Thursday, May 21, 1863
Dearest Brother Willie,
We went to the cave for the first time today–Mama, Nat, and I. And I hate it! I prefer to risk injury from the hissing, screaming shells in my house than to scurry underground like a scared rabbit. Papa is at the hospital, attending the sick and wounded. We see him so seldom these days. Sometimes I wish he were not a doctor. Then he could stay home with us, where he belongs.
I hate what this war has done to our family. You and Joseph are far away, in Virginia. I miss you all terribly. Mama worries about you. She worries about Papa. She scarcely lets me out of her sight. Most of my friends have left Vicksburg for safer places. The ones remaining are living in caves or basements.I’m supposed to watch Nat. Mama fears he will run away to find you. I know he shan’t do such a thing. Every time a shell falls, he hides. The war confuses gentle Nat. He does not comprehend why men kill each other. Neither do I.
We heard the Yankees have taken Jackson. Our army fell back to the Big Black River and then retreated to Vicksburg. Their return was a sad sight. Wagons, cannon, and ambulances clattered down the streets. Ragged and weary soldiers, some with arms in slings, some leaning on crutches, others carrying the wounded, stumbled alongside them. We gave the men what food and water we could spare, which was very little. Many blamed General Pemberton for our defeat. Others said the fault was not his. Jefferson Davis must have confidence in him,or he would not have put John Pemberton in charge of defending Vicksburg, would he? I have met Gemeral Pemberotn and think he has courage.
Vicksburg has been under siege now since the eighteenth of May. Gunboats on the Mississippi bombard us from the west. Parrott shells rain down from the hills to the east. We are caught in the middle. Nowhere is safe, not even the caves, like Mama says. You’d think General Grant would know better. He has tried to conquer our city before, without success. No matter. Our soldiers will send those Yankees scuttling, their tails tucked between their legs like scared dogs.
Mama and some of the women made bandages for the wounded last night. Oh! I must tell you what happened this morning. I was asleep in my bed when a shell burst through the roof and tore a hole in the wall above me. The house rocked like a baby’s cradle, until I thought it would fall down around my ears. Nat and Mama rushed in to see if I was injured. Nat, being Nat, dug the shell out to add to his collection. He has quite a few. Why he wants them heaven only knows.
When Mama saw my damaged room, she panicked and skedaddled us to the cave. We’ve been here ever since, and it’s near evening. I had no time to get my guitar or my books. My piano surely will be ruined. These Yankees! Have they no manners? Would they wish us to destroy their homes! I think not.
Nat tugs on my arm. He has something to show me, so I’ll close. Tell Joseph I shall write him later. If I were a boy, I’d fight the Yankees with you. Does a girl love her home and family any less than her brothers do? Does she not have pride, honor? It angers me that girls are not allowed to defend what is theirs.
Mama would faint away if she heard me talking this way. I’m supposed to be a lady she reminds me every day.
“Why?” I ask her.
“Because you are,” she says. A truly puzzling answer.
My love and prayers go with you.