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.”

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