Dolly Lunt Burge: Her Diary

Dolly Lunt Burge: Her Diary

▪ Primary Source

      Dolly Lunt Burge, the widow of a Confederate officer and mistress of a plantation near Covington, Ga., met the left wing of Sherman's army four days into their march, on Nov. 19, 1864. Her diary, an extract of which is reprinted here, records rumours of the army's approach days before their arrival, and the frantic preparations Burge and her neighbours made, hiding food and valuables from Federal soldiers. It also vividly shows the human toll of Sherman's march. Even die-hard Federals would be moved by the simple, stark account of her home being pillaged, and her horses—"my faithful servant so many years"—taken away into Union service. The discovery that an Illinois captain knew her brother reminds us that the war cut across lines of friendship and family, which could unexpectedly reassert themselves. Most complicated perhaps is the genuine concern she expresses for her slaves, several of whom were forcibly removed from the plantation, and whose goods were appropriated along with hers. (Compare this with Coffin's meeting with slaves in Savannah.)

      This document is reproduced in its original form; spelling, grammatical, and usage errors are maintained.


      Nov. 8th 1864. To-day will probably decide the fate of this confederacy. If Lincoln is reelected I think our fate is a hard one, but we are in the hands of a merciful God & if He sees that we are in the wrong I trust that He will show it unto us. I have never felt that Slavery was altogether right for it is abused by many & I have often heard Mr. Burge say that if he could see that it was sinful for him to own slaves, if he felt that it was wrong, he would take them where he could free them. He would not sin for his right hand. The purest & holiest men have owned them & I can see nothing in the Scriptures which forbids it. I have never bought nor sold & have tried to make life easy & pleasant to those that have been bequeathed me by the dead. I have never ceased to work, but many a Northern housekeeper has a much easier time than a Southern matron with her hundred negroes.

      11th Finished hauling in my corn. Have made about 1200 bushels. Have 900 put up but how uncertain whether I keep it. Commenced digging potatoes. Cool & pleasant.

      12th Warped & put in dresses for the loom. Oh, this blockade gives us work to do for all hands.

      13th Been to Sandtown to church & heard bro [Albert] Gray from the words: "Rejoice always & in everything give thanks." His best sermon for the year. Mrs. Glass rode as far as her house with me. Says they had a letter from Mr. Austin, her brother, who says the Federals have taken every thing from them save a pot, plate & knife, that bed & wearing clothing are all gone save what they had on, that they regret that they had not refugeed for they had as well perished away from home as there.

      16th As I could not obtain in Covington what I went for in the way of dye stuffs, & & I concluded this morning in accordance with Mrs. Ward's wish to go to the "Circle." We took old Dutch & started. Had a pleasant ride as it was a delightful day but how dreary looks the town where formerly was bustle & business. Now naked chimneys & bare walls, for the depot & its surroundings were all burned by last summer's raiders. . . . On our way home met bro Evans accompanied by John Hinton who inquired if we had heard that the Yankees were coming! Said a large force was at Stockbridge & that a dispatch was received in Covington to that effect & that the Home Guard were all called out. That it was said that they were on their way to Savannah. We rode home chatting about it & finally settled it in our minds that it could not be so, probably a foraging party.

      17th Saw men going up from below to town. Did not believe the report. Have been uneasy all day. At night some of those neighbors called who went to town. Said it was a large force but could not tell what or where they were going. They moved very slow. What shall I do? Where go?

      18th Slept very little last night. Went out doors several times. Could see large fires like burning buildings. Am I not in the Hands of a merciful God Who has promised to take care of the widow & the orphan? Sent off two of my mules in the night. Mr. Ward & Frank took them away & hid them. In the morning took a barrel of salt which cost me two hundred dollars into one of the black women's gardens, put a paper over it and then on the top of that leached ashes. Fixed it on a board as a leach tub, daubing it with ashes. Had some few pieces of meat taken from my smoke-house, Henry & James Around assisting, & carried to the Old Place & hid under some fodder. Bid them hide wagon & gear & then go on to ploughing. Told them to hide all of their things. Went to packing up my & Sadai's clothes. Fear that we shall be homeless. The boys came back & wished to hide their mules. Said the Yankees camped at Mr. Gibson's the night before & were taking all the stock in the country. . . . O, how I trust I am safe. Think the army have gone down the railroad to Augusta & will not pass here. . . .

      19th Slept in my clothes last night as I heard the Yankees went to neighbour [William S.] Montgomery's thursday night at one o'clock & searched his house, drank his wine, took his money, &c. As we were not disturbed, I after breakfast with Sadai walked up to Mr. Jo Perry's, my nearest neighbour's, where the Yankees were yesterday to learn something of their movements. Saw Mrs. Laura in the road surrounded by her children seeming to be looking for some one. Said she was looking for her husband, that old Mrs. Perry had just sent her word that the Yankees went to James Perry's the night before, plundered his house, drove off all his stock, &c., & that she must drive hers into the old fields. Before we were done talking up came Jo, Jim & George Guise from their hiding place. Jim was very much excited. Accidentally I turned & looked behind me and saw some "blue-coats" coming down the hill by old Mrs. Perry's. Said I, "I believe there are some now." Jim immediately raised his gun swearing that he would kill them anyhow. "No, don't," said I, & ran home as fast as I could, with Sadai. I could hear them holla, "Halt! Halt!" & their guns in quick succession. O God, the time of trial has come. Give me firmness & remember thy promise to the Widow & Orphan, "upon which Thou hast caused thy Servant to hope."

      . . .

      I hastened back to my frightened servants & told them they had better hide & then went back to the gate to claim protection & a guard. But like Demons they rush in! My yards are full. To my smoke-house, my Dairy, Pantry, Kitchen & Cellar, like famished wolves they come, breaking locks & whatever is in their way. The thousand pounds of meat in my smoke-house is gone in a twinkling, my flour, my meat, my lard, butter, eggs, pickles of various kinds, both in vinegar & brine, wine, jars, & jugs, are all gone. My eighteen fat turkeys, my hens, chickens, & fowls, my young pigs, are shot down in my yard & hunted as if they were the rebels themselves. Utterly powerless I came to appeal to the guard. "I cannot help you, Madam; it is the orders."

      & as I stood there, from my lot I saw driven first, Old Dutch, my dear old Buggyhorse, who has carried my dear, dead husband so many miles & who would so quietly wait at the block for him to mount & dismount, & then had carried him to his grave, performing the sad offices to dear Lou— & who had been my faithful servant so many years; then old Mary, my brood mare, who for years has been too old & stiff for work, with her three-year-old colt, my two-year-old mule & her last little baby colt. There they go! There go my sheep, & worse than all, my boys, my poor boys, are forced to get the mules.

      But, alas! little did I think while trying to save my house from plunder & fire, that they were forcing at the point of the bayonet my boys from home. One (Newton) jumped into the bed in his cabin & declared himself sick, another crawled under the floor, a lame boy he was, but they pulled him out & placed him on a horse & drove him off. Mid, poor Mid, the last I saw of him, a man had him going round the garden looking as I thought for my sheep as he was my shepherd. Jack came crying to me, the big tears coursing down his cheeks saying they were making him go. I said: "Stay in my room," but a man followed in, cursing him & threatening to shoot him if he did not go. Poor Jack had to yeild. James Arnold, in trying to escape from a back window, was captured & marched off. Henry, too, was taken, I know not how or when, but probably when he & Bob went after the mules. I had not believed they would force from their homes the poor doomed negroes, but such has been the fact here, cursing them & saying that Jeff Davis was going to put them in his army, but they should not fight for him but for them. No indeed! No! they are not friends to the slave. We have never made the poor, cowardly negro fight & it is strange, passing strange, that the all-powerful Yankee Nation with the whole world to back them, their ports open, their armies filled with soldiers from all nations, should at last take the poor negro to help them out against this "little Confederacy" which was to be brought back into the Union in sixty days time.

      My poor boys, my poor boys, what unknown trials are before you. How you have clung to your mistress & assisted her in every way you knew how. You have never known want of any kind, never have I corrected them. A word was sufficient. It was only to tell them what I wanted & they obeyed. Their parents are with me & how sadly they lament the loss of their boys. Their cabins are rifled of every valuable, the soldiers swearing that their Sunday clothes were the white people's & that they never had time to get such things as they had. Poor Frank's chest was broken open, his money & tobacco taken. He has always been a money-making & saving boy. Not infrequently had his crop brought him five hundred dollars & more. All of his clothes & Rachel's clothes that dear Lou gave her before her death & which she has packed away, were stolen from her. Ovens, skillets, coffee-mills, of which we had three, coffee-pots—not one have I left. Sifters all gone.

      Seeing that the soldiers could not be restrained, the guard ordered me to have their things that remained brought into my house, which I did, & they all, poor things, huddled together into my room fearing every moment that the house would be burned.

      A Mr. Webber from Illinois & a Captain came into my house of whom I claimed protection from the vandals that were forcing themselves into my rooms. He said he knew my brother Orrington of Chicago. At that name I could not restrain my feelings but bursting into tears implored him to see my brother & let him know my destitution. I saw nothing before me but starvation. He promised to do this & comforted me with the assurance that my dwelling house would not be burned though my out buildings might. Poor little Sadai went crying to him as a friend & told him they had her doll, Nancy. He begged her to come to see him & he would give her a fine waxen one. He felt for me & I give him & several others the character of gentlemen. I don't believe they would have molested women & children had they had their own way. He seemed surprised that I had not laid away in my house flour & other provisions. I did not suppose I could secure them there more than where I usually kept them for in last summer's raid, houses were thoroughly searched. In parting with him I parted as with a friend.

      Sherman with a greater portion of his army passed my house all day. All day, as its sad moments rolled on were they passing, not only in front of my house, but they came up behind; tore down my garden palings, made a road through my back-yard & lot field, driving their Stock & riding through, tearing down my fences & desolating my home, wantonly doing it when there was no necessity for it. Such a day, if I live to the age of Methuselah, may God spare me from ever seeing again!

      Such were some of the scenes of this sad day & as night drew its sable curtains around us, the heavens from every point were lit up with flames from burning buildings! Dinnerless & supperless as we were, it was nothing in comparison to the fear of being driven out homeless & houseless to the dreary woods. Nothing to eat, I could give my guard no supper & he left us. I appealed to another asking him if he had wife, mother or sister & how he should feel were they in my situation. A Col from Vermont left me two men but they were Dutch & I could not understand one word they said.

      My Heavenly Father alone saved me from the destructive fire. My carriage house had in it eight bales of cotton with my carriage buggy & harness. On top of the cotton was some corded cotton rolls, a hundred pounds or more. These were thrown out of the blanket in which they were taken & a large twist of the rolls set on fire & thrown into the boat of my carriage which was close up to the cotton bales. Thanks to my God the cotton only burned over & then went out! Shall I ever forget the deliverance?

      This was after night the greater part of the army had passed. It came up very windy & cold. My room was full, nearly, with the bedding of & with the negroes. They were afraid to go out for my women could not step outside of the door without an insult from them. They lay down on the floor. Sadai got down & under the same cover with Sally while I sat up all night, watching every moment for the flames to burst out from some of my buildings. The two guards came into my room & laid themselves by my fire for the night. I could not close my eyes but kept walking to & fro watching the fires in the distance & dreading the approaching day which I feared, as they had not all passed, would be a continuation of horrors.

      20th This is the blessed Sabbath, the day upon which He who came to bring Peace & good will upon Earth, rose from His tomb & ascended to intercede for us poor fallen creatures. But how unlike this day to any that has preceded it to me in my once quiet home. I had watched all night & the dawn found me watching for the moving of the Soldiers that were encamped about us. Oh, how I dreaded those that were to pass as I suppose they would straggle and complete the ruin that the others had commenced, as I had been repeatedly told that they would burn everything as they passed.

      Some of my women had gathered up a chicken that they had shot yesterday & they cooked it with some yams for our breakfast, the guard complaining that we gave them no supper. They gave us some coffee which I had to make in a tea kettle as every coffee pot is taken off. The rear-guard was commanded by Colonel Carlow, who changed our guard leaving us one while they were passing. They marched directly on none scarcely breaking ranks. A bucket of water was called for & they drank without coming in.

      About ten o'clock they had all passed save one who came in & wanted coffee made which was done & he too went on. A few minutes elapsed & two couriers riding rapidly passed; back again they came & this ended the passing of Sherman's army by my place leaving me poorer by thirty-thousand dollars than I was yesterday morning. And a much stronger rebel.



Source: James Robertson, Jr. (ed.), "The Diary of Dolly Lunt Burge," Georgia Historical Quarterly 45 (December 1961).

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