“Somebody’s Darling!” . . . And The War Came Home, Part 3

Kissing his sword

The Civil War affected all of America. The Irish and German families who had sent their sons alone to a land across the Atlantic seeking a better life, the elite planter parents and siblings who bid goodbye to a cherished loved one, the “mudsill mothers and fathers” who walked to the train stations of the Midwest to offer their boys farewell—all nursed full hearts and pushed back fear so their soldier would see no faintness of heart.

Young ladies enamored of handsome men in uniforms threatened those who had not signed up yet with a hoopskirt of their own if they stayed home. Diarist Mary Chestnut, very early on in her now-famous offering, described the gaiety in South Carolina:

In Camden, we were busy and frantic with excitement, drilling, marching, arming, and wearing blue cockades. Red sashes, guns, and swords were ordinary fireside accompaniments. So wild were we, I saw at a grand parade of the home-guard a woman, the wife of a man who says he is a secessionist per se, driving about to see the drilling of this new company, although her father was buried the day before.[1]

Secession Cockade

The North was equally enthusiastic. After the Battle of Fort Sumter, Union displays of loyalty were constant. New York City held one of the most memorable events–the Great Sumter Rally–in Union Square, on April 20, 1861. Newspapers throughout the North covered the Sumter rally. The Boston Daily Evening Transcript printed a letter from a patriotic New York lady who was able to view the rally from her balcony:

I wish you could have stood on a balcony with us looking down upon Union square on Saturday. Your heart would have leaped to see the statue of Washington holding the flag of Fort Sumter, and to have heard the peals of patriotic enthusiasm from the immense throng who witnessed the spectacle. [2]

The Great Sumter Rally

Mrs. Lizzie Bowler was not initially enthusiastic about her fiancé’s service in the 3rd Minnesota. She tried to be supportive of his decision, however. She was twenty in November 1861, when she wrote:

Dearest loved one

…You ask to be forgiven if you have ever done anything unkind. There is nothing to forgive. You have always been to me all and more then I expected, you have shown acts of kindness both to me and others that you shall be remembered for as long as earth gives me a home. I hope that some day I shall be able to return them by kind word and loving acts. When you go down river, I want, if it is not too much trouble, you to keep a journal so that when you come back if you ever should, while trotting your grandchildren on your knee, you can look over the time when you were a soldier. I don’t want you to have the blues any more. If you do what you think is your duty both to God and man, you can do no more….

Yours ever Lizzie [3]

Sending the South to war

Women North and South were eager to do what they could to help the men who fought for their side. They established hospitals and sanitary groups and, if not able to be close to larger groups of volunteers, well, then–she worked on her own. Elite Southern women such as Varina Davis, wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, wrote her memories of sacrifice:

Varina Davis

The ladies picked their old silk pieces into fragments, and spun them into gloves, stockings, and scarfs for the soldiers’ necks, etc.; cut up their house linen and scraped it into lint; tore up their sheets and rolled them into bandages; and toasted sweet potato slices brown, and made substitutes for coffee. They put two tablespoonfuls of sorghum molasses into the water boiled for coffee instead of sugar, and used none other for their little children and families.  In the country they made their own candles, and one lady sent me three cakes of sweet soap and a small jar of soft soap made from the skin, bones and refuse bits of hams boiled for her family. Another sent the most Lucien exquisite unbleached flax thread, of the smoothest and finest quality, spun by herself. I have never been able to get such thread again.[4]

Northern women took in sewing and delivered the finished projects to a local Sanitary Commissioner for delivery to Union soldiers. Countless boxes were shipped south with a variety of success. Sometimes meat spoiled, cakes became stale and crumbly, or the whole package became wet from broken glass bottles and jars of jam or liquor. As the war went on, however, the homefront letters changed. Letters included more details concerning battles and politics. Judith W. McGuire’s diary, on February 12, 1863, reflects this:

We have had a little fight on the Blackwater. The Yankees intended to take general Pryor by surprise, but he was wide awake, and ready to receive and repulse them handsomely. The late democratic majorities at the North seem to have given the people courage; denunciations are heard against the despotism of the government. [5]

“Our Women in the War”

Less elite women wrote about home. Georgian John Iverson’s wife Mary wrote in July 1863:

Dear John:

This leaves us all getting along very well. Nobody sick, and we finished laying by the corn. The cattle are fat and the hogs doing finely. We sell some butter and eggs every week. We have plenty to eat, and know that it’s only you that’s having a hard time. But we are all so proud that you are fighting for your country. Will be so glad when you can get a furlough, but we know that you must, and will stick to your post of duty. Willie and Jennie send kisses to their brave papa. We never forget to pray for you. If you get killed, darling, God will take care of us and we’ll all meet in heaven.

Your Mary[6]

Young Lucien Welles Hubbard

Women on both sides began to worry more the longer the war continued. Calista Hubbard, the mother of Lucien Welles Hubbard, wrote this letter to her son who enlisted when he was fourteen. He was a drummer for the 14th Connecticut. On the same day her son witnessed the Battle of Antietam Calista wrote:

We heard of battles and we think perhaps your regiment may be engaged in some of them and it casts a sadness over my feelings, and my heart is filled with anxiety until I shall hear that you are safe. I know that you must have had a pretty hard time since you left, but all that I can do for you is to pray for you that God would strengthen you and help you and give you courage to endure all that He in his providence shall call you to pass through.

You may think because you do not hear from me after that I have forgotten you. No, Lucien your Mother has not. I think of you in your long weary marches, in your tents, or your lodgings on the ground … and I pray God that this dreadful war may soon be over, but He alone knows when it will be. …

All the men most want to know if  I have heard from you. They think you have good pluck to go to war so young as you are. Do be careful of your health as I fear you will ruin your constitution for life. Take good care of yourself. Write as often as you can and try to improve in writing and composition, for your school days are gone. Good night my dear boy. May Heaven protect you.[7]

The title of this post comes from a song title. Usually associated with the South, it still speaks to those whose loved one wore a uniform, whether blue or gray.  Few deaths fit the one described below, but this was the death hoped for if it had to come at all.

Somebody’s Darling

Into the ward of the clean whitewashed halls,

Where the dead slept and the dying lay;

Wounded by bayonets, sabres, and balls,

Somebody’s darling was borne one day.

Somebody’s darling so young and so brave,

Wearing yet on his sweet yet pale face

Soon to be hid in the dust of the grave,

The lingering light of his boyhood’s grace.

 

Somebody’s darling, somebody’s pride,

Who’ll tell his mother where her boy died?

 

Matted and damp are his tresses of gold,

Kissing the snow of that fair young brow;

Pale are the lips of most delicate mould,

Somebody’s darling is dying now,

Back from his beautiful purple-veined brow,

Brush off the wandering waves of gold;

Cross his white hands on his broad bosom now,

Somebody’s darling is still and cold.

 

Give him a kiss, but for somebody’s sake,

Murmur a prayer for him, soft and low,

One little curl from his golden mates take,

Somebody’s they were once, you know.

Somebody’s warm hand has oft rested there,

Was it a Mother’s so soft and white?

Or have the lips of a sister so fair,

Ever been bathed in their waves of light?

 

Somebody’s watching and waiting for him,

Yearning to hold him again to her breast;

Yet there he lies with his blue eyes so dim,

And purple, child-like lips half apart.

Tenderly bury the fair, unknown dead,

Pausing to drop on this grave a tear;

Carve on the wooden slab over his head,

“Somebody’s darling is slumbering here.” [8]

Mourning

_______________________________________________

[1]http://flippedoutteaching.com/lessons/eng3/unit4/Mary%20Chesnut%27s%20Civil%20War%20(Full%20Text).pdf

[2]https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/the-great-sumter-rally-in-union-square/

[3]https://www.historynet.com/you-promised-that-you-would-come-home-letters-between-a-husband-and-wife.htm

[4]https://www.gutenberg.org/files/36969/36969-h/36969-h.htm

[5]Judith W. McGuire, Diary of a Southern Refugee During the War by a Lady of Virginia.Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995, 188.

[6]https://www.gutenberg.org/files/36969/36969-h/36969-h.htm

[7]http://john-banks.blogspot.com/2018/03/worried-mother-to-drummer-boy-son-may.html

[8]https://www.nps.gov/saga/learn/education/upload/Somebody%27s%20Darling%20lyrics.pdf

 

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
This entry was posted in Antebellum South, Civilian, Common Soldier and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Somebody’s Darling!” . . . And The War Came Home, Part 3

  1. Dan Nettesheim says:

    Well done…great framing of perspective, beautifully presented.

  2. rarerootbeer says:

    I appreciate the letters and personal comments about the Civil War in the words of the participants their families. I curious what happened to some of those who mentioned in this “post.” Mary Chestnut I know became very bitter and disappointed with the outcome of the war. What happened to Lizzie Bowler’s boyfriend during the war? Did Calista’s son survive the Battle of Antietam?

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