Editor’s note: Lucy Pier Stevens, a 21-year-old Ohio woman, began a visit to her aunt’s family farm near Bellville, Texas, on Christmas Day, 1859. The outbreak of war meant she was unable to return home until 1865. Author Vicki Adams Tongate explains Stevens’ diary entries for August 1863. Stevens often ended thoughts with flourishing dashes instead of periods. The tilde symbol (~ ) is used to duplicate Stevens’ style.
As a new month began, Lucy commenced a new chapter in her life. She had contracted to teach the Brewer children in a subscription school and was about to begin her duties. Lucy agreed to teach for a term of five months, at five dollars per child, “to be paid her in good money when she wants to go home.”
In addition to her teaching duties, Lucy began assisting Mr. Brewer as he calculated the tax rates for the residents of Austin County. In her usual fashion, she recorded details of the computations, unknowingly revealing for us the methods by which the taxes were assessed, even as she solidified her own understanding of the process. Lucy’s repeated references describe an ongoing enterprise by which she and Sarah made a small income and rendered a service to the community by helping the local farmers maintain tax records and other documents.
As the months had slipped by, war news had claimed a more significant place in Lucy’s journal, and now, in August, a month after Vicksburg’s fall, she began to record horrific details of the siege and the state of mind of those involved. Jimmy Clemmons had returned home, having survived the nightmare, and bitterly reported the loss, with details of deprivation and scornful accounts of treatment by the Union soldiers. James McPherson’s research clearly confirms the situation, stating that following six weeks of intense siege, during which time the Confederate forces were “reduced to quarter rations [and] subjected to artillery and mortar bombardments around the clock and sharpshooter fire during the day.” General John C. Pemberton received a petition signed by the starving troops, which demanded that if Pemberton could not feed them, he had better surrender. Six days later, on July 4, Pemberton acquiesced and formally surrendered. Despite the impossible conditions, Jimmy Clemmons and many other Southern soldier boys placed the blame for the loss squarely on the general’s shoulders, regarding Pemberton’s surrender as treason and the city of Vicksburg as a commodity for sale.
Lucy went on to write of the general sense of gloom that had fallen in the wake of Vicksburg. And for the first time, she hinted at an opinion that diverged from the almost universally accepted stance—one that, in retrospect, sounds suspiciously Unionist. Even as Lucy wore “Southernness” on the outside, the deeply personal thoughts expressed in her journal on August 27 could signal an absence of complete capitulation. She used a variation of the title of a popular tune, “God Defend-eth the Right,” as she expressed the war-weariness that the general population was experiencing. The song, published in 1861 in Macon, Georgia, by John C. Schreiner and Sons, furnished the catchphrase that resounded throughout the South, verbalizing for Southerners their belief in the justness of their cause. However, Lucy’s words reveal a deep sense of ambiguity, raising questions about her true feelings and about certain less-polarized views concerning the war. Although she was quite fervent in her support of the local boys, this statement marks one of her few references to a diverging opinion. It raises questions regarding her views of the rightness of the Southern Cause and the associated institutions that the Cause swore to protect. Although she publicly refrained from explicitly stating one position or the other, even among her most intimate friends, Lucy’s words here hint at the very private possibility of another, differing perspective, one that she would acknowledge only in carefully veiled phrasing in the pages of her diary.
August 1st saturday ~I proposed teaching Mrs B’s & E’s children and they seemed well pleased with the arrangement~I am to commence on monday next I am glad & yet I am sad
August 3rd monday~Commenced teaching this morn with my five schollars ~am in hopes to have no trouble this session~Dick came over this eve & brought my sachel.
Aug 5th wednesday~Left every body preparing peaches to dry. Walked over to school~found Rufus B~here. Had killed two deer this morn and shot a beef, so we are well supplied with fresh meat. I commenced drawing off Mr B’s book of scholastic children for him this eve~includes all between the ages of 6 & 18 years
Aug. 6th thursday~Was up soon this morn & at work at my book again~finished it this eve. Then Mr B~learned me how to calculate the percentage: it is 12 per cent for the first 200, then between 400 & 500 which leaves 100 more is 8 per cent ~ then 6 for the next, then between 500 & 1000 is 500 at 5 per cent & all other at 3
Aug 7th friday~This has been one of the cloudy & unpleasant days ~rained in the morn. After school Mr Cleveland called to try [to] get the Edwards girls in my school, but I refused to take them.
Aug 8th saturday~Jimmy looks so badly~says he had a high fever when he got home
He told us all about the hard times they had at Vicksburg. Says that the whole of the 47 days they were be-sieged, they had but 3 small biscuits issued to them a day, and a part of the time ¾ lb. of flour made of peas & corn ground together. They had to drink the river water & lay in the ditches exposed to all kinds of weather. I asked him about Nick and he told me he saw him about a half hour before he left, rowing around in an old dug out~that no person saw him leave, but saw his dug out across the river & missed him at roll-call for the first time. J~says he does not think the war will last many months & that it will terminate to the disadvantage of the south.
He says the Fedrals called out to some of the pickets a few days after they had peas & corn given them to know how they liked their new rations of corn & peas~he says he feels confident Pemberton is a traitor & that Vicksburg was sold
Come Peace at least~We are tired of war —Lucy P. Stevens, August 27, 1863
Vicki Adams Tongate, author of Another Year Finds Me in Texas (University of Texas Press, 2016), teaches at Southern Methodist University.