TENNESSEE: Professor Publishes Civil War Diary

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – On a cold night in February 1862, the moans and whimpers of injured Confederate soldiers filled the streets of Clarksville.

Hospitals had been set up in local buildings to treat the wounded, following the Battle of Fort Donelson in nearby Dover, and whispered rumors claimed the Union army was heading for the city.

A 15-year-old girl named Nannie Haskins watched as panic swept through her hometown. Some people fled, but others simply had nowhere else to go.

Dr. Minoa Uffelman holds a copy of the new book “The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863-1890.” (Taylor Slifko, APSU)

Dr. Minoa Uffelman holds a copy of the new book “The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863-1890.” (Taylor Slifko, APSU)

Within a few days, Union soldiers were marching through the streets, demanding citizens present identification papers. A year after the fall of Clarksville, Nannie opened her diary and jotted down a few notes on what she’d seen.

“The very first entry in her diary is about Fort Donelson and the panic,” Dr. Minoa Uffelman, Austin Peay State University associate professor of history, said. “The best description of the fall of Clarksville comes from her.”

For the last several years, Uffelman and three other women – APSU communication professor Ellen Kanervo, Montgomery County Historian Eleanor Williams and Phyllis Smith, former president of the Friends of Fort Defiance – have worked to transcribe Haskins’ journals.

Their hard work was finally rewarded this July when the University of Tennessee Press published their book, “The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863-1890,” as part of its “Voices of the Civil War” series.

“We’ve probably worked on it, off and on, for about seven years,” Kanervo said. “I think I know 1860s Clarksville better than I know 2014 Clarksville.”

The book is available at APSU’s Ann Ross Bookstore, the Fort Defiance Interpretive Center, The Customs House Museum and online at amazon.com. At 5:00pm on September 9th, the University will host a book signing with the authors at the Pace Alumni Center at Emerald Hill.

Readers of the diary will find a text rich with local history, providing them with a glimpse of an occupied city during the Civil War.

“What surprised me was the rich social life she had,” Kanervo said. “She talked about people stopping by. They would have parties; people would bring a violin or play a piano. There were parties where there were dances. A lot of social activity was going on even as there was grief and mourning and fear.”

When the war ended, Nannie married an older widower with four children and went on to have six children with him. The Reconstruction Era began, the economy suffered, and through it all, she continued writing in her diary.

“What makes the diary unique is it takes us from her being a teenager during the crisis of the Civil War to her being married, raising children, living in a terrible economy in the post-war south,” Uffelman said. “She writes about mortgages and droughts and trying to educate her children.”

Nannie’s name became prominent among historians and Civil War enthusiasts in the early 1990s when excerpts of her diary were used in Ken Burns’ award-winning PBS documentary “The Civil War.” Her daughter donated the Civil War portion of the diary to the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville in 1961. The postwar diary disappeared until the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill purchased it from an antique dealer.

The four local researchers combed through these and other documents, with Smith transcribing the entries while the others worked on providing the historical context for the book.

“We have an introduction, and we have an appendix describing all the Civil War sites, the officers,” Uffelman said. “It is extensively footnoted.”

They’ve spent years reading about Nannie’s transformation from a girl to grandmother. And because of the personal nature of a diary, the researchers found themselves developing a connection with their subject.

“We feel like we know her,” Uffelman said. “I liked her. I liked that she was inquisitive and smart.”

Several more book signings and talks are scheduled throughout the year.

For more information on those events, contact Uffelman at uffelmanm@apsu.edu.



VIRGINIA: Relic Hunter Finds Button from Hometown

NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. — While searching through the woods for artifacts at a Civil War camp in Virgina, Joe Troy never expected to find something that came from his former hometown of North Attleboro.

Using a metal detector in the woods in Culpeper, Va., Troy unearthed a Civil War era button that was manufactured in North Attleboro.

“A guy from North Attleboro dug up a button made in North Attleboro for Civil War troops 150 years later in a small patch of woods in Virginia,” Troy said of his find.

The front of a button manufactured by D. Evans Button Co.

The front of a button manufactured by D. Evans Button Co.

The Yankee “Eagle-I” button, with an “I” designating “infantry,” was manufactured by D. Evans Button Co., which was located in what is now the Attleboro Falls section of North Attleboro.

The 1966 North Attleboro High School graduate moved to Virginia more than 40 years ago, and took up metal detecting as a hobby after visiting a country store with Civil War artifacts on display.

“Down here in this part of Virginia, there are a lot of people who have hobbies with metal detectors. We find battle sites and campsites. Sometimes you get lucky and find a sword or something like that,” Troy explained.

He got into the hobby shortly after his move down South.

“I just went into a little country store and a guy about my age had all these buttons and bullets on the counter. I asked about them, and he said there was Civil War stuff all over the place. This was 40 years ago — it’s much harder to find stuff these days.”

After going out with a metal detector for the first time and finding part of a sword scabbard, Troy was hooked.

Recently, he was out in the woods at the site of a known camp in Culpeper where part of Gen. Ulysses Grant’s army spent the winter in 1864. He was stunned to find the button, which was marked on the back as being manufactured by the D. Evans Co in Attleboro, Mass.

“I scraped away some of the dirt and saw the (word) Mass. right away,” he said. “I used some water from the canteen to clean it off and then I saw the (word) Attleboro. I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty neat. That’s where I’m from.’”

Troy plans to keep the button in a display case at his home.



MISSISSIPPI: The Muster of Jackson Lives On

The history lives on with these rugged spirits from the past at the The Cascades Civil War Muster. Talented reenactors demonstrate what the civil war felt like for those living during that historical period of American history. The Cascades Civil War Muster give the community a chance to step back in time and learn from the past.