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.
Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Jr. is the author or editor of twenty books relating to the American Civil War, including The Life and Wars of Gideon J. Pillow; Brigadier General Tyree H. Bell, C.S.A.: Forrest’s Fighting Lieutenant; and Yale’s Confederates.
S. Kittrell Rushing, Frank McDonald Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is the editor of Eliza Frances Andrews’s A Family Secret and Journal of a Georgia Woman, 1870–1872. Rushing also edited and annotated Judge Garnett Andrews’s Reminiscences of an Old Georgia Lawyer.