19 February 1865: ” if only the whole army could have been roasted alive!”

Item Description: Entry, dated 17 February 1865, from the diary of Emma Florence LeConte, the daughter of scientist Joseph LeConte of Columbia, S.C.

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Item Citation: From the Emma LeConte Diary, #420-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item Transcription:

Sunday, Feb. 19th.
– The day has passed quietly as regards the Yankees. About eleven o’clock last night as everything seemed quiet and Henry intended to sit up, I thought I would follow mother’s example and get some rest. So without taking off my clothes – only loosening them – I lay down and slept soundly all night. I woke at seven much refreshed. Sallie in a few moments opened her eyes and said, “O mother, is it already day? I am so glad – I thought the light in the window was the reflection from a fire”. I rose, took off my clothes for the first time in three days, and after bathing and putting on clean clothes felt like another being. This morning fresh trouble awaited us. We thought the negroes were going to leave us. While we were on the back piazza Mary Ann came to us weeping and saying she feared the Yankees were going to force Henry to go off with them, and of course she would have to go with her husband. He did not want to go and would not unless forced. She seemed greatly distressed at the thought of leaving the master and mistress who had supplied the place of father and mother to her, an orphan. The others, Maria and her children, want to go I think. They have been dressed in their Sundays best all day. Mary Ann when she came to get dinner said she could cook two more meals for us anyway. Mother went over to Aunt Josie’s to consult her . She advised that, if they left, mother should get Dr. Thomson to put some sick men in our house to protect it, and we must all move over there as she has two white servants. On her return however she talked to Henry, who vows he will never leave us unless dragged away, and he thinks he can avoid them. They are free however at present and we ask as little as possible of them – such as cooking our little food and bringing water from the well. The water-works being destroyed we have to get water from the Campus well. If Jane offers to clean up our room, all very well – if not, we do it ourselves. This afternoon I washed the dinner things and put the room to rights. The house is untouched except this one room we live in which I manage to keep neat and clean. This is my first experience in work of this kind and I find it is better than doing nothing. The negroes, when we ask, however seem quite willing and have given us not the slightest impertinence. While mother was at Aunt Josie’s I took Carrie up in the drawing room to amuse her. While we stood by the front window the house was shaken by a terrible explosion. As the gas works were burning at the time, I concluded it was the gasometer, but remembering we had had no gas for two or three days that seemed impossible. Henry has just explained it. Our men had buried a number of shells near the river – an attempt was made to excavate them and one going off accidentally exploded the rest, killing wounding a great many Yankees. How I rejoice to think of any of them being killed. Dr. Bell says about 200 were burnt up Friday night – drunk perhaps – if only the whole army could have been roasted alive!

The provost guard is encamped opposite the Campus. It consists of one battalion and is to remain until the last straggler leaves town. Two of the officers went to Aunt Josie’s and saying they wished quarters opposite their camp – she was obliged to accommodate them and give up her library for their use. Their horrid old gridiron of a flag is flaunting its bars in our faces all day. Ever since dark thick clouds of smoke have been rolling up from the arsenal and I fear the flames will spread over the hill. Mary Ann came to see us in great distress this afternoon to tell us that a Yankee had sworn to her that these buildings should be burned tonight. Enquiring of an officer, mother was assured there was no danger – I suppose it was only a drunken threat. Mother looked over the town this morning from Aunt Josie’s attic window. She described a scene of fearful desolation. Here all is hidden from us. When they are gone I will walk out of the Campus and see it all – yet how I dread it! Poor Columbia! Sometimes I try to picture it to myself as it now is, but I cannot. I always see the leafy streets and lovely gardens – the familiar houses. I cannot imagine the ruins and ashes to save my life. How I hate the people who have done this! A few moments ago there was a violent ring the the bell. I was the only person awake, and I roused Jane up and sent her upstairs. It was some Yankee officers who wished to know where Mayor Goodwyn lived. Sherman it seems wished to appoint a meeting with him in order to leave arms for the citizens to protect them from stragglers.

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