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Civil War Journals - Author Portrait Photo Credit: © 2007 by R. L. Geyer

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Author transcribes ancestor's journals
By Susan L. Rife

Published Sunday, March 23, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.
Last updated Sunday, March 23, 2008 at 3:57 a.m.

Ten years of squinting at faded Spencerian script in two old journals and countless hours of research by the great-great-granddaughter of Missouri's provost marshal general have yielded a new addition to the source material for Civil War scholars.

"Troubled State: Civil War Journals of Franklin Archibald Dick" (Truman State University Press, $34.95) by Gari Carter is drawn from 2 of 10 journals Dick kept as the United States was going through the upheaval of the Civil War.

Heavily annotated, the book is designed to appeal to Civil War scholars and amateurs alike.

The two journals, one leather-bound and the other a school copybook, were handed down to Carter, an only child, by her mother in the 1960s. They had been stored wrapped in tissue paper in a department-store gift box. The only other artifacts of Dick's service were a campaign chest and two swords of uncertain provenance, and another set of journals from an ancestor on another branch of the family tree.

Carter, who lives in North Carolina and spends part of her winters in Sarasota, kept the journals for years as bits of family history. It wasn't until after she finished her first book, "Healing Myself," an account of her recovery from an automobile accident that left her critically injured and her face in ruins, that she began to look more closely at the journals.

She began to research the family genealogy and to painstakingly transcribe the journals.

"They actually were in surprisingly good condition," she said. "The pages were a little yellowed. The hardest part was reading his handwriting and getting used to the way he wrote."

Dick was born in 1824 in Philadelphia and established a law practice in the frontier town of St. Louis, Mo., in 1842. Missouri had entered the Union as a slave state in 1821 after the Missouri Compromise, "which allowed slavery in Missouri, but prohibited slavery from then on in territories north of Missouri's southern border," Carter writes in the introduction to "Troubled State." The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which repealed that prohibition, inflamed the simmering tensions along the border.

Franklin Dick became law partners with Frank Blair, whose brother was mayor of St. Louis. The two helped organize the Free Soil Party in Missouri, which opposed the spread of slavery into new territories. When the situation worsened in 1861, Dick took his family back to Philadelphia and returned to St. Louis as adjutant general to Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon.

"In the midst of this turmoil, Franklin Dick started to write his journals, never intending for anyone else to read them," Carter writes. "He began looking over the events of the previous nine months and recorded his introspective and outspoken views.

"His life had rapidly changed from that of an intellectual St. Louis attorney and businessman to that of an ardent Unionist in the midst of a turbulent Civil War."

Carter said her own knowledge of the Civil War tended to skew away from the Midwest and toward the eastern and southern battles, so reading Dick's journals was a revelation for her.

"Once I started, it was almost like a page-turner," she said. Even knowing the end of the story, "reading how he dealt with things, what was happening in his daily life, was just riveting."

Carter sought advice from the publishers of Civil War histories on how best to proceed with the book. Nancy Rediger, editor of Truman State University Press, "must have e-mailed me for six months, with different places to do research, a lot of really good suggestions. So those were the guidelines I used as I started, not doing too many footnotes, but doing enough that people would know what was going on."

She had a rude awakening when she sent the manuscript off, however.

"I was so naive," she said. "I'd never done any scholarly things. I'd done all these footnotes and all these references, but I hadn't done any page numbers or any of that." Ultimately she had to recheck every reference to appropriately footnote the volume.

The journals are but 2 of 10, bookending the war; the others were lost. In 1862 Dick was appointed provost marshal general for Missouri, "making him responsible for carrying out orders for banishment or assessment of disloyal persons and for overseeing the military prisons and dealing with prisoners," Carter writes. His correspondence in that role was preserved in the Library of Congress and makes up the center section of the book.

Enough additional correspondence remains that Carter expects to get another book out of it. But the journals and letters are of interest to her less as war artifacts and more as an individual's history.

"I've never been interested in the Civil War," she said. "I'm more interested in the personal part of it than the actual war and the battles. I'm more interested in what they experienced and how they went through it."

When she speaks to groups of Civil War enthusiasts, as she will this week, "it's interesting for me. They're the experts and I'm not. I've learned a lot from them."

 

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