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Refugitta of Richmond

The Wartime Recollections, Grave and Gay, of Constance Cary Harrison

Edited by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes and S. Kittrell Rushing

Publication Year: 2011

In the expansive canon of Civil War memoirs, relatively few accounts from women exist. Among the most engaging and informative of these rare female perspectives is Constance Cary Harrison’s Recollections Grave and Gay, a lively, first-person account of the collapse of the Confederacy by the wife of President Jefferson Davis’s private secretary. Although equal in literary merit to the well-known and widely available diaries of Mary Boykin Chesnut and Eliza Frances Andrews, Harrison’s memoir failed to remain in print after its original publication in 1916 and, as a result, has been lost to all but the most diligent researcher. In Refugitta of Richmond, Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Jr. and S. Kittrell Rushing resurrect Harrison’s work, reintroducing an especially insightful perspective on the Southern high command, the home front, and the Confederate elite. Born into an old, aristocratic Virginia family in 1843, Constance Cary fled with her family from their estate near Alexandria, Virginia, to Richmond in 1862. There, the nineteen-year-old met Burton Norvell Harrison, a young math professor from the University of Mississippi who had come to the Confederate capital to work for Davis. The pair soon became engaged and joined the inner circle of military, political, and social leaders at the Confederate White House. Under the pen name “Refugitta,” Constance also wrote newspaper columns about the war and became a respected member of Richmond’s literary community. Fifty years later, Constance used her wartime diaries and letters to pen her recollections of her years in Richmond and of the confusing months immediately after the war. She offers lucid, insightful, and detailed observations of the Confederate home front even as she reflects on the racial and class biases characteristic of her time and station. With an informative introduction and thorough annotations by Hughes and Rushing, Refugitta of Richmond provides a highly readable, often amusing, occasionally troubling insider’s look at the Confederate nerve center and its ultimate demise.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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pp. v

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pp. ix-xii

In the Fall of 2008, during our preparation of Constance Cary Harrison’s wartime memoir, almost fifty thousand Civil War reenactors, historians, and history buffs gathered just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to remember and to recreate as best they could the 1863 three-day battle of Chickamauga. Vice President Dick Cheney was on hand to make...

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pp. xiii

We must acknowledge the long-suffering and eternally patient Bucky Hughes and Frances Bender Rushing. Without their constant support and encouragement, our efforts would have been handicapped. Others we wish to thank are the Virginia Historical Society archivists who made time for our work during...

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pp. xv-xviii

Constance Cary (1843–1920) came to Richmond, Virginia, as a refugee in the winter of 1861–62 at the age of eighteen. Upon the death of Constance’s father in 1854, her mother, Monimia Fairfax Cary, had moved Constance and her two younger brothers to “Vaucluse,” Monimia’s girlhood home and the Fairfax family estate, just a few miles south of Alexandria, Virginia...

Title Page

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pp. 1

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Chapter 1

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pp. 5-16

My father was Archibald Cary , of Carysbrooke—all old-time Virginians loved to write themselves down as part of their parental estates—son of Wilson Jefferson Cary, a nephew of Thomas Jefferson, whose marriage with Miss Virginia Randolph had taken place at Monticello; upon which occasion the bride was given away by the master of the house, who hung...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 17-30

Our establishment at Vaucluse now consisted of the dear and beneficent lady, its head, and her two widowed daughters with their children (six of the latter, off and on), together with an endless procession, coming and going, of aunts and cousins, who stayed as long as they found it convenient and agreeable. Now, the “connection,” as it was called...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 31-45

And now the war -clarion blew , the clans were all alert, and every male creature belonging to us was straining for the fray. As Vaucluse lay in the track of probably advancing armies, my mother and aunt decided to send their younger children out of harm’s way. Accordingly, to my despair, I was packed off with my brother Clarence and my little cousin Meta...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 47-58

In the early days of the winter of ’62, my mother, wedded to her beloved hospital work at Culpeper Court House, sent me to Richmond to be under care of my uncle and aunt, Dr. and Mrs. Fairfax, who had found quarters in the Clifton House, a dreary old building, indifferently kept, honey-combed with subterranean passages suggesting the romances...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 59-77

Before the seven days ’ battles in front of Richmond were delivered, my mother insisted upon my going with my aunt to Botetourt Springs, in the southwestern hill country of Virginia, in a region that seemed to our strained and weary gaze, to our ears jaded with sounds of battle and hospital, akin to paradise.1 Leaving the train, we drove in an archaic stagecoach...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 79-91

Our “On to Washington ” experience was a nine days’ wonder among our friends in Richmond, and for a brief space I enjoyed distinction as an arbiter of fashion, resulting from possession of a new hat and gown, boots and gloves, all at once. My few fineries, snatched from the protesting clutch of Uncle Sam, were handed about to be copied, till I feared they...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 93-111

Dark days were in store for Richmond. An incipient bread riot occurred in her streets in April, when a large number of women and children of the poorer class met and marched through Main and Cary streets, attacking and sacking several stores kept by known speculators. President Davis, Governor Letcher...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 113-141

Now came the winter ’s lull before the new fury of the storm should break forth with the spring. It was evident to all older and graver people that the iron belt surrounding the Southern country was being gradually drawn closer and her vitality in mortal peril of exhaustion. Our armies were dwindling, those of the North...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 143-152

The question of executive policy was by no means left at rest among the exponents of public opinion in Richmond. While there was a large faction supporting the President in his disapproval of General Johnston’s method of playing the game of war with General Sherman in northern Georgia, many a bitter...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 153-172

On the morning of April 2, a perfect Sunday of the Southern spring, a large congregation assembled as usual at St. Paul’s. I happened to sit in the rear of the President’s pew, so near that I plainly saw the sort of gray pallor that came upon his face as he read a scrap of paper thrust into his hand by a messenger...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 173-195

It was thought best for us ex-Confederates of both sexes to keep quietly out of public observation while still the wave of feeling (enormously increased by the assassination of Lincoln) dashed high over our reunion with Northern friends. Our cousin, the Rev. Herbert Norris...

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pp. 197-202

Four chapters follow in Mrs. Harrison’s original Recollections. In those final chapters she provides details about her life in New York City. Burton Harrison’s law practice was successful. The family spent its summers in their cottage at Bar Harbor, Maine. Constance performed in small musical productions, she continued writing, and she and her husband were...

Appendix: Burton Norvell Harrison

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pp. 203-210


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pp. 211-233


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pp. 235-238


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pp. 239-251

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337923
E-ISBN-10: 1572337923
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337473
Print-ISBN-10: 1572337478

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 24 halftones
Publication Year: 2011