Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/391

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Social Life in Richmond During the War. 385

JOHN WISE AND HIS BIG CLOTHES.

The spectacle presented at the social gatherings, particularly the starvation parties, was picturesque in the extreme. The ladies often took down the damask and other curtains and made dresses of them. My friend, the Hon. John S. Wise, formerly of Virginia, now of New York, tells the following story of himself: He was serving in front of Richmond and was invited to come into the city to attend a starva- tion party. Having no coat of his own fit to wear, he borrowed one from a brother officer nearly twice his height. The sleeves of this coat covered his hands entirely, the skirt came below his knees seve- ral inches, and the two buttons in the back were down on his legs. So attired, Captain Wise went to the party. His first partner in the dance was a young lady of Richmond belonging to one of its best families. She was attired in the dress of her great-grandmother, and a part of this dress was a stomacher very aggressive in its propor- tions. Captain Wise relates with exquisite humor that in the midst of the dance he found himself in front of a mirror, and that the sight presented by himself and his partner was so ridiculous that he burst out laughing; and his partner turned and looked at him angrily, left his side, and never spoke to him again.

CONTRASTS THAT WERE PRETTY.

The varied and sometimes handsome uniforms of the Confederate officers commingling with each other and contrasting with the sim- ple, pretty, sometimes antiquated dresses of the ladies, made pic- tures that were beautiful in their contrasts of color and of tone. An artist would have found in these scenes infinite opportunity for his bencil or brush,

I am sure that this phase of social life in Richmond during the war is without parallel in the world's history. The army officers, of course, had only their uniforms, and the women wore whatever they could get to wear.

In the last year of the war, particularly the last few months, the pinch of deprivation, especially as to food, became fearful. There were many families in Richmond that were in well nigh a starving condition. I know of some that lived for days on pea soup and bread. Confederate money was almost valueless. Its purchasing power had so depreciated that it used to be said it took a basketful 25