The Gold Mine in the Closet: Statement by Elizabeth Georgia Basinger of the experiences of her mother, Jane Susan Starr Basinger, & herself during the occupation of the City of Savannah by Sherman’s army on December 20th, 1864.

This Gold Mine in Sugar’s Closet is as wide as it is deep.

I was tootling through some Garrard papers (Hi Emily! I’m working on it!) when I found this statement and a transcription. I don’t know when the statement was written, and I don’t know when the transcription was transcribed, or who the transcriber was. I wonder if it’s the same typist and/or typewriter who transcribed William Starr Basinger’s “Reminiscences”. Regardless, I don’t know who transcribed the “Reminiscences”.

What I do know is that it appears to have been written long afterward Sherman’s occupation of Savannah based on some of Elizabeth “Georgia” Basinger’s statement.

So here I’ll present the images and then my digital transcription of the transcription. The original statement is difficult to read, but really? It’s possibly 150 years old. The paper it is written on is solid and only slightly worn on the edges. It is one continuous sheet.

Here we go…

BasingerEG 1864P1BasingerEG 1864P2BasingerEG 1864P3

BasingerEG P1

BasingerEG P2

BasingerEG P3

Here’s an oddity on the back of page one. It’s a carbon. I haven’t attempted to flip the page in a digital fashion. I remember the old days of manual typewriters and carbon sheets. I think that the carbon was inserted incorrectly between two or more sheets. I remember that usually, when typing an important paper, the first draft was not the final draft, and I think that this was an early attempt at transcribing the statement.

BasingerEG Back of P1

Statement by Elizabeth Georgia Basinger of the experiences of her mother,
Jane Susan Starr Basinger, & herself during the occupation of the City of
Savannah by Sherman’s army on December 20th, 1864.
The 20th Dec 1864 was a sad and sorrowful day in Sav, for we
knew the Y army was but a short distance off, and that during the night the City would be evacuated by the Confederate troops. There was but little provision What provision was the Quartermasters had were distributed to the citizens. The Hospitals & Soldiers Homes were disbanded, dismantled & their
little stores divided out among those who were at hand to receive them.
Night drew on dark & threatening, the stars were veiled in clouds as if in sympathy, those whose fate it was to remain in the City retired to their houses, glad to light their lamps, & sit around their fires, though they could do nothing, & talk of nothing but the events of the past day & the anticipations of the morrow. About 10 o’clock we suddenly remembered a sabre we had in our possession & was at that moment leaning in the corner, which had been taken from the enemy & given us by a friend, we had no time then to dispose of it in a safe place as we had done other articles of the
same kind, so Mother & I took it & went to the door & listened for some one to pass to whom we could give it. Presently we heard the noise of a horse’s feet & the rattle of a sword, it was so dark (there was no gas) that we could see neither horse or rider, but we went to the pavement & called. It proved to be an officer, & we knew by his voice & manner a gentleman, so we gave it to him, with a few brief words of explanation & he rode on. We went to bed, more from habit & because we did not know what else to do.
The first sound we heard early the next morning was Oh Miss, Oh Miss Lizzie, de Yankees is come, dey is just as tick (thick) as bees, dey is so many on horses & de horse’s tails is stanin’ out right straight, you jes come look out de winder. We were sorry to see the daylight which brought such a sight to us, what the little negro had said was too true, our street was full of them, there were pickets in the lane, a vacant lot near us was full & they had taken the next house wh was unoccupied. We had our gates & door securely fastened, several did get into the yard, because the servants were obliged to go in & out sometimes, but nothing was taken from the premises.
Our cooks husband would stand at the front gate a few moments & he had a ring taken from his finger & stolen & I was glad of it for it made them more careful. We closed our windows & mourned all the day, sad & listless, all our energy gone, & not a cent of money which was available of any use then we could not eat so we did not realize then that when our stock of provisions exhausted we had no money with which to get more. We retired that night.
At night there were fires in the lane & soldiers around them, their muskets stacked near by. We were amused when on retiring to our rooms we made a little noise with the windows, to see every man spring to his feet & grasp his musket, looking around as if expecting an attack. Thankful that our house had not been invaded we went to sleep. Quite early next morning Mother called “Come, let us up & be doing! As soon as we can get our breakfast we
must go to work, the Yanks all want something sweet & we want some green-backs, we will make cakes & pies &c and well them”. We did so & were quite successful, we had several little negroes about who were delighted to do it. Several trays full were stolen by the soldiers. This was our life for some time & we made enough to get many things we needed. The rations which were given out, I think belonged to the City, they were given to all white persons who presented themselves. We as well as most others received the rations, because we had no money but Confederate. Whether any were ever denied or not I never heard; those persons appointed to distribute them were well acquainted in the City & I presume much had to be left to their discretion. It was some time before we took any of the enemy into our house; we heard so much about other persons providing for their whole families from the rations brought by those in their house, that we decided to take the next who applied; so shortly five asked to have a room, they would pay
for the room, & the gas, would bring their rations & we would have them prepared & put upon our table, where they & ourselves would take our meals.
The provisions were such that we could not stand it long; so we had to eat our own meals first, then go to the table & pretend to eat. Of course we could have no conversation with them, tho’ they tried their best to induce us, by discussing person & event in which they knew we were deeply interested, but we had made up our minds to be silent & we were. Their very presence soon became so hateful, & the feeling of degradation at even sitting
down with them so great, that we told them they might keep the room but we could no longer cook their meals.
Before breakfast one day, one of the servants said “Miss (they called mother so, short for mistress) I bleve dem Y is going, one big wagon is at the door”. Before we could turn round, they were gone sure enough, & we never heard more of them, the gas bill they did not pay, it was afterwards presented to us, but we declined to pay & so the matter ended. I do not remember the names of the men, we were only too glad to forget all about them.
If we had been sociable with them I have no doubt they would have provided much better; but our pride could not come down to that. Brother was in Va. all that time & Mother had been very sick, the grown negroes had left, & my time was fully occupied. We never came in contact with any of the enemy, so knew next to nothing except from hearsay. Occasionally we would hear from
what was left of the Confederacy. We had (& I have never ceased to regret it) taken the oath in order to receive our letters, for we felt as if we must hear from Va. & a letter did reach us sometimes.
On April 6th (???) I think, was fought the last battle of the confederacy, at Sailor’s Creek Va. Brother’s battalion was there, many were killed & he with many others taken prisoner. The first particulars came to me from my cousin who was also a prisoner. I well remember the number of persons who met me that afternoon on leaving the P O. The news soon flew over the City & by the time I reached home our house was full all eager to hear of their
friends who were in the fight. We had to tell many of the death of their sons, brothers &c, others were left in doubt of the fate of friends, many  were wounded & carried to prison. Brother was taken to Johnsons Is, my cousin to Fort McHenry. After that our amusement was to write long letters & take them to the Provost’s office to be approved & sent off. Three or four would undertake to read one letter, but would soon tire, put it in the envelope & mark it approved. We always took care to give them something sprey
to read about themselves & the fun was to see them make faces over it & yet could not exactly find fault. Brother remained in prison about 6 months, he with a number of others would not take the oath ordered, so they were kept, until their captors got disgusted I suppose for they were released & took no oath. The prison fare was very hard to those who had no money, many
ate rats & scraps left by the more fortunate. Those who had means & obtained better food, put up boxes in the passages, & would put in them what they could spare, & those who needed took from the boxes, so their feelings were saved & those who gave were pleased. We were able by exertion & some sacrifice to keep Brother provided. When he came home we were all right again.
The Mayor as on the approach of the enemy , met them & gave up the City. At the time we felt that terribly & thought we had rather have been bombarded, in our cooler moments we believed the Mayor was right. One night while the five Y were in our house, there was an immense fire in W. Broad St.; powder, shell &c were stored there, of course there were explosions & the shell went all over the City, in some cases through the roofs & into the houses. There was great excitement, & everybody much frightened. Our 5 thought at first that the Confeds were trying to retake the City. I do not remember, but I think the rations were given for about a month.
Many persons were much annoyed by the Y soldiers, but we escaped. The houses of those who had left the City were generally taken possession of, the furniture, clothing &c destroyed & given away, the negroes were paid for their services with it, carpets cut up for horse blankets, vaults in the cemetery broken open to hunt for treasure, particularly those which seemed to have been recently opened for internment. Sav on the whole fared much better than most places.

It’s a favorite old Southern story that the Confederate families that were left behind buried the family silver at the approach of the Union Army. The Basingers were city people, and even though they had a town lot, there is no story of any hiding of family valuables. Sugar has a story that the Basinger silverware was placed in a safe-deposit box at a bank in the 1900s. It was never recovered, if the story is true.

There are a few pieces of silver that Sugar has in his collection. We were looking at them over the Thanksgiving holiday this year, and he found a fork with the initials “E G B” on the underside of the handle.

Do you suppose, when Elizabeth Georgia Basinger took her meals at the table with the Yankees, that she used this fork…

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6 Responses to “The Gold Mine in the Closet: Statement by Elizabeth Georgia Basinger of the experiences of her mother, Jane Susan Starr Basinger, & herself during the occupation of the City of Savannah by Sherman’s army on December 20th, 1864.”

  1. Anne Starr R. Hughes Says:

    Thank you so very much for posting this, Ruth. I had seen a reference to it in a book about Savannah which included several quotes from it, but had not had access to the document until now. Again, thank you very much!

    Liked by 1 person

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