Civil War Journals, Diaries, and Memoirs
Georgians were certainly among those for whom the war became a "written war," and their accounts of what they experienced or observed took the form of letters; of diaries and journals, with entries made on a fairly regular basis during the war; and of memoirs and reminiscences, produced in hindsight, often many years after the war. Firsthand accounts in all these genres were written by soldiers as well as civilians, women as well as men, blacks as well as whites, collectively offering a remarkably multifaceted view of how the war was perceived and felt by both Georgians and those brought to the state's battlefronts and home fronts through a wide spectrum of circumstances.
A number of diaries and memoirs by local residents capture the drama of the war in Atlanta, including the fall of the city and Union general William T. Sherman's subsequent occupation in 1864.
Samuel Pearce Richards, a prominent merchant, kept a diary for sixty-seven years, and his thorough coverage of the war years is considered by many to be the best surviving portrait of the Atlanta home front. Surprisingly, the diary only made its way into print in 2009. Richards, the younger brother of artist Thomas Addison Richards, moved to Atlanta from Macon after the war was under way. His diary entries offer astute commentary on Confederate economic and military policy,
A very different perspective on Atlanta has also come to light in recent years. Cyrena Stone, a Vermont native who settled with her husband in Georgia in 1850, found herself part of a secret Unionist community in Atlanta when the war broke out, and she kept a diary about the experience. In 1976 that anonymous eighty-page document was sold to the University of Georgia library, where it was known simply as "Miss Abby's Diary" until the 1990s, when historian Thomas G. Dyer discovered not only Stone's identity but also that of many of her fellow Unionists, whom she referred to in code. From Stone's diary, Dyer produced a full history of the underground Unionist movement, entitled Secret Yankees, which details a much different response to the Battle of Atlanta and Sherman's occupation than do the chronicles of local Confederates.
There are dozens of diaries and memoirs by Union troops who marched to the sea under Sherman. Historian Joseph Glatthaar wrote a book on the march based almost entirely on those firsthand accounts, including more than sixty diaries and reminiscences by enlisted men and junior officers. From their writings, Glatthaar was able to concentrate much of his analysis on their attitudes toward Sherman, toward his "total war" approach, and toward the many civilians and slaves they encountered en route.
Women on the Home Front and Battlefront
Eleanor "Nellie" Kinzie Gordon, the Chicago-born wife of Savannahian William Washington Gordon II (and the mother of Juliette Gordon Low), found herself living with her in-laws when the war broke out. She spent most of the war in Georgia's port city, while her husband served as a Confederate captain, and for much of 1862 she kept a journal. Although she was publicly supportive of the Confederate cause at the beginning of the conflict, Gordon soon became disenchanted with the war, and inconsistencies in both her writings and her actions leave historians unsure of her true wartime loyalties.
More actively engaged women have also left behind narratives describing their wartime enterprises. Susie King Taylor's memoir is unique in that it is the only surviving wartime description by a black Georgia woman. A former slave, Taylor was born on a Liberty County plantation. She escaped in 1862 and joined the ranks of coastal contrabands in South Carolina, where she became a nurse to sick and wounded black Union troops as they moved down the coast from South Carolina, through Georgia, to Florida. She composed her account of that experience only at the turn of the twentieth century, and it appeared in print in 1902 under the title Reminiscences of My Life in Camp.
In addition to Sherman and his troops, other outsiders who experienced much of the war in Georgia were prisoners at Camp Sumter, known as Andersonville Prison, and other prisoner-of-war camps in the state. Dozens of different accounts of life at Andersonville, the most notorious of Confederate prison camps, appeared soon after the war, some as memoirs, many as published diaries and journals. These publications served as part of a propaganda campaign condemning the treatment of those held at Andersonville and demonizing Henry Wirz, the commandant whom many held responsible for the deplorable conditions there. The first of these publications, Connecticut native Robert Kellogg's Life and Death in Rebel Prisons, appeared late in 1865. In it, Kellogg states his intention of "kindl[ing] the fires of indignation" throughout the North for the treatment of Union troops, particularly at Andersonville, where he spent several months in 1864.
In short, the written testimonials of those who witnessed or participated in the war in Georgia, whether on the home front, the battlefield, or in hospitals or prisons, have provided a vital part of the historical record on which scholars have drawn to recreate the struggle's human dimension from multiple perspectives. For soldiers, especially, their own accounts of battlefield action provide a sense of the confusion, the fear, the exhilaration, and the horror of warfare far better than do official records and other traditional military histories (which is why the best military histories now so often incorporate these firsthand accounts into their narratives). These personal accounts also reveal much about issues of shifting morale among both soldiers and civilians, as well as relationships between those two groups; of complex and sometime ambivalent loyalties; and of how individuals understood, remembered, and interpreted the most momentous period in their lives.
Eliza Frances Andrews, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865, ed. Spencer Bidwell King Jr. (1908; reprint, Macon, Ga.: Ardivan Press, 1960).
Sarah "Sallie" Conley Clayton, Requeim for a Lost City: A Memoir of Civil War Atlanta and the Old South, ed. Robert Scott Davis Jr. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1999).
Garold L. Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1955-1986, vol. 1 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988).
Garold L. Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1986-1996, vol. 2 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000).
Kate Cumming, Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse, ed. Richard Barksdale Harwell (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998).
Thomas G. Dyer, Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
Louisa Warren Fletcher, Journal of a Landlady: The Fletcher/Kennesaw House Diary, ed. Henry Higgins, Connie Cox, and Jean Cole Anderson (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Professional Press, 1995).
Joseph T. Glatthaar, The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaign (New York: New York University Press, 1985).
Joel Chandler Harris, On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy's Adventures during the War (1892; reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980).
Fannie Oslin Jackson, On Both Sides of the Line (Baltimore, Md.: Gateway Press, 1989).
Robert H. Kellogg, Life and Death in Rebel Prisons (1865; reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971).
Dolly Sumner Lunt, The Diary of Dolly Lunt Burge, 1848-1879, ed. Christine Jacobson Carter (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997).
John L. Ransom, John Ransom's Andersonville Diary, ed. Bruce Catton (Middlebury, Vt.: P. S. Eriksson, 1986).
Samuel Pearce Richards, Sam Richards's Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front, ed. Wendy Hamand Venet (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).
Mary D. Robertson, ed., "Northern Rebel: The Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, Savannah, 1862," Georgia Historical Quarterly 70 (fall 1986): 477-517.
William T. Sherman, "War Is Hell": William T. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March through Georgia, ed. Mills Lane (Savannah, Ga.: Beehive Press, ).
Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman's Civil War Memoir (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).
Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889, ed. Virginia Ingraham Burr (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990).
John C. Inscoe, University of Georgia
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