This volume contains a journal kept by Frank Peebles between September 1861 and April 1862 (25 pages) and a journal kept by his mother, Sophia, from September 25, 1865 through June 1868 (70 pages). Sophia used the last thirty-six pages of the volume as a copybook.
Frank's mother had given him his first journal when he was a child, encouraging him to keep a "record of passing events" and to use the journal to promote his "moral and intellectual advancement" (p.1). After keeping a journal for years, he grew ashamed of the carelessness of his writing, and threw them all on the fire, to start afresh with this volume. "I have no record of my past life, except that which a treacherous memory furnishes. What a shame to a boy who has had such kind teachings as I have," he wrote, regretfully.
Frank wrote every day, sometimes just a single line, but often a longer description of his daily activities. War increased the workload of both his mother and father, and as the only child, he helped them both. He put in long hours at his father's store, waiting on the nervous townspeople, who were busily stocking up on whatever supplies they could find: "the war & blockade will help us to get rid of some old goods we never could have sold, so we are advantaged that far -- that far only," he observed (p.4). He could also assume the role of housekeeper, when his mother had more pressing tasks: "Mother having a soldier's coat to make, I attended to the domestic affairs. Rode in the afternoon to the plantation, where they have killed ten thousand pounds of pork" (p.13).
The community was mobilizing for war. A volunteer company was formed, a camp set up, and a sewing society established. December 7 was muster day, and Frank drilled with the militia for the first time on December 21st. Frank visited Camp Kimball to see the soldiers and tents, and listen to the two Crowson brothers sing "two original songs, Richmond and Run Yank Run" (p.2-3).
Frank visited with several young ladies in the town, and related one "romantic occurrence" that illustrates the gallantry of the young southern gentleman (p. 9). A Miss Ellen Collier stopped in at the store one day and asked Frank to escort her and her sister to the train station, which he promptly did. However, the roads were bad and the train was missed. Miss Ellen wished to stay overnight at a nearby house, so they applied to the overseer for admittance -- the owner presumably being away. Miss Ellen "performed on the piano and conversed" until it was time to retire, at which point Frank "went to a little room adjoining hers and rested quietly 'till morning." After breakfast, Frank escorted the ladies to the morning train: "Miss E. & her sister were off, & I left to fret over & worry with & beat & drive balking horses. It was twelve o'clock when I reached home, glad enough to be there."
In January 1862, Frank left for school in Lebanon, Tennessee, but he was only there a brief while. His entries stop on February 2, and he returned home soon after that. The journal resumed for a single unfinished sentence on April 11, the day the Union army, led by Brigadier General Ormsby Mitchel, occupied nearby Huntsville: "We were a little startled soon after dinner by the intelligence that Federal troops had . . ." (p. 25).
When Sophia began to write in the volume on September 25, 1865, she expressed her disappointment that Frank had not become a "thorough scholar" (p.25). She worried that "Frank is surrounded by various temptations, and I sometimes fear he is yielding to their unhallowed influences" (p.40). Anxiety about her son continued to harass her, and she feared he was "forming habits prejudicial to health and morality" (p.78).
Although she exhibited a certain amount of motherly concern, Sophia was too busy to dwell on her grown son's potential fall. She attended practically every religious service that was held, and always recorded the text the sermon was based on in her journal. Through the bible classes and Sabbath school classes she taught, she reached out to the young people of Mooresville. She wished more townspeople would join the church, but she records only a handful of people coming forward at the Quarterly Meetings and Camp-meetings held in town. The community could not afford to keep their pastor, Mr. McDonald, and he left in October 1865. Mooresville Methodists made do with circuit riders and other area preachers after that, which meant there wasn't always a service on Sunday.
One of Sophia's greatest pleasures was reading books -- and she consumed vast histories, lengthy biographies, and the occasional novel whenever she could find the time. At one point she stated that she didn't mind her husband leaving her alone at home, as long as she could "claim the companionship of a good book" (p.51). Sophia concentrated on nonfiction, and spent several months reading Charles A. Goodrich's history of the United States, as well as a history of Mexico, and biographies of Charlotte Bronte and the consorts of the Kings of England. She tried reading Shakespeare's plays, but announced that she could not "appreciate their beauties" (p.36).
Sophia tried in vain to resist the appeal of novels, which seemed as frivolous as the fancy crochet work she chastised herself for loving to make (p.66). Since she could not resist, she rationalized her reading as a research project: "Have been reading one of Bulwer's novels, I always feel a little conscience smitten when I spend time in this way but Bulwer has been so often lauded by the lovers of romances I have felt inclined to read and discover for myself wherein lies the attraction of his work" (p.42). She did further investigating the next January: "I have been reading a novel by Charles Reade, time badly spent, but I sometimes like to understand the character of the popular literature of the day, and after perusing such a work, I am astonished at the taste of one who can enjoy such overwrought exhibitions of both good and evil" (p.69).
Although Sophia was a deeply religious woman, her religiosity did not overwhelm her personality. She often reflected rather pragmatically on her place in the world, as a woman, and as a person filling feminine roles. "The history of a housekeeper -- what so monotonous as her duties. The calls of parlor dining room and kitchen, are ever the same" she wrote, early on (p.28). She sometimes described her work in the various domestic "departments" as a kind of performance, for instance, "have been acting laundress with a few small articles..." (p.74). Sophia had the assistance (and company) of Mrs. Donnell, a woman friend who lived with the Peebles for long stretches of time. She also had the help of a cook, housemaid, and manservant, and possibly others. Unless her servants were sick, Sophia typically supervised their work, rather than doing it herself, but she often had to step into one role or another.
The end of the war, for instance, sparked an intense house cleaning -- probably throughout the south. Sophia explained that there was "a general upsetting of carpets and furniture of all descriptions, that the accumulation of four years' dust may be removed, Ladies have been afraid during the war to display their carpets out of doors lest an unexpected squad of soldiers might appropriate them for blankets" (p.28). After the war, the Peebles also had to dig a well in their backyard: "for twenty seven years our water has been brought from a spring and from a neighbor well, but the change in our social condition has materially affected our domestic arrangements and made it necessary for water to be obtained with less labor" (p.57). The Peebles were adjusting to the new social order, and Sophia was by necessity more directly involved in the work of the house, garden, and poultry yard.
Sophia's world lost its balance when she began teaching in her own house in February 1867, which she probably did to earn some money. The "dear immortals," as she dubbed her students, frustrated her with their indolence, and she never felt like they were learning very much. Even if the rewards had been greater, the sacrifice of her time was a tremendous blow. "Busy at school but during recess hour overlooking some house cleaning" gives an idea of how she tried to keep up with her old responsibilities as well as the new (p.81). With no time to write up more lesson plans, she resigned her position as bible class teacher in March. Her time for reading and journal writing was also severely diminished.
Sadly, Sophia did not keep up the journal. Early on, she had expressed dissatisfaction with the passivity with which her life was being lived: "How rapidly time is flying, months succeed each other so rapidly, I sometimes feel that all of life will be gone ere I begin to live" (p.30). By the middle of July 1867, the monotony of her life oppressed her so much that she saw no point in writing every day: "the record of one day will answer for a twelvemonth," she wrote (p.84). After a month-long gap in her entries, she reiterated, "I fear we shall of necessity become strangers to each other, school duties and family cares are all of which I have to write, and in these there is so much monotony that the record of one day will do for a month" (p.92). Shortly thereafter she stopped writing entirely, becoming a stranger not only to her journal but to us.
Sophia kept several lists in the back of this book. There is a record of what she had read, an impressive list of "Names applied to Our Savior in Scripture," brief biographical sketches of royal women, and weather data. She also used the final pages as a copybook for poems and historical facts.