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Alice Williamson Diary

Special Collections Library, Duke University

About the Diary

This small, leather-bound volume is the 36-page diary kept by school girl 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 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 presence 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 Americans.

About Alice Williamson

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. Williamson is listed as the head of the 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 list 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.

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.

Surnames Appearing in the Diary

Go to the Alice Williamson Diary

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