Saturday, January 28, 2023

A stir in consequence

‘John Morgan with a large body of cavalry said to be at Glasgow & marching on Lex[ington] expected tonight. The whole town is in a stir in consequence.’ This is from the Civil War diary kept by Frances Dallam Peter, born 180 years ago today. She died when only 21, from an epileptic seizure, but her diary - published recently with a scholarly introduction and many annotations - is considered to provide ‘valuable insights’ and ‘a unique feminine perspective’ on the war.

Frances Dallam Peter was born into a large family in Lexington, Kentucky, on 28 January 1843. Her mother was related to William Paca, the Governor Maryland who signed the US Declaration of Independence. Her father was a medical scientist born in England; he served during the Civil War as a senior surgeon and administrator of the military hospitals in the area. Frances (or Frank as her family called her) was considered a talented, charming girl, interested in reading, drawing and writing. She went to school at the Sayre Female Institute. However, she suffered epileptic seizures which restricted her ability to develop any significant life beyond the family home. She died of a seizure in 1864 when only 21 years old. 

Peter is remembered today wholly because of a diary - scrap paper composed of military hospital supply sheets stitched together with thread - that she kept from the age 10 until her death. The diary is notable for containing no self-pity regarding her medical condition but rather is preoccupied with events beyond her domestic affairs (family members, for example, remain relatively minor players in the diary). She expresses many and forthright opinions on the politics and military matters of the day. Indeed, it seems that her diary served as a means for her to respond to and interact with the outside world. Although parts of the diary appeared in 1976, a much fuller and annotated version was published in 2021 by The University Press of Kentucky as A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky: The Diary of Frances Peter (edited by John David Smith and William Cooper Jr.). Much of it can be previewed at Googlebooks

Kentucky Press provides this description of the work: ‘[Peter’s] candid diary chronicles Kentucky’s invasion by Confederates under General Braxton Bragg in 1862, Lexington’s monthlong occupation by General Edmund Kirby Smith, and changes in attitude among the enslaved population following the Emancipation Proclamation. As troops from both North and South took turns holding the city, she repeatedly emphasized the rightness of the Union cause and minced no words in expressing her disdain for “the secesh” [i.e. supporters of the Confederacy].

Peter articulates many concerns common to Kentucky Unionists. Though she was an ardent supporter of the war against the Confederacy, Peter also worried that Lincoln’s use of authority exceeded his constitutional rights. Her own attitudes toward Black people were ambiguous, as was the case with many people in that time. Peter’s descriptions of daily events in an occupied city provide valuable insights and a unique feminine perspective on an underappreciated aspect of the war. Until her death in 1864, Peter conscientiously recorded the position and deportment of both Union and Confederate soldiers, incidents at the military hospitals, and stories from the countryside. Her account of a torn and divided region is a window to the war through the gaze of a young woman of intelligence and substance.’

Reviews of the published diary can be read at Emerging Civil War and Civil War Books and Authors.

Here are several extracts from the published diary of Frances Peter.

19 February 1862
‘Last evening a short time after the salute was fired a large crowd was seen to assemble at Mrs Morgans . . . & several soldiers were seen to search the house. We learnt to day that the occasion was this. While the guns were firing Frank Key or as he is called Key Morgan with two or three other boys went to the janitor of the college [Transylvania] and got the key to the door leading on the roof on pretext that a ball had been thrown up there, & hoisted a secession flag on the college. The janitor saw it and cut it down & by order of the teacher Mr. Patterson put it in a cellar till it could be delivered to the authorities, but a Mrs John Dudley who lives near the college told Morgan who got the flag & took it home & having secreted it made the best of his way off. Some soldiers however had seen the flag on the college and came to inquire the cause of its being there, which having learnt they searched Mrs Morgans house found the flag which they tore up and divided among themselves. They got the names of the boys concerned & will probably arrest them. Mr. Patterson this morning suspended them until a faculty meeting could be held when they (the boys) will probably be expelled.’

22 February 1862
‘Washington’s birthday has dawned dark & cloudy as if the elements sympathized with the loss that Dr. Dudley’s death will be to Lexington. His body is expected here Monday. Coburn’s regiment has received marching orders.’

25 February 1862
‘Col. E. Dudley’s body arrived here Sunday and was attended from the cars to the Oddfellows Hall by the Mayor, Councilmen and crowd of citizens. The funeral oration was pronounced by Mr. Brank today at the Oddfellows Hall where the body lay in state. The 33rd Indiana, Col Coburn, the Lex Blues, Cap Wilgris, Odd fellows & masons, with some of the old Infantry Chasseurs, formed part of the procession with some of Dr. Dudleys men who came with him & a great many carriages. It was the largest funeral ever seen here (except Henry Clay’s).’

16 April 1862
‘They have taken the house near the college that was used for a hospital by De Courcy for a hospital for some of the soldiers here & Mr. John Dudley who occupied one half of the place received orders to move & left this morning, a good riddance. The 42 Ohio Col Shelton & the 18th Ky. Col Warner are here at the fairground. It was discovered the other day that one of Lindsay’s [22nd Ky.] men who was left at the hospital had the smallpox & there has been no end to the trouble that was had getting a place to put him.’

12 July 1862
‘John Morgan with a large body of cavalry said to be at Glasgow & marching on Lex[ington] expected tonight. The whole town is in a stir in consequence. Gen Boyle sent a dispatch that men should be sent out to meet Morgan. The Home Guards, Provost Guard & volunteers from the hospital with a battery that arrived the other day went out on duty. A company came to night from Cynthiana. A dispatch was sent this evening to Cincinatti for troops. For several days the atmosphere has presented a very hazy, smoky appearance & at times a slight smell as of burning was perceptible. We heard this evening that Lebanon had been burnt by Morgan.’

No comments: