Sunday, February 14, 2010

Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary edited by Nancy Disher Baird~★★★★

Author: Josie Underwood, edited by Nancy Disher Baird
Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary
Release Date:
February 17th, 2009
The University Press of Kentucky

Book Jacket: "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.
Offering a unique perspective on the tensions between the Union and the Confederacy, Josie reveals that Kentucky was a hotbed of political and military action, particularly in her hometown of Bowling Green, known as the Gibraltar of the Confederacy. Located along important rail and water routes that were vital for shipping supplies in and out of the Confederacy, the city linked the upper South's trade and population centers and was strategically critical to both armies.
Capturing the fright and frustration she and her family experienced when Bowling Green served as the Confederate army's headquarters in the fall of 1861, Josie tells of soldiers who trampled fields, pilfered crops, burned fences, cut down trees, stole food, and invaded homes and businesses. In early 1862, Josie's outspoken Unionist father, Warner Underwood, was ordered to evacuate the family's Mount Air estate, which was later destroyed by occupying forces. Wartime hardships also strained relationships among Josie's family, neighbors, and friends, whose passionate beliefs about Lincoln, slavery, and Kentucky's secession divided them.
Published for the first time, Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary interweaves firsthand descriptions of the political unrest of the day with detailed accounts of an active social life filled with travel, parties, and suitors. Bringing to life a Unionist, slave-owning young woman who opposed both Lincoln's policies and Kentucky's secession, the diary dramatically chronicles the physical and emotional traumas visited on Josie's family, community, and state during wartime."

Taryn's Review:
I really, really enjoyed Josie's storytelling abilities in capturing the world around her. She wrote smoothly and anyone could easily understand what she was talking about. In fact, it was quite easy to follow along when she was discussing military and war matters. The way she wrote was so plain, yet lovely. Josie was also very sassy and quite a few times I laughed aloud at what she said to those around her!

Josie's situation was unique from many other Civil War accounts I've read. She and her family were strong Union supporters living in the heart of Kentucky. Although Kentucky claimed neutrality, many people were strongly Confederate. This divide took hold of Josie's family as some of her brother-in-laws were staunch Rebels, while her own mother and father were Unionists (but not Yankees!). The climate was brewing up trouble for Josie's family, especially when Bowling Green was taken over by the Confederates.

The reason I can't give the book 5-stars is that there is some doubt to the authenticity of the work. Although Nancy Disher Baird, the editor, is in the camp that the book was a read dairy, it also might not be. The actual diary itself does not exist that we know of. A typed manuscript of the diary was mysteriously received in the mail by a Bowling Green church and a copy of Josie's marriage certificate was attached to the manuscript. Why the diary and marriage certificate were sent and from who is unknown, especially since most of the Underwoods' possessions had been donated to the museum at Western Kentucky University sometime ago. Also, the typed manuscript had some major issues. One was that a death record was recorded three months before it actually occurred. Did Josie go back and add things? It's a mystery, for sure.

Ultimately, despite being questionable, it was a really fascinating read. The beginning was a bit slow, but once into the book, it quickly becomes a book you won't want to put down. I highly recommend this book, for both those who have an interest in the Civil War and those who don't. Josie was admirable, witty, and a subject whose life you will be captivated by.

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