Manuscript volume, 18 June 1865 - 21 March 1866, journal kept by M.F. Norris, a sixteen-year-old female native of Brooklyn, N.Y., relates details of her journey with her father, Dr. F. Norris, and her mother through the Midwest and the South from November 1865 to March 1866. The journal gives Norris’ opinions and impressions of her travels through the devastated post-Civil War South.
Entries commence in June 1865, and the first ten pages of the journal pertain to her daily life, French lessons, trips to New York and other towns on Long Island, and interactions with her friends and parents. Norris records her father’s decision to travel southward during the winter on account of his health.
In the fall of 1865 the Norris family departed on their journey. Their itinerary took them through a variety of towns and cities—Elmira, Cleveland, Toledo, Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Springfield, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Vicksburg, New Orleans, Mobile, Montgomery, Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, Charleston, Florence, Wilmington, Petersburg, Richmond, and Washington. The journey was accomplished by rail and steamboat, including travel on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Alabama Rivers.
Norris provides observations on each locale. She took tours of each city, its buildings, churches, and cemeteries. She described the varying amenities of hotels, persons encountered, and conditions of travel. The Norrises, wherever possible, tried to visit places and scenes connected with the just completed Civil War, visiting fortifications, battlefields, Ft. Sumter, Petersburg, and former prisoner of war camps.
Norris’ journal is perhaps of greatest interest for its description of conditions and attitudes in the post-Civil War South. Her observations cover race, Southern bitterness, including hostility towards herself, social conditions, the destruction caused by the war, effects of Sherman’s march, and visits to freedmen’s schools.
Eight pages are devoted to Norris’ stay in South Carolina. Arriving at Hilton Head on 2 March 1866, she observed—“The town is composed principally of Government Buildings, a few stores and a hotel. The government spent an immense sum of money in the construction of the wharf, it is nearly half a mile in length....Beaufort was formerly a great place for the planters of the neighboring sea-islands. But now these homes of luxury are abandoned and numbers of them are occupied by negroes. The brown stone mansions facing the bay are palatial in appearance, surrounded with extensive pleasing grounds and enclosed with a high stone wall.”
Journeying on from Beaufort to Charleston, Norris observed the locations of Batteries Wagner and Gregg, “earthworks...situated on a low sandy island,” and Ft. Sumter—“The flag staff where the rebel flag so long waved now bears the beloved flag of our country.” While in Charleston, Norris and other members of her party visited Ft. Sumter, Sullivan’s Island, and several Charleston churches and graveyards.
Leaving the South Carolina low country, the Norrises traveled to Florence by rail on “one of the hardest roads in the United States. There was but one passenger car on the train, & that a poor miserable affair.” They lodged overnight at the Florence Hotel, “the only stopping place in the town. During the rebellion it was used as a prison for our poor soldiers.” From Florence the party traveled on toward Wilmington, N.C.