Saturday, June 2, 2012

Emma LeConte

  • “Emma LeConte was a very young woman, only seventeen, when total war came to Columbia, South Carolina. However, she witnessed and recorded one of the most controversial examples of total war. She was the oldest of a family of daughters and her father Joseph LeConte was a science professor at the South Carolina College in Columbia. During the war he served as a chemist in the Confederate States Nitre and Mining Bureau.

    She did not lose immediate family members in the war, but as her diary begins on December 31, 1864, she writes, "Oh my country! Will I live to see thee subjugated and enslaved by those Yankees-surely every man and woman will die first. . . A sea rolls between them and us-a sea of blood. Smoking houses, outraged women, murdered fathers, brothers, and husbands forbid such a union. Reunion! Great Heavens! How we hate them with the whole strength and depth of our souls." Sherman's troops had not yet reached the Carolinas. During the second week of January 1865, Columbia held a Soldiers' Bazaar. Emma had expected to take interest in it, but writes instead. "It seems like the dance of death, and who can tell that Sherman may not get the money that was made instead of our sick soldiers. How long before our beautiful little city may be sacked and laid in ashes." She did not have long to wait. On February 174' she writes, "Well, they are here. I was sitting in the back parlor when I heard the shouting of the troops .... Iran upstairs to my bedroom windows just in time to see the U. S. flag run up over the State House.

    Oh, what a horrid sight! What a degradation! After four long bitter years of bloodshed and hatred, now to float there at last! That hateful symbol of despotism! I do not think I could possibly describe my feelings. I know I could not look at it." Later that day she records, "Gen. Sherman has assured the mayor `that he and all the citizens may sleep as securely and quietly tonight as if under Confederate rule. Private property shall be carefully respected." The next day, she records, "Strange as it may seem, we were actually idiotic enough to believe Sherman would keep his word! A Yankee-and Sherman! It does seem incredible, such credulity, but I suppose we were anxious to believe him-the lying fiend! I hope retributive justice will find him out one day."

    She describes the fires, "The fire on Main Street was now raging, and we anxiously watched its progress from the upper front windows. In a little while, however, the flames broke forth in every direction. The drunken devils roamed about, setting fire to every house the flames seemed likely to spare. They were fully equipped for the noble work they had in hand. Each soldier was furnished with combustibles compactly put up. They would enter houses in the presence of helpless women and children, pour turpentine on the beds and set them on fire. Guards were rarely of any assistance-most generally they assisted in pillaging and firing." Later, she adds, "I suppose we owe our final escape to the presence of the Yankee wounded in the hospital. When all seemed in vain, Dr Thompson went to an officer and asked if he would see his own soldiers burnt alive."

    Later, she adds, "This is civilized warfare. This is the way in which the `cultured' Yankee nation wars upon women and children! Failing with our men in the field, this is the way they must conquer!" On the 25th, still determined, she writes, "The more we suffer, the more we should be willing to undergo rather than submit." By this time, the destruction of the food is evident and she writes, "I hope relief will come before famine actually threatens. " Throughout this time, her father had been gone, removing government records, but on the 26, she reports, "At last I have something joyful to chronicle Father is returned!" Her last entry on August 6th explains why she has written so little, "As to the condition of the country and our unhappy state as a people, it would seem better not to think of that, still less to write of it. It makes me miserable and intensifies the wicked feelings I have too much anyway."

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