Long-Lost Civil War Diary Returns to Tennessee

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The long-lost diary of a prominent Nashvillian has been returned to Tennessee by a California woman. Andrea Shearn, a retired science teacher, found the diary while helping her parents move into an assisted living facility.

Shearn found the diary in a wooden box on a closet shelf in Cincinnati, where her grandmother had evidently put it in 1963. Neither Shearn nor her parents realized it was there.

Examining the diary, Shearn learned that it had belonged to R.M. McGavock, a Confederate officer with beautiful handwriting. Under McGavock’s name was written: “Captured at Ft. Henry  Stewart Co. Middle Tennessee Feb 6th 1862 by Capt. M Wemple Co H 4th Ill Vol Cav  Presented to Ms. Lue Wemple.” 

Delving into her own genealogy, Shearn discovered that Capt. Myndert Wemple of Illinois was her ancestor. He evidently found the diary after McGavock and his troops evacuated Fort Henry in a battle that was a disaster for the Confederates. Wemple’s descendants preserved the diary and handed it down through the family for the next 100 years, until it disappeared into that closet in Cincinnati.

Shearn transcribed the diary, becoming ever more interested in the writer and his experiences. She was surprised to learn that Randall McGavock was a Harvard-educated lawyer who was elected mayor of Nashville at the age of 32. He was a lieutenant colonel of the 10th Tennessee Regiment of the Confederate Army.

Shearn got in touch with State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill.

“This nice lady from California called and said, ‘I wonder if anyone in Tennessee would be interested in this diary,’" Sherrill recalls. "When she told me it was Randal McGavock’s diary, my first thought was to fly to California and get it before it disappeared again.”

Sherrill and others at the State Library and Archives had long been aware of Randal McGavock and his diaries, as eight volumes of his diary have been housed at there since 1960.

“We had this great set of diaries, but the volume from the beginning of the Civil War was missing,” he said.

Shearn eventually flew to Nashville to visit Two Rivers Mansion, Carnton and other sites associated with Randal McGavock and his family. She and her husband brought the diary with them and generously donated it to the archives.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett said: “We are extremely grateful to Andrea Shearn for returning this diary to Tennessee. I know that scholars and McGavock descendants will enjoy the opportunity to read it and fill in the blanks in this soldier’s history.”


Help Needed In Identifying Goodman Family Photo

I am currently researching a set of glass plate negatives taken over 100 years ago in and around Chattanooga. Many photos have been identified, yet many remain unknown in location and subjects. Several photos were taken within walking distance of the likely photographer’s home on Payne Street (now Battery Place). This included the 700 block of East 4th Street. At 710 ... (click for more)

Tennessee Historical Commission Awards Grants to Preserve Historic Sites

The Tennessee Historical Commission has awarded 31 grants from the federal Historic Preservation Fund to community and civic organizations for projects that support the preservation of historic and archaeological resources. “Tennessee’s treasured historic places make our state unique and contribute to our quality of life,” said Patrick McIntyre, state historic preservation officer ... (click for more)

Morning Fire Destroys Vacant Valleybrook House; 2 Firefighters Suffer Burns

Fire destroyed a vacant house in the Valleybrook Community early Thursday morning. The Chattanooga Fire Department received the alarm at 5:35 a.m. and responded to a reported fire at the Valleybrook Golf and Country Club off Hixson Pike. When the first firefighters from Station 19 arrived on the scene, they could not find the fire. Lt. Scott Sheets with Quint 19 said that ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Whiskey Company To Construct Large Distillery At Former Site Of Newton Chevrolet

The Chattanooga Whiskey Company has begun construction on a larger production distillery in the former Newton Chevrolet property at the corner of MLK Boulevard and Riverfront Parkway near the Tennessee River. Once fully operational, the Riverfront Parkway facility will be capable of producing upwards of 14 (53-gallon) barrels per day, making it one of the largest craft bourbon ... (click for more)

Judge Steelman Was Unfairly Criticized In Handling Of School Bus Driver Rape Case - And Response

We are blessed to have freedom of speech in our society, but I am always amazed at the number of folks who voice such strong antagonistic opinions about things without any apparent first-hand knowledge.   As any who wish to criticize the system should know, people get arrested and charged for criminal offenses every day.  The ultimate charge and penalty which results ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Vote For Rhonda Thurman

After studying the Hamilton County School Board quite harshly during the last seven most-tumultuous months in its history, it is only proper that I share my belief that Rhonda is its Most Valuable Player. Four of the school board’s nine members are up for re-election, with Rhonda facing capable opponents in Jason Moses and Dr. Patti Skates in District 1, but let’s never forget that ... (click for more)