by Larry Upthegrove
It has been almost three months since the Federal Army pulled out of Atlanta, leaving memories of desolation and decimation in its stead. Some citizens have returned and have started forth in the footsteps of commerce, treading as much as the little bit of wealth available would afford for it. Others are hanging on, treasuring every little life thread.
The very fetching 19-year-old Octavia Hammond — soon to be married to Augustus Dixon Adair — writes a letter from Atlanta to the wife of Augustus’ cousin, Mrs. George Washington Adair Sr., who has not yet come home from her exile. These families are more prosperous than most. Octavia’s letter follows:
February 10, 1865
“Dear Mrs. Adair,
I had about given up all idea of hearing from you again when your welcome letter arrived. I am so very glad to hear that you think of returning to old Atlanta, I must begin to talk about that the first thing. Mrs. Thrasher and Ma have just gone off somewhere to see a sick lady and left word that I should tell you to come, by all means.
Everybody that can is returning as fast as transportation and the roads will permit. You asked who of your friends on Peachtree Street were here. Mrs. Perino Brown is here, Mrs. Dr. Taylor, Mrs. Sasseen, Mrs. Ezzard, Salmons, Simmons, Winships, etc., etc.
I know very few of all who have returned. You knew Cousin John [Thrasher] and family were here. Mr. and Mrs. Amoss are moving up. Col. Baugh and family and Mrs. Thrasher told me to tell you of a friend of yours who would be up next week but I have forgotten the name. Cousin Dick’s house is still standing, waiting for you—so come in and occupy. I will be happy enough to have hysterics when we all get together again. Cr. and Mrs. Sells went North carrying all of Mrs. Thrasher’s furniture and leaving the commonest of their own. A few pieces of Mrs. S’s he couldn’t get off and that he gave away to some of his friends. I hope however he hasn’t disgrace our neighborhood [ed. note: West End]. We have recovered nothing of ours but heard from the piano. I have however, in the face of circumstances, opened out a parlor and you would be surprised at its magnificence. It contains an old bruised and battered bedstead, a wardrobe I found in the kitchen, a half of a bureau and a half of an extension dining table. Yes and moreover three green chairs. We went away from here you know in a panic, leaving almost all of the photographs and ambrotypes. We have since heard that an old Irish woman got hold of Pa’s and went round ‘making a spec’ by exhibiting it. I guess she showed it as ‘the ginewine elephant.’ It is well that I did not leave mine; she might have set up a menagerie with both of them.
Don’t talk about wash pots; you may never expect to see them again. we left two very large ones, also a furnace, but they followed yours. There is not a sign of them. Your flowers are still alive and I think the grass lots have a notion to come up. If it were possible to procure material we would have your lots enclosed for you to save them from wagons, horses and cattle. But the plank is not to be had. If you could have even your garden fenced in, it would be worth a fortune to you. We have no garden at all, but I am afraid Ma will plant the front yard in cabbage, onion and peas. If she does I will have you a sow of everything. I know it almost kills you to be deprived of gardening, you are so fond of it.
And so Hannah and Nancy [ed. note: prior slaves] left you. I am more than surprised. Nancy is here. I have seen her passing the house several times wagging under a bag of meal in the rain, and cold, almost naked. I sent out and asked her once if she did not belong to Mrs. Adair. She said no. Then I thought perhaps I might be mistaken. Mrs. Thrasher says she will have her taken up, and if she does not, and you wish it, we will do it for you. I expect Hannah has ‘gone up the spout’ long ago.
Have you put dresses of John Wesley? You say you have converted him into a waiting maid. I reckon you have to use pantalettes for her, don’t you?
If you are living upon potatoes and buttermilk you are doing finely. However we manage to do very well here. Country wagons keep us supplied even cheaper than Augusta. Bacon is five dollars a pound, butter six, flour a dollar and a half, syrup twenty a gallon, eggs six a dozen, potatoes twenty a bushel and meal the same. There seems to be a plenty of everything. New stores are opening every week. I saw three ladies and a gentleman who I took to be Mr. Willis Chisolm at your sister’s house about a week ago. I would have called to see if they had returned, but when I saw the house again it was closed. I am glad you have told me Fannie’s P.O. Now I shall certainly write to her. I think a great deal of the old lady. Maggie P. [ed. note: probably Maggie Poole] is near Columbus and is setting her traps to return soon. No Ma’am, I don’t think we have seen the last of her. Jesse Thrasher (son of Cousin John) is a home with the same old wound. He does not look well. Barton [Thrasher] also is here sick. He has been having shills every day. I believe he said since October. He looks wretchedly. David is in a Battery in Florida, fishing.
Katie sends much love to Poppie and kiss to Robin. Kiss all the children for me. I hope soon to hear of young Forrest taking command of the army. But don’t let him go into the saddle with the whooping cough. I am glad to hear you are getting so fat and in such good health.
You won’t find much buttermilk in Atlanta, so you had better bring a jug with you. I am so anxious to see you and hear you tell about the Yankees. I suppose you knew Mrs. Simpson was dead, and Miss Hill and Mr. Kramer were married. Do hurry and come up, we are all so anxious to see you. you must be sure to come. I met warren jordan at Mrs. Thrasher’s the other evening. Wasn’t he Maggie’s old flame? Tell Pop no to forget me. your cousin Capt. Grier is here on his crutches. i see him almost every day but he does not know me. I hear that Mrs. Chisolm went North with her son, and that Mr. Willis C., is coming back to Atlanta. And so are you. I must close. My love to all the children. Write and let us hear if you are coming soon. Goodbye–
O.S. Hammond “