The hated Union troops had occupied her town a month earlier to protect the main camp at Strasburg. By then, Front Royal’s men were largely gone, as brothers, cousins and neighbors had all joined the Confederate army. The Union forces set up camp in her family’s front yard, pulling down fences, chopping down fruit trees for firewood and seizing their horses. What had been a beautiful, manicured estate turned into muddy fields.
Buck and several other well-educated women in the Shenandoah Valley kept daily records of their lives as the war unfolded. The joy she felt that day in May was short-lived; once Jackson had driven the Yankees out of Front Royal, he quickly moved north, and the occupiers returned.
The women did their best with defiance and insults to keep the “creatures in blue,” as they referred to the Union men, away from them and out of their houses. Stories circulated before the occupation that Union men grew horns and were evil and vile. Many a child was surprised to see they looked like ordinary men who sometimes gave them treats and shared photographs of their own children.
About 25 miles away, in Winchester, where Jackson and his troops had spent the winter, occupation came earlier, in March. As soon as Confederate forces moved out, Union troops marched in with bands playing and flags flying. The few supporters living in Winchester met them with cheers and waved handkerchiefs.
“All is over and we are prisoners in our own homes,” wrote 42-year-old widow Mary Greenhow Lee. “My first Sunday in captivity has been a long, long day; I believe I am loosing my mind, for I find it impossible to fix it on any subject, but the one dreadful idea that we are surrounded by these very enemies who have for months kept us in a state of terror . . . ”
Things got worse. Soon after the first battle of the Valley Campaign at Kernstown on March 23, wounded soldiers in both grey and blue began to fill the public buildings in Winchester, then the churches, and sometimes homes. The women, already living in relative privation, were thrust into roles as nurses and caregivers.
“The dead, the dying, the raving maniac, and agonizing suffering, in its most revolting forms, were all before us; our men and the Yankees, all mixed up together, in the same rooms,” Lee wrote. “I have found myself down on the floor, by the Yankees, feeding them; you remember how I always said, I would not go to their Hospitals, but I never thought of our men being at them, nor could I give to one sufferer, and pass another by in silence.”