Sarah Morgan’s diary gives us a unique look at the Civil War, and an opportunity to understand the social values of the day and how it affected women. The first book I’ve read from the Confederate point of view, it helps me understand the resentment that still lingers in parts of the South today. Sarah considered it shameful for a woman to state strong opinions in public, so she filled the pages of her diary with her thoughts and emotions, venting them so that she could maintain a proper demeanor. She never intended anyone else to read what she wrote so sometimes it’s a little confusing, but overall it flows well and gives an incredible look into life in Louisiana during the war. Sometimes venomous, sometimes frivolous, the book gives an honest reflection of the mental and emotional turmoil of a young woman who faced danger, deprivation, and the loss of her home, family members, and her whole way of life.
Sarah wrote well and proved herself to be intelligent and well educated despite having little formal education. This was not uncommon; many people of her day, including Abraham Lincoln, educated themselves through reading and grasping every opportunity to better themselves. She held herself to high standards, even refusing physical help from men she did not know after an accident that injured her spine because of the impropriety of it. I noticed that her family’s slaves refused to leave their mistress when offered their freedom—a fact which speaks volumes of her family’s graciousness.
A great companion to this book is Leander Stillwell’s The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861-1865. Just a year younger than Sarah, Stillwell was born and raised in a log cabin in Illinois. He cherished the same sort of devotion to the union that she held for the confederacy and with such differing backgrounds and viewpoints his book provides an interesting counterpoint to hers.