A Virginia Teenager Assesses the War

One of the last independent studies that I advised in Charlottesville was a project centered on female diaries of the Civil War that one of my students used to write her own work of historical fiction. We spent some time looking through female diaries in Special Collections at UVA, including one written by Sallie Strickler of Madison County, Virginia. I am not surprised to find it referenced in Caroline Janney’s new book. I still remember the response of this particular student when we came across the passages below. The experience of holding the actual diary as well as the sense of loss and continued feelings of bitterness made for a memorable experience.

It grinds me sorely to think of our being compelled to give up our best-beloved institutions. I truly believe that African slavery is right. I love it & all the South loves it. It suits us & I do not see how we can do without it. It humiliates me, more than language can tell, to think of our being forced, ay forced, to give up what we love. So well! And that by Yankees. (quoted in Janney, pp. 84-85)

If memory serves me there simply isn’t enough wartime material to merit publication, which is disappointing given the quality of material on the war that is available.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levinโ€™s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

11 comments… add one
  • Mike Musick Jun 1, 2013 @ 7:02

    Kevin: You are certainly right about the emotional experience of holding the actual diary in one’s hands. As I’m sure you are aware, however, due to the fragile nature of original documents, especially Confederate, and the ever-present danger of theft or abuse, that is an experience that comparatively few individuals will have. The age of digital reproduction has many benefits, but the tactile encounter with historical objects is not one of them.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2013 @ 7:29

      Unfortunately, this all too true.

      • Chris Meekins Jun 3, 2013 @ 7:02

        Fortunately, you can still have that singular experience at the State Archives of North Carolina. Come on downeast and give us a visit and hold that jewel in your hands.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 3, 2013 @ 7:03

          Chris Meekins, is that really you? ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice to hear from you.

  • Bob Huddleston Jun 1, 2013 @ 5:59

    Nice quote. What is the date of it and how old was Sally? The UVA guide does not give her birth and death date and I do not have Janney. @##$%% Another book to buy……

    • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2013 @ 6:15

      The entry is from May 1865 and I believe she was 15 or 16. Not sure of the age.

      • Bob Huddleston Jun 1, 2013 @ 6:49

        Thanks, What is so chilling about the entry is that it sounds like one of us talking about being “forced, ay forced” to give up a pet dog or cat.

  • Pat Young Jun 1, 2013 @ 4:58

    New York’s history standards require extensive use of primary sources, although as I recall the ones we used were mostly from elites and iconic individuals, not people “like us.” I got the feeling that I was reading the words of “my betters.”

    • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2013 @ 5:37

      This particulars student took my AP class so there wasn’t much time to really dig into much of the primary source material related to the Civil War. We stuck mainly with obvious choices. For the independent study we looked specifically at local diaries of ordinary women from different generations. Knowing that these people lived in the same community added an important dimension to the study. It made it easier to sympathize with their position even if the beliefs expressed were antithetical to our own.

  • William Kerrigan Jun 1, 2013 @ 4:13

    Thanks for sharing this. Primary sources like this one are precisely what undergraduates need to be exposed to when studying US History or the Civil War. The diarist’s assertion that she “loved” slavery startles, and thus helps students understand that the past is a foreign country.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 1, 2013 @ 4:15

      Agreed. Just for the record this was a high school student. ๐Ÿ™‚

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