Civil War, Tragedy and Love

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Anna Fuller’s journal was almost thrown away. At the last minute it was salvaged by one of her descendants who decided a diary spanning the years from 1856 to 1890 might have some historical value.

My mother, who is distantly related to Anna Fuller, managed to acquire the journal along with permission to publish or “do whatever she wanted” with it. She turned it over to me, since I had started my own publishing company. I published the diary in 1999, and to my amazement, sold out of the first two printings. I opted against a third printing, and recently saw a copy offered online for $700.

Anna’s journal is a glimpse into another era; a time of Civil War, Reconstruction, and poverty. Faith was a vital aspect of daily life in those days as people sought comfort in suffering and grappled with tremendous loss.

She writes about her horror over Lincoln’s assassination, General Sherman’s verbal promise of protection for her village as he marched through the South, and other historical events. But most heart-wrenching are her accounts of illness and death caused by typhoid fever, diptheria, pneumonia and other diseases that ravaged families before the advent of modern medicine.

Anna’s journal is an historical document, but it’s also a love story. Woven throughout the pages in her elegant handwriting is a tale of love, loss, and faith.

Included are poems written by both Anna and her son Edwin, a published poet who won accolades from the literary circles of his day. Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary describes Edwin as the “best known writer in the state when he died at age twenty-eight.” His book Angel in the Cloud, a long philosophical poem, “received favorable reviews in northern newspapers,” according to Southern Writers.

The following poem was included in Anna’s journal and written by Edwin in 1875 following the death of his sixteen month old daughter Ethel.

Do not fasten the lid of the coffin down yet,

Let me have a long look at the face of my pet;

Please all quit the chamber and pull to the door,

And leave me alone with my darling once more.

Is this little Ethel, so cold and so still?

Beat, beat breaking heart against God’s mystic will,

Remember, Oh! Christ, thou didst dread thine own cup,

And while I drink mine, let thine arm bear me up!

But the moments are fleeting, I must stamp on my brain

Each dear little feature, for never again

Can I touch her; and only God measures how much

Affection a mother conveys by her touch.

Oh! Dear little head, Oh! Dear little hair,

So silken, so golden, so soft and so fair,

Will I never more smooth it. Oh! help me, my God,

To bear this worst stroke of the chastening rod.

Those bright little eyes that used to feign sleep,

Or sparkled so merrily, playing at peep,

Closed forever! and yet they seemed closed with a sigh

As if for our sake, she regretted to die.

And that dear little mouth, once so warm and so soft,

Always willing to kiss you, no matter how oft.

Cold and rigid! Without the least tremor of breath,

How could you claim Ethel, Oh pitiless Death!

Her hands! No, ‘twill kill me to think how they wove

Through my daily existence a tissure of love;

Each finger’s a print upon Memory’s page,

That will brighten, thank God, and not fade with my age.

Sick or well, they were ready at every request

To amuse us. Sweet hands! They deserve a sweet rest!

Their last little trick was to wipe Bo Peep’s eye,

Their last little gesture, to wave us good-bye.

Little feet! Little feet, now dark the heart’s gloom,

When your patter is hushed in that desolate room.

For Oh! ’Twas a sight sweet beyond all compare,

To see little “Frisky” rock back in her chair.

Oh! Father have mercy and give me thy grace

To see through this frown the smile on thy face,

To feel that this sorrow is sent for the best,

And to learn from my darling a lesson of rest.

In addition to losing her granddaughter, Anna eventually lost her beloved son Edwin, her daughter in law, her mother, husband, and sister to illnesses that would today have been preventable or treatable. The following poem, penned in the journal without attribution, was most likely written by Anna.

A Poem From 1864

There is many rest in the path of life

If we only would stop to take it,

And many a love from the better land

If our querulous hearts would make it.

To the sunny soul that is full of hope

And whose beautiful trust never perish,

The grass is green and the flower bright

Though the winter storm prevaileth.

Better to hope, though the clouds hang low,

And to keep the eyes still lifted.

For the sweet blue sky will soon peep through,

When the ominous clouds are lifted.

There was never a night without a day

Or an evening without a morning,

And the darkest hour, as the proverb goes,

Is the hour before the dawning.

Better to weave in the web of life

A bright and golden filling,

And to do God’s will with a ready heart

And hands that are swift and willing,

Than to snap the minute, delicate threads

Of our curious life asunder,

And then blame Heaven for tangled ends,

And sit and grieve and wonder.

In her final journal entry dated September 30, 1890, Anna wrote “How I do miss the absent ones this cold, dreary autumn evening. Especially does Sister Lou come before me. I can almost see and feel her touch.”

She died in November of that year.

Then down

I bowed my face and longed to know mine end

‘Twere very sweet to leave all toil and care

And join the blessed ones beyond the tide…

by Edwin

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Written by

Writer, editor, publisher, journalist, author, columnist, believer in enjoying my journey and helping other people enjoy theirs. bknicholson@att.net

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