Diary kept by Margaret Rebecca Norman Miller (1864-1865)

The following are excerpts from a diary kept by Margaret Rebecca Norman Miller at her home in Walthourville at the end of 1864 and the beginning of 1865. It was made avail­able to this writer by Dahlia Helm Castilian of Savannah, Georgia, her great-granddaughter.

When the diarist spoke of “cousin E” she most likely was referring to Hannah Elizabeth Quarterman McCollough, mother of Mary Elizabeth McCollough Miller, the wife of Joseph Norman Miller, the diarist’s son. The “cousin” rela­tionship was probably because the diarist was the grand­daughter of Rebecca Quarterman Norman.

When the diarist spoke of the “depot” she was referring to the Atlantic & Gulf Railroad depot at Walthourville, where Joseph Miller was station and postmaster. There was no postal service in Liberty County from December 1864 until after the Civil War, so the letters she spoke of were probably hand-carried.

As federal troops approached Liberty County, the diarist’s daughters were apparently sent by train to Thomasville, Georgia, for safety. The federal troops which invaded Uberty County never went further south than the Altamaha River.

When she spoke of “Mrs. R.Q. Mallard” she referred to Mary Sharp Jones Mallard, daughter of Reverend Charles C. and Mary Jones, and wife of Reverend Robert Quarterman Mallard, pastor of the Walthourville Presbyterian Church. Reverend Jones’ sons, Charles C. Jones Jr. and Joseph Jones, were both members of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.


December 5:

We are informed that the federals are marching down upon us. They continue to do so. People are leaving for other places. There are only four families left now.

December 13:

Hood’s command was broken up at Riceboro and the men scattered.

December 14:

Mr. McCollough and my son Payson left to join the troops at Riceboro, we know not where they are. The yanks came Tuesday night, surprised and captured eight men in the village, our beloved pastor, Rev. Robert Quarterman Mallard, among them. They have desolated the county above us and are now on the move. They are camped in front of the home of Mrs. McConnell. They burned the depot and warehouses were broken open and everything destroyed. Our men came with a pole car and carried away a great many things, were pursued, but got away.

December 15:

Five federals came to our front gate. We talked with them and they said they came from Whiteville. They did not molest us. Our peaceful village is now in the power of the foe.

December 17:

Children all gone. Husband sick in bed but still spared.

December 18:

Sabbath morning. The yanks commenced plundering. They broke open our storehouse, smokehouse, cornhouse, and took everything they wanted. The first that came in asked for food. We gave them all we had prepared. One man asked for my husband and was told that he was sick in bed. The soldier went in to see him, demanded gold and silver money, then his watch, then threatened his life if he did not give it up, which he did. Then they ransacked every part of the house except the room Mr. Miller was in. They took every­thing they wanted and killed all of my poultry and hogs. I am confident that they are well informed before they commenced their search. Our church is closed, our minister captured, our church yard polluted by our invaders, and nothing but an almighty God can stop them. May we take refuge under His wing. They took all of our food, but it seems to be over now. I hope we will not be troubled again. My dear husband is very sick with asthma and so much disturbed. Dear Payson – where is he? He is in His hands.

December 19:

Today our house was not pillaged. But everything that could be carried off was taken. Our food was eaten out of the pots. The depot warehouse was burned and the railroad tracks torn up. Fighting at the Altamaha River bridge today. On Sabbath eve a yank was shot by one of his own men and carried to Mrs. Bacon’s house. I sent him a tumbler of milk. Fire and death has been spared us so far. We have met with a few gentlemen among the foe who seem to feel for us. Amused at old Rachel. They dressed her up in the wedding dress of the wife of Bill McCollough and made her dance. Nothing in our house to eat. All we have is under our beds and in little closets. We find food here and there and cook and eat in haste fearing it will be taken from us. The First Cavalry entered with cocked pistols. One man demanded our silver. I gave him a few pieces but cousin E. shamed him out of it and he gave her back what he had taken and mine also. He has the face of a demon. Another told us he would take all we had and kill us also. I asked, “Would you kill a lady?” He answered, “Well, we will scare you to death.” A lad of 19 named Nailer said he had relatives at home by the same name. He was very communicative.

December 20:

Truly this has been another day of trial and distress. That same demon came in again to Mr. Miller and demanded firearms. He said he knew we had guns and a horse tied up in the branch and would not leave until he was told where they were. They carried off old Rone today, and I could not help but shed tears to see him go. Three large dwellings burned today. They did not bother Mr. Miller, but swore they would have everything we had. Oh, that God would deliver us out of this great affliction and distress. We know not what these bloodhounds will do next. We have fed about thirty and are completely in their power. I believe that every­thing that was buried has been found. They would frighten the Negroes and they would tell on each other. Am glad that Joe’s house has not yet been burned. Everything else is gone.

December 21:

This day I am truly thankful we are spared to have a little respite. A few stragglers have called for something to eat. All of the potatoes are gone-we went out and gathered up all we could find. I am glad we could get one basket for seed. I hope tomorrow may dawn upon us with bright prospects. It is very cold.

December 23:

No blood hounds yet. We know not what another hour may bring. Mr. Miller had another severe spell of asthma this morning. He is more comfortable now. How glad we would be to hear from our children. If dear Payson is out he must suffer from the cold weather and no food.

December 25:

Our enemies are giving us a little rest and truly it is a rest after such a time of trial. The times appear tedius and lonely, but God has been merciful. If we could hear from our chil­dren and the yanks would not return we would be so thank­ful. What destruction! What the yanks leave the blacks and the country people take.

December 24:

Mr. Miller still sick in bed. Sent to the depot to gather up what few things the yanks, country folks, and Negroes have left-three terrible foes to contend with. No tidings yet from our dear ones. May God enable us to be resigned to His providence and grace to enable us to bear all our trials and troubles.

Christmas Day, 1864:

Today is the holy Sabbath. Oh, how we as a people have fallen. Our church and congregation scattered. Our minister in the hands of the enemy. Only we and a few other families are left in Walthourville. Mr. Bryant, Mrs. Blount, Mrs. Stibbs, Mrs. Hust, Mrs. Bacon, Mrs. Keller, Mrs. O. Quarterman, Mr. Miller, Cousin E., and myself. Mr. Cay also. This day has passed off quite differently from the last Sabbath. The church was robbed of its carpets and cushions by the country women such as Murrays, Johns, Hopes, Simmons, and Dregors. It is truly distressing to hear what is going on in the village. The servants leave the house and there is no one to prevent it being robbed.

December 26:

Undressed last night for the first time in twelve nights. Mr. Cay is quite sick-went over to see how he is today. Two of our men came tonight. Heard from over the river and also that dear Payson was alive and well. Thank God for his mercies.

December 27:

Mr. Miller quite sick today. Heard today that Savannah had fallen. What must be the amount of suffering in Savannah at this time? We hear of more and more distress every day. Feel thankful that we can still find food. I hope that it will never be any worse. The Lord will provide.

December 28:

Joe came last night and we were very glad to hear from our dear children that they are quite well. Two more of our men came home today. Our children are getting quite uneasy about us and afraid that we may be in danger when they are here.

December 29:

Tonight we heard of two yanks in the village. Cousin Eliza and myself are sitting up to guard Joe to let him sleep until two o’clock. Today is the first time our servants have refused to obey us. We are all disappointed in our plans. Inman came at midnight.

December 31:

Mrs. Blount came over today to see us. Mr. Miller is very sick. Joe left at two 0′ clock in the morning. Cousin E. has gone to the depot to see about Joe and Lizzie’s things. Oh, that I could hear from our children, that they are all safe.


January 1:

Heard of a flag of truce to carry the women and children out of yank’s lines. How gladly would I gather up my loved ones on this the commencement of a new year. Thank God for all of His mercies in preserving our lives-may we all meet again on earth; if not, my prayer is that we meet in heaven.

January 2:

Cousin Eliza went to the depot to look up a few more things. Night has come. Mr. McAlex and Payson came to­night. Not much comfort seeing them under these circum­stances. May God protect them through this warfare.

January 3:

Today all is quiet-The yanks have all gone, I hope never to come again. An old lady, a Mrs. Sellers, came from Savannah and told us a quantity of news. She thinks from what the yanks told her that we would soon have peace on some terms.

January 5:

Old Mrs. Blount has sent the old lady from Savannah over the Altamaha River to Doctortown. Young Mrs. Blount has agreed to weave a few yards of cloth for Payson’s pants. Poor fellow, the yanks took all of his clothes. He is much in need.

January 6:

The yanks are passing through Tattnall and the upper part of Liberty counties. We sent six of our Negroes to brother Joe Norman’s. The yanks met them and they returned home. Captain Fleming was captured when our men had a fight with the yanks.

January 7:

Night has come. Issac has come from the backwoods. Yanks are going all out there also. Heard from my dear Payson. He is still alive. Lord, de live r them from such a life of bondage. Oh, that peace could dawn upon us.

January 13:

All quiet today but sad. Heard that Joe Allen has been pass­ing himself off as a yank, robbing the Negroes of provisions and their clothing. It is too sad to think about what our men are doing. When will it all end? The weather is very cold today.

January 14:

Mr. Shaffner came from Augusta looking for his sister, but was disappointed not to find her here. I went over to Sarah Way’s place and found her things in a dreadful condition. I packed her books in a box. Sorry to see such destruction to my neighbors and friends.

January 16:

Major Spencer and John Baker came today. It is so pleasant to see familiar faces. John Baker has seen Joe but heard nothing from the girls. Feel very anxious to see them once more. When shall we meet again?

January 17:

Payson and Calvin Norman came this morning, and John and Benny to supper. Our Negroes, Lilly and two children, Linda and child, Jennett and Tom left this morning before daylight without any intomation of their going. Bess and Hannah left after supper. I do not think they have gone to the yanks, but to some plantation.

January 18:

Major Spencer carried a few of E. Way’s Negroes and other Negroes over the river. Quite a stir among them. We had no idea of forcing ours off. When will it end?

January 19:

Cold and rainy. Sent Stephen to try and save some of I. Baker’s furniture by putting it in old Mr. Long’s house for Tony Caulden to protect. Cousin Lou Quarterman and chil­dren spent the day with us. Heartsick at the sameness every day. Negroes leaving for lower down on the coast. I am thankful that we still have food and shelter.

January 21:

How completely helpless we are. Cannot borrow or hire a horse. The Negroes have made good use of the ponies.

January 22:

Sabbath. Judge Fleming came home from over the river today to see his Negroes and give them a chance to go with him if they wished. I expect they will all prefer not to go, but stay here and not work anymore. Very rainy day.

January 23:

Judge Fleming and Payson gone to his house to pack his books and see the destruction done him. He seems to bear up much better than I expected. Water is very high, almost impossible to get over the Altamaha River.

January 24:

Payson with us this morning. Judge Fleming left this morn­ing on horseback for Doctortown by a higher route up the river. I found him pleasant and sociable. Payson left this morning and we are all feeling very sad and dreary.

January 26:

James McCollough came today for Cousin Eliza. Mr. Me­Collough has been very sick. Duty called her to go but we feel very, very sorry for her to leave us. We will miss her so much and find it really lonesome. So few families left in Walthourville, and no horse to ride to see my relatives elsewhere.

January 27:

James McCollough and Cousin Eliza left for Montgomery this morning. Very cold to travel. Hope they will not be hindered on their journey and will arrive safely. Payson and O. Spencer came this evening. All well tonight.

January 30:

Joseph arrived home last night. We were more than glad to see him and that he had succeeded in getting a place for himself and the girls. Although only camping they are much better satisfied than they were living so separated. They left all well. Received letters from each one of my daughters. I feel grateful to Joe for his kindness.

January 31:

Payson and Joe have been gone all day in search of a horse, but have failed to get one. Mr. Shaffner has returned from Doctortown where he was visiting his sister, Mrs. Quarterman. Joe and Payson have gone down to the lower part of the county to find out about our Negroes that went away.

February 1:

They returned today. Nothing definite in regards to the Negroes. Heard that Chaney and family were at Mr. Cay’s plantation. Joe is not well. I’m afraid he is going to be sick. Secured George and Bill to go over the river with Joe and Payson. They have gone to Mr. G. Way’s to get these families to go along.

February 2:

Joseph is quite sick. Cousin Tom Quarterman brought news that our scouts are arresting Negroes all through the lower part of the county. Several have been sent home and others have returned of their own free will and gone to work. Hope they will find ours.

February 3:

Joe is better this morning. Thinks he may be able to start for Doctorown tomorrow. Night has come and with it Joe Max­well and James McConnell. Mr. Maxwell, an old friend and neighbor, came for his sister at Dorchester. He brought some rather cheering news that Lincoln has applied for terms of peace.

February 4:

Joe and Payson gone today with Bill, George and their wives for over the river. Mr. McConnell left for Taylors Creek to see his sister, Mrs. Julia King, so we are left quiet again. Almost every day someone comes over. Night has come. Jim McConnell has come to spend the night.

February 6:

All bustle this morning. Four soldiers came in this morning at sunrise wanting breakfast on their way below to assist in getting Sid Fleming’s Negroes over the river. Hicks, Allen, and George Sullivan were arrested today for pilfering the Negroes and disturbing the community. Payson returned this evening safe. Hope to hear from Joe soon.

February 10:

Heard today of a great many things that were carried off by Charlton Hines’ Negroes now gone to the yanks that were hidden in the woods. Payson and McConnell gone to see and collect them for the owner. Oh, what a severe chastisement we are receiving from the hands of our Heavenly Father.

February 25:

Tonight, Joseph, Payson, Sarah M., and Adele came home from Brooks County, Sarah Way came with them also. How thankful I feel that they have been spared to return home once again to cheer our lonely hours and to be a comfort to us. May God bless them and put a speedy end to this cruel war.

February 28:

Today, Pratt Quarterman came up with an invitation for Payson to go to Flemington to attend a wedding ceremony. Calvin Norman and Miss Belle Palmer were married at six o’clock this evening. Payson and R.L. Andrews were the attendants. Long may they live, blessed may they be through life -Calvin and Be lle .

March 1:

Today, Joseph and I wen t to Flemington to brother John Norman’s to attend divine services. It was good to go to church once more after being deprived of the privilege so long. We enjoyed a sermon preached by Rev. David Buttolph. It was very pleasant to meet with so many friends and rela­tives once more. Returned home in the evening.

March 2:

This morning, Payson and Joseph left with the wagons to go to Brooks County by the upper route across the Altama­ha River. Tonight we were much surprised when John Jones and Mrs. R.Q. Mallard and children came to spend the night with us on their way over the river to Brooks County. Mrs. Mallard looked very sad although she tried to be cheerful. She had not heard from her husband in a month and fears he has been taken to the North and it will be a long time before he is exchanged. The children were very hearty and appeared to enjoy themselves very much. The little baby is more like him than any of the rest.

March 5:

Nothing of importance has occurred within the past two weeks. Hear occasionally of a few Negroes stealing cattle and horses. Charlton Hines’ Negro, Frank, was shot near Midway while carrying off S. Fleming’s horse.

March 20:

Capt. Screven left today to take command of his company in Virginia, Carolina, or wherever they might be at this time. John Baker and several of his men have gone over the AI­tamaha River to take command there also. Oh, that we could hear from Joe and Payson.

April 1:

Col. W. Winn and S.N. Winn, both on military leaves, visited and were delayed for two days on account of bad weather. Friday, Mr. Shaffner and M. Baker left to try and get to Savannah if possible. This evening a soldier from over the river brings good news, if true, from our enemy.

April 8:

Spring has opened with flowers and a fine prospect of plenty of fruit and vegetables.

April 9:

Heard on Thursday of dear Willie Rahn’s death, that he was shot through his heart and died instantly. I deeply sympathize with his parents, may God give them grace to sustain them.

April 23:

Heard today that President Lincoln was killed in Washington and that Stuart was dangerously wounded. General Lee and a part of his army have been captured, but we know not how many or if any of our friends were among them. Have not heard from Inman for a long time.

April 24:

Heard today that the yanks went to within 40 miles of Thom­asville. Heard many different reports this week, one that General Lee had surrendered his entire army and had gone to confer with General Johnston. It is reported that he has surrendered also and that they are having a conference to try and have peace.

May 1:

I can scarcely realize that it is May, nearly five months I have been separated from my dear, dear children. President Lincoln was assassinated April 15, General Lee surrendered his army on April 12, and General Johnston surrendered April 12. Payson went with I. Baker’s command, was paroled and returned home on May 5. No more fighting this side of the Canoochee River. All have surrendered to the yanks. I wonder what terms will be made between us. I hope it will not be as bad as anticipated. Feeling very anxious about Inman. He has not returned home yet. Hope he may come soon.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: David Anderson and Margaret Rebecca Norman Miller had four sons at the beginning of the Civil War. Joseph Norman Miller remained at Walthourville as the depot agent and postmaster. Elbert W. Miller, Edward Pay­son Miller, and William Inman Miller were all members of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Elbert W. Miller had already died in a federal prison when this part of the diary of Margaret Rebecca Norman Miller was written. Ed­ward Payson Miller and William Inman Miller returned home safely from the Civil War. Margaret Rebecca Norman Miller died five years after the Civil War. David Anderson Miller, after a long and painful illness, died in the residence of his son, Edward Payson Miller at Walthourville, on March 26, 1876. He and his wife are buried in the Walthourville Presby­terian Church cemetery.