- All Right Let Them Come: The Civil War Diary of an East Tennessee Confederate
All Right Let Them Come is another entry in the "Voices of the Civil War Series," which, for the last ten years, has published useful letters, diaries, and memoirs from Union and Confederates soldiers. This installment features the diary of John Guilford Earnest, a Confederate who served in Company K of the 60th Tennessee Regiment, part of Gen. John C. Vaughan's ill-fated brigade of East Tennessee troops. Earnest was only twenty when he joined the army. A well-educated man, he had studied at Emory and Henry College in Virginia before he volunteered.
Earnest's diary covers the period from his enlistment in September 1862 to May 1863, when he was in the trenches at Vicksburg. The diary does not examine the last six weeks of that fateful siege, although Earnest does include a brief, melancholy summation of the Confederacy's surrender in July. By then, he says, the rebels had "endured as much as mortals ever endured in an army," as they were reduced to eating "pea bread, mule meat, and rats" (95).
The diary is most useful in providing insight into the everyday experiences of the Confederate soldier. Earnest describes card games, pretty women, illness and disease, hope of letters from home, weather, and religion, as well as other aspects of camp life. Because Earnest was well educated and well read, his diary, we are informed, did not require much editing. His entries, indeed, are straight-forward and clearly written, though not without some color and splashes of romanticism. While he at times laconically says there [End Page 105] was "nothing of interest" going on in camp, attention given to Earnest's diary will not be misspent.
Earnest had a good eye for detail, but his diary, unfortunately, does not provide his motivations for going to war. It contains no discussion of the political issues of the day, no reflections about Southern "rights" or the validity of secession. Tennessee was one of the most divided of Confederate states, and East Tennessee soldiers had a reputation as poor fighters—something that was dismissed as a result of their conflicted loyalties. Earnest's diary provides no insight into these subjects, though his diary suggests that he and his men were not lacking in bravery or willingness to endure the hardships of war. Unlike many people from East Tennessee, Earnest felt his duty clearly lay with the South. He served the Confederacy faithfully; after being paroled after his capture at Vicksburg, he returned to the service and fought until the last days of the war.
Because he was from a slaveholding family, one can assume that Earnest shared the proslavery convictions and paternalistic attitudes of his fellow Confederates. His diary makes only a few passing mentions of African Americans. One in particular, however, hints at the daily power struggle that occurred between white and black in the South. At one point, Earnest comes across a servant named "Uncle Wesley," who, he says, "is a fair specimen of a southern Negro; always going to do something for you as soon as he does something else." Uncle Wesley, however, was not always the ideal slave. "Tell him to bring up some wood," Earnest continues, "and he is certain to reply, 'yes, sir, yes sir soon as I take some water in to Mrs. Sam,' and that is the last you see of him for some time" (67). African Americans used large and small methods to resist white authority.
Regrettably, Earnest's record of the war is all too brief. Although he wrote frequent entries, the diary comprises only about sixty pages of text. The editor compensates by including a brief biography of Earnest, as well as information about his brigade commander, John C. Vaughan. Both of these sketches help put Earnest's Confederate experiences in context. The index, however, might have been more extensive, as it is comprised almost entirely of names...