Memoirs of Life In and Out of the Army of Northern Virginia

by Susan Liegh Blackford

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In 1894 Confederate veteran Charles Minor Blackford and his wife Susan Leigh Blackford of Lynchburg , Virginia published the following book: Memoirs of Life in and Out of the Army in Virginia During the War Between the States, compiled by Susan Leigh Blackford from original and contemporaneous correspondence and diaries. Annotated and edited exclusively for the private use of their family by her husband Charles Minor Blackford. In Two Volumes.

Only 35 copies were published for the family. Today an original set can sell for $10,000 or more depending on condition. Some years later a much abridged version was published under the title Letters from Lee's Army and is still available today in paperback.

In 1996 the original work was republished in its entirety. This reproduction set is leather bound and maintains all the type, spacing, and spelling of the original. This set is out of print and exists in very limited quantities.

There are few works that so eloquently describe life on the home front, the up and the downs, as well as life in the field. They span the entire war. Douglas Southall Freeman called Blackford's account of Appomattox one of the most important in existence. The descriptions of life during the war are spell binding. One of my favorites is the description of the Battle of Manassas by Susan Blackford. She and her neighbors describe hearing the battle in Lynchburg- 170 miles away. They knew a great and terrible battle had taken place.

One reviewer wrote: 

The blended letters of Susan and Charles Blackford, two erudite, observant members of the Virginian gentry, tell the story of one family's Civil War struggle in the frontlines and on the homefront beautifully. Susan describes the loss of children, the battle to feed family, and the "impression" she made in front of her husband's unit plunging headfirst into a mudpile. Charles observes the war from the vantages of both the line and the staff, and supplies some incredible character studies ranging from Jeff Davis to Lee and Jackson, down to the private soldier (with the impudence of a town cow). A collection of letters from someone who wrote on a warmed frying pan to keep his hand from freezing probably deserves reading regardless !

You can now own a set of these books. They cost $100.00 plus $5.00 shipping. Virginia residents MUST add 5% tax. Remember these are leather bound, high quality paper, and limited quantities. They are sure to provide hours of enjoyment and appreciate in value. Volume 1 runs 257 pages, and Volume 2 is 238 pages.

Susan Blackford describes life in Lynchburg on the eve of war

The winter of 1860 and 1861 was with us one of unprecedented gaiety. The spirit of fun and frolic seemed to take possession of our people both young and old, and for months every house available was thorn open and the entertainments given were in generous emulation as the to novelty and elegance of the amusements offered. The immediate cause of this unusual hilarity was, strange as it may seem, the presence in our midst of Rufus King and his two sisters from New Your, who were guests of Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Garland, Jr. the leaders of our society. They were three very bright young persons, and Mr. & Mrs. Garland made every exertion to make them have what is called a “good time.” They spared neither time nor money and thus stirred up an amount of handsome entertainments which Lynchburg had never seen before and has never seen since. Mrs. Samuel Garland Jr., was a very charming woman, with great social tact and talent, and proud of her reputation for hospitality and good housekeeping. She was always ready and willing to test her powers in that line, and her husband who was ambitious both for social and political distinction, seconded her both by his ample purse and his quick social parts. Their house thus became a social centre- something of a solon- where beauty, wit, and fashion delighted to congregate, and where a willing and generous hospitality was ever dispensed.

Mrs. Garland's suppers were things to be remembered; they were more profuse than those served now, but were nonE the less enjoyable. The superb saddle of mutton was a piece of resistance deemed indispensable, and alongside was the “old Virginia ham,” red as a ruby, and with a melting tenderness which rivaled the best Westphalia; so also there were turkeys, and salad, raw Lynn-haven oysters, served from bowls cut from blocks of ice, canvas-back ducks, partridges, and venison- all ending in pyramids of frosted cake, cut-glass bowls of jelly, trembling and sparkling in the light as if set with diamonds. The popping of champagne bottles added to the jollity of the scene, which was close, so far as the supper-room went, by a short toast of welcome from our bright host Mr. Garland, responded to with equal aptness by one of the guests who had caught the inspiration of the occasion. Dancing the lancers and cotillions was usually kept up until a late hour. No one since their day has kept such a house in Lynchburg . As I remember it now, it reminds me of the flame of a candle which leaps up with a bright flash just before it sinks into the socket of the candlestick and is extinguished, for not only was all this gaiety the last of such social joys for many years, but in a little over two years from that time Mrs. Garland had died of consumption, their little boy was dead, and MR. Garland as general of brigade, was stark and cold upon the bloody field of Boonsboro.

Susan Blackford describe Lynchburg as it gears up for War

Directly after Lincoln 's call for troops the whole course of our ordinary life was changed. All our usual avocations were at an end, and a new life begun for women as well as men. The sound of the drum and fife could be heard from morning until night. The men were drilling and equipping themselves with the accoutrements of war, while the women, with tearful eyes and saddened hearts, spent their time making coats and pantaloons, shirts, haversacks, and every species of work which would make the men more comfortable or more healthy in the field. Besides the six or seven companies which were to go from this town, many others from the country around and from the Southern States, which had been suddenly organized, had to be equipped, and we undertook it most cheerfully, many of us glad to have our hands busy to stop the bleeding in our hearts. Matron and maidens, old and young, all worked, not only at our homes but at the central meeting place in the Masonic Hall, which was turned into a common work-shop. Tailors came and cut out the uniforms, and the ladies brought their sewing machines. The work was divided out; some did the basting, others the pressing, some sewed and others made buttonholes, and it was marvelous to see the amount that was accomplished by the loving hands of those devoted women, whose eyes were often blinded by tears as the dread thought would come over them that they might be making the shroud for a loved one as well as a uniform. Many of the hands that toiled over that rough work had never before done more than stitch a book-mark or embroider a lace handkerchief, but they cheerfully sewed day by day on rough coats, haversacks, cloth gaiters, cartridge boxes and even the stiff canvas of a tent untiringly and without a word of complaint.

Charles Blackford writes after the Battle of Brandy Station

Stuart pushed on up into Fauquier count, where Mosby met us. By this time Mosby had become deservedly famous. I had not seen him for more than a year and the change in his appearance was very striking. When he was a member of my company and afterwards when he was adjutant of the regiment (the First Virginia Cavalry) he was careless about his dress and mount and presented anything but a soldierly appearance. As we were riding along the road one evening at the head of the column, we saw a horse man handsomely dressed, gallop across the field toward us and lift his horse lightly over the fence a short distance ahead of us and then approach. I could scarcely believe my eyes when I recognized in the dashing looking officer my old friend and comrade, the now celebrated guerrilla chief, Colonel John S. Mosby. He had been scouting and was fully posted as to the movements of the enemy, whose cavalry was moving in a parallel line with us some miles east of the Bull Run Mountains .

On the 18 th of June we reached Middlburg and on the 19 th the cavalry of the enemy attacked us with great fury…. We were retiring up the gentle slope of a hill and were the only horsemen in sight, and bullets from their deadly Winchesters pattered upon the hard and hoof-trodden ground upon which we rode like raindrops. Just at this moment I heard a thump very much like some one had struck a barrel a violent blow with a stick, I knew well what it meant and I can never forget the agony of suspense with which I looked around to see which one of our group would fall. My first glance was to Stuart [J.E.B. Stuart], but there he sat in his saddle as firm as a rock. I then saw Van Borcke, who was riding close by my side, drop his bridle hand and his horse bounded forward as the rein was relaxed. I saw at once that his spur wound hang in his rolled blanket, strapped behind his saddle, as he was slowly sliding from his seat trying to clutch his horse's mane to break his fall. I spurred Magic up to his side instantly, and, leaning over, seized his foot and threw it clear of the rolled blanket and the saddle. Both of his feet then fell, his hands were jerked loose from the mane, and he come down to earth on his back without any violent concussion. Frank Robinson and myself sprang to the ground while some one else caught his horse. Seeing our poor comrade was shot in the back of the neck I had very little hope for him, but determined to get his body off the field if possible. Van Borcke had often expressed his horror of filling a nameless grave and had once asked me, if the occasion should ever arise, to mark the place so that his friends could find it. I was at my wits end to know how we were to throw our friend's body, weighing 250 pounds, across the rearing and plunging charger and how we were to keep it there if we succeeded in doing so. I then recollected a thing Van Borcke had once told me was taught in the Prussian cavalry schools to meet emergencies of this kind, and I at once put it into practice. I made a courier twist the horse's ear very severely and he at once became perfectly quiet, which enabled us to get its master thrown across his back and to remove him quietly from the field.

Charles Blackford recounts the Battle of 1 st Manassas

July 20, 1861 . . . Just as we crossed Bull run I saw Edmund Fontaine, . . . of Hanover , resting on a log on the roadside. I asked him what was the matter, and he said he was wounded and was dying. He said it very cheerfully and did not look as if anything was the matter, but as we came back we found him dead and some of his comrades about to remove his body. It was a great shock to me, as I had known him from his boyhood. . . .

  That was a day long to be remembered, and such a Sunday as men seldom spend. To all but a scattered few it was our first battle, and its sights and wonders were things of which we had read but scarcely believed or understood until seen and experienced. The rout of the enemy was complete, but our generals showed much want of skill in not making the material advantages greater. The Federal army was equipped with every species of munition and property, while ours was wanting in everything. They were stricken with a panic, and wherever the panic was increased by the sight of an armed rebel it discovered itself by the natural impulse to throw away arms and accoutrements and to abandon everything in the shape of cannon, caissons, wagons, ambulances and provisions which might impede their flight, yet they managed, despite their precipitate flight, to carry off much. They only lost some thirty-odd cannon, for example, while with proper management on our part they would not have reached the Potomac with two whole batteries, and so with the other properties. . . .

  During the evening as I was riding over part of the field where there were many dead yankees lying who had been killed, . . . I noticed an old doll-baby with only one leg lying by the side of a Federal soldier just as it dropped out of his pocket when he fell writhing in the agony of death. It was obviously a memento of some little loved one at home which he had brought so far with him and had worn close to his heart on this day of danger and death. It was strange to see that emblem of childhood, that token of a father's love, lying there amidst the dead and dying where the storm of war had so fiercely raged and where death had stalked in the might of its terrible majesty. I dismounted, picked it up and stuffed it back into the poor fellow's cold bosom, that it might rest with him in the bloody grave which was to be forever unknown to those who loved and mourned him in his distant home.

  The actual loss of the enemy I do not know, but their dead extended for miles and their wounded filled every house and shed in the neighborhood. The wounded doubtless suffered much. Their own surgeons abandoned their field hospitals and joined the fleeing cohorts of the living, and our surgeons had all they could do to look after our own wounded, who of course were first served. They received kind treatment, however, and as soon as our surgeons were free they rendered all the aid in their power.

  . . . Along the road and in the midst of abandoned cannon and wagons we found many a forsaken carriage and hack with half-eaten lunches and half-used baskets of champagne, and we received most laughable accounts from the citizens on the roadside of the scenes they saw and the sharp contrast between the proud and confident advance and the wild panic of the flight. The men of our company got many articles of spoil not known to the ordnance department or used by the men who fill the ranks of war. . . .

July 15, 1862 Near Richmond

I was invited by Colonel A.S. Pendleton, . . . to go with General Jackson and his staff into town this morning, and of course I was proud to be of so distinguished a party, though a very small atom in it. We went first to the Governor's mansion, where, by appointment I suppose, we met General Lee. . . . Lee was elegantly dressed in full uniform, sword and sash, spotless boots, beautiful spurs and was by far the most magnificent looking man I ever saw; the highest type of the cavalier class to which by blood and rearing he belongs. Jackson , a typical round head, on the other hand, was poorly dressed, that is he looked so, though of course his clothes were made of good material. His cap was very indifferent and pulled down over one eye, much stained by weather and without insignia of rank or corps which was visible. His coat was closely buttoned up to the chin and had upon the collar the stars and wreath of a general. His shoulders were stooped and one was lower than the other, and his coat showed the signs of much exposure to the weather. . . .

  [ Slaughter Mountain ] August 16, . . . I was just at the point where troops who were going into the fight were thrown from column into line of battle. Here . . . I saw what I had never seen before - the men pinning strips of paper to their coats, with their name, company and regiment marked on them, so they could be identified if killed.

  After standing at this point a long time, . . . the firing in my front and to the left of the road became very sharp and was nearing me rapidly, showing that our men had either been driven or were falling back. . . . but in an instant a regiment or two burst through into the open spot where I was standing, all out of order and mixed up with a great number of yankees. I could not understand it; I could not tell whether our men had captured the yankees or the yankees had broken our line. In an instant, however, the doubt was put at rest, for General Jackson, with one or two of his staff, came dashing across the road from our right in great haste and excitement. As he got amongst the disordered troops he drew his sword and then reached over and took his battle-flag from my man, Bob Isbell, who was carrying it, and, dropping his bridle-rein, waved it over his head, and at the same time cried out in a loud voice: "Rally, men! Remember Winder! Where's my Stonewall Brigade!! Forward men! Forward!!" As he did so he dashed to the front, and our men followed with a yell and drove everything before them. It was a wonderful scene - one which men do not often see. Jackson , usually, is an indifferent and slouchy-looking man, but then, with "the light of battle" shedding its radiance over him, his whole person was changed. His action was as graceful as Lee's and his face was lit with the inspiration of heroism. The men would have followed him into the jaws of death itself; nothing could have stopped them, and nothing did. Even the old sorrel seemed endowed with the style and form of an Arabian.

  Just as this wonderful scene was being enacted a very handsome and hatless yankee captain, not over twenty-one or two years of age, whose head was covered with clusters of really golden curls, and who had in his hand a broken sword, showing that he had led the gallant charge which had broken our ranks, laid his hand on my knee as I sat on my horse and said, with great emotion, "What officer is that, Captain?" and when I told him, fully appreciating the magnetism of the occasion, he seemed carried away with admiration, and, with that touch of nature which makes all the world a-kin, he waved his broken sword around his head and shouted, "Hurrah for Stonewall Jackson! Follow your General, boys!" I leaned over and, almost with tears in my eyes, said, "You are too good a fellow for me to make a prisoner; take that path to the left and you can escape." He saluted me with his broken sword, and disappeared in an instant. I hope he escaped.

The Gettysburg Campaign June 25, 1863 [ Maryland , near Williamsport ]

. . . The crossing the [ Potomac ] river by the troops was very picturesque. General Lee was on the bank on the Maryland side surrounded by ladies who came down to see the sight and to admire him. The soldiers waded into the water without stopping to roll up their pantaloons and came over in as good order as if on review, cheering at every step. One fellow, as he stepped on the Maryland shore, exclaimed, "Well, boys I've been seceding for two years and now I've got back into the Union again." Another said to a crowd of ladies, whom he supposed to be Union in their sentiments, "Here we are ladies, rough and ragged as ever, but back again to bother you."

  The joy of the day was marred this evening by a military execution which took place in this division. I heard the death march, but fortunately did not hear the firing. It was not a victim of any trial in which I was judge-advocate, I am glad to say. . . .

  June 26 - 1863. Greencastle , Penn. I crossed "Mason's and Dixon 's line" to-day, and am now five or six miles within the boundaries of the Keystone State , surrounded by enemies and black looks, Dutchmen and big barns. Night before the last I slept on the "sacred soil," last night in "My Maryland," and to-night I will sweetly slumber in the land of Penn and protection. This is a very rapid change of venue for so large an army. . . . The people are greatly divided in sentiment, but the greater part are Unionists. The minority, however, is large and very enthusiastically Southern, and very bold in expressing their sentiments. . . . So far as I have seen, since crossing the Pennsylvania line, there is not much to indicate that we are in an enemy's country. The people, of course, are not pleased to see us, but they are not demonstrative in their hatred or very shy in their treatment of us. As no maltreatment is permitted, and no pillage other than that of their stock, they are so favorably disappointed they almost seem friendly. Private property is respected, and the men are not allowed even to go into a yard to get water without the permission of the owner. The orders even go so far, and they are very strictly enforced, as to prohibit our burning rails for firewood, a rule not enforced in Virginia and one I must say I think unnecessary here. Of course there will be some pillaging and even some violent robbery, for it is hard to strictly enforce any rule in so large an army, but such acts will be exceptional, as every possible means are taken to enforce General Lee's order, and the order meets the approval of the army. . . . .

  July 3-Friday-1863. - Near Gettysburg . I left Chambersburg on yesterday morning at two o'clock and made a march of twenty-three miles by twelve o'clock , without a straggler, I believe. On the road we heard that the evening before (Wednesday, July 1,) General Lee had met the enemy about two miles from Gettysburg and had driven them back several miles, capturing some five thousand prisoners, without any serious loss on our part. Soon after we reached this place yesterday a very terrible battle begun, which raged until nine o'clock , the particulars of which I have not been able to gather, except that the two wings of the enemy were driven back with great loss, but their centre stood firm. We captured some two thousand, five hundred prisoners and, it is said, fifteen guns. All this, however, is but rumor, and even at corps headquarters we know little. . . . The fight commenced again this morning about four o'clock and has been raging at intervals and in different quarters ever since, until now, at ten o'clock , as I write under the shade of a tree, a terrible cannonading is going on. General Longstreet is a little to my right, awaiting orders, I suppose. His men are not yet engaged except the artillery. . . .

  [July] 4 - Saturday. The battle [of Gettysburg ] so increased in violence that I could no longer write. I knew it was a terrible battle, but how terrible I did not know until it was over. The results of the day even now are not accurately known. . . . I can only speak of what I saw. . . . They vastly out-numbered us, and though our men made a charge which will be the theme of the poet, the painter and the historian for all ages, they could not maintain the enemy's lines even when they captured them - the might of numbers will tell. Our loss in men and officers exceeds anything I have ever known. The loss is especially great among the officers, and those from Virginia particularly. . . .

Letter From Charles Blackford to his 7-year-old daughter

We are camped in a very sweet grove by the side of a large brick house, and I often wish you and your mother were here to enjoy it. I would like for you to see Drury's Bluff and the big cannon down there - bigger than any two in Colonel Huger's battalion - big enough for you almost to crawl into. The breastworks there are very high, and they have little rooms in them in which the powder and shells and shot are kept so they may not be injured either by rain or the shells of the enemy. The fortifications are all turfed, which makes them look much nicer than any you have ever seen. The soldiers live in small cabins, all of which are white-washed, and they have beautiful walkways between them and flowers and grass to make them look better. Would you not like such soldiering as that? This fort is so situated that we can sink the yankee gunboats with our big guns if they try to pass up the James river , which is just at the foot of the bluff, to Richmond . . . . We are camped on a place where there was a battle fought three months ago, and there are many curious signs of it now left. Very near us the yankees had their field hospital, and many of them are buried all around us. In one hole they threw all the legs and arms they cut off, and as they only threw a little dirt over them many of them are sticking out now, making a very horrid sight, but one we get used to. All the trees around us are marked by cannon and musket balls, as the battle raged all around the house, in the yard, and in the porch room. A shell from one of our batteries struck a large oak tree and went to the heart of it before it exploded; then one piece of the shell went up the heart of the tree and the other down. It split the tree, of course, but stuck fast and stands there now like a great wedge, a monument to the power of cannon and to the fierceness of war. I hope the owner of the place will let it stand as it is, a memento of the times, which well be very striking when you are an old woman. Another large tree has a great shell sticking in it, but it did not burst.

  The most remarkable thing I have seen is in a cabin, a few hundred yards from here, where a dead yankee is lying still unburied. He seems to have been wounded and carried to this cabin and laid on some straw on its floor. There he died, and had, as many bodies do, just dried up, for the cabin was between the two lines, and neither side could get to him to aid him or bury him. Right by his side lies the body of a great Newfoundland dog, which the negroes at the house, in the yard of which we are camped, say died of starvation rather than leave his dead master. Master and dog lie there together, strangers in the land of their enemies, unburied and unwept, and, perhaps, far away in the North, he has some little girl like you who is still hoping for her father's return, and picturing the joy of having him back and of romping with the faithful dog. War is a sad thing, but if the poor man had staid at home and not come down here to desolate our homes and murder you and your mother and burn our houses, he would have been with his little girl now, and she could have played with her dog as long as he lived. The negroes told us that they tried to get him to leave his master, and tempted him with food. Once he came out and eat something, but went back and afterwards they could not get him to leave his place or to eat anything. So, there he died. Men are not so faithful as dogs.

 

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