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  • Josie Underwood’s Civil War:An Introduction
  • Nancy D. Baird (bio)

“What a contrast between this day and the same day one year ago,” Josie Underwood recorded in her diary on February 14, 1863. “Today,” she continued, “I have been sitting quietly down, way over here in Scotland, sewing. Then I was in dear old Bowling Green, in Mrs Hall’s cellar running to the door to see what other house the Confederate troops were setting on fire.” As the daughter of a prominent Kentucky Unionist who served for two years as U.S. consul in Glasgow, Scotland, Josie Underwood experienced the American Civil War in a way few southern women did. Like most women in the occupied South, she experienced the harsh realities of war firsthand. The line between battlefield and home front was often blurred in the South—particularly for women.1 But unlike most southern women, [End Page 335] Josie was able to escape from the war during a year spent in Europe; for a while, she left behind both the battlefield and the home front and viewed the war from her new home along the Clyde River.

Underwood wrote of her wartime experiences in a two-volume diary set. The first volume provides an interesting account of divided sentiments as war approached and of the trauma suffered by civilians during the Confederate occupation of south-central Kentucky, as well as the first seven months under Union occupation. It was published in book form in 2009 as Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary.2 Josie began writing the first diary in December 1860; it ends in early September 1862 when the Underwood family left for Scotland. Following the publication of volume one of the diary, volume two was discovered in a long-forgotten box of family papers.3 Covering the years 1862–65, this second volume of Josie Underwood’s wartime diary helps us more fully understand her life during the Civil War years. It can, and perhaps should, be read as a companion to the first volume. Yet, it is important in its own right and can be read apart from volume one.

Johanna Louisa (Josie) Underwood (1840–1923) was the daughter of Warner and Lucy Underwood. A native of Virginia, Warner Lewis Underwood (1808–72) moved to Bowling Green as a teenager. He married Lucy Craig Henry (1815–93) in 1831. The couple had eight children who survived past infancy: Frances (Fanny), Juliette (Jupe), Lucy (Lute), Johanna (Josie), Warner, Henry, John, and Mary.4 In addition, the Underwood household included Josie’s cousins, [End Page 336] Corrine (Lady) and Marius Henry. An attorney by profession, Josie’s father served as a member of the Kentucky legislature (1848–53) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1855–59). Underwood was a slave owner but also supported the efforts of the American Colonization Society, which colonized some former slaves in Liberia. A former Whig, in the 1860 presidential election, he campaigned for one of Abraham Lincoln’s opponents, John Bell of Tennessee. Once the war began, Underwood worked diligently to hold Kentucky in the Union. During the five-month occupation of Bowling Green and south-central Kentucky by Confederate troops, which began in mid-September 1861, Rebel forces camped on Underwood’s farm, chopped down his trees, stole food from his larder, and took whatever else they desired. When they vacated the area in February 1862, they burned his lovely home, Mt. Air, to the ground.5

Facing financial hardship following the loss of his home, in June 1862, Underwood applied to President Lincoln to be U.S. minister (ambassador) to Bolivia. He was not chosen for the diplomatic post in the young South American nation. Instead, Lincoln decided to offer him a consular position. As noted in an early history of the Foreign Service, “Modern consular officers are commercial, or business, representatives of their country, stationed at foreign capitals and at important ports and trade centers, or at other points where the national interests require the support or the protection of the government.” Consuls rarely had practical experience or knowledge of the city to which they were posted. In attaining a consular position, one author...


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