The Weeping Time – Fanny Kemble’s Experiences on a Georgia Plantation in the 1830s

Fanny Kemble

I’m as Southern as they come.  I can trace several branches of my family to South Carolina prior to the Revolutionary War and, of course, all sides fought for the South in the Civil War.  Yet, I write romances set in England in the nineteenth century.  A friend of mine often asks why I don’t write Southern historical romances; after all, it is my heritage.  So, every once in a while, I try to think of a Southern historical romance but always decide that I just can’t do it. It would be too depressing for me to write. I would not want to make up some revisionist, fantasy version of that dark time.

So, I borrow another country’s history.  But sometimes my heritage and the historical world of my fiction merge. Such is the case with Fanny Kemble.  She was a niece of the noted British thespians John Kemble and Sarah Siddons.  In 1834, Fanny Kemble married Pierce Butler, a wealthy American who would later inherit several plantations on the Georgia islands. She would journey with her husband to Georgia in the winter of 1838-39 and keep a journal of her experiences.   Her book Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation was not published until 1863, fourteen years after her divorce which divided her family between the North and South.  Fanny and her eldest daughter would become abolitionists and her ex-husband and younger daughter supporters of the Southern cause.

Pierce Bulter

Ultimately, Pierce Butler would lose a great deal of his money to gambling and speculation. In order to regain his wealth, he had to sell off his assets: 436 slaves. The auction took place in 1859 and would become known as the “Weeping Time.”  It was the largest sale of human beings in US history. Here is a newspaper article describing the event.

You can find out more about Fanny Kemble and Pierce Butler at PBS’ Africans in America site.

The following are passages are from Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation describing the conditions of the slaves on Butler’s plantations.

Today, however, my visit to the Infirmary was marked by an event which has not occurred before—the death of one of the poor slaves while I was there. I found, on entering the first ward—to use a most inapplicable term for the dark, filthy, forlorn room I have so christened—an old negro called Friday lying on the ground. I asked what ailed him, and was told he was dying. I approached him, and perceived, from the glazed eyes and the feeble rattling breath, that he was at the point of expiring. His tattered shirt and trousers barely covered his poor body; his appearance was that of utter exhaustion from age and feebleness; he had nothing under him but a mere handful of straw that did not cover the earth he was stretched on; and under his head, by way of pillow for his dying agony, two or three rough sticks just raising his skull a few inches from the ground. The flies were all gathering around his mouth, and not a creature was near him.

I have had several women at the house today asking for advice and help for their sick children: they all came from No. 2, as they call it, that is, the settlement or cluster of huts nearest to the main one, where we may be said to reside. In the afternoon I went thither, and found a great many of the little children ailing: there had been an unusual mortality among them at this particular settlement this winter. In one miserable hut I heard that the baby was just dead; it was one of thirteen, many of whom had been, like itself, mercifully removed from the life of degradation and misery to which their birth appointed them; and whether it was the frequent repetition of similar losses, or an instinctive consciousness that death was indeed better than life for such children as theirs, I know not, but the father and mother, and old Rose, the nurse, who was their little baby’s grandmother, all seemed apathetic, and apparently indifferent to the event. The mother merely repeated over and over again, “I’ve lost a many; they all goes so;” and the father, without word or comment, went out to his enforced labor.

Slave quarters near Savannah

In the evening poor Edie came up to the house to see me, with an old negress called Sackey, who has been one of the chief nurses on the island for many years. I suppose she has made some application to Mr. G – for a respite for Edie, on finding how terribly unfit she is for work; or perhaps Mr. , to whom I represented her case, may have ordered her reprieve; but she came with much gratitude to me (who have, as far as I know, had nothing to do with it), to tell me that she is not to be sent into the field for another week. Old Sackey fully confirmed Edie’s account of the terrible hardships the women underwent in being thus driven to labor before they had recovered from childbearing. She said that old Major allowed the women at the rice-island five weeks, and those here four weeks, to recover from a confinement, and then never permitted them for some time after they resumed their work to labor in the fields before sunrise or after sunset; but Mr. K had altered that arrangement, allowing the women at the rice-island only four weeks, and those here only three weeks, for their recovery; “and then, missis,” continued the old woman, “out into the field again, through dew and dry, as if nothing had happened; that is why, missis, so many of the women have falling of the womb and weakness in the back; and if he had continued on the estate, he would have utterly destroyed all the breeding women.” Sometimes, after sending them back into the field at the expiration of their three weeks, they would work for a day or two, she said, and then fall down in the field with exhaustion, and be brought to the hospital almost at the point of death.

At the upper end of the row of houses, and nearest to our overseer’s residence, is the hut of the head driver. Let me explain, by the way, his office. The negroes, as I before told you, are divided into troops or gangs, as they are called; at the head of each gang is a driver, who stands over them, whip in hand, while they perform their daily task, who renders an account of each individual slave and his work every evening to the overseer, and receives from him directions for their next day’s tasks. Each driver is allowed to inflict a dozen lashes upon any refractory slave in the field, and at the time of the offense; they may not, however, extend the chastisement, and if it is found ineffectual, their remedy lies in reporting the unmanageable individual either to the head driver or the overseer, the former of whom has power to inflict three dozen lashes at his own discretion, and the latter as many as he himself sees fit, within the number of fifty; which limit, however, I must tell you, is an arbitrary one on this plantation, appointed by the founder of the estate, Major , Mr.’s grandfather, many of whose regulations, indeed I believe most of them, are still observed in the government of the plantation. Limits of this sort, however, to the power of either driver, head driver, or overseer, may or may not exist elsewhere; they are, to a certain degree, a check upon the power of these individuals; but in the absence of the master, the overseer may confine himself within the limit or not, as he chooses; and as for the master himself, where is his limit? He may, if he likes, flog a slave to death, for the laws which pretend that he may not are a mere pretense, inasmuch as the testimony of a black is never taken against a white; and upon this plantation of ours, and a thousand more, the overseer is the only white man, so whence should come the testimony to any crime of his? With regard to the oft-repeated statement that it is not the owner’s interest to destroy his human property, it answers nothing; the instances in which men, to gratify the immediate impulse of passion, sacrifice not only their eternal, but their evident, palpable, positive worldly interest, are infinite. Nothing is commoner than for a man under the transient influence of anger to disregard his worldly advantage; and the black slave, whose preservation is indeed supposed to be his owner’s interest, may be, will be, and is occasionally sacrificed to the blind impulse of passion.

To return to our head driver, or, as he is familiarly called, head man, Frank—he is second in authority only to the overseer, and exercises rule alike over the drivers and the gangs in the absence of the sovereign white man from the estate, which happens whenever Mr. O visits the other two plantations at Woodville and St. Simon’s. He is sole master and governor of the island, appoints the work, pronounces punishments, gives permission to the men to leave the island (without it they never may do so), and exercises all functions of undisputed mastery over his fellow-slaves, for you will observe that all this while he is just as much a slave as any of the rest. Trustworthy, upright, intelligent, he may be flogged tomorrow if Mr. O or Mr. so please it, and sold the next day, like a cart-horse, at the will of the latter. Besides his various other responsibilities, he has the key of all the stores, and gives out the people’s rations weekly; nor is it only the people’s provisions that are put under his charge—meat, which is only given out to them occasionally, and provisions for the use of the family, are also entrusted to his care.

On all the plantations I visited, and on those where I resided, the infants in arms were committed to the care of these juvenile slaves, who were denominated nurses, and whose sole employment was what they call to “mind baby.” [The babies were] carried by them to the fields where their mothers were working under the lash, to receive their needful nourishment, and then carried back again to the ” settlement,” or collection of negro huts, where they wallowed unheeded in utter filth and neglect until the time again returned for their being carried to their mother’s breast. Such was the employment of the children of eight or nine years old, and the only supervision exercised over either babies or “baby-minders” was that of the old woman left in charge of the Infirmary, where she made her abode all day long, and bestowed such samples of her care and skill upon its inmates as I shall have occasion to mention presently. The practice of thus driving the mothers afield, even while their infants were still dependent upon them for their daily nourishment, is one of which the evil as well as the cruelty is abundantly apparent without comment.

Slave hospital on St. Simons Island

I have been interrupted by several visits, my dear E , among other, one from a poor creature called Judy, whose sad story and condition affected me most painfully. She had been married, she said, some years ago to one of the men called Temba, who, however, now has another wife, having left her because she went mad. While out of her mind she escaped into the jungle, and contrived to secrete herself there for some time, but was finally tracked and caught, and brought back and punished by being made to sit, day after day, for hours in the stocks—a severe punishment for a man, but for a woman perfectly barbarous. She complained of chronic rheumatism, and other terrible ailments, and said she suffered such intolerable pain while laboring in the fields, that she had come to entreat me to have her work lightened. She could hardly crawl, and cried bitterly all the time she spoke to me.

She told me a miserable story of her former experience on the plantation under Mr. K ‘s overseership. It seems that Jem Valiant (an extremely difficult subject, a mulatto lad, whose valor is sufficiently accounted for now by the influence of the mutinous white blood) was her first-born, the son of Mr. K , who forced her, flogged her severely for having resisted him, and then sent her off, as a farther punishment, to Five Pound—a horrible swamp in a remote corner of the estate, to which the slaves are sometimes banished for such offenses as are not sufficiently atoned for by the lash. The dismal loneliness of the place to these poor people, who are as dependent as children upon companionship and sympathy, makes this solitary exile a much-dreaded infliction; and this poor creature said that, bad as the flogging was, she would sooner have taken that again than the dreadful lonely days and nights she spent on the penal swamp of Five Pound.

After my return home I had my usual evening reception, and, among other pleasant incidents of plantation life, heard the following agreeable anecdote from a woman named Sophy, who came to beg for some rice. In asking her about her husband and children, she said she had never had any husband; that she had had two children by a white man of the name of Walker, who was employed at the mill on the rice-island; she was in the hospital after the birth of the second child she bore this man, and at the same time two women, Judy and Sylla, of whose children Mr. K was the father, were recovering from their confinements. It was not a month since any of them had been delivered, when Mrs. K  came to the hospital, had them all three severely flogged, a process which she personally superintended, and then sent them to Five Pound—the swamp Botany Bay of the plantation, of which I have told you—with farther orders to the drivers to flog them every day for a week. Now, E , if I make you sick with these disgusting stories, I can not help it; they are the life itself here; hitherto I have thought these details intolerable enough, but this apparition of a female fiend in the middle of this hell I confess adds an element of cruelty which seems to me to surpass all the rest. Jealousy is not an uncommon quality in the feminine temperament; and just conceive the fate of these unfortunate women between the passions of their masters and mistresses, each alike armed with power to oppress and torture them. Sophy went on to say that Isaac was her son by Driver Morris, who had forced her while she was in her miserable exile at Five Pound. Almost beyond my patience with this string of detestable details, I exclaimed—foolishly enough, heaven knows—” Ah! but don’t you know—did nobody ever tell or teach any of you that it is a sin to live with men who are not your husbands?” Alas! E , what could the poor creature answer but what she did, seizing me at the same time vehemently by the wrist:” Oh yes, missis, we know—we know all about dat well enough; but we do any thing to get our poor flesh some rest from de whip; when he made me follow him into de bush, what use me tell him no? he have strength to make me.” I have written down the woman’s words; I wish I could write down the voice and look of abject misery with which they were spoken. Now you will observe that the story was not told to me as a complaint; it was a thing long past and over, of which she only spoke in the natural course of accounting for her children to me.

Interior of slave quarters

A young woman named Psyche, but commonly called Sack, not a very graceful abbreviation of the divine heathen appellation: she can not be much over twenty, has a very pretty figure, a graceful, gentle deportment, and a face which, but for its color (she is a dingy mulatto), would be pretty, and is extremely pleasing, from the perfect sweetness of its expression; she is always serious, not to say sad and silent, and has always an air of melancholy and timidity, that has frequently struck me very much.

Therefore, as I tell you, I asked Psyche no questions; but, to my great astonishment, the other day M asked me if I knew to whom Psyche belonged, as the poor woman had inquired of her with much hesitation and anguish if she could tell her who owned her and her children. She has two nice little children under six years old, whom she keeps as clean and tidy, and who are sad and as silent as herself. My astonishment at this question was, as you will readily believe, not small, and I forthwith sought out Psyche for an explanation. She was thrown into extreme perturbation at finding that her question had been referred to me, and it was some time before I could sufficiently reassure her to be able to comprehend, in the midst of her reiterated entreaties for pardon, and hopes that she had not offended me, that she did not know herself who owned her. She was, at one time, the property of Mr. K, the former overseer, of whom I have already spoken to you, and who has just been paying Mr. a visit. He, like several of his predecessors in the management, has contrived to make a fortune upon it (though it yearly decreases in value to the owners, but this is the inevitable course of things in the Southern states), and has purchased a plantation of his own in Alabama, I believe, or one of the Southwestern states. Whether she still belonged to Mr. K or not she did not know, and entreated me, if she did, to endeavor to persuade Mr. to buy her. Now you must know that this poor woman is the wife of one of Mr. B ‘s slaves, a fine, intelligent, active, excellent young man, whose whole family are among some of the very best specimens of character and capacity on the estate. I was so astonished at the (to me) extraordinary state of things revealed by poor Sack’s petition, that I could only tell her that I had supposed all the negroes on the plantation were Mr. K ‘s property, but that I would certainly inquire, and find out for her, if I could, to whom she belonged, and if I could, endeavor to get Mr. to purchase her, if she really was not his.

Now, E , just conceive for one moment the state of mind of this woman, believing herself to belong to a man who in a few days was going down to one of those abhorred and dreaded Southwestern states, and who would then compel her, with her poor little children, to leave her husband and the only home she had ever known, and all the ties of affection, relationship, and association of her former life, to follow him thither, in all human probability never again to behold any living creature that she had seen before; and this was so completely a matter of course that it was not even thought necessary to apprise her positively of the fact, and the only thing that interposed between her and this most miserable fate was the faint hope that Mr. might have purchased her and her children. But if he had, if this great deliverance had been vouchsafed to her, the knowledge of it was not thought necessary; and with this deadly dread at her heart she was living day after day, waiting upon me and seeing me, with my husband beside me, and my children in my arms in blessed security, safe from all separation but the one reserved in God’s great providence for all His creatures.

I did not see Mr. until the evening; but, in the meantime, meeting Mr. O , the overseer, with whom, as I believe I have already told you, we are living here, I asked him about Psyche, and who was her proprietor, when, to my infinite surprise, he told me that he had bought her and her children from Mr. K, who had offered them to him, saying that they would be rather troublesome to him than otherwise down where he was going; “and so,” said Mr. O , “as I had no objection to investing a little money that way, I bought them.” With a heart much lightened, I flew to tell poor Psyche the news, so that, at any rate, she might be relieved from the dread of any immediate separation from her husband. You can imagine better than I can tell you what her sensations were; but she still renewed her prayer that I would, if possible, induce Mr. to purchase her, and I promised to do so.

Early the next morning, while I was still dressing, I was suddenly startled by hearing voices in loud tones in Mr. ‘s dressing-room, which adjoins my bedroom, and the noise increasing until there was an absolute cry of despair uttered by some man. I could restrain myself no longer, but opened the door of communication and saw Joe, the young man, poor Psyche’s husband, raving almost in a state of frenzy, and in a voice broken with sobs and almost inarticulate with passion, reiterating his determination never to leave this plantation, never to go to Alabama, never to leave his old father and mother, his poor wife and children, and dashing his hat, which he was wringing like a cloth in his hands, upon the ground, he declared he would kill himself if he was compelled to follow Mr. K. I glanced from the poor wretch to Mr., who was standing, leaning against a table with his arms folded, occasionally uttering a few words of counsel to his slave to be quiet and not fret, and not make a fuss about what there was no help for. I retreated immediately from the horrid scene, breathless with surprise and dismay, and stood for some time in my own room, with my heart and temples throbbing to such a degree that I could hardly support myself. As soon as I recovered myself I again sought Mr. O , and inquired of him if he knew the cause of poor Joe’s distress. He then told me that Mr. , who is highly pleased with Mr. K ‘s past administration of his property, wished, on his departure for his newly-acquired slave plantation, to give him some token of his satisfaction, and had made him a present of the man Joe, who had just received the intelligence that he was to go down to Alabama with his new owner the next day, leaving father, mother, wife, and children behind. You will not wonder that the man required a little judicious soothing under such circumstances, and you will also, I hope, admire the humanity of the sale of his wife and children by the owner who was going to take him to Alabama, because they would be encumbrances rather than otherwise down there. If Mr. K did not do this after he knew that the man was his, then Mr. gave him to be carried down to the South after his wife and children were sold to remain in Georgia.

Slave from the Butler Plantation. Click picture to read her history at

Judge from the details I now send you; and never forget, while reading them, that the people on this plantation are well off, and consider themselves well off, in comparison with the slaves on some of the neighboring estates.

Fanny has had six children; all dead but one. She came to beg to have her work in the field lightened.

Nanny has had three children; two of them are dead. She came to implore that the rule of sending them into the field three weeks after their confinement might be altered.

Leah, Caesar’s wife, has had six children; three are dead.

Sophy, Lewis’s wife, came to beg for some old linen. She is suffering fearfully; has had ten children; five of them are dead. The principal favor she asked was a piece of meat, which I gave her.

Sally, Scipio’s wife, has had two miscarriages and three children born, one of whom is dead. She came complaining of incessant pain and weakness in her back. This woman was a mulatto daughter of a slave called Sophy, by a white man of the name of Walker, who visited the plantation.

Charlotte, Renty’s wife, had had two miscarriages, and was with child again. She was almost crippled with rheumatism, and showed me a pair of poor swollen knees that made my heart ache. I have promised her a pair of flannel trowsers, which I must forthwith set about making.

Sarah, Stephen’s wife—this woman’s case and history were alike deplorable. She had had four miscarriages, had brought seven children into the world, five of whom were dead, and was again with child. She complained of dreadful pains in the back, and an internal tumor which swells with the exertion of working in the fields; probably, I think, she is ruptured. She told me she had once been mad and had ran into the woods, where she contrived to elude discovery for some time, but was at last tracked and brought back, when she was tied up by the arms, and heavy logs fastened to her feet, and was severely flogged. After this she contrived to escape again, and lived for some time skulking in the woods, and she supposes mad, for when she was taken again she was entirely naked. She subsequently recovered from this derangement, and seems now just like all the other poor creatures who come to me for help and pity. I suppose her constant childbearing and hard labor in the fields at the same time may have produced the temporary insanity.

Sukey, Bush’s wife, only came to pay her respects. She had had four miscarriages; had brought eleven children into the world, five of whom are dead.

Molly, Quambo’s wife, also only came to see me. Hers was the best account I have yet received; she had had nine children, and six of them were still alive.

This morning I paid my second visit to the Infirmary, and found there had been some faint attempt at sweeping and cleaning, in compliance with my entreaties. The poor woman Harriet, however, whose statement with regard to the impossibility of their attending properly to their children had been so vehemently denied by the overseer, was crying bitterly. I asked her what ailed her, when, more by signs and dumb show than words, she and old Rose informed me that Mr. O had flogged her that morning for having told me that the women had not time to keep their children clean. It is part of the regular duty of every overseer to visit the Infirmary at least once a day, which he generally does in the morning, and Mr. O ‘s visit had preceded mine but a short time only, or I might have been edified by seeing a man horsewhip a woman. I again and again made her repeat her story, and she again and again affirmed that she had been flogged for what she told me, none of the whole company in the room denying it or contradicting her.

I told Mr. , with much indignation, of poor Harriet’s flogging, and represented that if the people were to be chastised for anything they said to me, I must leave the place, as I could not but hear their complaints, and endeavor, by all my miserable limited means, to better their condition while I was here. He said he would ask Mr. O about it, assuring me, at the same time, that it was impossible to believe a single word any of these people said. At dinner, accordingly, the inquiry was made as to the cause of her punishment, and Mr. O then said it was not at all for what she had told me that he had flogged her, but for having answered him impertinently; that he had ordered her into the field, whereupon she had said she was ill and could not work; that he retorted he knew better, and bade her get up and go to work; she replied, ” Very well, I’ll go, but I shall just come back again!” meaning that when in the field she would be unable to work, and obliged to return to the hospital. “For this reply,” Mr. O said,” I gave her a good lashing; it was her business to have gone into the field without answering me, and then we should have soon seen whether she could work or not; I gave it to Chloe too for some such impudence.” I give you the words of the conversation, which was prolonged to a great length, the overseer complaining of the sham sicknesses of the slaves, and detailing the most disgusting struggle which is going on the whole time, on the one hand to inflict, and on the other to evade oppression and injustice. With this sauce I ate my dinner, and truly it tasted bitter.

Diary of a Union Soldier in Georgia — The Fall of Atlanta, Part II

These entries detail the remaining time that the one hundred and twenty-ninth regiment spent in war-shattered Atlanta. It is excerpted from History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, by William Grunert.

Potter House

Sept. 3, 1864 Our brigade yet remained behind the old entrenchments on the Chattahoochee, guarding both bridges leading over the river here, and a large quantity of supplies that had arrived and been deposited here. Atlanta had been taken but a few days ago, and here was the nearest and most suitable place for a depository of supplies, &c. The enemy, having recovered from his whipping at Jonesboro, gathered his scattered forces and had retreated towards Macon, there to await, what our next move would be. The enemy’s cavalry was principally in our rear, tearing up railways, burning bridges and trains, laden with supplies for our army, and tried their best generally to cut off our communication with the North, hoping thereby to compel us to evacuate Atlanta. The report came in today that the rebel cavalry were between here and Marietta, and the report must have been true, as no trains arrived as usual. We were on our guard, in order not to be surprised, but the enemy moved Northward.

Continue reading “Diary of a Union Soldier in Georgia — The Fall of Atlanta, Part II”

Diary of a Union Soldier in Georgia – The Fall of Atlanta, Part I

For several weeks, this blog has been knee-deep in British history. So, I wanted to do something different and a little closer to home. I ran searches on Civil War diaries and came across the diary of Union soldier William Grunert, detailing his regiment’s battles in Georgia and other states. For the sake of chronological order, I will begin with several posts excerpting Grunert’s book, starting with the fall of Atlanta.

From History of the One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, by William Grunert.

July 9, 1864 From a high mountain the houses of Atlanta were to be seen, but also the intermediate forts and camps of the enemy; and it seemed not, as though the enemy would allow our early entrance into that city. We received orders to pack up and support the line of skirmishers—we remained in camp, however. Heavy cannon firing on our right and left, and insufferable heat. A shell exploding in one of our ammunition wagons, wounded the driver and killed five mules.

July 10. At 2 o’clock a. m. we received orders to be ready by sunrise; at the appointed time we marched a couple of hundred steps, when we halted, remained quiet some time, and again returned to our old camps. A rebel major with 1,400 men was captured near the river, while the balance of the enemy’s forces were crossing from the north to the south side of the river. In the night we drew rations.

July 16. Our pickets were now on the north side and the enemy’s pickets on the south side of the Chattahoochee river. Not a single shot was fired by the pickets of our brigade at the rebels, or by those at us, but the rebels were prohibited from speaking a single word to our men and would not allow them to go into the water. Our men generally were out of tobacco and continually asked the rebels for some, who did not answer, but now and then tied a piece of tobacco on a stone, and threw it over the river.

July 19. We remained quiet and made our breastworks stronger—the heat was intolerable. Heavy cannonading and skirmishing was going on near us. Gen. Hood had relieved Gen. Johnston in the command of the rebel army, the latter having declared his inability to keep Atlanta from the Yankees’ grasp.

Fortifications in front of Atlanta — Mathew Brady

July 20. As the noon sun was very hot, we went in the shade of a neighboring thorny thicket, others went after water for the dinner coffee. We had scarcely seated ourselves, and long before the thirsty ones could get their coffee ready, a tremendous roar of musketry in our front was heard, coming nearer every second. In a few minutes our pickets were driven in, who reported that the enemy was coming, three lines of battle strong and was approaching fast. As soon as the firing had commenced, every one rushed for his gun, and before the enemy, who approached in double quick time, could open his fire on us, we were on the top of the hill, meeting them, and thereby preventing a surprise. The rebels, being thus unexpectedly confronted by a line of Yankees, lost some of their courage, and instead of rushing on us, they stretched themselves behind a rail fence on the top of the hill, waiting until we had advanced to within ten steps of them. The fire between the two armies now became most violent and no member of our regiment who expected death on that day, will ever in his life forget the slaughter, while the powder smoke rose slowly up to heaven between the fighting parties,—where one gallant lad after another was snatched from our side! He will never forgot, how after a short continuation of this wholesale butchery, on our left, cheers were given, like a prairie fire leaping to the right, and all our men rushed on the enemy with the bayonet, like so many devils! The scene was a bloody one, but glorious one after all to the Union heart! The rebel lines behind the fence, not accustomed to such bravery, rose to their feet and ran away as fast as their legs could carry them. Now our harvest had come and we paid back the enemy in the same coin they had given us. Every man now aimed at an enemy running in his front, who went down before such a fire as the ripe wheat before the scythe of the mower. The enemy ran about 300 or 400 steps and then gathered and began to return our fire again, thereby endangering his own wounded in our front. The fire, which commenced at 2 o’clock p. m., continued until night; but as we were protected somewhat by the fence, our loss was smaller than at the beginning. While we were thus fighting with the enemy, the troops on our right and left had to do the same thing, as the rebels under Hood were trying their best to whip the Yankees, and had attacked our whole line. Both wings had to give way to the enemy several times, who had even taken several cannons from them, when they again rallied, until the enemy had been whipped everywhere. Although the rebels can say “at Peach Tree creek we did good work,” yet they cannot say that the work was a master-piece. They had no master-workman in Hood as we did in Sherman, and where the “boss” is of no account, what can you expect from the “jours” and boys? Our loss on this day was large, smaller however than the loss of the enemy. All our wounded were collected during and after the fight, and cared for in the hospitals as well as possible. Our regiment lost 10 killed, but many of the wounded died afterwards in the hospitals. Our division took seven flags from the enemy, (one of which was taken by our regiment;) the bearers of three had to be killed before the flag were taken. The rebel wounded, by no means a small number, were collected after dark and cared for. They were very thankful for our care, and as they were well provided with tobacco, which our men were in want of, they willingly divided with us. As our own wounded were very numerous, best little medical aid could be rendered the rebel wounded during the night. We had but little sleep, as we were busy erecting breastworks, for which, however, we had no use, as the rebels made no attack in the night

Peachtree Creek battlefield

July 21. We buried our own dead and some of the enemy’s, whereby most of the day was spent. Gen. Hooker rode along our line as we were collecting the enemy’s dead, and as the General was a favorite of the men, cheers were repeatedly given. He stopped a while and looked at the staring dead, and was soon surrounded by our men. He could not, however, control his feelings, tears came in his eyes, and he rode off. The enemy retreated quite a distance during the night, to make another stand around Atlanta. The 14th corps, which formed our left wing, swung around, thereby approaching our destination, Atlanta. During this maneuver there was frequent heavy firing on the left. We remained for the night on the battle-field.

July 22. Without taking breakfast we left the bloody field in pursuit of the flying enemy, to avenge our fallen comrades and the losses we had sustained, determined not to rest until the rebels had been completely whipped. In the afternoon, about 14 miles from Atlanta, we found the enemy’s pickets and saw the rebels busy perfecting their fortifications. We pressed as near to the enemy as possible, until our pickets could advance no further without suffering loss. We stopped and entrenched ourselves. The enemy gave us time for this work until night, when he began his artillery fire; by this time our breastworks afforded us good shelter. Our left wings, having pushed forward yesterday, had to fight with the enemy and whipped him again, as on the 20th.

We suffered an irreparable loss in the death of Gen. McPherson, who was killed by a rebel ball.

Location of General McPherson’s death

July 23. The enemy opened a heavy fire on us in the forenoon and compelled us to seek shelter behind our breastworks. A shell struck our breastworks in front of company A and exploded, doing, however, no other damage than throwing the earth up high in the air. At noon our pickets were driven some distance by the enemy, being in too close proximity to him; but when our pickets advanced again, the enemy retreated and our men resumed their old position. The night was rest and sleepless, the enemy’s fire continued, while we were in the ditches behind our breastworks.

July 24 Artillery and musketry fire as yesterday. Two negroes were struck by pieces of a shell, and instantly killed. Gen. Sherman demanded the surrender of Atlanta, but was refused by Hood; after which we made preparations to bombard the town and compel the enemy to surrender. Many women who had fled from the horrors of the war and had been in the woods heretofore, prepared to come into our lines instead of those of the enemy, and were admitted. A false alarm robbed us of our sleep again tonight, and we had to remain on guard behind our breastworks. even after the cause or no cause of the alarm had been found out.

July 28. Heavy fighting was going on at our right wing; we had marching orders to go there in case of necessity. About 10 o’clock we left our breastworks, and immediately fired at by the enemy who had noticed our movement. After having marched several miles we received orders to return, as the enemy had been completely whipped and our troops were able to withstand the enemy in their front. We returned to our former position, but with the order, not to make ourselves too comfortable there.

Maj. Gen. Hooker gave up the command of the 20th army corps to go North. The men were not well pleased with this change, as all loved and adored him as a prudent and good General.

July 29. The whole third division went to the extreme right. Our army led past yesterday’s battlefield, on which the rebel dead and wounded were scattered in every direction yet. To judge from the balls lodging in the trees yet standing and fallen down, the fight must have been a hard one. The troops stationed there were in the best humor, standing and sitting, jesting and laughing between wounded and dead rebels, talking of the events of the day just passed—how the enemy had approached and afterwards the slaughter, in which the enemy suffered severely, where, after the rebels had given leg bail in the most amusing manner. These men belonged to the 17th army corps which had suffered heavy losses too, but which the men did not mind, as their wounded were cared for, and as they themselves had been victorious. At night our division formed the extreme right flank and erected breastworks on all four sides to be protected against attacks by cavalry and infantry. The night passed quiet.

August 5. Shortly after the enemy had been driven from the Chattahoochee river, the building of a bridge was commenced with for the Railroad. The bridge was done now and today the first train reached the front before Atlanta. The locomotive was received with tremendous cheers by our soldier, and the shrill whistle must have sounded defiantly to the rebels. As provisions had become scanty, we were glad at the arrival of the iron horse, as sufficient quantities could now reach us, despite of the guerrillas.

August 8. The city had been bombarded for several days, and the fire today was more rapid than before. Siege guns had arrived yesterday and been brought into position immediately. We could hear plainly, particularly at night, when the shells struck a house and exploded inside—the sound of which resembled the crash of a falling building, followed by the tremendous explosion in the upper story or cellar. The inhabitants of the city, as we read in the Atlanta papers (which we exchanged from the rebel pickets for coffee,) fled to the most distant parts of the city, or sought refuge in cellars, or dug caves in the ground, where they remained during the bombardment and only left their hiding places, when compelled to by hunger or thirst . The war is a scene of horror, and it was particularly so the case with Atlanta, full as the city was with refugees from the neighborhood all around. What would the enemy have cared for the women and children, if the reverse had been the case and the city of Atlanta in Union hands, besieged by rebels? How did the rebels act towards the women and children in Pennsylvania and Maryland? And what cared the rebel bushwhackers for women and children, or the passenger trains, when they tore up the rails and hurried hundreds of them to an untimely grave and death, and even robbing them of the little they had left. Not so did Sherman act. As the surrender of the city had been refused by Hood, Sherman had told him to order the women and children out of the city. Hood did not fulfill this request, hoping thereby to compel Sherman to forego the bombardment, a foolish supposition indeed. Sherman had done everything to prevent loss of life and cannot be called cruel, as has been done by the rebels for the bombardment of Atlanta— Hood is to blame and to be held responsible for every innocent life sacrificed there, as he knew of Sherman’s purpose,—to him the spirits of the innocent, the cripple now begging in the South, must be held responsible and accused of murder, of wantonly sacrificing the lives of his men

August 13 The brush that was between us and the enemy before the fighting around Atlanta commenced, had been shot away or crippled by the musket balls and shells, whereby the enemy gained a clear view at our works at many points, and whenever our men showed themselves at such points and kept not close behind the breastworks, they were fired upon by the enemy. The rebels had become very good marksmen and but seldom the balls went overhead, but hit either the works or the men behind at work or cooking; wounding or killing them. To prevent any further losses we lightened the breastworks several inches; while at work we again lost one man- of our regiment, who was shot through the abdomen; Lieut. Fisher, of the 195th Illinois regiment, was also shot when on picket duty. The bombardment of the city still continued and several times houses had been set afire by our shells—the alarms could be distinctly heard by us—but the fire was quenched by the military and citizens before it could make much headway.

August 14. The enemy’s fire in our front slackened somewhat, our artillery was the busier in bombarding the city. The enemy made another attack on the 17th corps on our right, and tried very hard to break through our lines. He had to give up his efforts, after a loss of’500 killed and wounded, and 400 prisoners. During the night heavy firing was again going on at our right. Close to our left a fort was built, opposite an enemy’s fort. The weather was rainy.

August 18. Before daybreak the enemy opened a most dreadful fire from all his guns, the shells went howling over our heads and exploding further back without doing any damage, however, excepting tearing holes in the ground. In a moment our men were under arms behind the entrenchments, as each firing was generally the commencement of an attack, and we were prepared for the worst. The game of the enemy should not last long and our artillery was preparing to make the “erring brethren” hush. They commenced and soon the enemy cooled down, while our artillery continued as long as they pleased. On our right heavy firing was heard. Gen. Kirkpatrick, with his cavalry was in the enemy’s rear, destroying railroads and other valuable rebel property, south of Atlanta.

August 22 The bombardment of the city continued without interruption, but the picket fire was very light. Several houses in the city were again set afire by our shells.

August 23 Part of our army retreated today, but was not compelled to by the enemy—it retreated in consequence of Sherman’s own orders. The 97th Ohio regiment of our brigade marched back to the Chattahoochee river, there to build fortifications, and we took the place of this regiment behind the breastworks, at the same time each brigade had to stretch out a little, so that we stood but one man deep on some points, in order to fill the gap. Not a shot was fired in our front, as the enemy had not noticed the movement, and as only such troops were moved that could without being noticed by the enemy. It had been determined upon to move the 20th army corps, that was stationed on the right and left of the Chattanooga-Atlanta Railroad, in a direct line back to the Chattahoochee liver, to make the enemy believe that the whole army had retreated. At the same time the five other army corps were to fall back a distance and thence approach the Atlanta-Macon Railroad. The retreat of our division was commenced as soon as it became dark, the brigade music band was to give the signal by playing, as usual, the customary marches and finishing with the Yankee Doodle. As soon as the enlivening notes of the Yankee Doodle were heard, our regiment formed and marched without making the least noise to its destination. Our pickets were to remain in front of the enemy and then to retreat slowly in our wake. Our siege guns had been moved the night previous, and as they were quiet the entire day, the enemy must have thought it rather queer; and when even towards evening an unexampled quietness reigned in his front, the enemy must have come to the conclusion that we had retreated. The enemy seemed certain that our whole army had retreated and called to our few pickets left: ”Never mind, Yankee, we’ll find you again in the morning!” The retreat was made very slowly, sometimes we lay still for long periods, and did not reach the river until 4 o’clock a. m.

Sept 1.  We got the news that the rebels had left Atlanta and that our army had overtaken them at Jonesboro and whipped them soundly. This happy news created the wildest excitement and the whole day nothing but songs and cheers were heard.

City Hall and 2nd Massachusetts

Sept 2 We received further news about the fight at Jonesboro between our troops and the rebel army. The army under Hood, according to the report, had been split in two, and had been compelled to leave its dead and wounded behind, and was still pursued by Sherman and Thomas. In the city many rebel wounded were found, and a number of prisoners had been captured, consisting principally of such men that had left the army with the firm belief, that the rebel cause was lost, and had left the sinking ship in time to save themselves. All siege guns which the enemy had used against us in his fortification, fell in our hands, though they had been spiked and made useless for the present. The arsenal from which the whole rebel army had been supplied, had been blown up by the enemy. A large number of railroad cars, filled with ammunition, guns, &c., had been set afire by the enemy, as they could not be moved on account of Sherman taking part of the road before the rebels were aware of it. The town itself resembled a building having passed through a gale and threatening to tumble down every minute. In the northern part of the city not a house was left uninjured and many either leveled to the ground entirely or completely riddled, and nothing but a skeleton of the former stately mansion left standing. The streets were a complete morass, here and there plowed up by shells or solid shot. The inhabitants looked shy and frightened from their shattered dwellings at the victorious Yankees, coming in by the thousands, receiving them, of course, not as friends, and never believing until it became reality, that such men could take Atlanta! The wealthy and arch rebels had fled with the rebel army, taking their light aid movable property along with them, but leaving their homes and firesides and ”last ditch,” for, and in which, they were going to die so gloriously as—rank traitors to the Union! The goods from the stores had principally been moved, but nevertheless some things been left, which were being stolen before our army arrived. Here and there old women or children were seen with small parcels, kegs, baskets, &c., hurrying through the streets to take the captured things to their homes in some remote corner or cavern. We never found out what the armed rebels thought about the loss of their stronghold, Atlanta, but many of the inhabitants believed firmly that “their men” would take the city again in about ten days, and had retreated merely to get in our rear, then to return and starve us out. Such suppositions and threats were laughed at by such men as Sherman had in his army. Atlanta will remain in our hands, and if it should be evacuated, there will be nothing left of it but a heap of ashes! These were our answers to such impertinent remarks of the haughty enemy. To strive is not fashionable in an inimical state like Georgia, and if our communication with the North is cut off, we have learned to forage, was another answer. To subjugate us by powder and lead requires courage, and this we have shown at Dalton, Resaca, Marietta, &c., on the 20th of July, while your men lost the last bit of courage at Atlanta and Jonesboro, were the remarks of our boys. The more angry the men became with the Copperheads in the North, of whose doings we learned by letters, and threats were uttered frequently with the expectation of calling the rebel sympathizers in the North to an account some day. At noon we had garrisoned Atlanta, and reached the object of the campaign.

I will post more of William Grunert’s diary in the coming days.