Saturday, September 25, 2021

Clarice Grant Hewitt's Civil War

 Civil War diary from a Louisiana woman.
The writer was once anonymous but current
genealogy and newspaper databases tell us who she was:
Clarice Grant Hewitt.

The 1860 Louisiana census found Clarice (Clarissa) and husband at their Ascension Parish plantation with one one son at home, the rest grown up; daughter Frances (the diary's editor) perhaps at school. James, born in New York is listed as a Sugar Planter with land worth $132,000 and other property worth $140,000, most of those assets in human beings. The census slave schedule for that year numbers his human property at 176 and he is far from the largest slave holder in the neighborhood, situated between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana sugar plantation house 2 miles south of Donaldsonville, Louisiana on
Bayou LaFourche .

A biography of son James W. tells us that Clarice's husband "amassed
a great fortune" as a cotton factor and commission merchant,
meaning he was an agent for Southern cotton farmers, managing
their accounts and selling their crops.

Clarice Grant Hewitt (1808-1875) 

Clarice Grant was born in Kentucky, a first cousin (step-cousin it would seem) and childhood friend of Ulysses S. Grant who in 1860 was working in a leather store in Galena, Illinois.

Ulysses Grant in 1849

Clarice and James had at least six children; five lived into adulthood and the Civil War. 

Are these Hewitt children marked in a Louisville graveyard her lost boys and girls?
Henry Peter, Virginia, John Clifton, Charles Grant, Clara and, Morgan.

The youngest and only surviving daughter Frances published her mother's diary in 1910. Fanny was cautious in revealing their identities; her mother was "A Refugee" and people and place names were changed in the text.

In 1862 the Union Army occupied New Orleans. As troops under General Godfrey Weitzel marched towards Bayou LaFourche the Hewitts became refugees, spending their first winter in Alexandria up Louisiana's Red River. They continued to move on throughout the war, first to Texas.

For them and many other slave holders who worried about losing their human property, Texas offered refuge far from Union occupiers and freedom. Clarice naively implied the plantation people were given a choice. "Out of several hundred slaves only fifteen...boys remained."

One of the few light-hearted moments in their travels occurred in Alexandria, where James had bought a plantation (they must have been very rich!) and found on the premises a store that had been long closed. Among the new/old stock was fabric:

"Sixty yards of old-fashioned plaid barege, and
such a plaid!"

Undoubtedly a light printed wool something like these
large-scale plaids, quite the fashion 20 years earlier.

James W. Hewitt (1829-1863)

Three of the Hewitt's four sons were fighting for the Confederacy. Richard Marsen (Mayson) Hewitt, 30 years old, of Miles' Louisiana Legion had been captured at the Siege of Port Hudson on the Mississippi. James W. Hewitt, 33, had chosen to join the Second Kentucky, part of Kentucky's so-called Orphan Brigade, a Confederate Army from a Union State. Lewis Welch Hewitt, 22, was a member of the Seventh Louisiana.

Union troops at Johnson's Island Prison in Ohio

Clarice contacted her cousin, now General Grant of the Union Army, to intervene for Richard. Grant ordered he receive special care and offered to parole him. Richard refused and died in captivity. James was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia in 1863.

The Hewitts traveled next to Mexico and Cuba and then to France. When the war was over they returned to the re-United States, settling in New Orleans. James died in 1867 and Clarice in 1875. Their tombstone is in Louisville, Kentucky.

Daughter Fanny, the diary's editor, married in New Orleans in 1865 John Williams Walker Fearn, a Confederate diplomat and after the war U.S. minister to several European countries. (She refers to him it seems as Walter Fane in the diary.)

She was a rather famous socialite, friends with the Queen of Romania whose pen name was Carmen Sylva and together they advocated for the blind and visually impaired. Her second husband British-born journalist Arthur Inkersley was a San Francisco resident. The New York Times in 1910 described the groom as "a comparatively young man." Fanny is buried in Nice, France with an apparent death date of 1927.

Julia Dent Grant (1826-1902)

And just one more piece of gossip about those Hewitts, this from Ron Chernow's recent biography of Grant: On their wedding trip about 1848 U.S. Grant and wife Julia Dent Grant visited the Hewitts in Louisville, Kentucky. Julia and perhaps Ulysses hoped James Hewitt might offer him a position in his successful business but hints were not taken. Julia held a grudge. Her husband apparently did not.

Plaid barege wools from a sample book 1846-8

Read the Diary of A Refugee:

Clarice Grant Hewitt's Grave:

Read more about James Hewitt II's commander General Ben Harding Helm who died the same day at Chickamauga.


tina said...

Very interesting! Thank you.

B. W. Hewitt-Wallis said...

For them and many other slave holders who worried about losing their human property, Texas offered refuge far from Union occupiers and freedom. Clarice naively implied the plantation people were given a choice. "Out of several hundred slaves only fifteen...boys remained."

Nice blog. Fairly good research. Page 28 of the book states differently then what you wrote.
"He called the negros around him and told them that when the Federals took possession of the place they would be given their freedom, but if they wanted to go with him, he would take them to Texas where he would give them work and treat them as he always done, but they would still be slaves. In answer a chorus of voices exclaimed, "Ole Massa, we'll go with yo'.'

Doesn't seem to naïve to me. Simple fact. Seems like you are giving revisionist history. you might want to reread to book.