The First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920, collection is aptly suited to the needs of researchers and historians. The diaries, memoirs, and journals that comprise the bulk of the collection's materials allow for exploration of major historical themes through intimate, personal accounts. Projects that benefit from the collection's rare perspectives include those that take into account change over time as well as those involving issue and/or object analysis.
Chronological Thinking: The Civil War
The collection contains a wealth of diaries, letters, and memoirs pertaining to the Civil War. These materials present events of the war from personal perspectives and provide a valuable opportunity to examine the evolution of southerners' attitudes and sentiments over the course of the conflict. Readers may use indices and tables of content to correlate the major events of the war to individuals' lives. A search on diaries yields a broad selection of documents including Leon Louis' Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier, Sarah Morgan Dawson's A Confederate Girl's Diary, and the Journal of Meta Morris Grimball.
Grimball's diary is of particular value due to the author's copious and insightful observations of the war as she experienced it from her South Carolina home. The journal's vivid narrative begins with the flush of excitement and hope felt throughout the new Confederacy and ends with the somber desperation of a doomed cause and a worried mind. For instance, Grimball's entry on May 12, 1862, reflects the heightened sense of emergency in the region as a Union blockade of the coast, and Federal victories to the West, bring the war close to home:
May 12, 1862:
We are now in a great state of excitement, all the low country getting into the upper country. Flying from our Ruthless foes, we expect an attack and people are leaving their houses and families[,] servants and furniture, crowding up to the Rail Road. The upper districts are crowded with this unusual population and food is not abundant or cheap. The people in many instances take advantage of this state of things and put a great price on their houses refusing to rent but choosing to sell.
Page 52, Journal of Meta Morris Grimball
- How did non-combatants first feel the effects of the war?
- How would you describe Grimball's attitude toward the refugee population?
- What things does Grimball name as the most important necessities of refugees?
- How would you expect this entry to differ from entries that were written earlier in the war?
- What value does this piece hold for a historian?
By the following year, the full scope of the war had come home as Confederate defeats in the field tested the resolve of its citizens. Grimball's entry on August 4, 1863, reflects the upheaval that the war's turmoil brought to the ordinarily serene domestic life:
Vicksburg has fallen, Port Hudson followed of course, the Mississippi is in possession of our foe, Charleston is beseiged with a large force, Naval and land. Lees advance was not a success, he has returned after a direful battle at Gettysburg Pennsylvania, in which we lost 15 thousand & retreated. There have been riots in New York opposing the draft. And now we are to have a fast day on the 30th and in the mean time Charleston holds out. Lee is ready to fight, Johnston is some where in the West with his Army, and people generally feel very much depressed. This in the public state of affairs.
Page 94, Journal of Meta Morris Grimball
- How does this entry compare with that of May 12, 1862? How would you describe the difference, if any, in the tone of each entry?
- What do you think were some of Grimball's sources for information on the war?
- Why do you think that Grimball included information about New York in this entry?
Near the end of the war, Grimball relates the despair and devastation that gripped the region and expresses her fears for the safety of surviving family members. The following entry, dated March 6, 1865, is the last entry she makes before Lee's surrender at Appamatox a little more than a month later:
I have no heart to write a journal now. The war goes on but so much distress and suffering. Charleston evacuated, Columbia sacked & burned, Cheraw[?] , Winnsborough, Camden, Society Hill & other places visited by the Army of Sherman & sacked and burned. Our Army now under Johnston following Sherman and all things in gloom & trouble. Arthur & Berkley are with the troops from the Coast in Raleigh & Hillsborough. Lewis was with us for 10 days, looking quite well, he is now with the Army in North Carolina. Harry received an appointment from the Gov, for the Arsenal, & to day left us for Greenville where they are to be located. This has been a great trial to me for he is the youngest and not yet sixteen. I fear all the fatigue & hardship he will not be able to stand; and my heart yearns over this child. He left a very good school for this appointment and they have no books to educate the Cadets. - My only comfort is in prayer.
Pages 111-12, Journal of Meta Morris Grimball
- How does this entry compare with the two entries previously discussed?
- What are Grimball's two main concerns for her youngest brother?
- How do Grimball's descriptions of the military situation and her own situation compare?
- How would you characterize Grimball's tone in this late entry?
By comparing several documents from chroniclers of varying social status, readers will come to appreciate the manner in which the evolution of the region's ideology, morale, and resolve was influenced by popular sentiment.