May 9, 1862. On May 9, eighteen-year-old Sarah Morgan, a resident of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, wrote in her diary of the arrival of the Union Army in her home town. She had been, like her father, a strong Unionist, but when her town was occupied, she alternated between defiant glorification of the Confederacy and adolescent braggadocio, on the one hand, and, on the other, deep doubts about the war and frustration at her own impotence. Her diary entry reminds us how emotions change over time, even against our own will or reason, perhaps particularly during war.
Our lawful (?) owners have at last arrived. About sunset day before yesterday, the Iroquois anchored here, and a graceful young Federal stepped ashore, carrying a Yankee flag over his shoulder, and asked the way to the Mayor’s office. I like the style! If we girls of B.R. had been at the landing instead of the men, that Yankee should never have insulted us by flying his flag in our faces! We would have opposed his landing except under a flag of truce; but the men let him alone, and he even found a poor Dutchman willing to show him the road! He did not accomplish much; said a formal demand would be made next day, and asked if it was safe for the men to come ashore and buy a few necessities, when he was assured the air of B.R. was very unhealthy for Federal soldiers at night. He promised very magnanimously not [to] shell us out, if we did not molest him; but I notice none of them dare set their feet on terra-firma, except the officer who has now called three times on the Mayor, and who is said to tremble visibly as he walks the streets.
Last evening came the demand: the town must [be] surrendered immediately; the federal flag Must be raised, they would grant us the same terms they granted to New Orleans. Jolly terms those were! The answer was worthy of a Southerner. It was ‘the town was defenseless, if we had cannon, there were not men enough to resist; but if forty vessels lay at the landing, — it was intimated that we were in their power, and more ships coming up — we would not surrender; if they wanted, they might come Take us; if they wished the Federal flag hoisted over the Arsenal, they might put it up for themselves, the town had no control over Government property.’ Glorious! What a pity they did not shell the town! But they are taking us at our word, and this morning they are landing at the Garrison, and presently the Bloody banner will be floating over our heads. ‘Better days are coming, we’ll all go right.”
All devices, signs, and flags of the confederacy shall be suppressed.’ So says Picayune Butler. [Note: “The picayune was a small coin and Butler was a small man, or at least a short one. He was better known as Beast Butler for his iron-fisted military rule in New Orleans.”] Good. I devote all my red, white, and blue silk to the manufacture of Confederate flags. As soon as one is confiscated, I make another, until my ribbon is exhausted, when I will sport a duster emblazoned in high colors, ‘Hurra! For the Bonny blue flag!’ Henceforth, I wear one pinned to my bosom- not a duster, but a little flag-the man who says take it off, will have to pull it off for himself; the man who dares attempt it — well! a pistol in my pocket will fill the gap. I am capable, too.
This is a dreadful war to make even the hearts of women so bitter! I hardly know myself these last few weeks. I, who have such a horror of bloodshed, consider even killing in self defense murder, who cannot wish them the slightest evil, whose only prayer is to have them sent back in peace to their own country, I talk of killing them! For what else do I wear a pistol and carving knife? I am afraid I will try them on the first one who says an insolent word to me. Yes, and repent for ever after in sack cloth and ashes! O if I was only a man! Then I could don the breeches, and slay them with a will! If some few Southern women were in the ranks, they could set the men an example they would not blush to follow! Pshaw! there are no women herre! We are all men!”
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director
From America’s War, Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries, Edward L. Ayers, ed., pp. 107-108.
A Confederate Girl’s Diary, by Sarah Morgan Dawson