“How we Lived in the Last Days of the Confederacy”

An excerpt from A Virginia Girl in the Civil War, 1861–1865 being a record of the actual experiences of the wife of a confederate officer by Myrta Lockett Avary

Though the last act of our heroic tragedy was already beginning I was so far from suspecting it that I joined mother at the Arlington, prepared to make a joke of hardships and wring every possible drop of pleasure out of a winter in Richmond, varied, as I fondly imagined, by frequent if brief visits from Dan. The Arlington was kept on something like the European plan, not from choice of landlady or guests but from grim necessity. Feeding a houseful of people was too arduous and uncertain an undertaking in those days for a woman to assume. Mrs. Fry, before our arrival in July, had informed her boarders that they could continue to rent their rooms from her, but that they must provide their own meals. We paid her $25 a month for our room, the price of a house in good times and in good money. During my absence in Mansfield, Hicksford, and other places, mother, to reduce expenses, had rented half of her room and bed to Delia McArthur, of Petersburg. I now rented a little bed from Mrs. Fry for myself, and set it up in the same room. We had become so poor and had so little to cook that we did most of our cooking ourselves over the grate, each woman often cooking her own little rations. Sometimes we got hold of a roast, or we would buy two quarts of flour, a little dab of lard, and a few pinches of salt and treat ourselves to a loaf of bread. We boiled rice or dried apples or beans or peas in our stew-pan, and we had a frying-pan if there was anything to fry. Across the hall from us Miss Mary Pagett, of Petersburg, had a room to herself. Sometimes we all put what we had together and ate in company. When any of us secured at any time some eatable out of the common, if it was enough to go around we invited the others into breakfast, dinner, or tea, as the case might be. It must be understood that from the meal called “tea,” the beverage from which the meal is named was nearly always omitted. Our fare was never very sumptuous; often it was painfully scanty. Sometimes we would all get so hungry that we would put together all the money we could rake and scrape and buy a bit of roast or something else substantial and have a feast. We all bought coal in common. And we had company! Certainly we seemed to have demonstrated the truth of the adage, “Ole Virginny never tire.” We had company, and we had company to eat with us, and enjoyed it. Sometimes our guests were boys from camp who dropped in and took stewed apples or boiled peas, as the case might be. If we were particularly fortunate we offered a cup of tea sweetened with sugar. The soldier who dropped in always got a part (and the best part of) what we had. How we were pinched that winter! how often we were hungry! and how anxious and miserable we were! And yet what fun we had! We devised many small ways for making a little money. We knit gloves and socks and sold them, and Miss Beth Sampson had some old pieces of ante-bellum silk that she made into neckties and sold for what she could get. For the rest, when we had no money, we went without those things which it took money to buy. Click for More →