From John Hennessy:

The entrance to Jane Beale's house on Lewis Street in Fredericksburg.

The Historic Fredericksburg Foundation is about to republish Jane Beale’s outstanding diary–one of the best contemporary chronicles of life in Fredericksburg during the first two years of the Civil War. Beale’s diary is most frequently quoted for its intense, dramatic description of her experience in December 1862, when she and her family fled town under fire to find refuge at Beauclaire Plantation. But maybe its most useful passages deal with the Union occupation of 1862 and, especially, Fredericksburg’s painful (for white residents) transition into a life without slavery.

While working on the introduction to the Jane Beale volume (along with Barbara Willis), I came across a passage in Dora Chinn Jett’s In Tidewater Virginia (page 41) that spoke of Fredericksburg’s refugees.

To those of us who have left peaceful firesides, with love, and family and friends around, the voice of this great-throated chimney spells cheer and peace and abounding good will. But to a mother brought face to face with this cheerful scene, after the horrors of that deluge of shot and shell, in the battle of Fredericksburg, it meant all that, and much more.

She wrote thus to her son: “When Mrs. Temple met us in the yard with her warm cordial welcome and led us into the right, cheerful-looking room, where a good fire was blazing, and kind, sympathizing friends were all around…and when we lay down in comfortable beds, far away from the sight and sound of battle, we felt indeed that, after all, we were dealt with by a kind Father.

Mrs. Temple was almost certainly Elizabeth Temple of Beauclaire Plantation, off Harrison Road in Spotsylvania County (click here for more on the destinations of Fredericksburg’s refugees). We know from Jane Beale’s diary that she concluded her dramatic flight from town on December 11, 1862, by arriving at the Temples. In her diary she describes it thus:

….when we drove up to the door the family rushed out and my dear friend Mrs. Temple carried me into the house almost in her arms, weeping as she went, at the idea of the dreadful peril to which we had been exposed all day. She gave up her most comfortable room for our accommodation and in a nice old-fashioned easy chair, before a blazing wood fire with my children around me….

Beale's diary, entry for December 12, 1862. Fredericksburg Area Museum. Click to enlarge.

It’s difficult not to believe that the letter quoted by Dora Chinn Jett was written by Jane Beale. Which begs a question: where and how did Jett get access to them when she wrote her book in 1924? (Jett was from Falmouth, but she lived for a time in the 1880s in Fredericksburg at 1015 Charles Street, just a block away from Jane Beale’s house.)  Where are Jane Beale’s letters today?

It’s a good mystery. If any of you might want to take on helping to find the answer, let us know. We would hope that with the letters might be an image of Jane Beale, for as of this moment none is known to exist. We’ll be working on this. If any of you have knowledge or thoughts…or can pass this along to someone who does…that would be very much appreciated.

By the way, the original of Jane Beale’s diary is on permanent display at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, which has become a very good regional history museum with new exhibits and some great programs.  Check it out.