Jump to content
Shiloh Discussion Group
Wordpix John

Diary of Elsie Caroline Duncan Hurt

Recommended Posts

Here's the next section of Elsie's diary:

Book III, Section 3:

“My poor, grief-stricken mother…”

1868 to 1869

“…her own heart was torn and bleeding. She was like a ship without a rudder tossed by the angry waves of a stormy sea.”

Plus a bonus... my cousins Pam and Evelyn provided a photograph of Elsie's half-sister Milberry ("Middie") and her husband Richard Blevins. You can see it at this link: Photograph of Richard & Milberry.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A couple of times Elsie has mentioned the "upper neighborhood". Does anyone have  an idea where she may have been referring to? Was the upper neighborhood along the Bark road?

Grandpa

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's the final section of Elsie's diary. I apologize for being so long about getting this one posted, but I think I just didn't want the diary to end.

Book IV:

Epilogue: “Only two left…”

1869 and beyond

“As the years have gone by all of my brothers have passed away except one. We two are the only ones left of nineteen children.”

Elsie’s story concludes. She marries, returns to search for Joe Stratton’s grave

One final note: I've written an article on the diary which will be published in the Hardin Historian's January-June 2010 edition.

John

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My new avatar is a buttercup on Duncan Field, near the location of my g-g-granparents' home before the battle. I took this picture on Sunday while leading several family members on a trek to Shiloh to see where Elsie's family lived at the time of the battle. Like most people, we had always assumed that they still lived in the house on Duncan Field in April 1862, but Elsie makes it clear they had moved out to the Shady Grove area southwest of the current park. Even my 83-year-old aunt trudged through the woods to see the bluff, spring, creek and swamp all still pretty much as Elsie described them from 1862. We found buttercups blooming all around that homeplace, too.

John

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Does anyone know (or have an opinion) about the book, Shiloh 1862 by Winston Groom. It is supposed to go on sale March 20. All I've seen is some promo copy that mentions Elsie Duncan. That copy includes an excerpt (below) that makes the assumption that Elsie and her family lived in the cabin on Duncan field and were inside the cabin during the first day of the battle. (Elsie's diary says they lived farther out from the river and that Elsie's older half-sister and children were in the Ducan Field cabin.) Just curious if anyone knows more than I've been able to find out so far.

Thanks,

John

About the Author

Winston Groom is the author of 15 previous books, including Vicksburg, 1863; Kearny’s March; Patriotic Fire; Shrouds of Glory; Forrest Gump; and Conversations with the Enemy (with Duncan Spencer), which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He lives with his wife and daughter in Point Clear, Alabama.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

By early April 1862 the spring storm season had already begun in Tennessee. The thunderheads made up on the southern plains, then tore across the South with lightning and killer tornadoes. Terrifying as this was, it paled before the violent thing now gathering along the Mississippi River Valley.

 

From Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, Northern men had begun to converge. They marched in turn by squads, platoons, companies, regiments, brigades, and finally whole infantry divisions. As the cold Dixie weather receded and they tramped farther south, before them loomed a great battle they were told would bring an end to the war.

 

Up from the South likewise they came, from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Arkansas; Tennessee, of course, was represented in full. And from the border states Kentucky and Missouri came men of both sides who fought as friend against friend, sometimes brother against brother. There were more than a hundred thousand in all—whose average age was not yet 20.

 

Down in the far southwestern corner of the state the winding Tennessee River straightens out for twenty or so miles after changing its course northward toward the wide Ohio. Halfway along that stretch is a bight on the western bank, occupied long ago by a tribe of mound builders, now called Pittsburg Landing, a nondescript hog-and-cotton loading station perched before tall oak-strewn bluffs where steamboats put in from time to time. There they took on cargo and traded with the residents, who were fairly low on the scale of Southern sophistication in the era of King Cotton and the fanciful aura of moonlight and magnolias. These Pittsburg Landing people might have had plenty of the latter, but it was about all they had. The curse of slavery was barely a whisper in the scratched-out fields among the shocking thickets where they eked a living and went to Sunday meetings at an ax-hewn chink-and-mortar Meth- odist church named Shiloh chapel. The church itself was hardly better than a respectable Missouri corncrib in its design and archi- tectural aspect, but it was a house of God and gave its name to one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

 

On Sunday morning, April 6, the fateful day, Elsie Duncan, then age nine, told of being in the garden of her family’s home about a mile west of Pittsburg Landing. The place was peaceful “as paradise” itself, she remembered, surrounded as it was “by a beauti- ful forest with every kind of oak, maple and birch,” plus “fruit trees and berry bushes and a spring-fed pond with water lilies blooming white.” Her father, Joseph, was one of the few substantial citizens of the area, owning a farm of 200 acres called Pleasant Land as well as being a circuit-riding preacher of the Gospel. Everybody had been on edge for several weeks, ever since the Duncans’ black nurse Margie had come back from a visit to the landing to report that there were “strange steamboats on the river, and Yankees camped in the hills.”

 

Hardin County, where Pittsburg Landing was located, was fairly typical of rural Tennessee outside the state’s main cotton belt. In the 1861 referendum on secession, the residents voted to stay with the Union, and there was still strong Union sentiment on the east side of the river. But on the west side, where Elsie Duncan lived, the young men had been formed to fight for the Confederacy, and had been drilling regularly, led by her own father, whom she described as a “drill master” in addition to his duties as a Rebel chaplain. It was at one of these drill sessions, or parades, that she spent her final time in “that dear old Shiloh church.” It had been appropriated for a Rebel celebration, she recalled, complete with Confederate flags and a chorus of little girls “dressed in red, white, and blue, and singing ‘Dixie.’ ”

 

The suddenness with which war had come to Hardin County alarmed everyone. Citizens began to plan for some sort of cataclysm as the blue-clad Federals arrived by the hundreds, and then the thousands, at Pittsburg and other landings along the river. Reverend Duncan had a cave on his property, “at the edge of the woods, just above the spring which was under a bluff just back of the orchard.” It was “about the size of a large room,” she said, and her father rein- forced the roof with heavy planks and laid a floor, then “sealed the entrance off with brush and made a trap door with a ladder to go down.” It would prove to be a safe harbor when fighting broke out.

 

The people in that part of the country, she said, “did not know how long the war was going to last,” and so in a small cabin far back in the woods her father also hid “eight barrels of home-raised flour upstairs, buried a large box of home-raised hams in the garden and put a sweet potato bed on top of them.” The men, she recalled, “left everything as secure and safe as they could to protect their homes and families, and then left them in the care of the Lord” to join the Confederate army.

 

Thus, Elsie, her mother, Harriet, and her five children ranging in age from 7to 15, as well as their nurse Margie, were home alone on Sunday morning, April 6, 1862, when from somewhere beyond the deep woods came the rough, guttural muttering of artillery like distant thunder. Elsie had not had breakfast and was out in the garden playing.

 

“It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the air was soft and sweet,” she said. “I sat down under a holly-hock bush which was full of pink blossoms and watched the bees gathering honey.”

 

Elsie Duncan hadn’t the faintest idea at that point—nor had many of the 40,000-strong Yankee host nearby—that something dreadful was brewing in the tangled forests to the south and descending upon them as swift and merciless as a cyclone from the southern plains.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have read the diary and enjoyed it very much. The main reason it was hard to follow at times was because there was many many people to remember and follow. It greatly added to my knowledge of the local civilians.

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm sure that's right for most people, Ron. It's a little different for me because so many of those characters are real people who were always part of the discussion at family get-togethers. Still, look at the last two paragraphs of that excerpt.

“It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the air was soft and sweet,” she said. “I sat down under a holly-hock bush which was full of pink blossoms and watched the bees gathering honey.”

Elsie Duncan hadn’t the faintest idea at that point—nor had many of the 40,000-strong Yankee host nearby—that something dreadful was brewing in the tangled forests to the south and descending upon them as swift and merciless as a cyclone from the southern plains.

The section of the diary immediately preceeding the quote above goes like this:

"...I jumped out of bed and said 'oh, Mother what is that noise' and with a beating heart I sprang out of bed and rushed to her side ... I was so frightened I said, 'oh Mother, do you think that Jim, Joe and Dick [her brothers and brother-in-law] are there?' She said, 'I'm afraid they are." ... When I heard the cannons roar and the guns popping and the horses screaming it seemed as if everything was lost. It was terrible heart-rending. It was too much for my poor little heart to stand.

"I hadn't had anything to eat that morning. I went outside. I went into the garden. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was..."

Upon reading the whole section, it becomes hard to accept the writer's conclusion that "Elsie hadn't the faintest idea at that point ... that something dreadful was brewing..." Methinks Mr. Groom did not read the whole diary. He's a good writer. I hope he gets the rest of it right. This could be a very interesting story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay... Amazon finally let me read enough of Winston Groom's book to make a decision. I bought it. After reading a fair amount of it online, I've decided...

  1. If you're looking for minute-by-minute operations of individual regiments, this is not your book. In his introduction, the author says those books have already been written. He wanted to take a different approach.
  2. If you're a stickler for historical accuracy in every little detail, be sure to take your blood pressure medicine before you read this book. For an example, re-read my post above. The author has Elsie playing ourdoors on Duncan Field, blissfully unaware of the coming battle AFTER she has just written that the fighting started before she got out of bed. If you study Elsie's diary or look at the will her father filed a few days before the battle, you'll see that they family no longer lived on Duncan Field.
  3. If you love to debate the controversial issues of the battle, you might want to take a double dose of blood pressure medicine before you read this book. For example, in discussing Ruggles Battery, the author points out that there is some controversy among historians as to the number of cannons involved. I can't give you the exact quote because Amazon won't let me get back to that page, but he writes something along the lines of... Some historians say the number was 50-something. Some say it was 60-something. I say that after all these years it probably doesn't matter. (I tend to like that answer. If Milberry Duncan and her children were inside the house on Duncan Field that afternoon, they probably didn't care how many cannons were firing. One would have been too many. That said, I'm still intrigued by the idea of finding a way to solve that puzzle and come to a definitive number.)
  4. So, what is this book? It is a different sort of story written from the points of view of 20 or so people who were involved in the battle in some way. You are already familiar with many of them, maybe most of them--Ambrose Bierce and Henry Morton Stanley, for example. In fact, you may find nothing new here. You may have read every word written by every one of these writers on Shiloh. But then, you may find a surprise or two--like Josie Underwood, a young woman in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She has an interesting perspective on life in the western part of Tennessee in the early part of the war and follows the battle from a distance as she waits for news of friends and relatives who fought at Shiloh.

Bottom line for me, this book focuses more attention on the civilian population than most--and it doesn't limit itself just to the battle itself. That notion alone make it worth a few dollars to read the rest of the story. If you read the book, I'd love to know what you think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

John, thanks for the overview. So is the book something of a blend of fact and fiction?

It sounds somewhat similar to Shelby Foote's book that he wrote on Shiloh a long time ago, only Foot's version only focused on something like five main characters. And I think they were all battle participants in the book. Can't recall for sure if there were any civilians in there or not.

Perry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perry, that's exactly what I thought. It's sort of like Shelby Foote's book except that there are more sources and they are real people. Shelby Foote's book was more compartmentalized in that each chapter seemed to deal with one character with an occasional case where two characters crossed paths. This book seems to be more a narrative of the battle using eyewitness accounts to give depth to the story. It's a different approach but it works out to the same thing. I think we'll find it interesting as long as we don't get too caught up in the accuracy of every detail.

John

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I was going to take a pass on this book, but I may change my mind and give it a read after hearing what you had to say about it. Shelby Foote's book was awfully good, even though I'm not usually drawn to historical fiction. It sounds like Groom's book might be a little bit of a blending of fact with fiction, so you're probably right that we have to take some things with a grain or two of salt. But, if you can capture the essence of something like Shiloh, even if the details are off somewhat, it can have quite a bit of value. People connect with personal stories, and Shiloh is filled with incredibly poignant personal stories. I think that's why Foote's book was so compelling.

Thanks again, John. :)

Perry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Essence." That's a good word for this book. I'm hoping it captures the essence of Shiloh--and not just the battle but also the way the war impacted local civilians. I hope I'm not getting my hopes--or anyone else's--too high.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wish I knew where my copy of Shelby Foote's "Shiloh" is hiding. It's been many years since I read it. If I remember correctly, Shelby Foote's characters were fictious, but everything that they experienced was recorded as being an actual experience of someone in the battle.

The one thing that sticks in my mind is the comment of the young Union soldier sent to the rear. He returned to his unit and told his commanding officer 'this fight ain't got no rear'.

I'll bet my "Shiloh" is hiding in the same place as "Bloody April". A word to the wise; before you get old, make sure that you have a neat and orderly system for keeping things.

Grandpa

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Richard, did you ever go to the museum shelby had in Baldwin? Bill and I spent a couple of plesant sunday afternoons there. wasn't much to it it was only about 20X20 built to resemble a log cabin. he had a few nice shot and buckles. Bill and I made two trips to baldwin to hunt, only found one spent minie. but we did find shelby.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×