A New York native who was born on August 25, 1837, Mary and her widowed father moved to St. Louis where she was raised. She developed into an attractive, well-educated woman and was active in the city’s social circles. In 1859, she married James Loughborough, an attorney of prominence, and over time the couple gave birth to four children. But with the outbreak of war, Mary and her husband fled St. Louis and became Southern refugees.
James enlisted in the Missouri State Guard and served under Confederate Maj. Gens. Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn. Mary followed her husband as he moved with the army from Missouri to Arkansas, then across the Mississippi River to Tennessee and farther south to Mississippi where she was trapped in Vicksburg. Forced underground during the siege, she withstood the most terrifying ordeal of her life in a quest to survive. In 1864, her memoirs titled My Cave Life in Vicksburg were published by Appleton & Company, and enjoyed immediate success. Reprinted numerous times, Mary’s book remains one of the most-widely quoted works on the siege of Vicksburg. Her words and expressions of basic human emotions transcend barriers of time, and place the reader in the caves of Vicksburg where, as Mrs. Loughborough recalled, “the earthy, suffocating feeling as of a living tomb, was dreadful to me.”