This small, leather-bound volume is the 36-page diary kept by schoolgirl Alice Williamson at Gallatin, Tennessee from February to September 1864. The main topic of the diary is the occupation of Gallatin and the surrounding region by Union forces under General Eleazer A. Paine. The diary relates many atrocities attributed to Paine. Frequently mentioned is presence of black contrabands in and around Gallatin, attempts to give them formal schooling, and their abuse by Union Eastern Tennessee troops.
Alice Williamson is bitterly resentful of the Union occupation. The diarist mirrors the abandonment felt by many Confederate sympathizers in Gallatin. She notes the presense of rebel troops in the region, mentions the massacre at Fort Pillow, the death of Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan, and Atlanta's surrender to Sherman. The diary lacks details of daily life. The schoolroom and occasional visits are the only other major concerns of the diarist.
The original diary is housed in the Special Collections Library at Duke University. This diary was purchased in 1976 with funds from the Flowers Endowment which was created to build the Library's holdings of Southern Americana.
We know very little about Alice except what we can learn of her attitudes and circumstances through her own words. A visit to the 1860 US Census for Sumner County, Tennessee gives us some basic facts about Alice and her family. Through the census record we can see that Alice would have been 16 years old at the time she wrote her diary. R.[Robert] Williamson is listed as the head of household and his place of birth is listed as Virginia. His occupation is listed as a farmer with the family's real property valued at $3,000 and personal property valued at $2,000.
The census lists R.R. Williamson, aged 19 and Joseph Williamson, age 15, presumably her brothers Rush and Jo mentioned on pages 23, 34, and 35 in her diary. Other household members listed on the 1860 census include mother Elizabeth Williamson, age 45, born in Tenn.; Thomas Williamson, age 16, also listed as being a farmer; Harris and Thomas Ocburn (sp?), ages 12 and 13; Jane, age 5; a 91 year old male Williamson (first name illegible); Eskill and George Williamson, ages 9 and 7.
Rebellion Revisited, a History of Sumner County, Tennessee From 1861 to 1870, a book by Walter T. Durham, tells us that she would have been a member of the senior class of 1862 at Howard Female Institute, if the war had not closed the school. In 1866, the school reopened, and she graduated in 1867. Alice Williamson died in 1869, at a young age of 21.
We have no other papers of Williamson or her family nor are we aware of any other family papers in another library or archival repository. Even so, this tiny diary provides a colorful window into one girl's Civil War experiences and an interesting view of the changes the Civil War and emancipation brought in her small rural community.
You can find more information about the Duke University Special Collections Library and other holdings related to women and the Civil War from the Special Collections Library home page. For more information about other Civil War materials at Duke, you can search the Duke Libraries on-line catalog or contact the Special Collections Library reference desk directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find more information about the Civil War by looking in you local library for the books mentioned in our Civil War Bibliography. For more information about Alice and Gallatin, look at our Local History Bibliography.
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The digitized version of the Alice Williamson Diary was developed as a project of The Digital Scriptorium of the Duke University Special Collections Library in collaboration with the Duke University Libraries Women's Studies Bibliographer.
Transcriptions were made from the original, but in some cases there may be words that we couldn't read and had to guess at. If in your study of this diary you can shed some light on the text of the diary or the author, please send us a note and we will be happy to add your contributions. [Thanks to Erika Heinen and Mary M. Stolzenbach for helping out with several transcription errors!]
The diary was scanned with a Sharp JX-330 color flatbed scanner with Adobe Photoshop on a PowerMacintosh 9500/120. The "double size" images are 24-bit 150dpi JPEGs and the "full size" ones are 72dpi GIFs.