Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary
edited by Nancy Disher Baird, University Press of Kentucky
Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary to a handful of wartime accounts is a welcome new addition written by women from Kentucky. The diarist, who lived in Bowling Green during the war’s early days, was a well-educated, outspoken 20-year-old from a prominent family that owned slaves and did not like President Lincoln, yet was strongly pro-Union. However, the extended family—her sisters, brothers-in-law, and a younger brother—were sharply split in their loyalties. When a cousin who had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Army, Josie’s mother insisted that his name no longer be mentioned in their household. The Underwood clan clearly resembled others in Kentucky and many other states—torn apart by the crisis rending the nation asunder.
From the winter of 1860 until September 1862, young Josie (née Johanna Louisa) chronicled events in her corner of this critical Border State. When the Confederates moved from Tennessee into the Bowling Green area, Rebel troops camped around the Underwood home, Mount Air, which led Josie to write: “It has come! The Philistines are upon us!” From that point on, the town was even more riven by wartime stress. Many neighbors and former friends stopped speaking to each other altogether.
Her outspoken Unionist father, Warner, was compelled to flee, leaving behind his wife and family for a time. Eventually the Underwood family was given less than 24 hours’ notice to vacate their home.
Josie’s diary abruptly ends when her father is appointed by Lincoln as U.S. consul to Glasgow. His family joined him across the Atlantic, bringing Josie’s frontline account to a premature close— and no doubt disappointing all those readers who would love to have seen more of the war through Josie’s eyes.
Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.