- The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863–1890 ed. by Minoa D. Uffelman et al.
The writings of Nannie Haskins Williams first gained national attention when Ken Burns quoted from them in his landmark documentary series. Now, thanks to the dutiful efforts of the four editors, the full diary is available and helpfully annotated. The manuscript itself experienced a winding path to publication, however. The editors cobbled together the Civil War and postwar entries, initially held in family collections, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Combined, Nannie Haskins Williams’s journal tells the story of a Confederate woman in occupied territory and, later, the more tragic tale of her hardships in the postbellum South.
When she began her diary, Nannie Haskins was a young teenager, and the Union army had just captured Forts Henry and Donelson. It would not be long until those same forces surrounded her nearby home in Clarksville, Tennessee. As a staunch Confederate and member of a slaveholding family, she expressed contempt for the occupying Yankee soldiers and abhorred President Lincoln. Given Clarksville’s occupied status through most of the war, Haskins’s diary reveals a surprisingly vibrant social life. She entered courtships with Confederate soldiers and also formed intimate bonds with other women, an occurrence widely noted by historians of gender in the nineteenth century. Not long after hearing of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, she proclaimed views later associated with the Lost Cause mythology that would come to dominate southerners’ interpretation of the conflict. The brave men and women of the Confederacy had “sacrificed upon the Altar of Liberty” only to be overcome by “numbers” (113).
After the war, Haskins struggled to accept the reality that she would not become a slaveholding mistress. During the three-year gap between the two journals, her father died and her mother moved the family north to Kentucky. Once there, Haskins began a courtship with her cousin Henry Williams, and the two married in 1870. Many of the entries that follow deal with the ups and downs of their marriage and their struggles growing tobacco. Her writing grew more sporadic as she took on the demands of agricultural life; indeed, no entries exist at all from May 1871 to March 1880. Recurring droughts plunged the family into debt, and she began selling produce, along with penning a novel, to better their economic standing. Regrettably, the diary terminates for good in 1890, although she survived forty more years.
The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams is a worthy addition to the now venerable Voices of the Civil War series published by the University of Tennessee Press. [End Page 447] It adds to the growing literature on women in the Civil War, affords insight into the wartime home front, and is unique for its perspective on Reconstruction. While the source material for the latter period is scarce, the editors acknowledge this with transparency. Historians of gender will find this book valuable, although those seeking evidence of politically active women in the postwar South would be better served looking elsewhere.