Life on the Virginia Home Front > Contemporary Accounts
The hardships suffered on the Virginia home front differed by region and by counties and towns within a region. The experience of living through the war profoundly affected soldiers, northern and southern, as well as civilians. Their accounts, some of which appear below, reveal their diverse thoughts and reactions to the Civil War in the commonwealth.
Read more accounts about the following communities: Alexandria | The Eastern Shore |
Norfolk and vicinity | Northern Virginia | Tidewater | The Western Counties | Winchester |
Culpeper County | Fredericksburg | The Frontier Surrounding Richmond | The Lower Valley |
The Upper Valley | Richmond | Petersburg | The Interior West & South of Richmond
Federal Military Occupation
"I walked down King Street this evening, and found it as crowded as Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, the stores and public houses all brilliantly lighted, places of amusement open, &c."
— James Ward, January 1862
"There are a large number of secession sympathizers resident here who openly and defiantly boast of being secessionists and avow their disposition to aid the rebels all in their power and to do us all the harm they can. Many of them, especially the females, are in the practice of insulting the soldiers of the United States, denouncing our flag and the authority which upholds it."
— S. W. Morton, government agent, February 12, 1862
"[A]n almost entire stop has been put to all outward expressions of disloyalty in the town."
— A unionist resident of Alexandria
"An old Alexandrian who has been absent … would be astonished at the changes which the lapse of only two years has brought about. He would see strange names on the signs, strange people on the streets, and feel as if he could hardly recognize the old town."
— Alexandria Gazette, 2 April 1863
"[Alexandria is] filled with 'contrabands.'"
— Alexandria Gazette, September 1863
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The Eastern Shore
"I am happy to inform you that the discipline of the troops now here under the rigid system of police established by me is now good."
— Union Gen. Henry Lockwood to Gen. John Dix, November 22, 1861
"I have been very much pained to observe that the Union feeling which was manifested in Accomack in November last has not been fully sustained. I attribute it to the want of courage and firmness in a few leading men."
— Gen. John Dix, April 3, 1862
"I have read your note in relation to sending colored troops into Northampton County. If I could believe for a moment any of the consequences would follow which you detail it certainly should not be done."
— Gen. Benjamin Butler to Elizabeth Upshur, January 10, 1864
Learn more about The Eastern Shore | Back to top
Norfolk and Vicinity
"The scenes at the evacuation of Portsmouth by the Confederates were peculiarly distressing…. In every man's mind was the natural dread and uncertainty as to what would become of their wives and helpless little ones, in the hands of the enemy, with no means of sustenance and no one to take care of them."
— John Porter, 1892 recounting of the 1862 episode
"The more I see the Yankees, the worse I hate them…. [Life in occupied Suffolk is] almost as bad as being in prison."
— Mattie Prentiss, May 1862
"It was resolved in Cabinet yesterday that the Norfolk trade should be placed under your personal direction…. Clearances for which you ask admission into the port will be granted … and all exports permitted by you will be allowed by the Navy to pass."
— Sec. of War Edwin Stanton to Gen. John Dix, commanding at Norfolk, October 18, 1862
"I would rather see my home laid in ashes than live as we are now living. What is wealth compared with freedom?… My hand trembles and my blood boils with rage…."
— A Norfolk resident during the war
"No person of any respectability holds any intercourse whatever with the Yankees…. They will not even look at them, and our contempt for them cuts…."
— A Norfolk resident during the war
"Some 10,000 [fugitive slaves] have come under our control…. They come here from all about, from Richmond and 200 miles off in North Carolina."
— C. B. Wilder, Superintendent of Contrabands at Fort Monroe, May 9, 1863
"[T]he laborers have raised crops abundantly sufficient to support themselves and their families."
— Francis W. Bird, December 24, 1863
"[When] General Butler was appointed to the command [Nov. 1863] …. I sighed … I remembered New Orleans…. [I]n a short time the wail of woe came up. I was satisfied he was going to abrogate civil government if he could; that … he was the seventh vial poured out to try the faith of saints."
— Francis Peirpoint, governor of Union-occupied Virginia, to
Abraham Lincoln, 1864
"There is a great deal of suffering among our people who have no income and have exhausted their money…. Many are privately selling furniture. Those who have been in affluence are reduced to the utmost…."
— Mrs. Munroe Winthrope, April 1864
Learn more about Norfolk and Vicinity | Back to top
"It was doubtless the policy of our Generals to leave that unfortunate section utterly unavailable to the enemy for occupation for any purpose. Hence all the railroads leading into it—the Baltimore and Ohio—the Winchester and Potomac, and the Manassas Gap, have been effectually destroyed."
— Confederate soldier from Stonewall Jackson's command, 1861
"Several Union men have recently been arrested by the enemy in the vicinity of Accotink…. I have to-day caused the arrest of two open and avowed seccessionists residing in the same neighborhood. I am confident that the retention of these men as prisoners for a few days will … tend to restore quiet in the vicinity of Accotink by convincing the enemy that the practice of capturing unarmed men is one which can be followed by both sides."
— Union general Henry W. Slocum, October 5, 1861
"[A] committee … met at Fairfax Court-House for the purpose of inquiring into the opinions of citizens of Fairfax County and with the view of driving out such men as were found to be favorable to the Union."
— Union general Seth Williams, assistant adjutant-general, November 1861
When Gen. Robert Patterson's army advanced near Charles Town in 1861, his column ran into a dozen slaves whose leader asked a Massachusetts soldier "if this was not the army that was come to set them free?"
"A general expression of loyalty has transpired in this county [Loudoun], and joyous manifestations of fealty to the old Government have greeted us, and hundreds of the residents have come forward and claimed our protection from the dominion and obnoxious restrictions placed upon them by the rebel soldiery…. [O]ur location here is hailed by the people as the dawning of a new era."
— Col. John W. Geary, Pennsylvania Volunteers, March 4–5, 1862
"[The landscape] is doubly desolate. Army after army has passed over it, and a cloud of locusts were hardly less destructive."
"What one side spared the other took. Those raiding parties came so quietly that people had rarely any time to get things out of their way."
"Graves, bones, and dead animals" marked the landscape: "it seemed as if the country was deserted by its inhabitants."
— William Nelson Pendleton, 1862, Kate McVicar, 1863, William Hewitt,
1864, all describing the landscape surrounding Winchester
Learn more about Northern Virginia | Back to top
"The [Union] volunteer troops seem to have adopted the theory that all property of the inhabitants was subject to plunder."
— Gen. Benjamin Butler, Fort Monroe, June 4, 1861
"[The runaway slaves] appear to be very much frightened and state that the people on shore are about arming the Negroes with the intention of placing them in the front of Battle…. [Slaves are] deserting in every direction."
— Commander of the USS Mount Vernon, July 15, 1861, after picking up
six runaways from Middlesex County
"When de Civil War come, ah foller de army back…. A great numbuh o' slaves follered de army roun. Govu'ment supported em."
— Archie Booker, a former slave interviewed in the 1930s
"All the farm-houses and barns on the road to Big Bethel were found burned down and destroyed. The whole country presents a sad picture of desolation."
— Col. Max Weber, 20th New York Infantry, Camp Hamilton,
January 5, 1862
"[The Yankees must] be made to pay the penalty of all these outrages; sooner or later the day of visitation will come, & [they will] not escape the punishment they so justly deserve—retribution full & equivalent must be demanded for all the wrongs & injustices inflicted upon us."
— William Patterson Smith, Gloucester County, August 12, 1862
"[Union troops] have visited our courthouse on several occasions and we know not at what time they may come…. Consequently there are no courts held, which is a great inconvenience to the people as the municipal business of the county is entirely neglected."
— W. H. Casey, justice of the peace, Isle of Wight County, 1862
"The country is so cleaned out that one can forage to no purpose now."
— a Union officer, Suffolk, to his wife, December 1862
"I never had such indignant feelings toward them [Union cavalry] as I had yesterday when they came in flaunting their flags and looking as if the very earth belonged to them…. The flag too that we once loved and reverenced to be so polluted and despised by the foul use to which it has been applied by the vile invaders of our lov’d, our native land."
— a farm woman, west of Suffolk, March 9, 1863
"[We] left 1400 Yankees on the opposite side of Blackwater burning houses and pillaging generally…. [T]hey seemed determined to be avenged on Rebeldom by acting the part of incendiaries and demons…. They have burned nearly all the dwellings between Blackwater and Suffolk."
— John White, a Confederate soldier from South Carolina, 1863
"The Confederates began to move toward the town and force the Yankees to draw in their pickets. [A]s they [the Yankees] were forced near town they fired every house they passed along."
— Emma L. M. Ferguson, Suffolk, April 1863
"The whole country is nearly spoiled, and thousands of acres of timberland have been burned over."
— a Union soldier, New York Mounted Rifles, Suffolk, 1863
"A family whose house was burned just outside our works, attempted to seek safety by fleeing to our lines, and while doing so, the wife was killed…. It was particularly sad to see the little boy running on before, waving a flag of truce, while his father followed, driving a team in which lay the body of his wife."
— 1863, from the history of the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment, near Suffolk
"[In response to the enemy’s] horse thieving & Negro stealing expedition[s],… we mean to let the villains see that they will not be permitted hereafter to pillage & burn without at least some sow of resistance on our parts."
— Benjamin Fleet, King and Queen County, 1863
"[I]f I were a man I would never take a [Union soldier] prisoner. I would consider it my duty to rid the world of all such monsters. God can have mercy on them if he chooses."
— a woman in King and Queen County, 1864
Learn more about Tidewater | Back to top
The Western Counties
"Individuals and marauding parties [who favor secession] are pursuing a guerrilla warfare, firing upon sentinels and pickets, burning bridges, insulting, injuring, and even killing citizens because of their Union sentiments, and committing many kindred acts."
— Union general George B. McClellan, June 23, 1861
"Depredations of an atrocious character … have been committed upon the persons and property of citizens in Virginia by the troops under [my] command. The property of inoffensive people has been lawlessly and violently taken from them; their houses broken open, and in some instances burned to the ground."
— Gen. George B. McClellan, October 1, 1861
"[The Union army has] commit[ed] depredations … by stealing property (cattle, horses, &c.) and arresting citizens pursuing their usual avocations…. They are … leaving the families of those that have had to flee from their persecutions entirely dependent and helpless."
— Confederate officer Joseph Caldwell, a Raleigh County, January 1862
"[My sister] Sarah was arrested [by Union troops] and taken over the lines without a word of a trial. She was torn from her little children and threatened if she dared return that she would be 'shot as a spy.' Comment is unnecessary."
— Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr, Jackson County, 1862
"The whole country South and East of us is abandoned to the Southern Confederacy…. We are in worse condition than we were a year ago…. The secessionists remain at home & are safe & now claim they are in the Southern Confederacy—which is practically the fact…."
— West Virginia governor-elect Arthur Boreman, September 20, 1862
"I have no aim in life, nothing to make me wish to live and I often wonder what will become of me"
"There was a man come by and [said] that the secesh was coming…. We were frightened very bad. We thought they would burn our houses…."
"There was about six hundred rebels passed here today…. They robbed the stores and houses all along the road."
"We … are in danger of raids more than ever."
— Sirene Bunten, Upshur County, February and April 1863,
September 1864, January 1865
"The counties … in the southern part of the State, have been infested with large bodies of guerrillas from the beginning of the rebellion, but the loyal people have had some little protection from U.S. soldiers stationed in those counties…. With what protection there has been it has been difficult to keep up county organization for the execution of civil law…. [I]n these counties there are from 300 to 400 guerrillas … who are robbing the people of their property, and capturing and carrying off some of the loyal citizens, and are imprisoning and otherwise maltreating them. I request … that you give orders for the occupation … by such numbers of troops as may give the loyal people protection and safety for their persons and property."
— West Virginia governor Arthur Boreman to Gen. David Hunter, June 2, 1864
Learn more about The Western Counties | Back to top
"[We are] watched all the time…. [We] say nothing."
— The Griffiths, a unionist and Quaker family, June 1861
"[We will] be in danger of starving if more than a few thousand [troops] come."
— Kate Sperry, August 1861
"Winchester is a terrible looking place now, and there were few ladies on the street…. [I]t is a smelly dirty place."
— Harriet Griffith, 1861
"We did not begin to realize the horrors of our victory [at Manassas] till … the wagons began to come in with their loads of wounded men; some came, too, with the dead."
— Cornelia McDonald, August 1861
"Our town has become a complete Hospital."
— Julia Chase, early 1862
"[I]t was the most humiliating sight…. Grey-haired and prominent citizens marched like felons through the streets…."
— Unionist John Wall, March 1862
"Hundreds of Negroes were in the streets shouting: 'Masa Abe has set us free!"
— Reverend Brooke, 1862
"There are few who can withstand the temptation to be free."
— Laura Lee, a white secessionist, March 1862
"[The Union] officers endeavor to keep up the appearance of gentlemen, and denounce (but take no pains to prevent or punish) the thefts, robberies, & destruction of property of which their soldiers are guilty to a great extent."
— Robert Conrad, 1862
"Every species of outrage and violence [are visited] upon the citizens…. [The Union troops'] former behavior was mild and gentle compared with their conduct now…. The mind is weighed down by a sense of helpless insecurity, and upon retiring at night no one can say what might or might not occur before morning."
— Peyton Clark, a secessionist, June 3, 1862
"Soldiers [are] killing hogs, lambs—stealing horses in every direction—everyone molested—women struck by soldiers."
— Reverend Brooke, summer 1862
"We are feeling the horrors of war now in good earnest, and God knows what further scenes are to be witnessed by us."
— Julia Chase, summer 1862
"In this last retreat they tried to destroy everything…. We poor Winchester people have a hard time, don’t we?"
— Mrs. Graham, a secessionist, to Anna Jackson, fall 1862
"The Prices of everything exceed belief; and the Stores are nearly empty."
— Mrs. C. R. Jones, October 1862
"[If the Federals] killed all the men of the South, the women would fight, and that when they were destroyed the dogs would bark at them."
— Mary Magill, 1862
"The unfortunate town of Winchester seems to have been made a regular shuttlecock of by the contending armies."
— British colonel Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, 1863
"[Slaves are] leaving in great numbers…. Probably in the course of a few weeks there will be but very few left."
— Julia Chase, January 1863
"Most of [the slaves] are loyal and faithful to the white people if they do love freedom, and who can blame them if they do."
— Cornelia McDonald, 1863
"It was not his cruelty so much as it was his intolerable meanness."
— Kate McVicar, describing Union general Robert Milroy, 1863
"Who will we belong to to-morrow?… So accustomed have I become to border warfare that I did not get up to see whether they were Confederates or Yankees."
— Mrs. Hugh Lee, July 25 and August 5, 1863
"[Winchester is] dead and rotten…. No business, nothing to eat. Houses deserted, population leaving going north and south."
— William H. Morris, 1863
"[There were] long stretches of loneliness when no soldiers were here and we had to think over the horrors we had passed through, and to dread those that were coming."
— Kate McVicar, spring 1864
"What a life we are leading & how uncertain war is."
— Julia Chase, September 19, 1864
Learn more about Winchester | Back to top
"Gen. Pope's orders give them permission to help themselves to anything they can find, and consequently they have been roaming through the country killing chickens, sheep, etc., extensively."
— a northern reporter, 1862
"[Pope's orders have] produced a decided revolution in the feelings and practices of the soldiery…. Men who at home would have shuddered at the suggestion of touching another’s property now appropriate whatever comes in their reach."
— a northern reporter, 1864
"Straggling soldiers have been known to rob the farm houses and even small cottages, the homes of the poor, of every one of food or forage found in them…. Families have been left without the means of preparing a meal of victuals…. The villains urge as authority, General Pope's order."
— a Union commissary lieutenant, 1862
"In every direction there appears a frightful scene of devastation. Furniture, valuable in itself and utterly useless to them, was mutilated and defaced; beds were defiled and cut to pieces; pictures and mirrors were slashed with sabers or perforated by bullets; windows were broken, doors torn from their hinges, houses and burns burned down."
— Union soldier, 1st New Jersey Regiment, 1862
"[War is being waged] in a way that cast mankind two centuries back toward barbarism."
— a British reporter, 1862
"Bureaus were pillaged or tipped over … furniture smashed or stolen; crockery broken to pieces; mirrors stolen or broken; and a splendid piano … was smashed too."
— a Massachusetts soldier at the home of William Major, 1863
"[My estate has been] utterly and wholly destroyed…. The army, by night and by day, has destroyed every particle of my stock, except a few milch cows and one poor yoke of oxen. They have robbed me of all grain of two years growth…. They have burned every panel of fence … they have broken open, searched and robbed my house."
— Jack Pendleton, 1863
"The Palatinate, during the war of Louis XIV, could scarcely have looked so desolate as this country…. The houses that have not been actually burnt usually look almost worse than those that have: so dreary are they with their windows without sash, and their open doors, and their walls half stripped of boards."
— a member of Union Gen. George G. Meade's staff, 1863
"The whole country, besides the mud, is now ornamented with stumps, dead horses and mules, deserted camps, and thousands upon thousands of crows."
— a Union officer, 1863
"This is a country now from which civilization has taken flight."
— Sgt. Peter Welsh of Massachusetts, 1863
"I find that there is great suffering among the people in this region for want of the necessaries of life. The farms and gardens have been robbed, stock and hogs killed, and these outrages committed, I am sorry to say, by our own army to some extent, as well as by the Federals."
— Gen. Robert E. Lee, in reference to Culpeper Court House
and Fredericksburg, 1864
"[There is] danger in being an avowed Union man in this country."
— Reuben Gains, 1864
Learn more about Culpeper County | Back to top
"I am afraid of the lawless Yankee soldiers, but that is nothing to my fear of the Negroes if they should rise against us."
— Betty Herndon Maury, 15 April 1862
"I was moving out the women & children all last night & today…. It was a piteous sight. But they have brave hearts. What is to become of them God only knows."
— Gen. Robert E. Lee, November 22, 1862
"[Parlors were] strewn with … dirt and filth and even ladies' clothing thrown in confusion or torn to pieces."
— a Union soldier from Indiana, December 1862
"Our soldiery completely sacked … near every house."
— a Union soldier from Pennsylvania, December 1862
"Men who at home were modest and unassuming now seemed to be possessed with an insatiate desire to destroy everything in sight."
— a Union artillery officer, December 1862
"No victory of the war has ever done me so much good. I hate them worse than ever in the first place, and then their destruction of poor old Fredericksburg! It seems to me that I don’t do anything from morning to night but hate them worse & worse."
— a Confederate soldier, December 1862
"I do believe after seeing all I have I could murder the devils in cold blood."
— a Confederate soldier from Georgia, December 1862
"The country for miles around is filled with refugees…. Every house is crowded and hundreds are living in churches, in barns and in tents…. [It is depressing] to see delicate women, beautiful girls and tender young children thus banished from their comfortable homes, living as it were in the woods, at this trying season of the year."
— Greenlee Davidson, Confederate artillerist, December 1862
"[W]e left the house after the shelling…. The house had been damaged considerably, several large holes torn through it…. [A]n order from General Lee … that the women and children must leave town…. We plodded along under the heavy cross-fire, balls falling right and left of us…. The ground was rough and broken up by the tramping of soldiers and the heavy wagons … so that it was difficult and tiresome to walk,… and the snow was melting rapidly, the mud was simply indescribable…. Sometimes we would meet a soldier who would carry one of us a short distance. All of our servants, except Ca’line, who was only seven years old, had taken some other direction. When we got about two miles from town we overtook many other refugees; some were camping by the way and others were pressing on…. Our destination was a house … which we now call the 'Refugee House'…. I suppose there were several hundred refugees there…. We remained at the 'Refugee House' for three weeks, my mother in the meantime making efforts to get into town…. When she did get there she found the vandalism was great, the beds ripped up, every mirror was run through with a bayonet, one panel of each door cut out, although none of the doors were locked, and the furniture nearly all broken up…. [E]verything of value was taken and all of the china broken into small bits…. We were very thankful to find no dead bodies there…. [A]bout dark we heard a low tap on the window, and my mother … found it was Beverley Brooke, a colored man, who had just heard she was in town and came with a loaf of bread and a pitcher of milk, and every night during the rest of that dreadful winter did he tap on the window and hand in a pitcher of milk and a loaf of bread. He had staid in town during the shelling and had managed to keep his cow and all his belongings. We three children with Ca’line would sit around the stove every night and toast our bread on the old bayonet brother had found on the battlefield…. [E]ach week did we stay in bed all day while [mother] washed and ironed our clothes with her own hands, as she had no money to buy with, nor were there any stores in Fredericksburg…. In the spring, my mother, through the kindness of a friend, was enabled to go to Danville, Virginia, where we remained until after the war was over."
— Frances Bernard Goolrick, postwar remembrance of 1862
Learn more about Fredericksburg | Back to top
The Frontier Surrounding Richmond
"[A] Yankee officer rode up to the door and told us that we would have to get out as soon as possible, that the Union army was falling back and that they were going to make a stand there and had already planted siege guns around the house. He told us to go to the White House…. Mother and I were running through the woods and the camps…. [We] got into an open field between the two armies—the retreating Yankees and the advancing Confederates—and the shells were bursting and blowing up the ground and going over our heads. We were facing the cannon…. We next came to the mill-dam, and up on the hill above it we saw fourteen Yankees coming down towards the dam. There was an officer with them, and he … offered to help me over the mill-dam. I expected to be thrown in but I let him help me…. [T]here was a Yankee camp on the top of the hill…. [W]e started on. Just as we got out of the camp it was blown up."
— Fannie Gaines Tinsley, Gaines Mill, Hanover County, 27 June 1862
"Some twenty or thirty [Yankees came] sneaking into the yard like a pack of wolves into our smoke house, kitchen, [and] dairy…. Party after party they came … the most horrible set of creatures I ever saw to be called men, to disgrace mankind…. There was a terrible wretch with the face of a fiend incarnate … but one good fellow assisted me in persuading him … that he ought not to take the last we had…. The man who behaved so well … said he had see[n] that bad man take the last quart of flour from a widow who begged him with tears to leave something for her children to eat. How long I shall remember that one kindness…."
— an unidentified woman, Hanover County, spring 1864
Learn more about The Frontier Surrounding Richmond | Back to top
The Lower Valley
"If this valley is lost, Virginia is lost."
— Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, 1861
"It seemed as if the country was deserted by its inhabitants."
— William Hewitt, April 1864
"If anyone fires upon a Union train or soldier, the house and other property of every secession sympathizer residing within a circuit of five miles from the place of outrage, shall be destroyed by fire."
— Union general David Hunter, summer 1864
"Nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. Take all provisions, forage, and stock wanted for the use of your command. Such as cannot be consumed, destroy…. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste…. Carry off stock of all descriptions, and Negroes, so as to prevent further planting."
— Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, fall 1864
"I know of no way to exterminate them except to burn out the whole country and let the people go North or South."
— Union general Philip H. Sheridan, fall 1864
"I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay, and farming implements; over 70 mills filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4,000 head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep…. When this is completed the Valley, from Winchester up to Staunton, 92 miles, will have but little in it for man or beast."
— Union general Philip H. Sheridan, fall 1864
"[There is a] terrible waste of property by our troops…. If this were done by some systematized plan it would not seem so bad, but to see each soldier vying with his comrade as to the amount of property he can carry off or destroy, it is terrible."
— Capt. T. J. Hyatt of the 126th Ohio Infantry Regiment, 1864
"Dead horses lay in lines as they were killed and little mounds of fresh earth marked the resting places of dead soldiers…. [Worst were the] dead animals … in all stages of decomposition and millions of buzzards gathered to the Lower Valley…. We could always tell when the Yankees were coming by the birds raising high up and sailing around."
— Confederate private I. Norval Baker, 1864
"The atmosphere, from horizon to horizon, has been black with the smoke of a hundred conflagrations…. The completeness of the devastation is awful. Hundreds of nearly starving people are going north. Our trains are crowded with them. They line the wayside. Hundreds more are coming."
— a northern reporter, 1864
"[They have been] left so stripped of food that I cannot imagine how they escaped starvation."
— a Union captain, 1864
"A rooster is afraid to crow for fear some yank will find where he roosts."
— William Martin, 1864
"[The deserters} are worse than the Yankees."
— Mrs. Hugh Holmes Lee, 1864
"The whole country beyond the Rebel Army is a perfect battlefield, engagements between deserters & guerrillas are frequent…. No one is safe in passing up and down the Valley…. [Guerrillas are] committing great depredations through the country, going about from house to house, stealing horses, threatening persons lives."
— Julia Chase, Winchester, January 1864
"[T]he facilities which are given to negroes to escape from their masters … makes the enslavement of the Negro a voluntary matter altogether…. A Negro can leave home at six o’clock in the evening, and before the same time the next morning he can be with the enemy."
— magistrate of Rockingham County, September 1863
Learn more about The Lower Valley | Back to top
The Upper Valley
"[Confederate impressment agents have] taken nearly all the food from the families…. Nothing [has] been left for the stock and seed."
— Sheriff S. H. Lewis, Washington County, c. 1861
"[1,300 Union troops] set fire to the Houses right over the heads of the women and children not giving them time to procure anything."
— Mary Goodwin, Wytheville, July 1863
"[I will] render that country untenable to the enemy."
— Union general George Crook, vicinity of Dublin, May 1864
"The roads were crammed and blocked with cattle, sheep, Negroes, wagons, buggies, and great numbers of citizens with their families."
— Union report, Saltville, September 1864
"There will be much suffering among them this winter, unless shelters are built and rations issued to them."
— Gen. Stephen Burbridge, 1865, appealing to Washington for aid for
dependents of black Union soldiers
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"Loyalty now was called treason…. We had threats of being driven away, threats of fire, and threats of death."
— unionist and later Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew, 1861
"[A]ll of [them] are hungry as leeches."
— George W. Bagby, describing office-seekers in Richmond, 1861
"I feel inclined to close my ears and scream."
— Mary Chestnut, commenting on the many funeral processions, 1861
"[E]very house was a house of mourning or a private hospital…. Death had a carnival in our city."
— Sallie Putnam, a nurse, June 1862
"I don't see why rats, if fat, are not as good as squirrels."
— attributed to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, 1863
"People are almost in a state of depression…. The President has alas! lost almost every vestige of the public confidence."
— Confederate ordnance chief Josiah Gorgas, early 1865
Learn more about Richmond | Back to top
"All is excitement and confusion here…. The town is crowded with soldiers…. Hundreds of refugees from other quarters have taken up their residence among us."
— Thomas Bragg, 1861
"We are willing to aid Virginia's cause to the utmost extent of our ability…. We do not feel it is right for us to remain idle here, when white gentlemen are engaged in the performance of work at Norfolk, that … is more suitable to our hands. There is not an unwilling heart among us … and we promise unhesitating obedience to all orders that may be given us…. I could feel no greater pride, no more genuine gratification than to be able to plant [the Confederate flag] upon the ramparts of Ft. Monroe."
— Charles Tinsley, bricklayer and spokesman for free black volunteers, April 1861
"[T]he continuation of the Yankee blockade threatens more danger to our cause, by the consequent scarcity & high prices of necessaries of life, than do the Yankee arms & armies & fleets…. [O]ur country & cause are now, for the first time during the war, in great peril of defeat—& not from the enemy's arms, but from the scarcity & high prices of provisions."
— Edmund Ruffin, spring 1862
"We are still in the midst of the hurly burly produced by the descent of the Yankees upon City Point and Bermuda Hundred…. For the last six days we have had the war at our own doors, and our people know what it is to be troubled by the proximity of a vandal enemy."
— The Petersburg Daily Express, spring 1864
"My precious mother stood like one dazed, but in a few seconds she was kneeling by my [dead] father in such grief as I had never seen before."
— Anne Banister, following the "Battle of Old Men and Young Boys,"
June 10, 1864
"[This is] the saddest day that ever dawned on Petersburg."
— Bessie Meade Callender, June 10, 1864
"[E]very particle of animal or vegetable food [has been] consumed"
— Sara Rice Pryor, 1864, on the disappearance of pigeons, rats, and mice.
"I am without any resource left, either of property or escape. I have no conveyance for flight, no place of refuge, & even if having both, I would have no means for support."
— Edmund Ruffin, spring 1865
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The Interior West & South of Richmond
"[R]aiders would search houses and take and destroy valuables and were boisterous and rude. My mother would have to meet them. My father took off the horses, negroes and sheep to save them…. Our year's supply of meat and lard my mother would divide among the negroes. She knew the Yankees never searched their homes…. It was always returned just as she handed it to them. They were faithful and so respectful we felt we could and did trust them."
— Anna Clayton Logan, Goochland County, postwar recollections
"Allow Me to make an appeal in behalf of the people of Brunswick [County] for their Negroes Now at Work on fortifications Near Richmond. If you Could know the situation of our crops I am Confident you would send them to us. [I]f not worked in a very short time I fear a large portion [of the crop will be] ruined…. The enemy has so much of our best grain growing region, that we should use every effort to prevent famine."
— J. B. Lundy to Confederate authorities, June 1862
"I have recd two orders for free Negroes, one from Genl Lee for 52 negroes to work on fortifications and the other for ten, from the Nitre and Mining Bureau…. After scouring the County only twenty five or six could be found within the ages required…. Some of them are employed by the Hospitals and Commissary of this place…. There are more than one hundred free negroes belonging to this County subject to these calls, but after the requisition made for free negroes in 61 & 62—they scattered in every direction some leaving the County & others seeking employment that they supposed would exempt them from the work contemplated by these orders, some few have been in the habit of going off and returning as soon as they thought they could do so safely."
— C. A. Morton, justice of the peace, Prince Edward County, April 1863
"I am satisfied you do not fully understand the class of free-negroes we have employed here when you say 'seventy to seventy-five dollars pr month would be enough at Clarksville.' We have been paying near those rates for labourers but the negroes to whom I refer are almost altogether carpenters, blacksmiths or blacksmiths helpers, and selected as the best of that class of mechanics to be found in the neighbourhood, some of them in fact superior workmen to many white men…. [T]hey will soon desert us to find employment with some Quartermaster who is at present paying labourers $40 pr month and rations…. I have experienced a great deal of trouble in my endeavours to procure a competent sett of blacksmiths and their helpers, and to lose them now, would in my opinion be a serious loss to this establishment."
— Capt. John Kane, superintendent of a Confederate ordnance
harness shop, Clarksville, October 1864
"Lots of us deserters from the Confederate army have come here to escape. People from these parts never wanted secession in the first place. I ain't a-goin' to fire another gun. It's none of my business what you all are a fightin' about. It's a rich man's war, and they are tryin' to make it a po' man's fight. I've had ernuff. You can send me back, or shoot me, or do what you like, but I tell you now, I'll desert again, the very fust chance I git. My home and my fambly is mo' to me than anything, and if I git killed no slaveholder ain't a guine to take keer o' them."
— a deserter resident in one of the southwest counties (Henry, Patrick,
Floyd, Carroll, or Grayson)
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