Charlotte St. Julien Ravenel Memoir, Feb. – Apr.1865
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Manuscript, February-April 1865, the text of which was originally penned by Charlotte St. J[ulien] Ravenel (d.1880), daughter of botanist Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887), as a diary during the invasion of South Carolina by the army of Union General William T. Sherman, was written primarily at Pooshee plantation, with one entry near its end written at the nearby Woodlawn plantation. Both plantations were located in Berkeley County, South Carolina, and were owned by members of the Ravenel family. The diary was published in pamphlet form in 1921 and reprinted in 1994. The manuscript here described is complete, including those sections excised from the printed version; however, both the orthography and paper indicate that it likely postdates the wartime original. | Manuscripts Gifts 2006 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
Miss Ravenel addresses her account to someone identified only as “Meta” [possibly Margaret Ann Meta Morris Grimball?] a person from whom she had been cut off after the evacuation of Savannah. Her narrative vividly depicts the sense of dread her family was experiencing as they received “accounts of Sherman’s movements” in the region. Ravenel describes seeing extended family members, friends and strangers from other parts of the state passing through her area as they fled before the invading army, and tells of how her family attempted to remove provisions and valuables from their house in anticipation of the approaching soldiers.
Some of the initial soldiers who passed by were Confederates - local soldiers who were returning to or had been cut off from their units, scouts, and units of men who were seeking food or a place to rest. But upon the departure of a cavalry squad on 25 February, Ravenel and those with her “felt as if our last friends had left us, and that we would never see a Confederate soldier again, and to add to our discomfort Dr. Waring told us that the Yankees had visited Gippy [plantation], taken all they wished, and then given everything else to the negroes.”
On the night of 1 March, Ravenel wrote that “negroes without an officer” showed up at the house and took food, horses, and wagons. Soon after, more Union soldiers began appearing. “Then the army commenced passing through the yard, about three regiments of infantry, one white and two colored passed through, besides artillery and cavalry,” she observed. Eventually, Union Brigadier General Edward E. Potter would make the plantation his headquarters. “Did we ever imagine that Pooshee would be headquarters for a Yankee army?,” Ravenel asked rhetorically, although its status meant that “we were not molested again” until the army left a week later.
The writer also reflects on the breakdown of law and the social order, including the necessity to do their own cooking and chores. “The field negroes are in a dreadful state; they will not work, but either roam the country, or sit in their houses…. I do not see how we are to live in this country without any rule or regulation. We are afraid now to walk outside of the gate.” She lamented that her grandfather “seems completely broken down” and that it “must be hard for one of his age to have everything so changed from what he has been accustomed to all of his life.”
Soldiers from both sides of the conflict continued to come and go throughout March and April. On the twentieth of April, amid reports “that Lee’s Army, 32,000, has surrendered to Grant” and that Sumter and Summerton were burned, plans were made for the residents of Pooshee to depart. The final entry two days later indicates that the writer was cheered by the news “that Lincoln and Seward have both been assassinated, and that there is to be an Armistice.”