book and from the letters of Yturri and de la Garza a better understanding of the lives of ordinary people in wartime, enduring war's physical and psychological violence, tormented by hopeful rumors of military victories, or staring hard across dark frontiers of a looming, unimaginable future. And yet, somehow, life went on.
Nosy matrons still tried to match up single men and women. A woman still had to find a way to pay the rent and put up with her son's insolence. Tutors still tried to teach boys and girls. Thunderstorms raged. Toothaches annoyed. Crops were harvested. Fevers ravaged families. Babies were born and babies died. Broken, sobbing, contented and loving people moved on with their lives.
These books tell the stories we need to hear as we retrace rugged paths through the Civil War era. Ordinary people weave the tapestry of history, and it is these people we must never forget.
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Fernando Ortiz Jr., a writer,
editor and historian,