Sarah Morgan Dawson was twenty when she began writing in her diary on March 9, 1862. The Civil War raged near her family’s home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her family had already known hard times. In 1861, illness claimed her father’s life and a duel claimed a brother’s life.
War threatened to divide her family. Three brothers fought for the Confederacy and another, though he sided with the Union, refused to fight against his brothers.
Baton Rouge fell into Union hands. Most citizens ran for their lives, including Sarah’s family. She returned a few times to gather possessions from her home, but found that the Union soldiers who occupied the city had ransacked it. The home was unrecognizable on her last trip—the soldiers had plundered valuables and destroyed what they left behind. Sarah didn’t return to her childhood home until after the war.
Made homeless by the war, her family wandered from Baton Rouge, staying with friends and strangers.
Food supplies dwindled. Sarah had money to purchase food yet some places had none for sale.
They stayed near the Confederate army, making friends with many soldiers. Sarah did all she could to help them. Her family had escaped with few clothes … and everyone else was in the same predicament.
A serious buggy accident injured Sarah’s back. The injury prevented her from walking more than a few steps. She clung to her faith throughout the difficulties that mounted almost daily.
Her Union-sympathizer brother urged them to stay with him in New Orleans, which was now under Union control. They had little choice. A hard train ride and then a schooner took them to New Orleans.
Upon their arrival, they had to take an oath of allegiance to the Union. A Southerner at heart, taking the oath broke Sarah’s spirit. Even worse, Sarah’s mother complained so passionately to the Union soldiers of all she’d suffered at their hands that she was almost arrested. Sarah’s brother smoothed things over and took them into his home.
At the beginning of 1864, Sarah’s heart broke to discover that two of her brothers died. They’d lost so much to the war that she hated the Union.
General Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. Sarah’s diary entries stopped on June 15, 1865.
It was published and inscribed: “To those who endured and forgave”.
Sarah read her diary many years later and wanted people to know that through it all, God never failed her. “Whatever the anguish, whatever the extremity, in His own good time He ever delivered me. So that I bless Him to-day for all of life’s joys and sorrows—for all He gave—for all He has taken—and I bear witness that it was all Very Good.” –Sarah Morgan Dawson, July 23rd, 1896, Charleston, South Carolina.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Dawson, Sarah Morgan. A Confederate Girl’s Diary: Civil War Centennial Series, Indiana University Press, 1960.