Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> First-Person Narratives >> Document Menu >> Summary

Sarah Morgan Dawson, 1842-1909
A Confederate Girl's Diary
Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; Cambridge, Mass.: The Riverside Press, 1913.


Sarah Morgan Dawson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 28, 1842 to Judge Thomas Gibbes Morgan and his second wife, Sarah Hunt Fowler Morgan. She spent her early childhood in New Orleans until Judge Morgan relocated the family to Baton Rouge in 1850. Although Sarah received less than a full year of formal schooling, she followed a serious course of study on her own. In addition to learning French, she read widely in English literature. References to her reading habits as well as allusions to various literary works appear in her diary, which she began during the Civil War.

The war years were extremely difficult for the Morgans, who suffered the loss of four family members between 1861 and 1863. Henry Morgan, Sarah's favorite brother, was killed in a duel in the spring of 1861, and her father, Thomas, died several months later. Three other brothers joined the Confederacy: of these, Gibbes and George were killed in 1863, while the youngest, James, climbed the ranks in the Confederate Navy.

Sarah, her mother, and her sisters moved back and forth between Baton Rouge and the surrounding countryside during the early war years. In August 1862 the Union army sacked their Baton Rouge home, and the threat of further violence forced them to abandon it. The Morgan women sought shelter with friends until lack of food and their mother's ill health forced them to relocate to an occupied New Orleans. After bitterly taking an oath of allegiance to the United States, the Morgans remained until the end of the war with Sarah's oldest brother, Judge Philip Hickey Morgan (referred to as "Brother" in her diary) who was a supporter of the Union. In 1872 the Morgans moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where Sarah began writing editorials for the Charleston News & Courier under the pen name "Mr. Fowler." A staunch supporter of women's equality, she often expressed her feminist views in both her editorials and her diary. In 1874 Sarah married the newspaper's editor, an Englishman and former Confederate officer, Francis Warrington Dawson. The couple had three children together. Francis Dawson died in 1889, prompting Sarah to join their son, Warrington Dawson, in Paris, where she lived until her death in 1909.

Although Sarah Dawson originally requested that her six-volume diary be destroyed upon her death, she later deeded the set to her son, who had the first four volumes published as A Confederate Girl's Diary in 1913. From March 1862 until April 1865, Dawson faithfully recorded her thoughts and experiences of the war. Her early entries, which deal primarily with Baton Rouge society, give way to detailed accounts of her family's daily fears about living in Baton Rouge as the fighting encroaches upon the city. Several times Dawson describes her family chaotically fleeing their home on foot, bringing only what they could carry with them. She also includes accounts of slaves faithfully rescuing their masters' children and household goods without the opportunity to salvage anything of their own. Although a strong supporter of the Confederacy, Dawson does not hesitate to record the kindness among members of the Federal guard, her disapproval of women's secessionist banter, and her despair over the South's future. The Diary 's final pages are filled with tragedy as Dawson recounts the anguish of losing her two brothers, the fall of the Confederacy, and the shooting of Abraham Lincoln.

See also Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, written by Sarah Dawson's brother, James Morris Morgan.

Works Consulted: Hudock, Amy E. and Katherine Rodier, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Women and Prose Writers, 1820-1870, volume 239 , Detroit: Gale Group, 2001; Jones, Katherine M., Heroines of Dixie: Confederate Women Tell Their Story of the War , Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1955.

Armistead Lemon
Harris Henderson

Document menu