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.”


Chester Martin Remembers "Little Willie" King, Graphic Artist

There was once a time in another century when our two Chattanooga newspapers shared the same building - on East 10th Street. It was immediately behind the present Jay Solomon Federal Office Building. Each newspaper had its own staff, and, I understand that the rivalries between the two papers ran high. That is the way it should be, of course, as one was Democrat and the other Republican. ... (click for more)

Chester Martin Remembers Tapp's Valley Store

William Bomar Tapp was a distant relative of mine who lived well over 100 years ago in northwest Chattooga County, Ga. It is not clear whether he owned the little brick store, pictured, or merely leased it, but it was well-known for being the only such store in the entire area. That is Georgia Highway 337 in the foreground, with York Road crossing it left and right. It was ... (click for more)

2 Shot Tuesday Afternoon On Windsor Street

Chattanooga Police responded on Tuesday to the 2100 block of Windsor Street, on a report that two people had been shot.   Upon arrival, officers located two victims suffering from gunshot wounds. Their injuries are non-life threatening at this time. Both victims were transported to a local hospital by Hamilton County EMS.   Two suspects were reported to police. ... (click for more)

Erlanger Reports Dramatic Increase In Flu-Like Illnesses

The number of influenza-like illnesses treated at Erlanger Health System shows a dramatic increase compared to this time last year.  Erlanger reported treating 156 patients with flu like illnesses between Feb. 12 and 18 of this year. This represents a significant increase from the seven cases reported during the same week last year and 15 cases reported approximately a month ... (click for more)

Getting The Message

Our school age youth have inspired me with their responses during “Q and A” sessions after my readings as a volunteer during African American History Celebrations and Read across America Celebration, too.  Before this school year, I read to classes at Orchard Knob Elementary School and at Rivermont Elementary School, here in Hamilton County.   Their answers to factual ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Marshall’s 3% Folly

The National Health Interview Survey is believed to be the best gauge of health and behaviors in the United States. It is under the umbrella of the nation’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so first let me share that the figures I am going to present are directly attributed to what is the best source believed to be out there. I didn’t make these numbers up and I had nothing ... (click for more)