Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Prayed & wept & hope

’But I heard that Robert was missing for several days before the surrender & might be killed or wounded &c. I felt so shocked - as I dwelt upon the idea of my only & faithful love meeting such a fate & never returning to me - whilst others will come back to their loved ones. I couldn’t endure the thought. Prayed & wept & hope all may yet be well with us, for I can’t believe all this.’ This is Emmala Reed, born 180 years ago today, confiding, to her diary, hopes concerning her childhood sweetheart. The diary, published only recently, is considered of historic importance because of the insight it gives into the early postwar life of a Southern woman.

Emmala was born in Anderson, South Carolina, on 11 Jun 1839. Her father, Jacob Pinckney Reed, had been elected to the South Carolina state legislature, and he was soon to launch a local newspaper. However, he was an ambitious man, and studied to become a lawyer, later serving as a judge. One of his most significant contributions was to found the Johnson Female Seminary, and it was from here that Emmala graduated aged 16. Hers was a comfortable, social life - fancy carriages, music, parties. When the Civil War came, the town of Anderson strongly supported the Confederate cause; despite the tragedy of those years, the Reeds came through them relatively unscathed.

Having been disappointed by her childhood sweetheart, Robert, on his return from the war, Emmala married George William Miller, a teacher, in 1867 and they had seven children. The couple moved to a farm in Rock Mills Township, a few miles from Anderson. The Millers and the entire Reed clan prospered as they grew more cotton than ever before, or founded and financed railroads, cotton mills, banks, mercantiles, and drug stores. Emmala died in 1893. There is very little further information about her readily available online. She is remembered today mostly because of a diary she kept for two years. This was edited by Robert T. Oliver and published in 2004 by the University of South Carolina Press as A Faithful Heart - The Journals of Emma Read, 1865 and 1866. Some parts of this can be previewed freely online at Amazon and Googlebooks. The book comes with a long preface, many detailed footnotes and a host of appendices.

In his preface, Oliver provides further information about his source manuscripts:

‘Emmala Reed’s three journals chronicle her life in Anderson from the age of twenty-five through twenty-seven. The journal written in 1865 covered March 27 through June 26, 1865 and portrayed life in Anderson, South Carolina, as the Civil War ended. With paper and money both in short supply, Emmala was forced to write across an old school workbook in a crosshatch style. As she said, “having filled up every blank book that I could with my silly journalizing I will have to resort to crossing some of the old ones - for I feel that I can scarcely live without giving some such expression to my feelings.” Emmala’s penmanship, best characterized as a minuscule scrawl made worse by the necessity of crosshatching, added considerable difficulty to the transcription process.
Many Southern women abruptly stopped writing in their journals and diaries when the war ended, but Emmala wrote on, a part of her nightly routine and she rarely wavered. Determined to maintain a constant record of her life, Emmala wrote for personal pleasure and inadvertently left behind an excellent portrayal of postwar life in Anderson. [. . .]

The journals of Emmala Reed are significant because she presents a much more detailed account of the crisis of change in the early years of Reconstruction than those of many of her fellow chroniclers who stopped writing at the wars end. And though Anderson was a small town in the northwestern hills of upstate South Carolina, a steady procession of historically noteworthy people and events are described in her journals and add importance to the contents. Emmala relied on the largesse of a resourceful and loving father to provide for her and her siblings and to give her the leisure to keep these most interesting journals.

Indeed, these journals possess a faint scent of magnolia: the indignation of rejection by a suitor, the triumph of love, and a wide assortment of potential romantic fictionalizations. Yet their true significance lies in the scope of information gained through her descriptions of people, events, food, and literature as Emmala gave life and depth to her words. Such works as this have always been valuable resources for the social historian, and the journals of Emmala Thompson Reed are no exception. They provide the reader with a wealth of information about everyday life in a small town and an opportunity to gain insight into the early postwar life of a Southern woman whose whole world had been circumscribed by a series of historical changes beyond her control.’

Here are several extracts from Emmala’s diary, as found in Oliver’s book, complete with spelling inconsistencies (although I have omitted the many footnotes and word underlinings).

29 March 1865
‘A dreamy day - misty - peach trees & gardens glowing with beautiful bloom - sunny &c, but Wm. Walters came in & disturbed my equanimity. Wanted me to go in the country with him to Mrs. Skelton’s. I felt it would be funny to go alone with him. Too dull &c not decided yet. Aunt Anna here - had letters & gone home. My many excuses rather provoked Mr. Walters I guess for he didn’t return to me. I couldn’t decide whether to go or not. I was much worried but releived when he had gone. Not vexed I hope, yet he was kind in calling for me & I may have no other opportunity of going there. But my want of decision is a great trial to me and a serious fault leads me into many unforeseen difficulties & I can’t have more, it seems, or discretion. Busy all evg.’

31 March 1865
‘Delightful day. Made a soldiers shirt in the morning, at noon was suprized by the coming of Fannie Smith to pay me a long promised visit. Dressed in deep elegant mourning, her tall, beautiful form, so queenlike. Such fine dark eyes & brownish golden hair & very fair and graceful ways and gentle voice. So smart, no wonder she has been so beloved by noble Harry, who is gone forever. She has lamented & loved him truly I think.

Says she can never love so again, but she is beginning to get over it, with her gay nature rather subdued but often excited to mirth and sarcasm often too, but she is much changed for the better from the wicked, scornful girl she has been. She will yet be blest and happy I hope. Is much petted by all the Millers. Comes now to see her friends, she is a warm friend of mine too. Hope it may remain so.

We sat charring &c all evg. Mrs. Carter and Miss Gibbes called on us. Nice ladies; the last told us her peculiar fancy for pet snakes, little green grass snakes which she twines in her hair, so strange! Fannie & I walked round to Hattie Brissey’s - nice girl, but cool to me. I think they had a children’s party there - a houseful.

At night Theodore came to see his lovely niece & I. They seemed quite congenial & fond of each other, but Eleanor carried on too much nonsense with him. [H]e talked to me very pleasantly, enjoyed my songs as usual.’

23 April 1865
‘A cold, clear day - but too windy for frost we hope. I didn’t feel well, half frozen all day as we could get no fires. Went late to S.S. Heard children & sung, but was thinking sadly of our momentous conditions now & of Robere - his fate. Mr. Murray gave us a very good sermon on “Search the Scriptures.”

Reading &c all evg - Lula Broyles came up here from Belton where she has been sick - a tall, fair, amiable, smart, lovely girl - I am much attracted to her. We were all so excited about the news - reported that Abe Lincoln was killed & Seward wounded by assassins in Washington & Andy Johnson to be inaugurated Pres, of U.S. and a general cessation of hostilities & terms of peace &c. How much is true & how it will all end, who can tell! But these are momentous - stirring times & we have reached a crisis. God deliver & help us!

But I heard that Robert was missing for several days before the surrender & might be killed or wounded &c. I felt so shocked - as I dwelt upon the idea of my only & faithful love meeting such a fate & never returning to me - whilst others will come back to their loved ones. I couldn’t endure the thought. Prayed & wept & hope all may yet be well with us, for I can’t believe all this. Read over his last dear letters - both unsatisfied, yet so much to explain - surely this is not all - ‘though it may be best! I have ever feared that some such fate would be his - yet still hope for the best!

Hear that Dr. Jimmie Brown & Bob __ were captured at Richmond. What will become of the last? Many other rumours. Negro choir singing here tonight. I had no heart to sing. Long for R. Eleanor seemed to be made happy by a letter & gift from Ben & hopes soon to see him - ‘though flirting now with Dick Tupper - a nice little red headed youth. Andrew Moreland back here - sent out my letters, but will they ever be rec’d. George & Milton Brown have come back - didn’t get on to the army nor letters to P & R I guess, but may I hear from them soon.’

29 April 1865
‘A variable pleasant day of smiles & tears - busy at home. Becky Webb & Eleanor ready with baskets of lunch to go to a picnic, but all parties backed out - boys & girls couldn’t agree. We ate lunch at home.

Mrs. Pinkind here - we sang duetts, then to our surpize a soldier friend entered - Cousin Tom Carter. One of the captured army of Va., yet wouldn’t surrender - escaped & hopeful still & brave. Had a hard time wandering about there. He looked right handsome - delicate form - wavy black hair, bright eyes & rosy face. Good & moral & so lively & blunt. Had a cold & could scarcely talk, but he & I sat chatting all day of the times &c. He said Tom & Jim Hamilton & one Charlie Jones of Abb. were all anxious to learn if I was single - wanted to visit me &c. In evg he walked down to Grandpa’s - where they will be glad to see him. He reminded me of Alfred today - his voice & ways. Fear he may go the same way - with consumption - hope not.

Guests comes from Pendleton on the cars too. Helen Smith & Fannie Adams - dined here & sat some time talking Fan is fine looking - smart & stiff - talks much. I sang for them some. She went to see the Wilkinsons - spoke of their brother Joe coming home soon - having my likeness. She would send him to see me &c.

Helen stayed with Eleanor - ‘though nobody was much pleased, only cares to collect beaux around her. Gus Van Wyck came along. Keys McCulley with them in aft. Called this morn & at night again. A good looking merry chap! Frazier Wilson & Nick Whaley - two Charleston gents, called on them too, so they are highly entertained tonight whilst I was deploring my false or constrained lover - so near - so far! He & C went to their brother Ed’s today - have so many kin to see. I can’t see much of him, wonder if he is not thinking of me &c and what will be the result! All here wondering why he comes not - they will tell him tales of me I guess.

In the soft - hazy - dewy moonlight - the fragrant flowers & myriad roses - dripping with pearly drops - I sat in the piazza - knitting & dreaming so sadly. For every step I thought was his and my heart would bound, but sink back more depressed - as I found he would not come! And always before when he came from trips he called on me the second day or night &c and now when most interested - he comes not & I get no message even and what does he think &c feel? Direct us for the best oh God! He is weary & worn - no clothes - has to stay home with all the collected family. He would cause too much excitement were he to seek me already. He fears all of us down here & some of my letters - or tales he hears may offend. Still he will surely came ere long - or I can’t stand it [. . .].’

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