Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Brokenburn - The Journal of Kate Stone 1861 - 1868
Edited by John Q. Anderson With a New Introduction by Drew Gilpin Faust
I first became aware of Civil War diarist Kate Stone when I moved to East Texas and found her included on a Texas State historical marker entitled Confederate Refugees in Texas, briefly mentioning her short stay in the area between Paris and Sulphur Springs. Later, as a visitor to Tyler's Goodman House Museum, I encountered her again. Since she had lived in the area in which I now reside during the period of my greatest interest and had written about her time here, naturally I wanted to know more about her and her classic tale of Confederate refugee life. Kate was one of a family of ten children of a widowed mother living on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River on a plantation named Brokenburn near the village of Milliken's Bend, which was about thirty miles northwest of Vicksburg, Mississippi. War disrupted the life of twenty-year-old Kate as her eldest brothers entered military service, where two would soon die. After resisting the urge to flee from the terror of invasion begun in 1862 with the arrival of Farragut's fleet at Vicksburg, her mother Amanda finally gave in and fled with her family in the Spring of 1863 just prior to the beginning of U. S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign. Amanda had already sent away most of her numerous slaves after several had run away to the protection of the fleet, from which they led inland parties of foragers intent on terrorizing and plundering nearby neighboring plantations.
After a brief stay with friends near Monroe, Louisiana, which was at the end of a short rail line from the settlement Delta just across the Mississippi River from Vicksburg, they continued on by wagon to the northeast Texas area near Paris in Lamar County. Kate despised the provincial life and the local population she found here, making no bones about it in her diary; fortunately her mother, who was wealthy by the standards of everyone else around, decided to remove once again to more "civilized" Tyler. Kate seemed to thrive there, joining forces with another well-known local girl, Mollie Moore, the two becoming belles of local society, though she says she always went around armed with a pistol on horseback rides with Mollie or suitors! (Tyler, though in a safe area, also happened to be the location of a nearby prison for Union soldiers and sailors captured in the Trans-Mississippi and there was always a fear of them escaping.) The house the family lived in during their stay in Tyler during the 1860's though now greatly enlarged as the two-story Goodman House was then a new but rambling single-story dwelling that its owner rented out like a boarding house by the room. Kate lived there with her mother, youngest brother, and two sisters, all crowded in the front room to the left as you enter the front door.
Following the war, the Stone family returned to Brokenburn, but their experience was much like Miss Scarlett's return to Tara. Kate married a former Confederate lieutenant she'd met in her travels and they settled in nearby Tallulah where she died in 1907 at the age of 65. Her diary-journal ( towards the end of the war she stopped making daily entries, instead writing summaries of up to months at a time ) went unpublished until 1955, but quickly became a classic account of wartime civilian experience. I decided that on my next trip to Vicksburg, I'd attempt to find Kate's grave, which is just outside Tallulah on old U.S. 80 on the way to Vicksburg in the Silver Cross Cemetery; just inside the gate and to the left against the fence are the graves of the Stone-Holmes family, including Kate's simple, flat gravestone which gives her full married name, Kate Stone Holmes but no dates or other information; she rests beside her husband, who is buried beneath the usual Confederate Veteran's headstone, as is one of her brothers. Kate's mother Amanda Susan Ragan Stone is also buried here alongside her children, son-in-law, and at least one grand-daughter.
The historical and literary importance of Brokenburn is well-summarized in the review below: When Kate Stone's diary was published in 1955, it was to wide acclaim, hailed by critics such as Edmund Wilson and by crowds – an estimated 10,000 folks in Louisiana including her 77-year-old daughter and has since become regarded as a Civil War classic. This journal records the Civil War experiences of a sensitive, well-educated, young southern woman. Kate Stone was twenty when the war began, living with her widowed mother, five brothers, and younger sister at Brokenburn, their plantation home in northeastern Louisiana. When Grant moved against Vicksburg, the family fled before the invading armies, eventually found refuge in Texas, and finally returned to a devastated home. Kate began her journal in May, 1861, and made regular entries up to November, 1865. She included briefer sketches in 1867 and 1868. In chronicling her everyday activities, Kate reveals much about a way of life that is no more: books read, plantation management and crops, maintaining slaves in the antebellum period, the attitude and conduct of slaves during the war, the fate of refugees, and civilian morale. Without pretense and with almost photographic clarity, she portrays the South during its darkest hours.
As a tale of the lives of Southern refugees during the war Kate Stone's Brokenburn is highly recommended!
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