John W. Anderson Diary

Identity elements

Reference code

US TxAM-C 16

Level of description



John W. Anderson Diary


  • 1867, 1988, 2002 (Creation)
  • 1861-1866 (Creation)


5 boxes

Name of creator


Biographical history

According to his own short biographical account in the diary (22 Feb. 1861), John W. Anderson was born April 1, 1834, one of the eight children born to F.D. Anderson and Mary Silver Anderson of Hanford County, MD. John W. Anderson received his M.D. from the University of Maryland and subsequently accepted the offer of help to establish a medical practice from his uncle Joseph Silver, arriving in Alabama, September 1854.

The location was chosen by his benefactor at Mt. Pleasant, AL. near the uncle's plantation, proved to be distressingly without the need of a full-time physician. In addition, Anderson's romantic attachment to Rosalie Josephine Witter, then just fourteen years old, only intensified Anderson's desire to break with his uncle, who disapproved of the Witter family entirely.

By Spring 1856, Anderson moved with his books and pride to Sparta, AL to establish himself in a successful medical practice, becoming particularly respected for his surgical operations. Thus prepared to support a family of his own, the young physician promptly returned to Mt. Pleasant in a buggy, married his sweetheart, by then fifteen years old, and felt settled.

By the time of the diary four children had been born to the Anderson's, with only two surviving infancy, Francis Eugene Anderson (Frank) and Gertrude Corinne Anderson (Gertie), who figures prominently in Anderson's narrative.

On December 4, 1856, Rosalie's brother, Robert B. Witter, Jr. founded a small weekly newspaper in Sparta, AL, called The Spartan. Anderson soon accepted Witter's offer of a partnership in the paper. As a result of Robert Witter's "ardor," and as it was the only newspaper in the county at the time, The Spartan had attained a wide circulation, as well as, eventually, the status of a semi-weekly. This progress slowly lured Anderson into becoming a fully involved working partner, completely abandoning his increasingly neglected medical practice in 1857.

For a time Anderson took over The Spartan press office entirely in 1861 when Witter was hospitalized in Richmond, VA after being wounded in an affray in New York. Anderson's wife Rosalie also joined him in the presswork, acting as a typesetter. Anderson's job, therefore, involved reporting and editing, as well as typesetting. Adventurous, industrious, keenly observant, articulate and doubtlessly charming, Anderson seems to have found his true calling in journalism.

Having a growing family, a thriving business and a pleasant new home on seven acres of land, Anderson was not eager to see the idyllic life broken by war. Foreseeing the need for other financial support, and no doubt itching to be where events were exciting, Anderson, at the suggestion of support from James A. Stallworth, a former member of Congress for the district, traveled to Montgomery, AL in February 1861, to seek an office with the newly established (February 4, 1861) Confederate States of American Provisional Government.

Due so some assiduous lobbying, Anderson was soon appointed (February 26, 1861) Corresponding Clerk in the office of C.G. Memminger, Secretary of the Treasury for the Confederacy. Contemplating suspended publication of The Spartan for at least a month, Anderson mused that inevitably the exigencies of war would require the complete suspension of such a small business enterprise anyway, so it was just as well he had acquired other employment.

Despite taking a civil service job in the new Confederate government, however, Anderson did not completely leave behind his calling as a journalist. As he states in his diary, Anderson determined to put his reporting to the test during the war, to record not only the major events but "those unconsidered 'trifles lighter than air' that help to complete the general outline of a more ambitious narrative."

Anderson had previously entered the war in 1861 by enlisting in a company of infantry from his home in Sparta, AL answering the call to defend Fort Pickens. Travelling by train to Pensacola, the company was ordered to join the 1st Alabama Regiment under Col. Lomax at Fort Pickens. Eventually, on the decision of General Chase, no Confederate attack was mounted, and the company was sent back in consternation to Alabama.

Anderson later served (August 16, 1862) as Recording Clerk for the Confederate Senate. Robert Witter also obtained a position in January 1862 with the Confederate government. Both Anderson and Witter held the military rank of private in Company F of the Virginia 3rd Regiment, a sort of Headquarters Company or Home Guard, and lived with their families in Richmond, VA during the war.

Anderson's diary is ample evidence of his journalistic tenacity, and his avowed devotion to recording the personal, and often very domestic details of professional, family, and military life during the war, particularly while under siege in the Confederate capital city, and, after defeat, facing the Union Government's recuperation plan called Reconstruction.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

This collection contains the original diary handwritten as a fair copy by John W. Anderson in 1867, in a notebook made by A. Drury, measuring approximately 24 x 19 cm. The notebook is bound in cardboard, covered in paper, with quarter leather corners and backstrap. Pages are machine ruled in blue, almost all filled with entries handwritten in ink. An albumen photographic print of Richmond before the Civil War is included as a full-page size frontispiece.

An extremely ornate calligraphic title page drawn by Anderson dedicates the diary "To His Beloved Sister, Minnie (Mrs. M. L. Hopkins) ... By John W. Anderson, M.D. 1867." The entries, dated 1861-1866, were copied over in 1867 after the end of the Civil War (1861-1865), from various other journals Anderson kept during the war, as a commemorative record of historical events, including his personal experiences and observations. Sections are enhanced with decorative initial letters and given titles such as "First Year of the War. 1861," with the last section, dated 1866, entitled "Reconstruction."

In the manner of a scrapbook, the journal is profusely illustrated with: pasted in photographs of military and political figures, as well as Anderson family members; pasted in Confederate money and stamps; pen and ink, mostly humorous sketches by John W. Anderson, some hand-colored; hand drawn and colored rebuses, with pasted on, or pen and ink drawn sections; as well as two hand-drawn maps, one showing the First Battle of Bull Run, annotated in red ink with the location of Alabama companies, and of the deathsites for those soldiers well known to Anderson, the other a map in a circular format, showing, at the center, Richmond, Virginia, with roads, railroads and fortifications radiating from or surrounding it. The photographs of family members are particularly interesting as they are included to accompany sketches of the "dramatis personae" of Anderson's narrative.

The original diary pages were numbered 2-300 in pencil on the upper outer corners of each page by Mrs. Robert W. Barnett, whose husband's great-great-grandfather, John W. Anderson had written the diary in 1967, as a fair copy compilation of journals he kept throughout the war and its immediate aftermath.

The original diary is very fragile and housed in a phase box under Restricted access. Permission must be requested from the Cushing Memorial Library Director and an appointment made to view the original diary.

Anderson's reporting skill is evident in the pithy, often vivid diary entries, evidently written by a quite well-educated and informed individual. As a member of the more privileged Southern classes, he is adamantly opposed to what he views as Northern tyranny and does not criticize the institution of slavery. While under siege in Richmond, Va., Anderson and his family, and particularly his fellow soldiers, face hardship in obtaining adequate shelter and food. Although often lighthearted, the entries betray an increasing awareness of the grimness of a drawn-out war and siege on Richmond.

Comments on battles include disparagement of Beauregard's failure to pursue the Federal forces at the battle of Shiloh, as well as mixed evaluations of General John Bell Hood and his Texas Brigade. On a more personal note, during one of Anderson's trips outside of Richmond on business to Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, or Maryland, Anderson's beloved daughter dies. In contrast, there is a charming account of his little boy's birthday party, complete with a pen and ink sketch of the child tearing into a rare treat of a meat pie. The death of a friend, wounded and without the comfort of family, is told without the usual light touch, but full of sympathy.

Events described expressing public opinion on the part of the Southern citizens under besiegement in Richmond include a "bread riot," illustrated with a sketch of women stealing bacon, with one shooting a policeman. Currency values are often mentioned. The flogging of Missouri Representative George Graham Vest by Mrs. Dowell in the House of Representatives is recorded, as is the 1865 New Year's feast prepared by Richmond citizens for the soldiers. After the war, the decision to institute cleaning of the Confederate graves and place flowers on them every 31 May foreshadows the official designation of Memorial Day to commemorate all U. S. soldiers killed in battle.

Also included with the original diary as Item 2. is a black and white photographic copy of the diary pages made by the repository in 1988. This photographic copy includes a few colored enlargements of illustrations in the diary.

Each 8 by 10-inch photograph of a page in the original diary is numbered on the back in pencil. The photographs are inserted in photograph sleeves, two photographs inserted back to back in each sleeve, and bound in three three-ring clamshell box albums holding approximately 50 photograph sleeves each. The black and white photographs of the diary pages are thus divided between the three clamshell box albums, with the colored photographs of selected illustrations added as a group in the back of the third clamshell album box (Item 2. Box 4/album 3). All photograph sleeves clearly bear in print marking pen the Collection ID number and the appropriate page number from the back of the print on the margin of the sleeve.

Negatives for the photographic copy of the diary are included in Box 5, folder 1. As with the photographic prints of the pages, the negatives are also inserted in sleeves and labeled with the Collection ID number and page numbers. The pages were obviously photographed in groups of all "Even" and "Odd," corresponding to recto and verso pages; therefore, the sleeves are labeled with the page numbers and either "Even" or "Odd." It is preferred that this copy of the diary be used as a surrogate copy.

Item 3. of the Diary is a photocopy made on archival quality paper in 2002 of the photographic prints of the original diary. This copy is also suitable for a surrogate copy.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

Restricted access to the original diary. Permission to view the very fragile original diary must be granted by the Associate University Librarian of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, and an appointment will be made if permission is granted. Photographic surrogates are available in the repository.

Physical access

Restricted access to the original diary. Permission to view the very fragile original diary must be granted by the Associate University Librarian of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, and an appointment will be made if permission is granted. Photographic surrogates are available in the repository.

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

Language and script notes

Finding aids

Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

Immediate source of acquisition

Donated by Robert W. Barnett, December 18, 1987.


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Archivist's note

Finding Aid Authors: Aletha Andrew.

Archivist's note

© Copyright 2019 Cushing Library. All rights reserved.

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