Wartime Diary and Letters of Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina.
Hammond owns several plantations outside Savannah, Georgia. He was a longtime southern rights militant, strongly favoring the creation of a Southern republic, though he waffled a bit when the actual secession crisis came. Hammond never expressed private misgivings over the morality of slavery, and his diary gives a vivid image of the disintegration of slavery under the strain of war. The Civil War broke out in April 1861, and within months he is very concerned about the local impact on his plantation.
James Hammond to Son, 17 November 1861, Redcliffe Plantation. A letter complaining about Confederate draft policy.
". . . The Chivalry [the elite] has mostly gone to the wars and the [men of ? ] sense probably also. What was to be expected of the rest? Save Paul, whom I have held back, there is scarcely a man of any spirit left from Hamburg to the River. Fifty armed men could sack every plantation. This miserable scheme of carrying on a war by Volunteers is utterly suicidal. The Chivalry go at the tap of the first drum and get badly cut up and physically kicked out the first campaign. Little remains for a second. Draft and force off your Boyds and John Lottys, or hire them off, if the lot of a common soldier is drawn by you or Paul and any gentlemen. They will make just as good common soldiers as you would. Volunteers are only good for a 30 days' campaign that is, cannot be properly called on for a longer period on any large scale. I doubt not we shall have to review our past decision against a Standing Army to see if we cannot invent checks and balances that will enable us to keep on hand a tolerably respectable one even in times of peace-if we are ever to have such times again."
Soon thereafter, the Union navy and army appeared off the coast of South Carolina and captured several of the Sea Islands of the "Gullah" district right along the coast. Suddenly the rich planters of the rice district found themselves under the immediate threat of raid or invasion. Hammond's subsequent diary entries reflect this.
January 30, 1861, "Overcast & some drizzling--still spring weather. Went to both [plantations]. The [Union?] firing at Savannah on 28th distinctly heard there & by the Negroes here, & it is said as high up as Union point. Results not known here yet, & I greatly fear that Savannah has been or will be taken.
Our Generals & Engineers, who have said all was safe, are I apprehend fools & drunkards. . . ."
February 11, 1862, "Clear & cold. Went to town. . . .Town very gloomy--things look blue for certain localities on navigable waters--this for one. Fools & Sots [that is, drunks] leading our armies which are the same & all paralyzed by Serenade-Orator for President who having predicted a five years war has done all he could to verify his prediction."
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April 6, 1862, "I feel very, very sad more so than I have felt in many years. It has been growing on me for some weeks, & I have had much to cause it. My cold of 12 days ago shook me severely, & yesterday though I went to the Club I was quite ill from the fatigue & exposure the night before with my poor mare & grief for her death [on April 4 from lockjaw, according to Hammond was an actual bereavement. But my spirits drooped when all my sons became volunteers for the war leaving me to manage--imbecile as I am this large estate, then came our reverses, then our lamentable Victory of the Virginia or Merrimac. If that thing answers expectation it will be the greatest curse that has befallen man since the fall of Adam. Nations unable to resist assaults [sic], must make reprisal & ravage each others Coasts. Sea Coasts & Ports, must be abandoned to mere piracy, Commerce destroyed & all nations compelled to close in like Japan with banditti forever on the water frontier. The Yankees can build 3 of these machines to our 1, & take our Coast & Ports from Norfolk to Matamoros & our only & poor recompense will be to shell their Cities & Coast. Humble Warfare!! Next mother's servants hall was burnt & all disorganized there & the dear old Lady remains here, unwilling to do [so] permanently & yet dreading to go home. Then my good friend Simms is burnt out of house & home, one of the direst earthly afflictions & peculiarly so to him. Every day brought tidings, of the weakness & demoralization of our Armies under this weak, impracticable & termagant Jeff Davis. And finally the loss of my means of locomotion. I could go with my mares. They went with the strength of a locomotive & as fast as I wished. It was a joy to sit behind them. It is over. I cannot supply the place of the lost one & am tied down. I did not go often, but I felt could go & it was a comfort. Now I feel I cannot.
"In addition to all this, I cannot sell cotton. I am just now-the check is drawn-to turn over to the Confederate Produce Loan, the nett sales of 10,000 bushels of Corn ($12500) subscribed by me which leaves me only $4,000 in hand & $8,000 in expectancy, unless cotton can be sold which I don't expect unless the Govt. takes it all as it should. In the meantime I have $19,000 borrowed money, drawing interest in the Bank. $1,500 of Tax to pay. Mother, Cousin Augusta, all my children, & family to support, & some 7 or 8,000 due Harry & Paul as their shares in the last crop, & every thing I need at four prices. There is also a reasonable prospect that the Enemy taking Savannah will come up the river [to Augusta] & sweep me out. All depends on the events of this month. There will be the hardest fighting on the Potomac & on the Mississippi, in No. Ca. perhaps, & probably in Charleston & Savannah. Oh sad--sad for an invalid who tires in 10 minutes walk, in 30 minutes horseback, i hour in a Carriage, and not a soul to comfort--sad--sad--sad."
April 26, 1862, ". . . Harry [on leave] and Emily [his wife, here]. New Orleans said to have been taken [by the Yankees]. I won't believe it."
May 12, 1862, ". . .These are terrible times. All our young in the Armies, not [any] men left to suppress a Negro insurrection, of which however there are no symptoms yet. Salt is $4o a sack, Bacon 400 per lb. Common Sugar 250. Rio Coffee 750, Beef in Market 300 & Mutton the same. All kinds of Dry Goods & Hard at proportionate prices [these being references to rampant inflation in Confederate money]. With this I have 1200 animals to feed-300 & odd Negroes to feed & clothe & some 70 white families deriving all or nearly all their support from my earnings besides 4 families that I [supply] bread around Cowden & Silver Bluff & more ready to require it. In addition I have sent to the Con[federate] Govt $12,500 the proceeds of 10,000 bushels Corn subscribed to the Produce Loan, & must send 2oo bales of Cotton (the proceeds) when I can sell it. As yet I have not sold a lock of Cotton. These are indeed hard times & especially so on me. Last of Corn sold to Govt. taken. . . .
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September 11, 1862, "We are intensely excited here about the War. Rumors innumerable & mostly false. The Cin[cin]nati rumour not confirmed, but certainly all our armies are advancing, & it is highly probable that Jackson with a large force has crossed the Potomac a week ago. But all is mystery, which is doubtless right for the present but very painful. The War is gradually becoming on both sides one of fire & sword & extermination. Dreadful, dreadful. The hard world looks on calmly, unconscious apparently that its destiny is wrapped up with that of the South, & that we are overwhelmed. France, England, Belgium, Spain & Italy must go at once into liquidation. We ask nothing but Peace & to be let alone. The North seeks to subdue, Plunder, confiscate & enslave us. Unless with our present effort we can conquer our Independence, there must be enacted in the next 12 months a history, which the genius of all the Historians from Moses to the present time could not, if combined in one man, adequately depict."
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April 29, 1863, "Delightful morning, & pretty heavy rain this afternoon. Season enough. Went with Dr C. F. to Silver Bluff where I found four demented Negroes absolutely crazy of different ages & sexes-Minos, Tenate, Daphne & Jim. Kate died of the same way on 27th. Seized with tremendous headache & in a few hours they become maniacal. I fear all will die and perhaps many more. The Drs call it typhoid fever, but [I don't] know. I think it general congestion of the system, which I have more or less myself most of the time. They have very little fever. Old Bob found dead at Brick House this morning."
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May 20, 1863, Weather unchanged. Mr. Scruggs returned from Va. Mrs H & I went through Augusta to visit Mother & returned in the afternoon on the side of the river. Very pleasant. . . . .My neighbor D. Walker had a daughter married last night & a parcel of the gentlemen's sons of the neighbourhood to wit, John Wright, Jack Everett Sr., Geo. Walker, Geo. Pace & Wm. Hankinson, got up a serenade in [which] they made themselves perfect blackguards ending in insulting females & taking possession of Paul's house & ordering breakfast & liquor & maltreating servants."
Increasingly, Hammond is aware of the impact of the war on his slaves.
June 28, 1863, "Sunday. No serious illness. Heavy rain about 4 o'clock at Cathwood & Silverton, little at Bluff & not much here. Went to both places. Grass & hard work but that does not account sufficiently for the heavy gloom which seems settled on all the Negro faces. I- have seen this gradually thickening ever since the Richmond battles of last year & more especially since the late repulse [Union defeat] at Charleston. They [the slaves] seem utterly subdued as if by blasted hopes. Yet there is a peculiar furtive glance with which they regard me & a hanging off from me that I do not like. I have no doubt they have all along been well apprised with the Abolition version, of what is going on, & may thus shut up their faces & cease their cheerful greetings in view of the future, not the past. They would wish to be passive & take what comes. But the roar of a single cannon of the Federal's would make them frantic--savage cutthroats & incendiaries."
July l0, 1863, [Hammond made no mention of the major Confederate defeats at Gettysburg and at Vickburg.]
"No rain to-day but thunder, clouds & very sultry. Learning that Charleston was attacked this morning-in fact hearing the guns here-went up with Dr Kit to Town-no news. Heard guns at the Ferry as we came down. Lamar's Boat loaded with corn to-day from Cowden but only about 400 bushels. Mother & family came down If Charleston falls Augusta will be taken. & for us--" [he leaves the final thought unspoken here]
August 17, 1863. "Coolish & pleasant morning. Sultry noon. About 5 o'clock a terrible blow & rain. The wind has lulled but at intervals the rain still pours. Such an explosion of guns never before heard here, which ceased about 4 o'clock, from the storm there (Charleston) I take it or the discomfiture of the enemy. The sounds were awful even here.
Gill Fitzsimons left carrying to work on the Charleston batteries five of my Negroes . . . Henry Fuller & Johnny from Cowden, Adam Hornsby, Adam Robert & Sancho from Silver Bluff." [This is a reference, I think, to Confederate authorities impressing slaves to work on Rebel fortifications, as was very common anywhere near the Union offensives].
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August 30, 1863, "Sunday. Wesley quite sick at Bluff--no one [overseeing?] at Cowden [plantation]. Cloudy, cool & drizzly. Fires to-night. Went to both places. Negroes demoralized greatly, stealing right & left. Corn & salt now. Found a closed hole apparently of old standing in Bluff Barn through which any quantity of corn has doubtless passed & Frank my plough driver implicated in salt stealing & confined in the Barn escaped today & run away. Trouble enough." [The Frank in question would seem to be some sort of slave driver, black supervisory personnel.]
September 27, 1863, "Sunday. Child died at Cowden & sickness at both places. Went to both. Clear & cold, fire again to-night. Low spirited about affairs-see no end Charleston will fall, in ruins though. Rosecrans in Chattanooga I fear cannot be driven out, but 'II advance again. & Signs of peace no where. Foreign Intervention only (I fear) can prevent our being overrun & ruined--not subjugated."
November 15, 1863, " Sunday. No serious illness. Most pleasant day. My birthday. 56 years old." No company without the enclosure save Mr. Chisolm."
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November 26, 1863, Clear, bright & cold. At potatoes again, & sowed 2 acres of wheat in this enclosure after potatoes.
Bragg has been defeated at Chattanooga with great loss-abandoned Look Out Mountain and fell back we don't know where. The worst news of the war for us here. It looks as if we are to be exterminated. I now anticipate nothing better. The cause-as far as human utter incapacity in officials civil & military, who have sacrificed the noblest people of the world & in my view the noblest cause. . . ."
December 25, 1863, "Christmas such as it is. It used to be Christmas this day. The weather has been finer, clear, crisping cold. Some flakes of clouds indicating rain or snow. But no smiling faces & merry hearts. Instead of a Barbecue below, I gave an extra week's allowance on each place & left the people to enjoy themselves as they liked. Only those in the enclosure including Harry & Emily to dinner to day. Very dull."
December 27, 1863, "Harry & Emily left this afternoon. He returns to the Army. Congress is about to pass a most dishonest [draft] bill that will send Paul there--a common soldier. Oh sad, sad. In this bloody war the chances seem to be against every one. I shall hardly [see] both the dear & noble fellows again. While I am left to manage a business which at this distance from it, I did not feel able to do in my primest days. Sixteen years ago this very place & all the land attached was offered me for a song. I would not take it (& Cowden w[as] not then touched) because [it was] too far off & I was not able to manage Silver Bluff from [here]. Now, in the most difficult of times, with superannuated [old] overseers & no sub agents attainable, both places are suddenly to be thrown on my hands (& really no Overseer at S. B.) while I can't walk a mile or ride there on horseback, & I lie on my back at least 20 of the 24 hours. God protect my poor dear boys: restore them to us & give peace & independence to this miserable, bleeding Country."
December 30, 1863, "Weather as yesterday in forenoon. Cloudy after & drizzling to-night. Killed at Silver Bluff 30 hogs, weighing 5768 lbs nett. . . . The worst of News. The Generals & officers of the Army of Tennessee have sent to Congress a memorial which has been published & amounts to a "Pronunciamento." [recommending that the Confederate army draft slaves for service in the army]. The Senate Finance Committee have reported a Bill equally desperate & Foote of the Con[federate] H[ouse] proposes Lee instead of Davis for Dictator. It seems that all is over. . . ."
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June 13, 1864, "Rain, rain to the ruin of crops & starvation soon. Wind N. E. & to-day very brisk. . . .Work no where. Good God! In this crisis is there to be no fruits from fields, vineyard, orchards, or gardens to support life & our Cause. Why not slay us & all of us at once & forever, which is for myself, my constant prayer being weary of this farce."
June 24, 1864, "Weather as yesterday. . . .All overwhelmed with the anxiety about this awful & decisive crisis now impending. Can't think or act."
In the midst of all this trouble, Hammond is particularly upset about the Confederate impressment officers seizing his food for the army. This seemed to put him in a wretched mood about the Confederate leadership too.
July 20, 1864, "Yesterday seven corn raids [by the Confederate officials] two of them by letter. . . .Hamilton left on my desk last night a notice of impressment which this morning I tore up & threw out of the window in his presence, saying I paid no respect to the order of Hanckel. . . & simply defied him -- not meant to offend and not offending I hope. They want to take my Corn at much less than half the price I can sell it & have sold it to Consumers. I will sooner Consume it with fire if my poor neighbors wont make way with it."
July 28, 1864, ". . .Today Cap. Hanckel & Lt. Hewit & another man, armed, invaded me here & I understand they left 40 soldiers at my plantations & have taken military possession. I defied them. They left . . . ."
July 31, 1864, "War news bad from every quarter. . . .All this owing to the want of capacity in the President [Jefferson Davis] to which he added the lowest jealousy, the most malignant temper, the most perverse & mulish obstinacy, spleen, spite & illimitable conceit & vanity. If I had not known from the first that he had all these disqualifications for his position & that besides he is, when pushed, an abject coward, I should think he is a traitor. . . ."
August 2, 1864, . . .[A few days later, his business dealings threw] threw some 5,000 bus. [bushels of corn?] into the hands of the [Confederate] Impressors. . . .They had a Steam boat prepared to carry the corn & a sufficient force to seize it. They made the issue to have the corn conceded or they would take it, thus branding upon my forehead "Slave." They [got] it at just half the price it was sold for. They finally proposed to leave the price to arbitrators to which, as the best alternative, I agreed to. The arbitrament [Confederate hearing?] to-morrow at Cowden. Rain ceased. Very hot."
August 3, 1864. "After getting ready & my carriage [at] the door my wife persuaded me not to go to Cowden to day. Reflecting, the first time, that all being arranged for Mr. Howard he could carry on the matter very well, that it would be unpleasant to see this pollution of lands & prying into my barns, & allowancing me for go days, & that my patience was exhausted, & I should probably get into some difficulty with these fellows, I concluded not to go. The thing went on. John Foreman was my arbitrator, Charles Tutt their's: differing in price, Wm Turner was called on & it was immediately fixed at $10,000. They then examined all my Cribs & estimated my Corn & after releasing Gregg's, Moore's, & Lamar's & making up my allowances, there was only May's & Kinchley's Corn-then Sacked & in the barn, 2408 bushels to take. So they substituted themselves as purchasers instead of these, & at the same price. So they have got [not]hing & I have lost nothing but perhaps my temper. Very hot.
August 9, 1864, "A moderate shower about noon & coolish after.
Alonzo-a very valuable fellow of mine, died after many weeks illness of this mysterious disease which paralyses brain & body, called by the Doctors some sort of Meningitis. Quite unwell myself-have not for some time slept well of nights. The War, the impressment, & Sickness here, & altogether too much to do, have altogether used me up. Mobile attacked & in eminent [sic] danger of capture.
August 28, 1864. "Sunday. Negro barbe[cue] yesterday & dance last night no sick of course, very hot out of the pleasant, but unwholesome breeze. Bush came up to say he expected to be seized to-morrow or next day for the war. His father will soon come. I must turn my Negroes loose & will there then be soon a raiding by them of me & mine-ruin to me & what is worse ruin to our Cause & Country."
September 3, 1864, "Hear most disastrous new[s] from Atlanta. . . ." [of Union capture of city].
James Henry Hammond died soon thereafter, at Redcliff plantation on November 13, 1864. He thus managed to die before the Union army arrived in the area some weeks later. General Lee surrendered the following April.