Friday, June 22, 2012

“Our Beleaguered City”

Judith W. McGuire (1813–1897)
From The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It

This week (through July 1) marks the 150th anniversary of the “Seven Days,” which Brooks D. Simpson succinctly described in a recent post on the Library of America’s blog:
On June 25, 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac clashed outside Richmond, Virginia, and continued to do so for a week. The series of engagements that followed has become known as the Seven Days, and at their conclusion, Robert E. Lee had succeeded in driving George B. McClellan’s bluecoats from the outskirts of the Confederate capital.
Judith and John McGuire were in Richmond when the Seven Days battles began. The previous year, in May 1861, the McGuire family had been forced to split up when their home in Alexandria came under attack; their three daughters were sent to stay with a relative, while both sons enlisted nearby with Confederate forces. (All the McGuire children were from their father’s previous marriage.) They were refugees for the duration of the war and, they soon learned, they lost all their possessions when their home in Alexandria was requisitioned as a military hospital by Union forces. By February 1862, rejoined by the two youngest daughters (the oldest had married), they had made their way to Richmond, Judith’s childhood home, where she served as a volunteer nurse.

Mrs. McGuire kept a diary for the benefit of “the members of her family too young to remember these days” and initially had no intention of publishing it. A 1974 biographical profile by Willie T. Weathers in
The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography summarizes the book’s subsequent history:
Having been persuaded to share her private record of the war years with the public, she published it anonymously and with the names of living friends and relatives concealed under their initials. The first edition was published in New York in 1867, and a second followed in 1868. A Richmond publisher brought out a third in 1889, with the author's name in parentheses below "A Lady of Virginia" [and] a partial key to the initials.
Weathers notes that the book became “a best seller throughout the postwar South and [is] a classic still read with pleasure.” The text of Judith’s riveting eyewitness account of the Seven Days presented to Story of the Week readers is taken from the third and final edition.

Notes: Major General A. P. [Ambrose Powell] Hill was a division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. Pegram’s Battery refers to the Purcell Artillery, a company established a year earlier in Richmond and led by twenty-year-old William R. J. Pegram, the younger brother of Confederate General John Pegram. His unit sustained the heaviest losses of any Confederate artillery company during the Seven Days, and Pegram became a local hero after the engagement. Ballard House was a five-story hotel in Richmond. General C. is Thomas Jefferson Chambers, commissioned as a major general during the Texas Revolution. Of the casualties mentioned in the closing paragraphs, First Lieutenant Edward Brockenbrough, Major [Francis Buckner] Jones, and Lieutenant Colonel [Bradfute] Warwick would die of their wounds within two weeks.

June 27th.—Yesterday was a day of intense excitement in the city and its surroundings. Early in the morning it was whispered about that some great movement was on foot. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.


Seeker said...

Very interesting. Thanks, I love to read first person accounts.

One thing NOBODY mentions about the Richmond area that held out for four years against invasion by land.

Do you know about the slave built earth works? Seventy miles long, three miles wide in places, they were massively huge. Slaves built them, which is probably why no one talks about them.

Do you know who was in charge of the 100,000 or so slaves? Robert E Lee. That was his first job in the Confederate Army.

A lot of people think Lee was the head Confederate soldier through all, or even most, of the war. No, he wasn't.

We all know how Hitler used slave labor, and how Stalin used slave labor, and it is always spoken of as if they were so horrible to use slave labor to help their war effort.

Wouldn't it be nice to hear from some of those slaves? Gee I bet they were well fed, and well treated by Lee. He did such a nice job at Arlington. Oh wait, that's right, even years BEFORE the Civil War, newspapers reported Lee's brutal treatment of young slave girls -- who he had tied up and whipped. An overseer refused to whip one girl, but Lee immediately paid someone else to whip her, and yelled at her during her torture.

Yes, this was reported BEFORE the Civil War. So maybe Lee was not such a sweet guy to slaves as we are told.

The reason Richmond held for so long - the slave built earth works. Oh yeah yeah yeah, we are told is was that genius Lee. Well sorta was, he had the biggest construction job in the USA done on those earth works, larger construction jobs would be the Union Pacific Railroad, and 70 years later, the TVA, and then the building of the atomic bomb and HOover Dam. But Lee's earth works were right up there -- all built by slaves.

Bob Stauffer said...

I love to read first person accounts. The writers seem to be so much in control of their own emotions in spite of the horror going on around them.
I'm sorry to see "seeker" so eagerly using this account of a battle has his soapbox

Jyothi Natarajan said...

Great and a very credible account indeed! I was impressed by how the people under siege behaved. While some are traumatized, others behave as if they are watching , perhaps with detachment, brilliant fire works! Fire works indeed!Is their detachment a result of a sense of futility and helplessness?

The account would have sounded more credible,if the diarist had acknowledged the contribution of the slaves. Definitely, the slaves must have fought and died along side of the Southerners.

epaburke said...

The slaves did not fight alongside their masters, who would not have armed them.