Mary Dabney Ware: In Her Own Words

"Behind Enemy Lines"

By Rebecca B. Drake

Mary Dabney of Raymond arrived at the Union encampment on the Big Black River near Bovina on August 15, 1863. Mary was traveling to Vicksburg to obtain surplus supplies, including mules and wagons, being given away by General U. S. Grant. Her memoirs of the war were later recorded in her book, "A New World Through Old Eyes," published in 1923.

Photograph of the Big Black River Station from the Library of Congress. Photo enhanced by James Drake.



Mary Dabney Ware, daughter of Augustine & Elizabeth Dabney of Raymond, was reared in a large rambling house on the property adjacent to the Catholic Church. Her father was a probate judge in Raymond before and during the war. After the war, Mary married a Confederate soldier, Lt. William Ware, and later moved to Jackson. Her book, A New World through Old Eyes, was written in 1923 while she was on an ocean liner returning from an extensive tour of Europe. The final chapter, Reminiscences from My Life, details her family’s life in Raymond including vivid memories of the war. Mary not only tells how she and her sisters helped to nurse the wounded soldiers following the Battle of Raymond but also gives vivid details of her meetings with Generals Sherman, Grant and McPherson - behind enemy lines.

Journey to Vicksburg

In August of 1863, Mary and a neighbor, Mrs. McCowan, decided to journey to Vicksburg. Their goal was to apply for one of the teams of mules and wagons which General U. S. Grant was giving away - livestock and supplies confiscated by the Union army while marching to Vicksburg. On August 15, Mary and Mrs. McCowan took their seats in a wagon driven by Mary’s brother, John Davis Dabney, and left for Vicksburg at the crack of dawn. Around noon, they arrived at the Steele’s Headquarters on the Big Black River near Bovina. While resting the mules and having lunch, Mary was introduced to Sherman, who was engaged in conversation with another general while waiting for his wife and family to arrive from Ohio. The conversation Mary overheard was alarming. Sherman expressed the idea that he wanted to make the civilians in Mississippi suffer as a means of winning the war. He even felt that the Union army had the right to take the life and property of any civilian who did not aid their cause. Mary and Mrs. McCowan were silently weeping when they left the tent to return to their wagon. John Davis drove them on to Vicksburg where they were met by General Grant at the Lum Mansion and by General McPherson at the Balfour House.

Meeting General Sherman

“General Sherman came over from his camp to meet his wife and daughter who were arriving from Ohio. We were invited into a tent where he was visiting with another general. General Sherman’s ‘stock’ cravat [necktie] worried him. He took it off and was awkwardly trying to arrange it. I quite naturally held out my hand and took the cravat, stuck a pin into it and returned it to the General but no sooner had I done this than the enormity of my conduct became apparent to me. It was indeed nothing short of high treason to the Confederate cause and I believed that if Mrs. McCowan betrayed me to the people of Raymond I should be ostracized. Nor was the Sherman conversation [with another general] of a nature to allay my scruples. Sherman said he was persuading General Grant that the only way to end the war speedily was to burn and devastate the country, for the men would not remain in the Southern army if they knew their wives and children were homeless and hungry. He was so intent on demonstrating to his tenderhearted host the correctness of his theory that he took no thought of the two silent women on whom his words fell like the doom of an impending fate.” In January - February 1864, during the Meridian Campaign, Sherman began to apply his new concept of Total Warfare, burning crops, killing livestock, confiscating supplies and destroying infrastructure along the way.

A Visit with General Grant

“While in Vicksburg, I was taken to General Grant’s headquarters to try and receive a horse and wagon. After many jokes which I have forgotten for I was only intent on securing horse, wagons and mules, he asked me to follow him. At the end of the corridor, he opened a door of a large room where a young man [General Rawlings] was at work at a desk. In a low voice the General asked me if I didn’t think the young man was very handsome. I suppose he was really handsome, but what did that matter to me, to whom he was simply an enemy of the Confederacy? Not wishing to lose time I replied carelessly, ‘I don’t think he is as handsome as Colonel Strong.’ The General horrified me by calling out: ‘Rawlings, this young lady says you are not as handsome as Strong.’ Poor Rawlings, thus exposed to criticism on his personal appearance before his superior officer, got very red in the face. My fears led me to believe that I had decidedly jeopardized my transportation prospects, and I was far more unhappy than Rawlings could possibly have been. But the General ordered him to make out a paper entitling me to receive two wagons and four mules….I had to acknowledge to myself that General Grant was a very humane man, and I felt sure he could never commit a cruel act. In comparing the two men, Grant and Sherman, I felt and still feel sure that General Grant accomplished more by his kind heart than General Sherman by his theory of ruthlessness. The latter took no thought of the soul of man which is not like that of any other of God’s creatures.”

Visiting General McPherson's Headquarters

 “That evening a friend took me to General McPherson’s headquarters to get from him the order for two more wagons and four more mules for the Nelson family of Raymond. When General McPherson heard my name he said, ‘I read a letter from you to your brother when I was in charge of the prisoners on Johnson’s Island.’ I said: ‘You should not have read a letter not intended for you.’ McPherson replied, ‘But it was a duty enjoined on me to read all letters addressed to the prisoners.” Mary recalled the letter she had written to her brother in 1862: “The letter was a denunciation of the Union army and I am now willing to believe, both unjust and exaggerated, but my brother Fred [Captain Fred Dabney, Corps of Engineers, C. S. A.] told me after his release that it was joy to his fellow prisoners when he read it to them.” As they talked, McPherson opened his desk and took out some letters he had received from Southern ladies - all proving how lenient he had been in carrying out his instructions and how he had sympathized with them in their unmerited sufferings and privations. “He wanted me to read them,“ wrote Mary, “but I refused because of bad eyesight. I believe that General McPherson was killed soon afterwards in Tennessee [Georgia]. He was one of the most noblest and most chivalrous men produced on either side of the war.”


Mary, John Davis and Mrs. McCowan returned to Raymond after their successful excursion to Vicksburg. However, Raymond was so ravaged by the war that the family made the decision to sell their home in town and move out into the country to live with their uncle Thomas Dabney, a wealthy planter prior to the war. In time, most of the children of Augustine and Thomas Dabney moved out of state to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

In the years following the war, Mary Dabney Ware became a woman of wealth. After the death of her husband she traveled extensively and often visited Sewanee, Tennessee, where many of her sisters and cousins lived. At the time of her death, she was living in Jackson. Mary Dabney Ware is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.


Postscript: Some of the notable descendants of Augustine and Thomas Dabney include: Maj. T. G. Dabney C.S.A., father of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee System; Captain Fredrick Y. Dabney C.S.A., professional engineer specializing in railroad engineering; Virginius Dabney, an educator, author and literary critic in Virginia; Letitia Dabney Miller, wife of Thomas Marshall Miller, attorney general for the State of Mississippi (1886-1893); Sarah Dabney Eggleston, wife of John Eggleston, Confederate naval captain (Battle of the Merrimac); and Susan Dabney Smedes, who wrote “Memorials of a Southern Planter,” published in 1887 and reprinted in 1965. Many of the other descendants of Augustine and Thomas Dabney became doctors and lawyers, a trend which continues with the descendants even today.


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Copyright (c) James and Rebecca Drake, Margie Riddle Bearss, 2005.  All Rights Reserved.