Monday, November 1, 2021

Booknotes: Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary

New Arrival:
Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary edited by Nancy Disher Baird (UP of Kentucky, 2021).

From the description: "A well-educated, outspoken member of a politically prominent family in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Josie Underwood (1840–1923) left behind one of the few intimate accounts of the Civil War written by a southern woman sympathetic to the Union. This vivid portrayal of the early years of the war begins several months before the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861. "The Philistines are upon us," twenty-year-old Josie writes in her diary, leaving no question about the alarm she feels when Confederate soldiers occupy her once peaceful town."

Edited by Nancy Baird, Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary was first published in hardcover back in 2009, and this new paperback edition is also from University Press of Kentucky. Beginning in December 1860 and ending in September 1862, the diary offers insights into conflicting Border State attitudes and debates over secession and firsthand experiences of both Confederate and Union military occupation, all conveyed through the perspective of a deeply engaged and thoughtful young woman from a Whig-traditionalist Southern Unionist family.

Edited by Baird using a wide variety of sources, the book "offers a firsthand account of a family that owned slaves and opposed Lincoln, yet remained unshakably loyal to the Union. Josie's father, Warner, played an important role in keeping Kentucky from seceding." Holding an Unconditional Unionist position while remaining deeply skeptical of Lincoln's willingness to protect the interests of proslavery supporters of the Union war effort (a very common Border State attitude) did not stop Josie's father, Warner Underwood, asking for and receiving an overseas patronage appointment from the president. Josie's diary ends as the family is preparing to embark for Glasgow, Scotland to begin Underwood's consulship there. Josie herself also personally interacted with the president, and "(a)mong the many highlights of the diary is Josie's record of meeting the president in wartime Washington, which served to soften her opinion of him."

In her diary, Josie "describes her fear of secession and war, and the anguish of having relatives and friends fighting on opposite sides, noting in the spring of 1861 that many friendships and families were breaking up 'faster than the Union.'" As mentioned above, her writing "also brings to life the fears and frustrations of living under occupation in strategically important Bowling Green, known as the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy" during the war." However, the Civil War tearing the nation apart did not entirely consume her attentions, and Josie's "life is also refreshingly normal at times as she recounts travel, parties, local gossip, and the search for her 'true Prince.'" The Underwood diary was utilized as a valuable contributing source in many recent studies, and it is entirely fitting that its reach will be extended even more through this new paperback edition.

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