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Civil War in Tennessee (Special Collections): Personal Perspectives

This research guide highlights primary sources and research materials in Special Collections regarding the Civil War in Tennessee.

Knoxville during the War

Page of John Watkins' letter written in 1863. all text is in cursive
A page from John Watkins' letter to Sarah Probert written in 1863. From the John Watkins Papers (MS.1161). Digitized letter linked to the left. 

John Shrady Letters, 1862 May 17-1864 October 8 (MS.1436)
Dr. John Shrady wrote the bulk of these letters (in a very clear hand) to his wife, Jeannie (Sammis) Shrady, while he was serving as a surgeon with the 2nd Tennessee Infantry Division. Although John Srady’s association with Knoxville was short and his service in local hospitals was brief, his letters shed light on conditions that prevailed after the area was restored to Union control. 

John Watkins in Knoxville to Sarah Probert, 1863 September 18 (MS.1161)
In this letter, dated September 18, 1863, from John Watkins in Knoxville, Tenn., to Sarah Probert in Pittsfield, Ohio, Watkins provides a summary of all he has done since leaving Crab Orchard, Kentucky. for Knoxville. He writes about marching to Cumberland Gap with Burnside and the Confederate surrender there. Also, he complains about the lack of mail service and describes the dilapidated state of Knoxville: "Knoxville must have been quite a place before the war began but it looks now as though it was the oldest place in the world and been allowed to run down ever since it was built." (see digitized letter)
**This letter is one item from the larger John Watkins Papers collection.

Robert A. Ragan Letters, 1863 October 13-1864 April 11 (MS.0743)
This collection houses eight letters from Robert A. Ragan to his wife, Emeline (Neass) Ragan. His letters show an interesting perspective of the war. In them, Ragan discusses battles and skirmishes with the "Rebels," describes the landscapes he has seen, relates his frustration with army life, mentions his fear of moving too far South, and comments on his unit's movements and actions.  He writes from Bulls Gap, Jonesborough, Knoxville, Wraytown, and Greenville. His letters of Dec. 3 and 4, 1863, from Knoxville tell of the fight occurring between the rebels and the union: “they have made five efforts to take Knoxville but they have failed every time...Sherman is in ten miles of us with a large force ....” He reassures his wife that he has not been captured and held prisoner, as he is sure she is being told at home, but that he has good rations and knows he is on the correct side of the conflict. (see selected digitized letters)

Elizabeth Baker Crozier Journal, 1863-1864 (MS.1048)
In this journal, Elizabeth Baker Crozier describes life in Knoxville during the siege of 1863. She begins by revisiting Nov. 15, 1863, the day she is forced to evacuate her house. Crozier describes being amidst the fighting and recounts Union troops plundering and burning her home, as well as destroying the homes of her friends and neighbors. She also recalls the kindness others as she and her husband attempted to reestablish a home and life for their family. The next entry is from Nov. 23, the day Longstreet seized the Cherokee Heights area west of downtown Knoxville.  Elizabeth Baker Crozier describes “waiting with great anxiety for Longstreet to make one grand move upon our town and deliver us at once from the cruel husband and son are with Longstreet’s army almost in sight of their home.” She goes back and describes earlier events of the year and general living conditions in Knoxville. In a small excerpt at the end, Crozier writes of the death of her brother, Dr. Henry Baker, at the hands of Union troops.

Soldier Perspectives

Richard M. Saffell Papers, 1837 April 18-1889 December 25 (MS.1333)
These letters between various members of the Saffell and Bogle families document their experiences during the Civil War. Of particular interest are the letters to and from Sam and Dick Saffell describing their service with the Confederate Army in East Tennessee.

Milton Weaver Collection, 1856-1866 (MS.2128)
This collection contains letters, envelopes, poems, recopies, and a tintype dealing with Milton Weaver's experiences with the 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. The bulk of the collection is comprised of correspondence between Milton Weaver and his family, much of which is written on striking patriotic stationary. The letters describe camp life, various military campaigns, Copperheads, and Weaver's desire to return to his family in Ohio.

Interested researchers may also wish to consult T. J. Walker's "Reminiscences of the Civil War"  (MS.0124) which discusses many of the same campaigns from the viewpoint of a Rebel soldier.

Watson B. Smith Letters, 1863 August-September (MS.3324)
This collection houses four letters that Watson B. Smith wrote to his family in Michigan from East Tennessee during August and September of 1863. In them, he discusses the Knoxville Campaign, battles with Confederate troops and guerillas, and dealings with the civilian population, which was mostly (but not entirely) sympathetic to the Union. He also discusses his duties in headquarters, including his temporary appointment as aide-de-camp. There are also several letters written to and from captured Confederate officers.

Robert Galbraith Civil War Diaries, 1863-1865 (MS.2179)
The three diaries in this collection provide an understanding of a soldier’s day-to-day activities, including battles (of particular interest is the Battle of Stones River written about on December 30 and 31, 1862), illness, camp, and leisure activities.

David L. Jones to Anna Jones, 1865 March 18 (MS.2685)
Letter dated March 18, 1865, from David L. Jones in Nashville, Tenn. to Anna Jones in Alleghany City, Pa. Describes inflated prices in Nashville, a visit to Fort Negley, thievery in the barracks, life at camp, and a good description of the community under martial law. (see digitized letter)
**This is one item from the larger David L. Jones Letters collection.

Civilian Perspectives

Page from Eleanora Williams' diary.
A page from Eleanora Willauer's diary. From the digitized Eleanora Willauer Diary (MS. 2940), linked below.

Eleanora Willauer Diary, 1862 October 1-1869 November 9 (MS.2940)
This collection consists of the Confederate diary of Eleanora Willauer of Dickson County, Tennessee. Written between October 1, 1862 and November 9, 1869, the diary offers an account of civilian life in the area and of events concerning the Civil War as well as reflections on Willauer's personal feelings during the period. Throughout the diary, Willauer refers to numerous military leaders, for example meeting General Nathan Bedford Forrest on January 20, 1863. She describes him as "tall and large (not very) and I think very fine looking."

On February 5, 1863, Willauer writes of a battle at Ft. Donelson: "To think of a hundred of our brave Southerners being sacrificed for nothing...the carelessness of some commander - where the blame rests I know not. But blame there is. Is Bragg a - traitor?"

Following the end of the war, on July 9, 1865, Willauer states "Hope is dead and Liberty is in her grave!....A brother in the Federal army and perhaps dead in a Southern prison - the South overpowered - conquered - subjugated!"

On December 3, 1865, Willauer writes "The negroes have most of them been sent away from here and the few that remain are going soon. The Captain believes in white labor." Then she adds an entry following that for April, 1866, noting only that "They have negroes at the Furnace now and are going into operation as soon as possible."

(see digitized diary)

Special Collections Contact Information

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Special Collections
121 Hodges Library
1015 Volunteer Blvd.
Knoxville, TN 37996

Go to Special Collections for more information.