Primary Resource

Diary of Sarah A. G. Strickler (March 2–10, 1865)

In this excerpt from her diary, dated March 2–10, 1865, Sarah A. G. Strickler describes the Union occupation of Charlottesville at the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865). At the time Strickler was a student at the Albemarle Female Institute, in Charlottesville.

Transcription from Original

March 2nd 1865

Everything is in an uproar tonight. Yankees are reported 20 miles from here. Of course the girls are flying about half made, hiding their "bijouterie." I am so uneasy. Ormond & Lena are ill, & I cannot hear from home.

March 3rd

Yankees are reported at Mitchim's river [Mechum's River]. I do not think that they will have any Charlottesville to take when they get here; the merchants will carry it off. I wish you Yankee pests were in the Gulf or some such watery place. The commissaries have set fire to the stores at the depot—the fire is beautiful. The red & golden flames leap up, & volume of black smoke rolls forth & extends across the sky. The roof & sides are falling in with a crash, and the waving flames burst forth in all their fiery fury! 2 o'clock! The long expected hordes have come at last, [Union general Philip H.] Sheridan's men; they came shouting & galloping through town, waving their banners aloft. We have a guard, none of them tarry, they are going toward the iron bridge. The students & professors at the University met them with a flag of truce, asking them not to burn the University … Now they are coming back from the bridge; I do not know what they intend to do. 9 o'clock! Our guard says there are 10,000 in all; they are encamped all around here; the hundreds of camp fires are gleaming brightly in the dark. They have burned part of the iron bridge, & the cotton factory there. The conflagration was magnificent, sublime, it illuminated the whole canopy of heaven, with a lurid glare. The band is now playing "no one to love," at the camp opposite us—it is pouring down rain—the men are cutting down trees, & calling to each other. The rogues say that they came here from Waynesboro. Of course no one is thinking of school, nor has been for some time.

March 4th

The Vandals did not move last night, as some of them expected. The hills & valleys are black with them; we are completely encircled. It has stopped raining & the wind is blowing briskly. Here come about 2000 right through our yard. One is riding up to the window, I am going to speak to him … I said to him, "Yankee what are you doing to do with these dismounted men"; "tear up the railroad," he replied. "If you live in Richmond you can go with us, we'll be there in a few days." I told him never, that if they fought 10,000,000 of years they could not conquer us. He rode away, and some of them actually waved their hats at us—Mollie and I were so incensed, that with one impulse we clenched our fists & shook them at them; we could do nothing else. Oh! if I was only a boy, to fight them—it chafes me so sorely to have to submit to their insolence. Why was I not born a boy? in spirit I am all a man. The sound of clashing arms & whistling bullets would be the sweetest musick to my ear now. Later. The men have come back, & say that they have torn up a considerable part of the Lynchburg road, & are going to tear up the Central road. Our guard is from Indiana, & his name is "Siemandel." They are all under very good discipline, do not straggle at all. There is an old negro in the yard, who says that he belongs to Gen. Custar's staff. Custar [George Armstrong Custer] has his headquarters at Mr Tom Farish's. 10 o'clock! They have set fire to the other part of the iron bridge; it looks beautiful, at this distance, like a burning city in miniature. Some of the men set fire to the Rivanna bridge on the Barboursville road yesterday, but the Yankees put it out today & are going over it foraging. The camp fires look like so many beaming stars. The moon is shining brightly & it is a lovely night—the band is playing on the hill opposite; it is so sweet, like a chorus of birds, and the camp fires look like they are dancing to the musick; they are playing "pld folks at home." Later. They are expected to move tonight, but show no signs of it at present. We heard this evening that a party of Confederates drove in the Yankee picketts; for a moment I indulged the hope that our Southern warriors were coming, but alas! it was a vain one. The Yankees say that they have Lynchburg, but of course, no one believes them. Camps are quiet. I am sleepy. Goodnight.

March 5th

Enemy are still here. I heard the bugle sounding "reveille" this morning. The band has been playing "Dixie," although it is Sunday. There has been a fire in the direction of Keswick, supposed to be the depot. The signal corps are at work, on top of Mr Farish' & Mr Dury Wood's houses. Our guard has certainly been informed of our opinions on the war, we give to them on all occasions. The Yankees have taken several of our citizens prisoner. Two of "the crew" came through our yard today with two of our battle flags, which they had captured; when they saw us standing on the porch, they rode up close to the steps, holding up the flags & smiling triumphantly; it was so low of them. We know nothing that goes on in town.

March 6th

The barbarians commenced this morning about 7 o'clock; there is a rumor afloat that [Confederate] Gen. [James] Longstreet was not far from here. Some of them went towards Scottsville. "Siemandel" did not leave, until all of the army had gotten out of sight. He amused himself yesterday by reading "Schiller;" just think, that ignorant Dutchman [i.e., someone of German heritage] can read "Schiller" & I cannot. Two of our maids went off with their brethren, taking two of my dresses & several skirts, together with things from other girls. Later. Some of the girls have been downtown; some of the officers told a lady down there that some of the Institute girls shook their fists at them, & that there was strong talk of arresting them. I have just been down to Mr Faish's to see "Mary Randolp." They are very much smitten with Gen. Custar, down there; say that he acted so gentlemanly—when he left he gave Mrs Farish his photograph—& she actually took it. The vandals searched some houses & stores downtown, & acted right badly … I am so glad that they are gone, I can breathe freely now. Mr Hart stayed very close in the house while they were here … We are not in school today. Old Horace, Cicero, Sallust & Euripides are all as foreign to my thoughts as the Yankees were last week. Later. About 40 Confederate cavalry came into town this evening; some of [Confederate general Thomas L.] Rosser's men. The hated blue coats are all gone now—they had it distinctly understood that our school & Miss Leaton's were not to be disturbed. Mr. Hiden came down to see us this evening—he told an amusing anecdote about [Union] Gen. [Wesley] Merritt & a negro boy. A great many negroes went off with them—they took them unwillingly I believe.

March 7th

Oh! how are the mighty fallen! [Confederate] Gen. [Jubal A.] Early came in town this evening with six men, having been hid somewhere in the mountains. He used to be a very great man … We walked to the iron bridge this evening—it is a perfect wreck; it is still burning. They cut the telegraph wife, & threw them among the ruins of the bridge … The bright new moon is shining out, & two little stars in a perfectly cloudless sky.

March 8th

I understand that Gen. Sheridan said that all the ladies of Charlottesville were real ladies, except those at the Institute. I should not like to be his idea of a lady. Every body seems so much astounded because we shook our fists at the rogues, & none more than the rogues themselves. I admit that it was debasing ourselves to notice them; but I could not see them waving their hats at me, without returning the salutation. The citizens cringed to them too much—it was degrading, & all to save a little paltry property. The people in the country suffered a great deal, I have heard.

March 10th

Today is fast day. The Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, & Campbellites united, & had a service in our church. Dr. McGuffie [William H. McGuffey] preached, his text was "Deuteronomy" 30.10.12; he preached a fine sermon as he always does. I am afraid that I shall never hear the last of shaking my fist at the Yankees—Mrs Leake attacked me about it today—said that the officers said they would imprison us, if the could ascertain who did; blah! they made no efforts. I am sure it would be very romantick to be imprisoned …