xt798s4jmf3x https://nyx.uky.edu/dips/xt798s4jmf3x/data/mets.xml Maltby, Mary Breckinridge. 1910  books b92-52-26953742 English Privately printed, : [S.l.] : This digital resource may be freely searched and displayed.  Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically.  Physical rights are retained by the owning repository.  Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. copyright laws.  For information about permissions to reproduce or publish, contact the Special Collections Research Center. Breckinridge, Mary Cyrene, ca.1830-1910 Breckinridge, John C. (John Cabell), 1821-1875. Mary Cyrene Breckinridge  / by Mary Breckinridge Maltby. text Mary Cyrene Breckinridge  / by Mary Breckinridge Maltby. 1910 2002 true xt798s4jmf3x section xt798s4jmf3x 


Mary Cyrene Breckinridge


    Illustrated with a
  Photogravure Portrait

    Privately Printed
L imited Christmastide Edition
    December 1910



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  I have been asked to write a sketch of my
Mother's life for the Georgetown Chapter of
the Daughters of the Confederacy, and as the
request comes from one whom I find it hard to
refuse, I will try to comply.
  There are still those living among you who
know more of the surroundings of her early life
than I do, however, because I was separated
from her so much of the time. As a result, I can
give very little accurate information regarding
the circumstances of her life till later years,
though she spoke often and lovingly of the scenes
and friends of her childhood. It is chiefly of
what she was, therefore, rather than of what she
did, that I feel qualified to speak.

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Mary Cyrene Breckinridge

  Mary Cyrene Breckinridge was born in Scott
County, Ky., over eighty years ago. Her father,
Clifton Rodes Burch, and her mother, Althea
Viley, died when she was yet a child, leaving her
to the care of relatives, though with means suffi-
cient for an ample support.      Sts
  Of her father, Gen. Gust DOW. Smith said
that he was one of the mosl respected men in
his community. He died when she was quite
young, but her mother's influence survived
through life.
  She was! brought up in the home of her uncle
and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Burch, of whom
she always spoke with grateful love. When she
grew older, she was sent to a boarding school
in Georgetown, where her life seems to have been
a very happy one.
  While still under twenty years of age, she was
married to John C. Breckinridge, and the first
part of their married life was spent in George-
town, in a house now occupied by one of the
members of the Georgetown Chapter of the
Daughters of the Confederacy.
  Later, they moved to Lexington, and bought a
pretty home in the suburbs of the town, where
perhaps the happiest years of my Mother's life
were spent. I think not more than ten years
were spent there when, my Father's political
duties calling him so much to Washington, the


sale of the place resulted, thus breaking up for-
ever our family life. Never, to the end of her
long life, did she cease to mourn over the loss of
her home, though at the time it must have been
difficult to decide on an alternative. She was
so distinctly a home-maker and a home-lover,
that I doubt if the life in Washington suited her
much,-young and lovely as she was during
the years she spent there. During her last years,
when I saw most of her, she seldom referred to
that time.
  After those years came the War, and then the
years of exile and they were the ones that left
a lasting impress on her soul.
  I never knew any human love more devoted
and loyal than that of my Mother for my Father.
To be near him was all she asked, and to secure
that end she would face any peril, or endure any
hardship with the utmost cheerfulness, and I do
not believe anyone ever heard her complain of
her lot during the years of War and exile,-
although she literally "suffered the loss of all
things" for his sake, and did it gladly.
  During the years she was in the Confederacy,
it was her custom to remain as near as possible
to the battlefield where her husband and sons
were engaged, to do all that human love could
do after the battle was over. At the Battle of
Murfreesboro she remained near the army, in
the face of positive orders to the contrary. Poor
Mrs. Hanson obeyed those orders, so it was my
Mother who received General Hanson when he
was brought mortally wounded out of the battle,
tearing up the clothing she had on for bandages
for him, and remaining with him till Mrs. Han-
son could come.


  She nursed Major Graves, General Breckin-
ridge's young chief of artillery when he was first
wounded, and when he was wounded a second
time and lay dying, he said he thought he would
recover if he could be taken to Mrs. Breckinridge.
  At the close of her life she would review those
days, and tell me how she had given my Father
and General Hanson coffee just before they went
into battle, and how she gave up her "last pair
of good scissors" to cut the boots off General
Hanson when he was brought to her in a dying
  She was mercifully spared the loss of husband
or sons in battle, though before the War was
over her husband was wounded and her oldest
son taken prisoner.
  There was one time during the War when it
looked as though her ministrations were over.
She was staying on a plantation near Tuskegee,
Alabama, with Mrs. GilvJohnson, when she
became so desperately ill with malarial fever
that her life was despaired of. Quinine was
scarce, and nothing fit for an invalid (except
goat's milk) to be had, till her doctor brought
her a little package of tea, which she treasured
like gold. As she lay there, worn out with fever
and starving for want of what in her condition
were the necessities of life, she said she could
hear the trains rolling by, carrying the Confeder-
ate wounded into Tuskegee. "And I couldn't
complain," she told me long years afterward,
"when I thought of the greater sufferings of our
  When she seemed to be failing fast, Mrs. John-
son begged to be allowed to send for my Father,
but she refused, saying, "Not yet-if he left


the army at this time General Bragg might use
it as an occasion to injure him."
  Nothing ever appealed to her more than the
sufferings of the soldiers, and when taking soup
to the sick ones, she would share with the North-
ern soldiers, too, (if she had it to spare!) which
it seems to me is all that even the Golden Rule
demanded under such circumstances. One could
hardly say that in doing what she did she sacri-
ficed as much as a selfish person would have done,
because it gave her such happiness to minister
to the necessities of others.
  On one occasion when travelling with one of
her sons, she had to stop over at a town where
some Confederate soldiers were quartered. It
was bitterly cold, and she was installed in a room
with an open fire, probably on the ground floor,
while her son went to look after the baggage.
On his return he found the room full of soldiers,
wrapped in their blankets, stretched on the floor
around the fire "like spokes in a wheel" to use
his own words, while our Mother sat off in a cor-
ner of the room beaming with happiness. This
state of things had not been brought about with-
out difficulty. The landlord had remonstrated
at the influx of soldiers, and she had threatened
to give up her room if he interfered with her
  No one ever brought comfort and the home
feeling out of bare surroundings more success-
fully than she did. Having had her home broken
up, once and for all, she went on, making every
place where her lot was cast, homelike, for the
rest of her days, the instinct of home-making
being too strong to be overcome by any outward


  She has often told me of a little cottage of
two rooms and a gallery which she occupied
somewhere in Tennessee, where the army was
encamped. I never heard her say that it was
inconveniently small, but always that "the roses
about the porch were lovely," and that "there
was a fine well of water," which she shared with
the soldiers who would come and ask for it. My
Father warned her that they wourd cause her
great annoyance if she let them form the habit
of coming into the yard for water, but she con-
tinued to do so, and in telling of it, would add
that not one of them ever abused the privilege.
  Sitting on the little gallery, she would greet
them as they passed in and out of the yard t
where the roses grew so beautifully, and I can
imagine what a picture of peace and home she
must have made in the midst of War.
  The account of that episode in her life would
be incomplete if I left out the ending she added
to it, which was, "And I took such care of the
place that the lady to whom it belonged would
take no rent for it "-a beautiful, but not unusual
act of kindness in those days.
  Perfect strangers would receive her into their
homes as she travelled about, following the army,
and treat her with the utmost kindness. On one
occasion only, and that in a time of great stress,
when falling back from the army, she, with my
brother Clifton, and a sick soldier, were refused
shelter one stormy night, and had to drive away
in the darkness till they reached a house where
doors and hearts were both flung wide to them,
despite the danger of receiving such travellers.
  On another occasion she took the carriage,
horses, and driver of Mrs. Johnson to save them


(the horses) from capture, and with her cousin,
Major Viley, left the army, to nurse him back to
health. In addition to his bodily illness a deep
depression and homesickness had taken posses-
sion of him, and the doctor said that capture and
imprisonment would be fatal to him. With this
heavy responsibility upon her, she began her
journey with only the sick man and the negro
driver for her companions. When night came,
they stopped at a gentleman's house and were
kindly entertained, but before they could con-
tinue their journey the next day the negro driver
came to her with the awful news that "the
Yankees are coming;" in fact, the Federal
pickets were almost upon them. Their host and
hostess took to the woods, probably not want-
ing to be found harboring a wounded Confederate
officer. My Mother seized Major Viley's coat
with the star on it, and, running into the room
of the lady of the house, thrust it as far under
the bed as she could. Major Viley gave her his
watch, and she covered him up in bed, closed the
door, and having begged their driver not to be-
tray them, went forward and exchanged the
compliments of the season with the soldiers, who
were now on the porch.
  Thinking they were to search the house, she
told them there was a sick man in one of the
rooms, and asked them please not to disturb him.
Fortunately they wanted something to eat more
than anything else, and asked her to send it to
them out in the yard. She told them the lady
of the house was away from home, but she would
do the best she could, and after a talk with the
cook, an abundant meal was sent out by the
carriage driver. The cook told her that her


mistress had very few tumblers, and didn't know
where she ever would get any more, so cups were
sent instead. Presently the negro man came
back and said they wanted tumblers. "So,"
said my Mother, "I very foolishly sent him back
to explain why I hadn't sent tumblers." Pres-
ently he returned with the information that it
made no difference about the tumblers, as they
were thinking about burning the house down
anyhow! After a while a message came, calling
in the pickets, and they departed, carrying one
of the beautiful carriage horses with them,
though she begged it of the soldiers who took it.
The horses' names were Star and Comet.
  And speaking of names, I was told the other
day that my peaceable little Mother had a cannon
named for her! Probably her devoted friend,
Major Graves, the young chief of artillery, paid
her that compliment. Be that as it may, her
namesake had the fate she always dreaded, for
the two cannons, Lady Buckner and Lady Breck-
inridge, were captured at Missionary Ridge.
  On one occasion, while in the valley of Vir-
ginia, her trunk was lost, and having nothing
but the clothes she had on, she had to go to bed
while they were being washed! Fortunately,
she was in the lovely home of Cousin Letty
Reeves where her wardrobe could be renewed.
It was at this time, I think, that Col. Stoddard
Johnston bought and presented her with clothing,
a fact she loved to refer to. She said he was a
good provider, and always had things in reserve,
but when her back was turned would make such
inroads on her provisions that before going to
church she would hide any delicacies she had on
hand! She also said that she was obliged at one


time, when their lot was cast together, to put a
notice on the dining room door that no one was
to go in there before breakfast, as he had a habit
of going in and drinking up the cream!
   During the latter months of the War she was
in Richmond, where her husband's duties lay.
And when Richmond fell, her agony and suspense
were great when he left the city with the army,
not knowing what his fate would be, or whether
they would ever meet again. She knew the
Federal government had branded him as a traitor,
and that his peril was as great as that of Presi-
dent Davis. I think it was the belief that this
enmity would be extended to herself that helped
to drive her from Kentucky and followed her
throughout the War.
  Speaking of the fall of Richmond, she said with
infinite pathos, "We sat in darkness that night."
No one had the heart to light lamp or candle.
After the Federal occupation, she went to Gen-
eral Lee and asked him how she could leave
Richmond unobserved. He advised her to have
her name removed from her trunks, and to go
out of the city in company with others, as a
member of their family. This she did, but with
what a weight upon her did she return to Ken-
tucky! Homeless-the Confederacy dead, her
husband a fugitive, her children scattered, and no
visible means of support. Her health was so broken
by all she had undergone that it is a wonder she
did not sink under the weeks of suspense she had
to endure before she heard of my Father's safe
arrival in Cuba. I remember two photographs of
himself he sent her, one taken on his arrival,
ghastly from starvation, and the other taken after
food and rest had somewhat restored him.


  On her return to Kentucky (where her younger
children had been generously cared for in her
absence) a home was offered her and them, in
the house of a relative, Miss Martha McConnell
of Woodford, and there she remained till she and
they joined her husband in Canada. I would say
here that no family ever received greater kind-
ness at the hands of their relatives, both before,
during and after the War, than our own.
  The years of exile pressed harder upon my
Father, I think, than upon her. Separated from
the activities of life, and unable to do anything
towards making a support for his family, he must
have found it hard to bear, uncomplaining as he
was. But to my Mother those five years were in
blessed contrast to the horrors of War. Two
of them were spent in Europe and three in Canada,
and she found something to enjoy everywhere.
Perhaps her happiest days were spent on the
shores of Lake Ontario in Niagara Village, as it
was then called, amid a colony of Southerners.
Mr. and Mrs. James M. Mason of Virginia were
of the number, and devoted friends of my Father
and Mother,-Mrs. Mason taking the warmest
interest in her housekeeping efforts.
  A little cottage was rented for five dollars a
month, furnished with odds and ends, and fondly
remembered by my Mother for the rest of her
life. As usual, she threw a halo over her sur-
roundings, rejoicing in the beauty of the Lake,
the fresh fish brought to her door, the economy
of living, and the friends and kindred they were
able to receive and entertain in that little home.
No wonder her face was so serene,-when she
made a practice of remembering and recording
only the mercies of her life!


  When my Father was at length able to return
home, only a few more years were left them to
be together. The effects of the wound he had
received at the battle of Cold Harbor, compli-
cated with pneumonia, caused his death in May,
i875, after an illness of eighteen months. During
those eighteen months my Mother lived for him
alone, and when the end came, we thought it
would come to her also. To human eyes it would
have seemed merciful had it been the end-so
awfully bereft was she. With her, love was
stronger than death, and at the age of fourscore
she said of her husband, "I never saw him come
without being glad, or leave without being
  I think her love of flowers, of animals, and of
little children, helped her to regain her hold on
life. Many years after my Father's death she
said to one of her granddaughters, "I am making
you a list of old-fashioned flowers, and then,
whatever comes to you, you will have your
garden left."
  Shortly after my Father's death, the cousin
on whom she leaned above all others, and whose
home had always been open to her, Mrs. George
W. Johnson, was suddenly taken, after paying
her a visit of consolation. But she was too
stunned to realize the blow as she did in the years
that followed,-for she never outlived the feeling
of her loss.
  Happily for her, some still lived who depended
upon her. Her cousins, Mrs. John R. Viley, and
Issie Desha Breckinridge, never could bear to be
long separated from her; but they, too, were
taken-and a little child upon whom her heart
was centered was taken,-and her youngest


son died suddenly, far away from her. Still, she
bravely rallied her forces, and tried to be some-
thing to somebody still-and always succeeded.
  In the homes of her children her presence was
a benediction, and now that she has passed be-
yond, I see more clearly than ever how her cour-
tesy, unselfishness and self-control were daily
object lessons to us all.
  To her sisters, both present and absent, she
was always loving, and her oldest son, who had
been with her through the War and was in very
feeble health, was the object of her ceaseless
love and anxiety. When he was taken from her,
something gave way-some vital force was
weakened, for she was never the same afterwards.
  I have never seen greater heroism under sor-
row, and never thought that Motherhood at
fourscore could suffer so acutely as in her case
when that son was taken from her. Even after
that, she would not darken the home, but con-
strained herself to take an interest in all the little
interests of the household.
  Then God raised up to her one who had long
loved her, but now became a saving influence in
her life. She induced my Mother to visit her
among the New England hills, and kept her
out-of-doors where her broken heart had a chance
to heal: Miss Maltby's devotion brightened her
last days, and the day she passed away she called
for her picture and held it in her hands.
  Her last effort was to get strong to return to
Kentucky. That thought was an inspiration to
her. The daughter in whose home most of her
widowhood had been passed, and whose husband
had been another son to her, was expecting her


constantly. To reach that home her last efforts
were made, but it was not to be.
  One day, having spent it in the same peaceful
way as many preceding ones, she passed into
unconsciousness towards nightfall, and awoke
in Heaven. It was significant of her that that
last day she divided something she had with
those around her. Some fruit had been brought
her and she shared it with others, as she had been
doing with her possessions all through her life.
And that final day she read, or tried to read, the
last chapter of Roy Gilson's "In the Morning
Glow," the record of the heart of a little child.
  When Dr. Rout stood at the head of her coffin
and thanked God for her loving life and for all
that she had been to her husband in prosperity,
in adversity and in the hour of death, the last
and crowning tribute was paid by one who had
known her for over half a century, and I think
some of the old veterans who were present to
pay the last honors to her echoed the praise
in their hearts.

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                     University Heights,
                              November, i9io.
   As the Christmas season approaches, so dear
 to "Mammy's" heart, I want to place this little
 record in the hands of her grandchildren for
 whom she used to make "The Merry, Merry
 Christmas Time" so bright.
   Not one of them but must have some memories
of her happy ways and generous deeds at this
season. Accordingly I caused to be printed this
private edition of fifty copies of which this is
number ... T