Nineteenth-century Louisiana writer Sarah Morgan Dawson is best known for the diary she kept during the Civil War. From March 1862 until April 1865, Dawson chronicled her thoughts and experiences, providing one of the most detailed accounts of civilian life in wartime Louisiana. A gifted storyteller, Dawson recorded her feelings about the ...
Nineteenth-century Louisiana writer Sarah Morgan Dawson is best known for the diary she kept during the Civil War. From March 1862 until April 1865, Dawson chronicled her thoughts and experiences, providing one of the most detailed accounts of civilian life in wartime Louisiana. A gifted storyteller, Dawson recorded her feelings about the Confederacy, war, politics, refugee life, and women's place in society against the backdrop of Louisiana's invasion and occupation by Union troops. Born in New Orleans on February 28, 1842, Sarah Ida Fowler Morgan was the seventh child of Judge Thomas Gibbes Morgan and his second wife, Sarah Hunt Fowler. In 1850, the family relocated to Baton Rouge, where Thomas worked as a district attorney and later a district judge. After less than a year of formal education, Dawson studied under the tutelage of her mother at the family home on Church Street. Her comfortable home life began to unravel at the beginning of the Civil War. Civil War Diary In April 1861, Dawson's brother, Henry Waller Fowler Morgan, died in a duel. Later the same year, her father-who opposed secession but supported his state once it seceded-died at home. When Dawson began her diary in January 1862, she was still mourning the loss of her kin in addition to the departure of her three remaining brothers-Thomas Gibbes Jr., George Mather, and James Morris Morgan-to the Confederate army and navy. In Baton Rouge with her mother and sisters, Dawson recorded the scarcity of food and household items as a result of the Union blockade, remarking that "Confederate" amounted to anything that was "rough, unfinished, unfashionable or poor." In April 1862, David Glasgow Farragut captured New Orleans, and by May, the Federal onslaught on Baton Rouge had begun in earnest. With her "running bag" packed and her personal papers piled on her bed ready to burn, Dawson used her diary to record a warning to any Federal soldier who attempted to "Butlerize-or brutalize" her in the attack. "I will show you the use of a small seven-shooter," she wrote, "and large carving knife which vibrate between my belt, and pocket, always ready for use." Within days of the attack, Sarah, her mother, and her sisters, Miriam Antoinette Morgan and Eliza Ann Morgan LaNoue, were forced to abandon their home for safer quarters in Clinton. Inhabiting a sparsely furnished one-bedroom apartment, Dawson documented the hardships of refugee life. In August 1862, Dawson accepted an invitation from her sister-in-law, Lydia Carter Morgan, to visit the Carter plantation, Linwood, in East Feliciana Parish. At Linwood, she wrote about her isolation from the privations of the war, and the frequent visits by groups of Confederate soldiers encamped at nearby Port Hudson.
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