Monday, November 30, 2015

Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard: A Confederate Girlhood


Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard, “Lou” or “Lulu,” was the fourth child of Talitha and E.D. McKenny. Talitha died during Louisa’s birth in 1848, and she was raised by her grandmother Louisa “Lucy” Terrell Cheairs Campbell after her father moved to Texas. Lulu was twelve when the War began, and she recalled the impact it had on Springfield.
The day before the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mother (was told) General Lyon and some of his staff (were coming) to dinner. She agreed and at once saw to the preparation of one of those dinners for which she was famous. General Lyon was a rough looking man with good manners. He sat at Mother’s right and opposite to me. During dinner he raised his wine glass to Mother, and said, “Madam, you wish us success?” “Sir,” she answered with grave dignity, “I am a Southern woman.” He looked at her with utter amazement, then said, “And you have sons in the Confederacy?” … “Four,”(she replied) and then with a sudden flash of spirit, “and I wish they were fifty and I were leading them.”…General Lyon arose and took her hand as he said, “I hope no trouble is at hand for so brave a woman.” He was killed the next day…'
Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard – A Confederate Girlhood

Lucy prepared another feast in celebration of the Confederate victory; however, the festivities soon faced the reality of war as the Campbell home was converted into a hospital.

"Our house was now a hospital. I don’t know how many men we had, but there were cots and pallets everywhere, filled with Union and Confederate men, many of whom were past all aid."
Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard – A Confederate Girlhood

The family’s Southern ties necessitated their flight from the Ozarks. Lucy remained in Springfield, while Lulu and others began the treacherous journey to her Uncle Jack’s plantation in Mississippi. In the spring of 1863, the Yazoo, Tallahatchie and Mississippi Rivers flooded bringing diseases and destruction to the family’s plantation. Lulu wrote of federal gunboats approaching through floating livestock carcasses, uprooted trees and buildings. Eventually the family left the plantation, and headed for Arkansas. Lulu briefly visited her father in Texas, but ultimately returned to Lucy in Arkansas. Lulu’s cousins were also stationed in Arkansas, and she commented on the condition of the men.

"The army in Arkansas was in terrible shape. They lacked for every necessity, but their most crying need was for quinine, for nearly all of them had malaria…"
Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard – A Confederate Girlhood

Lucy sought to assist both the Confederate cause and her sons, as she traveled to St. Louis to procure medicine. Her son Junius, the lone Union man in the family, lived in St. Louis and helped her acquire the quinine. Lucy sewed the medicine into her petticoats, and arrived back in Arkansas in January 1865. While Lucy ventured to St. Louis, Lulu made socks, bandages, and supply “bundles” to support the army. Her efforts were honorable and courageous as supplies of all kinds were limited.

"We had not cloth of any kind, except our homespuns. …There were no shoes…We never suffered for food, though there were no luxuries. Coffee had been gone for a long time, and we used various substitutes of parched and ground grain, or squares of dried sweet potato. We had wheat flour but it was coarse and poorly ground, so that it had to be bolted through muslin cloths to make…bread or cake…. molasses sufficed for 'sweetening'."
Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard – A Confederate Girlhood

Certainly, the hardships Lulu and her family faced were not nearly as difficult as those encountered by families with lesser means. Her story, however, is indicative of the resilient spirit exemplified by so many “Rebel women.” At the War’s end, Lucy was determined to return home; however, Springfield in 1865 was very different from when she left.

"(The Campbell home) was overrun with all sorts of riff-raff who had dribbled into town during the war and who had, in our absence, taken possession of the house. Of course everything was in a fearful state of dirt and disrepair. Our taxes had been paid every year by our Union friends, one of them my future father-in-law. While the Big House was being put in order, Mother lived in one of the servant’s houses… Mother had worked, as always, with all her strength, on the task of reclaiming her property, living in discomfort in that poor little house…"
Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard – A Confederate Girlhood

Eventually Lucy became ill and succumbed to pneumonia. Lulu did not return to Springfield until 1869. There, she met a friend of her young uncle, and they were married within the year. Louisa Cheairs McKenny Sheppard wrote A Confederate Girlhood as a recollection of her youthful adventures and a tribute to her beloved grandmother.


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