It was a scene played out all across the Northern and Southern United States during the Civil War: saying goodbye. Clara Solomon wrote a diary during the Civil War from her home in New Orleans. As I have discussed elsewhere, she admired a famous soldier, Maj. Roberdeau Wheat. See that post here. Maj. Wheat was a friend of her parents. Another close friend of the family was Capt. Obed Miller. Miller and Wheat both served in Wheat’s Battalion, known for hard-fighting and for wild conduct between battles. Capt. Miller was wounded in the first Battle of Manassas. In October, 1861, he came home to New Orleans, probably to recover.
From a mutual friend, the seventeen year old had heard that Capt. Miller and his wife were offended that they had seen Clara on the street and Clara ignored them. So, when Capt. Miller came to the Solomon home on Rampart, Clara thought he might be angry with her. But, no, he appeared “astonished” when she mentioned this. He assured her that he and his wife were not upset with the young schoolgirl. She recorded that Obed Miller was as handsome as ever. She often remarked on a person’s looks. He spoke of his impending departure to return to the war. He mentioned they would probably never see one another again. He asked her to sometimes think of him.
Clara knew Cap. Miller was coming. She had considered what to give him. Knowing he had lost his little diary book, she consulted with her mother and asked if she could give him her diary book. Diary books were very important to Clara. She regularly exhausted her supply of paper and would yearn for additional paper. For the young Clara, this was no small gift.
Ma said yes. Clara presented the book, and expressed only the wish that he might at times write her name on the book in “sweet remembrance.” The captain thanked her. He said he would forever (emphasis Clara’s) keep it. He asked Clara to tell her sister, Alice that he could not see her that afternoon, but he would return in the evening. After some 45 minutes, he said he had to go.
“Oh . . I felt so so sad, as I gazed upon him and thought that in all probability we would never meet again (emphasis Clara’s).” She bade her final good bye. As she gazed upon that “proud, manly form, an earnest prayer ascended from my soul that a Yankee bullet would never pierce his noble, generous heart (emphasis Clara’s).” The captain took her hand, “Clara, I have one favor which I wish you to grant. Think of me sometimes with kindness.” She replied, simply, yes.
Capt. Miller released her hand as he said, “God be with you.” In a moment, he was gone. Capt. Miller would later be killed in Virginia in 1863.
When I deployed to Iraq, I did say goodbye to close family friends. I did not do it as well as Capt. Miller. A Southern historian, whose name escapes me, once commented that the soldiers in the Civil War seem to have been so much more gallant than the heroes of WW I or WW II. He suggested that may have been because in the Civil War, especially in the South, the war was so close. The Confederate soldiers went to great lengths to protect the home folks from the dangers and terrors of the war. In truth, the Southern men essentially failed the home folks. They could not protect their homes from the predatory Union soldiers. Perhaps, the best the men could do was to pretend things would work out. And, the women may have pretended in turn that they believed their men.
Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 217.