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Tom Chaney: Traipsing Through Georgia

Of Writers And Their Books: Traipsing Through Georgia. Tom reviews The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl noting that any contemporary value is in the slice of life with attitude clearly presented. The journal spans the surrender at Appomattox, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the beginning of reconstruction. This column first appeared 20 July 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Prey Tale Us

By Tom Chaney

Traipsing Through Georgia

In December 1864 -- in the midst of war -- in the wake of General Sherman, Eliza Frances Andrews, 24, and her younger sister Metta set out from Washington, in Northwest Georgia, to travel southwest to visit their older sister Mrs. Troup Butler who was living with her two children on a plantation near Albany.

Fannie kept a journal on the trip and into the following year. Many years later she picked up the journal again adding notes, explanations and an introduction before its publication in 1908 as The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl [D. Appleton, 1908].

Upon the centennial of the Civil War in 1960 and at the urging of Spencer Bidwell King, Jr., Ardivan Press reissued the title with an introduction by King. Now it has been reprinted by Cherokee Publishing Company.

Fannie was the middle of three daughters of a respected judge on the Georgia bench. The oldest was married and living on a plantation near Albany where her two sisters braved war time hardship to visit.

Fannie's journal is interesting because of the historical events about which she writes. The span of the journal includes the surrender at Appomattox, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the beginning of reconstruction.

Fannie became a teacher after the war and had several novels published. This gave her some distance and some ability as a scribe.

But the most compelling reason to read the journal is the inadvertent insight it provides into the mind of the southern belle caught at the end of her world and seeming not to realize the extent of the shift in society's values. Little enlightenment seems to have come by the time the much older Frances published the journal.

The family had four sons. The older three entered the army of the rebellion. The youngest was but twelve at war's end. All of the adult Andrews children were ardent secessionists, outspoken believers in the cause of the Confederacy.

Not so, the parents.

Much to Fannie's dismay, Judge Anderson was equally strong in his belief that secession was a mistake, but, of necessity, not so outspoken. A slave holder who had hoped for the gradual end of slavery without war, he suffered in war's aftermath alongside his true believing neighbors.

On December 19, 1864, Fannie and Metta were launched on their adventure. Their path crossed the track left by General Sherman in his push to the sea.

Traveling by rail where rail was available, Fannie documented the extent of the destruction in the final days of the war. Miles of the track had been destroyed. Much of the trip had to be by wagon or coach. They counted themselves fortunate when they could secure a spring wagon.

The cost was staggering. At one point the adventurers laid out one hundred confederate dollars per mile of travel.

Fannie's description of plantation life at her sister's seems to focus more on the social discomfort suffered by a flibbertigibbet of a southern belle unable to comprehend the dying of an extravagant way of life supported by slavery.

In such a context the worship service of slaves is "a curiosity" only -- not to be reckoned with the tragedy of a restricted social life. The author seems more concerned with personal inconveniences and entertainments than with any notion of humanity. This is in stark contrast with Judge Anderson's continuing concern for the welfare of his former slaves beyond emancipation.

If The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl has any contemporary value, it is in the slice of life with attitude clearly presented. When the crimes of the prison at Andersonville weigh less than having to make do with a muslin petticoat or having to step aside for a former slave on the sidewalk then the modern reader is more sympathetic with the various military rulers of Georgia who were forced to deal with the real problems of a society in painful transition.

At the time of publication in 1908 Fannie sees the economy of the south as having been in transition between "chattel slavery" of the old south and "wage slavery" of the new south. She sees the latter as odious as the former without much justification of her position. In other words the older Fannie excuses the younger Fannie's attitude with a facile Marxist interpretation.

Also, in her introduction the mature Fannie sees the last days of the slave based economy as a sort of "twilight of the gods" collapse of a heroic era rather than the last gasp of a cruel way of life based on the idea of ownership of fellow human beings to provide the luxury of the plantation way of life.

'Tis a pity Fannie seems not to have matured a great deal 'twixt writing and publication.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-07-21 02:41:47
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