I’ve been reading the diary of a young woman who lived in the South during the Civil War. One of the things that makes this diary so interesting is that its author was a staunchly pro-Union young lady living among rabidly pro-Confederate friends and neighbors.
The diary was first published under the title War Diary of a Union Woman in the South. It was serialized in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine from May to October of 1889. The author insisted that it be published anonymously because at that time, many of the people mentioned in it were still alive. But now historians have identified the diarist.
She was Dorothy Richards Miller, an American of English descent. Born in St. Croix in the West Indies, she had moved with her family to pre-Civil War New Orleans, and soon was planning to be married there.
Louisiana hadn’t yet seceded from the Union, but secession was in the air and on everyone’s lips. For a young lady who loved the Union, New Orleans was a very difficult placed to be. Although she was surrounded by family and friends, Dora felt very much isolated and alone.
At that time enthusiasm in the South, and especially in Louisiana, for the slave states to secede from the Union and form their own nation was at a fever pitch. And everyone in Dora’s circle seemed to have been swept up in that passion.
But not Dora. She considered herself a thorough-going American patriot who was totally loyal to the Union. “Surely no native-born woman loves her country better than I love America,” she wrote.
Young and isolated though she was, Dora saw with clearer sight than all the enthusiastic secessionists who surrounded her. As almost all modern historians acknowledge, the South wanted to secede from the Union in order to preserve slavery. But Dora understood that just the opposite would happen.
“If the South goes to war for slavery, slavery is doomed in this country,” she confided to her diary. “To say so is like opposing one drop to a roaring torrent.”
Whenever she expressed those views among family and friends, she was subjected to severe criticism, even ostracism. That’s why she started her diary.
“I understand it now,” she wrote. “Keeping journals is for those who cannot, or dare not, speak out. So I shall set up a journal, being only a rather lonely young girl in a very small and hated minority.”
Starting in December of 1860 with her life in New Orleans as a single young woman, and ending with her experiences living with her husband in Vicksburg, Mississippi during Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s 1863 siege of that Confederate stronghold, Dora Miller’s diary is filled with scenes of drama and danger.
In this series of posts, we’ll follow Dora’s life as a Union-sympathizer living among people at war with the Union. I think it’s a fascinating story. Stay tuned.
New Orleans, Dec. 1, 1860.
I understand it now. keeping journals is for those who can not, or dare not, speak out. So I shall set up a journal, being only a rather lonely young girl in a very small and hated minority. On my return here in November, after a foreign voyage and absence of many months, I found myself behind in knowledge of the political conflict, but heard the dread sounds of disunion and war muttered in threatening tones. Surely no native-born woman loves her country better than I love America. The blood of one of its revolutionary patriots flows in my veins, and it is the Union for which he pledged his “life, fortune, and sacred honor” that I love, not any divided or special section of it. So I have been reading attentively and seeking light from foreigners and natives on all questions at issue. Living from birth in slave countries, both foreign and American, and passing through one slave insurrection in early childhood, the saddest and also the pleasantest features of slavery have been familiar. If the South goes to war for slavery, slavery is doomed in this country. To say so is like opposing one drop to a roaring torrent.
Dora Miller’s Diary