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.