Book Review: The Diary of Frances Peter: A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky

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Edited by John David Smith and William Cooper Jr.

The Diary of Frances Peter: A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky, Edited by John David Smith and William Cooper Jr. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN: 978-0-8131-5373-5 (paperback).

Frances Dallam Peter was one of the eleven children of Union army surgeon Dr. Robert Peter. Her candid diary chronicles Kentucky’s invasion by Confederates under General Braxton Bragg in 1862, Lexington’s monthlong occupation by General Edmund Kirby Smith, and changes in attitude among the enslaved population following the Emancipation Proclamation. As troops from both North and South took turns holding the city, she repeatedly emphasized the rightness of the Union cause and minced no words in expressing her disdain for “the secesh.”

Peter articulates many concerns common to Kentucky Unionists. Though she was an ardent supporter of the war against the Confederacy, Peter also worried that Lincoln’s use of authority exceeded his constitutional rights. Her own attitudes toward Black people were ambiguous, as was the case with many people in that time. Peter’s descriptions of daily events in an occupied city provide valuable insights and a unique feminine perspective on an underappreciated aspect of the war. Until her death in 1864, Peter conscientiously recorded the position and deportment of both Union and Confederate soldiers, incidents at the military hospitals, and stories from the countryside. Her account of a torn and divided region is a window to the war through the gaze of a young woman of intelligence and substance.

Frances Dallman Peter’s Candid Diary chronicles Kentucky’s 1862 invasion by Confederate General Braxton Bragg, Lexington’s monthlong occupation by General Edmund Kirby Smith, and the enslaved population’s reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation. As troops from both North and South took turns holding the city, she repeatedly emphasized the rightness of the Union cause and expressed her disdain for “the secesh.”

John David Smith is the Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has written and edited numerous books on the Civil War and Reconstruction and southern history. Smith has served as a Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich, and received the Mayflower Society Award for Nonfiction and the Gustavus Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

William Cooper Jr. (1933-2005) was the coordinator of modern political manuscripts at King Library at the University of Kentucky. He was an instructor at the University of Kentucky, Ball State University, Seymour High School (IN), and Muncie Central High School (IN).

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