The Journals of Josiah Gorgas, 1857-1878

The Journals of Josiah Gorgas, 1857-1878


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ISBN-13: 9780817356026
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 08/30/1995
Pages: 345
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins is Professor of History at The University of Alabama and Editor of The Alabama Review. She is also the author of The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881, published by The University of Alabama Press. Frank E. Vandiver is Director of the Moshler Military Institute at Texas A&M University.

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The Journals of Josiah Gorgas 1857â"1878

By Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 1995 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8301-5


"Her affectionate companionship is sufficient for me"

Janry 1st 1857 The journal begun this day is dedicated to my children and is devoted to their gratification and instruction. Such a record from the hand of my father would command my reverence and affection. May this not be unworthy of theirs.

Some friends dined with us to-day, & the evening passed cheerfully and happily. Minnie [Amelia] and I were alone together after 8 o'clock, alone but not lonely. Her affectionate companionship is sufficient for me in all times and places. Willie and Jessie were brought to the table at dessert and behaved very well. Willie seemed particularly devoted to the jelly his mother had made, at dinner; and afterwards listened with absorbed attention to the singing of Mrs. Cushing and Miss Child. The weather is not all cold, the thermometer standing at about 20° during the day time.

Jany 4th [1857] Last evening I read [William H.] Prescott's history of Philip the Second [History of the Reign of Philip the Second] aloud. The easy fluency of the style and the clearness of the narrative lend to its pages the interest of a Romance. The evening before I read aloud Mr. [Lewis] Cass' [of Mich.] speech in the Senate in defence of the President's message, & in deprecation of the Slavery agitation at the north. This will perhaps be his last session in the Councils of the nation, the success of the Black Republican party (supporters of [John C.] Fremont [of Mo.]) in Michigan bringing in a new man. This fact gives the greater weight to what he says, and his warnings have the warmth of conviction. The death of Mr. [John M.] Clayton [of Del.] and the retirement of Mr. Cass will deprive the Senate of the last of those illustrious men, the compeers of Webster Clay & Calhoun. The antecedents of the men who now chiefly compose that body give no weight to that hitherto august body. Most of them have no reputation beyond the narrow precincts of their own States; and the repute of such as are known like [William H.] Seward [of N.Y.], [John P.] Hale [of N.H.] and [Charles] Sumner [of Mass.] is rather a notoriety than an honor. Minnie is reading "Margaret" an obscure book written by a deceased clergyman, Mr. [Sylvester] Judd, late resident here, where his widow still lives. It has been illustrated with the best & most vigorous etchings yet produced in this country, by [F. O. C.] Darley [the famous illustrator]. The book is, she says, hardly worthy the drawings. It contains however some vigorous pictures of "Down East" country life & has been praised in various quarters. It was written some years ago.

Jany 12th, [1857] On Thursday (8th) we went over to witness the inauguration of Govr. [Hannibal] Hamlin, the new "Black Republican" Govr. [of Me.]. The ceremony consists simply of administering the oath to support the constitution of the State. It is administered by the Speaker of the Senate. No one wore any insignia except the Adjt. Genl. who wore a uniform (undress). The Message delivered afterward by the Govr. he read from the Speaker's Desk. It was not quite as rabid and ultra as his stump speeches were; but he declared the South to be a Despotism and as such "aggressive," and if we did not oppose its encroachments our descendents would be Slaves& would deserve to be. The debates in Congress show pretty conclusively that the agitation on the subject of Slavery is to be continued at the north. It is in fact the only point on which a great unanimity of sentiment can be produced at the north, & political schemers will therefore continue to make use of it. It will not for a while however it is to be hoped affect the perpetuity of the Union. Something will interpose to reunite the national feeling; but an eventual separation appears but too inevitable.

On Friday we went to hear a Mr. Wellets, from Philadelphia lecture. His subject was "Home," and was very cleverly handled & very much to the entertainment of the audience. These lectures serve the places of popular amusements, and are frequently very entertaining. It is an institution somewhat peculiar to New England.

Yesterday (Sunday) was a very stormy day and kept us in doors. I had a sore on my hand to which Minnie applied poultices during the day. It is a great pleasure to be waited on by one we love, slightly selfish in its nature no doubt.

We sometimes speak with regret of our late home at Mount Vernon [Ala.]. The manner & habits of the people are so uncongenial here that one cannot help sighing after the frankness of southern manners. Then the balmy climate of the South cannot but make one wish the vigorousnorthern winters were somewhat shorter. Nature is as were walled up from us here during six months in the year. The "merry jingle" of the sleigh bells is but a sorry compensation for the rustle of leaves, the voice of birds, and the beauty & odor of flowers.

On Saturday (10th) we took a sleigh ride with the whole family nurse Anne [Kavanaugh] included. Baby [Jessie] & Willie enjoyed it famously. To-day is again a beautiful sunshiny day, if the thermometer did not stand at Zero this morning. We had a merry company on Saturday Evening, Mr. & Mrs. Gilman & Mr. Custer, & a game of whist at which Mr. Gilman was very amusing. Whist is one of the very best schools for acquiring command over one's temper. A well bred man shows to the best advantage at this game, where exhibitions of impatience & querulousness are not uncommon, but not the less out of place. Good nature is the best contribution a man or woman can make to society. It is really more valuable, because rarer, than talent or learning; and it can only be acquired by constant effort at self-command. Better, far better, be silent than say an ill-natured word.

Wednesday, Jany 28 [1857] We have just passed thro' the coldest weather that has been known for many years. The thermometer fell to 36° below zero at our north window. With the help of good fires in the furnaces we were enabled to keep quite comfortable. Yesterday was a lucky day for us. We received letters from Mobile [where several members of his wife's family resided] and from [Amelia's younger brother] Dick, who has just arrived with his good ship at Genoa. I also learned of the passage thro' the House of the bill for increasing the pay of the Army Officers. There is no doubt of the action on it in the Senate. The chief matter of interest at Washington is the inquiry going on as to alledged corruption among the M.C.'s [members of Congress]. The charge was made by the correspondent of the [New York] "Times," Mr. [James W.] Simonton, in general terms. Notice was taken of it in the House, but no action would have been had on it, because it was merely newspaper report, had not Mr. [Robert T.] Paine [Representative] of N. C. said there was too much truth in the charge, as he knew. Mr. Simonton refuses to give up the names of the members who he says approached him to obtain pay for them for their votes on certain measures. He is in custody & a bill has passed the Senate to compel persons under heavy penalties to answer in these cases.

Poor little Jessie has been quite sick, with teething no doubt, and has kept her mother up for several nights, until she is very much worn out. I am such a poor nurse that I cannot relieve her much, and Anne (the nurse) good as she is, cannot manage the little ones. Willie is delighted with a new table which serves also to support his chair at [the] table. He is very bright, quite grave & tolerably mischievous & troublesome. Yesterday as I was reading a paragraph aloud to his mother while he was playing near, he, without interrupting his avocations, followed my reading & caught very accurately the principal words.

Now that our finances will be abundant for our wants Minnie & myself begin to talk of buying a plantation when we shall have grown rich. I think she would be quite happy if she could see herself 12 or 15 years hence the mistress of a hundred bales of cotton per annum and 40 or 50 ebony faces, whom she would make happy. She has eminently the faculty of making dependents contented, & would I dare say spoil every darkey about her, for the use of any one but herself. The weather has become very moderate again & we propose taking a family sleigh ride to-day. The mercury stood at 35° above yesterday & at 24° this morning.

Friday, Feby 6, [1857] The mantle of snow with which the Earth has been draped has been gradually thickened by almost daily accessions, until the recollection of the green earth beneath is almost lost. The sleighing is not good on account of the superabundance of snow on the roads which causes it to wear into pitch holes. A succession of these pitch holes gives you the sensation of riding over waves in a small boat.

Some days ago we went to see in the evening some very good tableaux, at a public hall in Augusta. Many of them were taken from Darling's [Darley's] illustrations of "Margaret," the book heretofore referred to. The good citizens seemed to be very much entertained & there was a renewal of the exhibition on the following day. A bill has just passed in the House of Reps. to increase the pay of Officers of the Army by the addition of $20 per month pay & 10 cts additional for the commutation of the ration. It is just, much needed and will doubtless become a law. The mails are so retarded by the storms of snow that we get little news. The subject that attracts chief attention is the murder of Dr. [Harvey] Burdell in N. York. The inauguration [of Democrat James Buchanan as U.S. president] approaching also gives something to talk about. The sudden death of [S.C. congressman] Preston S. Brooks, from croup, has excited great sympathy in friend & foe. The remarks in the Senate & House on the announcement of his death from Mr. [R. M. T.] Hunter [senator from Va.], Mr. [Thomas L.] Clingman [congressman from N.C.] & others, were very touching, & vividly portrayed the manly traits of this man, so hated by the Republicans; & held up by them since his chastisement [in 1856] of Sumner, as a monster of wickedness.

Feby 11 [1857] Last night we went to hear the lecture of [the pastor of the Plymouth Church in N.Y.,] Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, familiarly called "Rifle Beecher," from his recommending contributions of rifles to the free State Kansas emigrants. His subject was "the commonwealth," in which he taught the insidious doctrines of the "higher law," as advocated by the Abolitionists. The house was crowded, & the audience sympathetic. He is a man somewhat below the middle height with a bilious face, & long hair, eyes very prominent. His illustrations are the best part of his oratory & are sometimes exceedingly striking. As for example the comparison of governments in which a privileged class exists, to a stalk of wheat. The nobility is the wheat head, to which all the sustenance goes; the straw is the middling class that sustains the nobility, & the roots &c are the common people who furnish the vitality to all above, while themselves groveling in the earth, "and are ploughed in for a fresh crop." Mr. Gilman dined with us before the lecture & went with us.

I had a letter from Mr. [Thomas Hart] Benton [former U.S. senator from Mo.] telling me that I would perhaps be sent to West Point to take charge of a new branch of instruction, designated as "Instruction in Ordnance & the Science of Gunnery." Were the place South of Mason & Dixon's line I might incline to go there; as it is I have no special desire to go there to turn teacher. Govr. & Mrs. Hamlin returned yesterday our call. He talks like the rest of the great men at Washington, & wished to know whether he had ever seen either of us at W., because of course he was introduced to so many persons at W. that he could not pretend to retain a recollection of, &c, &c. Mrs. H. is young & pretty, being the second Mrs. H. We propose to invite them to dinner with a few others, & Minnie declares it shall be a handsome dinner but vows she will not give it until she feels secure of the passage of the bill increasing my pay. A prudent resolution but I would not risk much on its being kept, especially as the dinner bill will not cost an overwhelming sum. A party was given last week at a Mr. [Joseph H.] Williams (speaker of the [Me.] Senate) & Minnie would I think like to have gone; but as they had not called here at all until two days before the party & as Mr. W.[illiams] is an arrant black republican, a species of man I detest, we sent a regret & luckily stayed at home, luckily because both the children have very bad colds, & Willie was threatened with the croup during the evening. In Congress they are discussing the bill to assist the laying of the Atlantic Submarine cable, the proposed reduction of the Tariff, and minor matters. From all sides we hear of the intense cold weather prevailing. Near Columbia, Tenn. 7 persons white & black were frozen to death. The telegraph brings the news of a great freshet at Troy & Albany, the greatest ever known. The investigation into the murder of Dr. Burdell in New York (a dentist) continues without elucidation as to who were the murderers. The deed must have been committed about 11 o'clock in a house full of inmates, & in a very public street (Bond) a few steps out of Broadway. The weather has again become cold, & the mercury, from 46° above Saturday, stands now at 13° below, a great change. We sigh for the sunny days at Mt. Vernon, & cannot help thinking how we should be taking daily rides with the children in that mild climate.

March 6th, [1857] Yesterday we received the news of the inauguration of President Buchanan. His inaugural address is brief and to the point. He expresses his conviction that his election envinced the devotion of the people to the constitution and the union, hopes that agitation on the subject of slavery will cease, deprecates corruption in the government, which flows in a great measure from the superabundance of money in the treasury, is satisfied with the limited reduction of the Tariff just made, believes in that sort of "squatter sovereignty" which is exercised at the formation of a State constitution, recommends the expenditure of surplus funds for increase of the navy, believes in a strict construction of the constitution, but thinks a military road to California one of the measures necessary for the common defense, & that in our foreign policy non-interference should guide us, except where self-preservation requires action, and that territory may be acquired consonant with honor & justice without just cause of complaint to other nations. Mr. Cass, Secy of State, Mr. [Howell] Cobb [of Ga.], Treasury, [John B.] Floyd of Virginia, War, Jacob Thompson of Miss., Secy. Interior, [Isaac] Toucey, of Conn, Navy, are said to be the Cabinet. Yesterday evening Minnie & I went to a fancy ball of children. Finding nothing to amuse me I walked back & read the paper, returning to the ball at 10, no refreshments except such as we purchased, which consisted of a bowl of whitish liquid with 3 or 4 oysters in it under the name of stewed oysters. Our dinner to Govr & Mrs. Hamlin, spoken of before passed off very pleasantly & we formed a pleasant impression of both the Govr. & his wife. He has now resigned his place & resumed his seat as Senator for six years. I met his successor, Mr. Williams at dinner at Mr. Gilmans. He is not a man of the world I should judge. Having had my attention directed to him when I first came here as an active "black republican," I had a rooted antipathy to the man, which I find it difficult to overcome. We were however quite civil to each other & he took pains to apologize for not making my acquaintance before. Our pay has been increased by the Congress just dissolved, greatly to the gratification of the recipients & I believe everybody concedes the justice of the augmentation. It increases my income by about $650 per annum, & we begin already to speculate on the possibility of buying a plantation & 40 or 50 slaves, to settle down upon when we get old. Minnie's heart yearns for the darkies & she is prepared to spoil any number of them by indulgence. The weather is stormy, snowy, sunshiny & blowy by turns. Thermometer sometimes near zero & then up to 40 or 50.

March 17, [1857] Jessie is just one year old to-day, & nice plump lovely little thing that gives us great pleasure. We are blessed with fine children certainly. The climate, rude as it is, seems to agree with them. Yesterday, Mamma, Willie, Jessie & nurse took a ride together in the sleigh, after "Old Ben" an excellent trusty old horse. A few days ago we were edified by the presence amongst us of Mr. Geo. Vandenhof, an excellent actor, who gave three public readings, one of which Hamlet is his famous character. As he is a gentleman we had him to supper & afterward to dinner. He is very fine looking & very agreeable. It is amusing to witness the eagerness with which the Yankee girls flocked to get introduced to him. One not very young lady, whom Minnie invited to see him, simperingly told him that "she had been waiting for seven long years to thank him for the pleasure he had given her," at some previous time in Boston. Poor girls! they have no husbands and no chance of getting any, & are sprouting all over with sentiment, which a few children to take care of would have absorbed. All the young men leave here to seek their fortunes elsewhere, in Iowa, California, Sandwich Islands &c. We heard yesterday of the serious illness of Maria's [Amelia's youngest sister] little girl "Mamie." She was convalescent however before the letter left. The sleighing is still so-so, & on the river excellent. To-day is sunshiny & windy. Three members of Congress, [Orsamus B.] Matteson, [William A.] Gilbert & [Francis S.] Edwards, all from N. York, were designated for expulsion by the Investigating Committee & resigned their Seats. A fourth, [William W.] Welch from Conn. was exonerated by the vote of the House. The Cabinet of Mr. Buchanan consists of Cass of Mich. State, Cobb of Ga. Treasury, Floyd, Va. War, Toucey of Conn., Navy, Thompson, Miss. Interior, [Aaron V.] Brown, Tenn. P.M. General, & [Jeremiah] Black of Pa. Atty Genl. Considerable sensation has been created by the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case. The principal points decided were, 1st That a negro could not be a citizen within the meaning of the constitution of the U.S. 2d That the mere residence in a free State does not prevent the slave from resuming his condition of slavery on his return to it; & 3d That the principles of the Ordinance of '87 excluding slavery from the Territories N.W. of the Ohio were unconstitutional. This ought & it is to be hoped will be a final disposition of this vexed question, which has heretofore assumed such a threatening aspect.


Excerpted from The Journals of Josiah Gorgas 1857â"1878 by Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins. Copyright © 1995 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Editorial Policy,
Genealogy of the Family of Josiah and Amelia Gorgas,
Antebellum January 1857–March 1861,
I "Her affectionate companionship is sufficient for me",
II "My great regret is the wandering life we are obliged to lead",
Civil War June 1862–May 1865,
III "Brilliant hopes which centered in the possession of Richmond",
IV "The Confederacy totters to its destruction",
V "Has war ever been carried on like this",
VI "Such a war, so relentless and so repugnant",
VII "Can we hold out much longer?",
VIII "The prospect is growing darker & darker about us",
Reconstruction May 1865–July 1878,
IX "I am as one walking in a dream",
X "Our works progress slowly",
XI "Harrassed with debt & surrounded with troubles",
XII "Our company affairs are very much embarrassed",
XIII "I am now daily teaching",
XIV "I was not well pleased with the action of the Board of Trustees",
Biographical Directory,
Manuscript Sources,
Printed Sources,

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