For Dolly Lunt Burge, the Georgia plantation wife born and raised in Bowdoinham in Maine, the jig was up sometime in mid-morning on Saturday, November 19, 1864.
Fired on by Union soldiers, she and her 9-year-old daughter, Sadai, raced to their plantation house some nine miles east of Covington as infantrymen from XVI Corps marched through Newton County, Georgia. Getting to the house with only minutes to spare, “I walked to the gate,” Dolly said.
“There they came filing up,” she realized.
Hastening to the house, Dolly told “my frightened [female] servants … that they had better hide.” Then she “went back to the gate to claim protection and a guard.
“But like demons they rush in!” Dolly cried. “My yards are full. To my smoke-house, my dairy, pantry, kitchen, and cellar, like famished wolves they come, breaking locks and whatever is in their way.
“The thousand pounds of meat in my smoke-house is gone in a twinkling, my flour, my meat, my lard, butter, eggs, pickles of various kinds – both in vinegar and brine – wine, jars, and jugs are all gone,” she would record in her journal that night. “My eighteen fat turkeys, my hens, chickens, and fowls, my young pigs, are shot down in my yard and hunted as if they were rebels themselves.
“Utterly powerless I ran out and appealed to the guard.
“‘I cannot help you, Madam,’” replied the soldier, assigned only to guard the house. “‘It is orders.’”
Dolly watched Yankees lead away her five horses. “There they go! There go my mules, my sheep, and, worse than all, my boys [her male slaves]!
“My poor boys! My poor boys!” she exclaimed. “What unknown trials are before you!”
Exemplifying the best work that Sherman’s “bummers” would do later during the March to the Sea, the Union soldiers stripped all the food, clothing, and household items from the slave cabins. Finally the assigned guard had the slaves “remaining possessions brought into my house,” and the women slaves, possibly along with much older men deemed not fit for hard labor, “huddled together in my room, fearing every movement that the house would be burned,” Dolly said.
Soon “a Captain Webber from Illinois” entered the house. “Of him I claimed protection from the vandals who were forcing themselves into my room,” Dolly noted. Then Webber said “that he knew my brother Orrington” Lunt, who had moved decades earlier to Chicago from Bowdoinham.
Hearing her brother’s name, Dolly started crying. So did Sadai, her doll stolen by a soldier. Webber promised the house would not be burned.
“He felt for me, and I give him and several others the character of gentlemen,” Dolly admitted. “I don’t believe they would have molested women and children had they had their own way.”
History crossed Burge plantation that Saturday. “Sherman himself and a greater portion of his army passed my house that day. All day, as the sad moments rolled on, were they passing not only in front of my house, but from behind,” Dolly commented.
“They tore down my garden palings, made a road through my back-yard and lot field, driving their stock and riding through, tearing down my fences and desolating my home – wantonly doing it when there was no necessity for it,” she said.
“Such a day, if I live to the age of Methuselah, may God spare me from ever seeing again!” Dolly exclaimed.
As flames from burning buildings lit the night sky, “it came up very windy and cold,” Dolly said. “My room was was full, nearly, with the negroes and their bedding,” and Sadai “got down [off the bed] and under the same cover with Sally [a slave].
“I sat up all night, watching every moment for the flames to burst out from some of my buildings,” Dolly noted. “The two guards came into my room and laid themselves by my fire for the night. I could not close my eyes, but kept walking to and fro, watching the fires in the distance and dreading the approaching day, which, I feared, as they had not all passed, would be but a continuation of horrors.”
On Sunday morning, “this … blessed Sabbath,” she discovered that “my Heavenly Father alone saved me from the destructive fire.” Believing they had set afire her carriage-house, Yankee arsonists left, but “thanks to my God” the fire “went out,” Dolly realized. “Shall I ever forget the deliverance?”
The XVI Corps’ rear guard gradually passed by Sunday morning. “A few minutes elapsed, and two couriers riding rapidly passed back,” Dolly observed. “Then, presently, more soldiers came by, and this ended the passing of Sherman’s army by my place, leaving me poorer by thirty thousand dollars than I was yesterday morning. And a much stronger Rebel!”
Neighbors checked on the Burges, and two male neighbors (both Home Guards) allegedly hung by Yankees turned up alive. On Tuesday, November 22, Dolly “went over to my grave-yard to see what had befallen that.”
Thinking that Georgians might hide valuable jewelry, china, and silver in “fresh” graves, Union soldiers had started digging up such graves in hopes of striking it rich. Apparently the gruesome vandalism extended to older graves, because “to my joy, I found it [graveyard] had not been disturbed,” Dolly commented.
“As I stood by my dead, I felt rejoiced that they were at rest. Never have I felt so perfectly reconciled to the death of my husband as I do to-day, while looking upon the ruin of his lifelong labor,” she said. “How it would have grieved him to see such destruction! Yes, theirs is the lot to be envied. At rest, rest from care, rest from heartaches, from trouble.”
Then she stepped from the graveyard and “found one of my large hogs killed just outside” it.
A neighbor found and returned Sadai’s stolen doll. Sherman went to Savannah and ultimately North Carolina, and people living in the regions devastated during the March to the Sea made do as best they could.
With permission from two of Dolly’s granddaughters, Julian Street published “A Woman’s Wartime Journal” in 1918. The book detailed specific passages (but not all) from Dolly’s journal, particularly those pertaining to the two Yankee occupations of Burge plantation in summer and autumn 1864.
The book’s last entry was dated December 25, 1865. The previous Christmas, Sadai had awakened to find her stocking empty. This Chrismas, she “woke very early and crept out of bed to her stocking,” Dolly recorded.
“Seeing it well filled[,] she soon had a light [a candle or a lamp] and eight little negroes around her, gazing upon the treasures,” Dolly said. “Everything opened that could be divided was shared with them.”
Then Dolly noted the eternal change the war had wrought on plantation living. “‘T is the last Christmas, probably, that we shall be together, freedmen!” she exclaimed. “Now you will, I trust, have your own homes, and be joyful under your own vine and fig tree, with none to molest or make afraid.”
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Source: A Woman’s Wartime Journal, Century Co., New York, N.Y., 1918
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.