published Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Civil War mementos go digital


by Andy Johns
N.R. Nichols, left, and state Sen. Bo Watson, D-Chattanooga, study a framed, hand-drawn map from the Civil War on Tuesday at the Hunter Museum of Art. Archivists from the Tennessee State Library and Archives collected memorabilia for the upcoming Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration, including letters, newspaper clips, photographs and musical instruments.
N.R. Nichols, left, and state Sen. Bo Watson, D-Chattanooga, study a framed, hand-drawn map from the Civil War on Tuesday at the Hunter Museum of Art. Archivists from the Tennessee State Library and Archives collected memorabilia for the upcoming Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration, including letters, newspaper clips, photographs and musical instruments.
Photo by Jenna Walker.

Words weren’t enough for Confederate infantryman John Ray Moss.

In an 1861 letter sent to his wife Nancy from Lick Creek, Tenn., he took the time to draw the three-story house he pledged to build for her, complete with a belfry, wraparound porch and Confederate flag.

“That’s what he dreamed of,” said Cleveland resident Marion Kerr, Moss’s great-great-granddaughter.

Moss’ letters were among dozens of documents local residents such as Kerr brought Tuesday to the Hunter Museum of American Art so staff with the Tennessee State Library and Archives could add them to their digital collection.

Moss died young a couple of years after the Civil War without ever building the home, but his letters and those of others could be a boon for researchers.

“There’s so much Civil War history that happened here, we were hoping to get some local stuff and we are,” said state archivist Wayne Moore.

Rhea County resident Tom Morgan brought in a trumpet and fiddle that his great-uncle used during the war. When Union bugler W.B. Morgan mustered out of the Union ranks in Resaca, Ga., he put his horn and fiddle in his pack and walked home to Rhea County.

On Tuesday, his great-nephew plucked a few notes on the fiddle strings and said he had squeezed a few notes out of the bugle, which was accidentally run over by a car in the 1930s.

“That’s sort of miraculous,” said Morgan, who also brought a photo of “Uncle Bill” for scanning.

The instruments were unique, but far from the only unusual things that have turned up on the archival tour, which plans to hit all 95 counties in the state and has gone to 17 so far. At other stops, Tennesseans have brought in guns, flags, boots, sabers and drums, according to Moore.

“There’s a lot of amazing stuff out there — as good as anything in a museum,” he said.

Ringgold, Ga., resident Randy Pierce brought letters from a Union surgeon and a muster roll from the Battle of Wauhatchie, fought near where Hamilton, Marion and Dade counties come together. The surgeon wrote about several local battles, including action on Missionary Ridge, but his most interesting message came from a visit to Sequatchie County right after Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s raid disrupting Union supply lines.

“He was describing all of the burned wagons and all of the mules dead on the side of the road,” Pierce explained.

Chattanooga’s Joe Lawrence brought a box full of letters and a diary from an ancestor on his mother’s side.

“It’s been sitting in a closet the last 100 years,” he said.

The diary, belonging to William K. Watson, of Zanesville, Ohio, starts in Tullahoma, Tenn., and records events in 1864 and 1865 before ending in Fayetteville, N.C.

Lawrence said he’s read through it, but the soldier mostly discusses camp life and the weather.

“He came through here,” he said. “Mostly it’s pretty boring.”

“I think that’s the way it was,” interjected his wife Kelly.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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