Two manuscript volumes, 9 February-14 March 1863 and 9 March 1864-16 August 1865, contain diary entries of James Mobley Hill, serving in the Confederate Army, followed by those of his wife Catherine Elizabeth McCrorey Hill on the homefront in South Carolina.
James Mobley Hill (1843-1904), a native of Union County, S.C., describes his military service as a sergeant in DeSaussure’s Light Artillery, which was attached to the Third Battalion South Carolina Light Artillery (the “Palmetto Battalion”) as Co. G. Entries recorded by his wife, Fairfield County native Catherine Elizabeth McCrorey Hill (1846-1895), originate from several locations around South Carolina.
James Hill’s entries, spanning 9 February-14 March 1863, were written from camp near Charleston, S.C., and describe guard duty, dining in camp, visits to Charleston, S.C., and drilling recruits. On the morning of 11 February, when it was his turn to assume the duties of sergeant of the guard, Hill awoke to “the ‘melodious’ notes of the old drum for reveille” and had a breakfast of “sausages, pork, eggs, etc.” That evening he “gave up the idea of having eggs for supper—concluded that such might make us sick.” Hill was assigned second watch that night; however, around nine o’clock he was “disturbed by the vociferous calling... for the Sergt of the Guard.” He “hallooed” to the guard “that I had stripped off & was in bed & would not come.” The source of the commotion was described later in the same entry as being Lt. Daniel M. Rogers, who “had crept up & got the sword from the Sentinels hand.” The latter then began “threatening to knock the Lieut. over if he did not give it up.”
Hill went on duty as sergeant of the guard again on the night of 17 February 1863. The next morning he reported that he “had a hard time of it last night. Nothing to shelter us from the weather only covering being the blue canopy of the heavens—got drenchingly wet while asleep.”
Not all of Hill’s time was spent in camp; he took at least two trips into Charleston, the first being on 16 February 1863. While in “the city” with Lt. Allen A. Gilbert he became “acquainted with a Clariosophic Luke Caldwell,” mailed a letter to his wife which included “Rock me to Sleep Mother,” and in general had a “glorious time.” Hill’s description of Caldwell references an affiliation with the Clariosophic Literary Society, to which Caldwell had belonged during his attendance at South Carolina College.
Five days later, on 21 February 1863, Hill again “run the blockade to the city.” On 24 February, Hill left camp to visit family, returning on 29 February and lamenting that it was “hard parting again with my wife.”
Subsequent entries of Catherine Elizabeth McCrorey Hill, written chiefly from Union and Fairfield Counties, S.C., commence in the same volume on 9 March 1864. After filling the first diary, she continued in the second volume until 12 August 1865.
Mrs. Hill’s early entries chronicle ordinary events including visits with family, writing to and receiving letters from her husband, and daily lamentations over their separation. Typical of the latter is her entry dated 23 March 1864, “Oh! that I could hear from my Love, how happy would I be... Oh! that I was by his side, no one would be more happier. Oh! how dearly I love my Idolized husband.” While missing her husband, Hill did all she could to contribute to his and other soldiers’ comfort. This included making suspenders (finished on 16 March 1864) and socks (completed three days later) and sending a box of provisions on 28 March 1864, which contained a cake she and her sister-in-law had made that morning. Hill also includes general descriptions of the weather. Unusual among these is the description of a snow storm on 21 March 1864. She reported that after the snow fell all morning they “all made ‘snow cream’ today.” Later she was feeling “a little unwell, caused by eating too much snow.”
Mrs. Hill was finally able to see her husband in April 1864. She left the first day of that month for “Hardeesville” [i.e. Hardeeville (Jasper County, S.C.)], arriving on 4 April 1864, where she stayed six weeks at the home of “Mr. Haynes.” While she was there, James Hill was able to spend most of his time with her, returning to camp only on nights when he had guard duty. They passed their time taking walks, dining with local citizens, and traveling to Savannah aboard a “Steam boat” (26 April 1864). When Catherine Hill left on 13 May 1864, her husband was able to secure a furlough to accompany her back to Union, S.C. They spent the night of 14 May 1864 in Charleston, and she reported the following day that the “Yankees shelled the city (Charleston) the whole night.” Upon their arrival in Union, S.C., on 16 May they found summer “in its full blast” and were able to enjoy a “nice mess of strawberries for dinner” the following day. James Hill left Union on 6 June 1864, but was back just over a week later, this time on “sick furlough.” This was extended on 13 July 1864, and he did not go back to his unit until 22 August 1864. He would return to Catherine on 16 October 1864, again on “sick furlough,” and although he received orders to rejoin his unit on 16 February 1865, Hill never did so.
Catherine Hill left Union, S.C., on 25 June 1864, traveled to Fairfield County, S.C., and stayed with her family until November of that year. During the time she was in Fairfield, she would give birth to a daughter, Catherine Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hill, on 2 October 1864. While her husband was absent she took solace in her daughter’s company, remarking on 10 October 1864, “I feel very well to day, & my little baby is such a comfort to me, I do pray she may live to make darling & myself happy.” While she may have been improving emotionally, her physical condition lagged behind. On 16 October 1864 she noted that she was “still very weak not able to walk,” and six days later she had to have her breast lanced.
During the first four years of the war, Catherine Hill was removed from the realities of the conflict. This would all change once Federal troops under General Sherman invaded South Carolina in January 1865. Her first remarks on the presence of Union troops came on 7 February 1865, when she wrote, “The report is that Sherman has Branchville” in Orangeburg County, S.C.
Nine days later, reports had reached her that “the Yankees... are now shelling Columbia,” and she hoped that “God will save our country & spare our lifes.” On 19 February 1865, there were people “flying in every direction from their homes,” and she went on to report that “Columbia is burned... we have seen fire in the direction of Columbia, the Yankees are all around us.” Three days later, she could see “dreadful fires... in the direction of Chester, buildings being burned by the Yankees.” According to Catherine, upon reaching Fairfield, the Union army “destroyed every thing in the district, they’ve burned down Uncle Ed Mobley’s home... Everything ma has was destroyed.” In spite of the destruction, she still naively waited for a Confederate victory. Even as late as 30 March 1865, she hoped they would soon “whip the Y—& gain our independence.”
While Union attacks intensified, the Hills had a steady stream of Confederate soldiers as guests in their home. On 20 February 1865, “four of Hamton’s chief scouts” spent the night, and the next day Catherine “played on the piano for 20 soldiers.” By 14 March most of the Confederate forces she saw consisted of paroled prisoners. This was still the case on 28 June 1865 when she reported, “Two soldiers (parolled prisoners) very nice gentlemen are here will spend to night & tomorrow night. One has a guitar & played for us, they are from Spartanburg.”
The presence of Federal forces brought with it profound changes in the social order. On 7 June 1865, Catherine reported “Pa had seven negroes to go off last night & Uncle George three.” Eleven days later “One of pa’s negroes who had been run off, stole Jimmie’s horse... so he & cousin Newt started out this morning in hunt for his horse, they have returned & got the horse. I am so glad.” By 4 July 1865 the gravity of the situation had become clear and led her to remark bleakly, “The Yankees are having great times to day, poor Confederacy, we have nothing to be happy over.”
The destruction that followed Sherman’s invasion of South Carolina was coupled with a personal tragedy for the Hills. On 19 July 1865, Lizzie Hill died at the age of nine months and seventeen days. Catherine Hill tried a number of remedies to cure her child. On 11 July she “got some powders,” six days later she administered whiskey, and on 18 July she finally had a doctor visit. By this time, Hill knew it was probably too late to save her daughter. She lamented, at the time of the visit, “my poor little Lizzie is so sick, he [Dr. Thomas] can do her no good. I know she won’t live long.” Catherine Elizabeth McCrorey Hill concluded the second volume of her diary with a memorial to her deceased daughter on the inside of the back cover of the volume, “My Sweet little Lizzie. ‘My Darling little Lizzie.’ Our Angel in Heaven.”