Revealing that she was from Maine would not have saved Dolly Burge a single chicken when Sherman’s “Bummers” came calling in mid-November 1864.
Some Mainers moved South in the decades before the Civil War and, when the shooting began, promptly forgot their Yankee roots. Maine-born men fought for the Confederacy, and Maine-born women like Burge supported the South.
Of course, after the Bummers visited her plantation, Burge understandably detested Yankee soldiers.
William Webb Lunt and Ann Matilda (Sumner) Lunt named their daughter born in Bowdoinham on September 29, 1817 Dolly Sumner Lunt. She had at least three brothers: William, born in 1814 and dead two days shy of his second birthday; Orrington, born in 1815 and a future Chicago businessman; and Sumner, born in 1825 and dead 10 years later.
Joseph, a half brother born in 1836, would die in 1852.
Through her mother, Dolly was related to Charles Sumner, the abolitionist senator from Massachusetts who was caned in the Senate chambers in May 1856 by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks. While that assault outraged Northerners, Dolly would have heard praises raised to Brooks, because she was already firmly ensconced in Southern plantation life.
Besides her three full-blood brothers, Dolly had an older sister whose name I cannot find.
Though her myriad online bios (most are obviously based on similar sources) note that Dolly Lunt grew up in abolitionist Maine, she certainly was not an ardent abolitionist. Dolly may have been in her late teens when her sister married a Southerner and moved to Georgia.
Dolly followed soon afterwards and taught school in Covington, the Newton County shiretown (according to Maine terminology, the county “seat” in Georgia’s), located around 35 miles east of Atlanta. Evidently a pretty young woman — and definitely educated — Dolly caught the eye of Thomas Banner Burge, a plantation owner with 100 slaves.
That figure identifies Burge as a wealthy man.
Dolly and Thomas courted, he proposed, and they married and settled on his plantation, some nine miles east of Covington. Among the nearby towns was a place called Social Circle.
Settling into antebellum life, Dolly had “servants,” actually house slaves who fortunately escaped the brutal living of field hands. Thomas Burge evidently raised cotton, a cash crop Southerners shipped north (often on Maine ships) to New England mills.
Those same ships brought consumer goods and other products to Southern ports. The strong ties between the South’s slave-based economy and the Northern manufacturers remains overlooked in history books.
Dolly Lunt Burge gave to a daughter, Sarah, in 1855. The Burges nicknamed her “Sadai,” and as such she was known most of her life.
Thomas Burge died circa 1857 or 1858, leaving Dolly to manage the plantation. She competently did so, as the Bummers would discover.
Circa 1914-1915, a writer named Julian Street visited the Burge plantation, then briefly occupied by two of Dolly’s granddaughters who had come down from their comfortable homes in the Midwest. The women — Mrs. Ida Morehouse of Evanston, Ill., and Mrs. Louis Bolton of Detroit in Michigan — were “my hostesses at the plantation,” Street wrote afterwards.
According to her granddaughters, the plantation house still survived. Street walked through it and across the surroundings grounds. Then he described the setting as “a low white house standing in a grove of gigantic oaks surrounded by the cottonfields.
“The white well-house, its roof mottled with the shadows of branches above,” stood not far from the house, “and far away in the red fields,” black field hands “and mules [were] at work,” Street wrote.
He learned from her granddaughters that Dolly Burge kept a journal through the Civil War. Street convinced his hostesses to let him publish the book, released in 1918 by the New York City-based Century Co. with the title “A Woman’s Wartime Journal.”
Dated January 1, 1864, Dolly’s first entry indicated that “a new year is ushered in, but peace comes not with it.
“Scarcely a family but has given some of its members to the bloody war that is still decimating our nation. Oh, that its ravages may soon be stopped! Will another year find us among carnage and bloodshed? Shall we be a nation or shall we be annihilated?” she asked.
Then Dolly briefly mentioned the war’s economic impact on rural Southerners. “The prices of everything are very high. Corn seven dollars a bushel, calico ten dollars a yard, salt, sixty dollars a hundred, cotton from sixty to eighty cents a pound, everything in like ratio,” she noted.
Before the year’s end, the journal would reveal what happened when Yankees tramped through the front door of Dolly’s home.
Source: A Woman’s Wartime Journal, Century Co., New York, N.Y., 1918
Next week: Yankee raiders come calling the first time
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.