EDITOR’S NOTE: In commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, Ellis County resident Rose Ryder has written a series of columns of historical facts relating to the War Between the States.
• Last in a series
Twenty-year-old Kate Stone recorded in her diary the following story of her family’s flight from Northeast Louisiana in March 1863.
Seven months after leaving their plantation home the family arrived in Tyler, Texas.
There they first shared a home with the now widowed Mrs. Carson, an old friend. The detested Yankees were again nearby, but they were imprisoned at Camp Ford, a Confederate prisoner of war camp which would ultimately hold 6,000.
The Stones immediately encountered “a great prejudice here against the unfortunate refugees.” Brother Jimmy and Johnny Carson were attacked by boys at church and school.
The Stone residence was filled with refugees, Confederate officers and locals. Life was pleasant enough. “So little to eat. We can get plenty of flour; syrup made of sugar, and rusty, rancid bacon, absolutely all the meat we have been able to buy, no eggs, chickens, milk, butter, or fresh meat and not a vegetable.”
In late August, 1864, the Stones traveled back to Monroe, La. There Kate’s 17 year-old brother Jimmy joined the army. Soon there was “intense excitement in the neighborhood. Yankees reported advancing in large force – destroying, burning and murdering as they come! The Yankee raids are no joke, though we laugh at each other for being frightened.”
Returning to Tyler by November 1864, normal refugee life resumed for Kate – sewing, waiting for news, and entertaining Confederate officers assigned to the prison. One frequent visitor was Lt. Henry Holmes, a Louisianan, who courted Kate every day for three months. Rumors spread of their engagement. “Have not an idea of marrying him or anyone else. We are friends, nothing more.”
The young people of Tyler raised money to establish a soldiers’ home by presenting shows composed of music, charades and short skits. More than $900 was collected.
At long last the refugees were accepted by the locals. “All the creme de la creme of the city are always dropping by to discuss something or ask Mamma’s advice.”
Kate became a close friend of Mollie E. Moore, “a charming girl” and author who would later be hailed “The Poetess of the Confederacy.”
April 1865 brought “such terrible news if true, but we cannot believe it.”
Nineteen days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Kate wrote, “Rumors, rumors, but nothing definite. I cannot bear to hear them talk of defeat. It seems a reproach to our gallant dead. There is great gloom over the town. All think that Lee and his army have surrendered. No one will take Confederate money today, and as there is no gold in circulation, there is no medium of exchange.”
Citizens of the Trans Mississippi were not yet ready to surrender. “The Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri troops are passing resolutions declaring they will never give up this side of the river and are ready to enlist for ninety-nine years.”
The Stones continued to sew. Now they were making civilian clothing for the Confederate officers before they returned home. By late May, “All work is done and all who can are going home.”
Brother Jimmy came home. “We are so glad to have Jimmy safe at home, but oh, what a different homecoming from what we anticipated when he enlisted. No feasting. No rejoicing. Only sadness and tears.”
Brother William did not arrive from Virginia until mid June. A few days later he left to return to the Louisiana plantation. He had barely enough time to get there by July 4, “when all abandoned places will be confiscated by the government if the owners or agents are not on them.”
In mid 1863, Mrs. Stone had brought the plantation slaves from the salt mine in Louisiana to Texas. She established a farm on a prairie near Tyler. “We cannot go and leave the crop on the prairie. It is our only hope for a cent of money.”
During September 1865, the Stones left Tyler and headed home. Many of the freedmen elected to accompany them. Travel hardships equaled those experienced in 1863. They crossed Lamar County “with nothing to eat but dried peaches, uncooked, soggy biscuits, and warm, salty-tasting well water.”
Back at the plantation, all of the furnishings and clothing left behind were gone. The Stones found “bare echoing rooms, the neglect and defacement of all. Gardens, orchards, and fences are mostly swept away.”
The family attempted to bring the plantation back to life. Mrs. Stone went to Vicksburg hoping to make arrangement for planting next year and to buy necessities “if she can get the money.” She had no trouble getting funding.
They were plagued with high water, cotton worms and labor problems. The Mississippi flooded in 1866 bringing water up four feet around their house.
They were late planting the cotton. When the crop began to show great promise, the worms came. “In a few days the fields were blackened like fire had swept over them. We made about twenty bales and spent $25,000 doing it.”
The freedmen demanded high wages and also the same rations of sugar, rice, tobacco, molasses and sometimes hams they had received as slaves.” Mother Stone was unable to make a profit to pay off her loan.
In 1868 the Mississippi overflowed again and the Stones were required “to live on very little. We are worse off than even in Texas.”
In December 1869, Kate married Henry Bry Holmes (Lt. Holmes) and they had four children. Two did not survive until adulthood.
Holmes operated a plantation in Ouachita Parish and later served as sheriff of Madison Parish. Kate Stone Holmes was a leader in the civic, social, cultural and religious life of Tallulah for many years.
She founded the Madison chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Kate died in 1907.
Rose Ryder writes for Parsons’ Rose #9, Texas Society Order of Confederate Rose. For more information, visit www.omroberts.com or www.tsocr.org.