Bookshelf Notes: Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven

Sad Earth, Sweet Heaven: The Diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck During the War Between the States offers a glimpse into the life and experiences of a young woman living in Front Royal, Virginia (Shenandoah Valley) as campaigns and battles swept through and around her home.

Lucy seems to be willing to make sacrifices and endure hardship, particularly in the early part of the war when news of Confederate victories buoyed her family’s spirits. She frequently recorded news and opinions on military leadership, campaigns, hatred of Yankees, and the movements of troops in blue and gray through Front Royal. As the war dragged on, Confederate victories became fewer and personal loss of loved ones a strain appeared in her writing, and in the last months of 1864, she was so disheartened by the Confederate retreat and “The Burning” (systematic destruction of agricultural fields and mills) by Union troops that she stopped writing. She wrote a little in 1865, but again the journal ended suddenly. Lucy did not marry and lived until 1918; she is buried in Front Royal.

Written in “real time” (not a memoir) and later transcribed and edited by a family descendant, Lucy’s record of the war in Front Royal is well-written, emotional, and insightful for civilian/military interactions, the rise and fall of the Confederate spirit among the civilians in that area, social norms of that region, and her personal faith and religious struggles. Her writing is skilled and often vivid in description.

Here’s an excerpt from her diary on New Year’s Eve 1863 as she waited for the next year to start:

It seems so lonely—so isolated sitting there waiting for the last few sands to drop from the glass and watching for the burst of another year of trial—even as I watched the advent of the last year—little knowing, little dreaming what that year the great move of time would sweep from me—how much of life’s brightness it would dim—how it would sweep away to the dim shores of eternity the form of one so dear to us…. How little I had dreamed of the toil, the trials and the care that like a blight had come over me. And yet how little there was to complain of in comparison with the blessings that have been showered upon my unworthy head—and can I not trust for this coming year to the same kind hand that has guided me through the darkened paths of life heretofore? Yes, surely. It is raining and the drops fall like great drops of tears—the old year is weeping his inevitable death. Poor old year! Why should he wish to linger in a world where his eyes behold only the fading and blight of all things bright and beautiful, rather let him close his eyes to all the sorrow and care of this trying season and fold his hands softly and lay his old weary, white head down till it rests upon the bosom of oblivion’s stream—thus—while we mortals turn to hail the incoming of the new “eighteen hundred and sixty-four!”

Online booksellers list the volume as “rare” and I haven’t found a digital version. Check availability through libraries, archives, or personal book collections. Perhaps there will be a reprint someday!


Published by Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?

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