The Civil War Diary

About 12 years ago, John and I were at his grandma’s house in Cookeville, Tennessee. The grandchildren all called her “Dearmom,” although no one’s quite sure why. Regardless she was Dearmom to everyone, including me.

Front Cover - cropped
The diary of C.W. Holbrook

During that visit, we were in Dearmom’s basement, looking through boxes of stuff that had belonged to John’s late-grandpa, Bromfield Ridley. Brom, as he was called, was a character. Among his many quirks was that he wrote his name on everything — books, tools, whatever belonged to him — in black magic marker.

Brom also flew cargo planes in North Africa in World War II, was a college biology professor and once went fishing with football legend Terry Bradshaw.

While going through boxes, one of us came across a tattered book with one of those old, marbled covers. It was literally falling apart. Affixed to the front of it was yellow sticky note that said this: “Civil War diary of some Holbrook or McCuistion — don’t know any more about it.”

Turns out, the diary was written during the summer and fall of 1861 by Columbus Williamson Holbrook, of Mt. Vernon, Texas. John’s grandpa’s older sister, Mary Wells, had married a Holbrook, although not until the 1900s.

The diary passed down through the Holbrook family, then to Mary Wells and her husband, and finally to John’s grandparents. Because John and I are interested in history, Dearmom gave it to us.

The diary sat around our house for about 10 years in a gallon-sized baggy. That is not a good way to store a paper document, by the way, but regardless, there it sat on a shelf in the office.

Over the years, one or the other of us opened the diary a few times, but the writing was mostly in pencil and very faded and difficult to read. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I decided to transcribe the diary from beginning to end.

Like I said, it was in terrible shape. Some pages were falling out. There were moldy spots and some rips and holes. I don’t imagine my handling of it did it any favors in the end, but the thought of being perhaps the only person who had ever read the entire thing was too enticing to resist. What secrets would I discover inside?

So over the summer of 2014, sometimes using a magnifying glass, I transcribed C.W. Holbrook’s diary. The first entry, after a listing of Holbrook family members, is written by Holbrook’s younger brother, William Walter Scott Holbrook:

Mr. C.W. Holbrook

My dear brother that fell a victim in the war. He is gone to his eternal abode where there is piece, joy and happiness throughout the endless ages of eternity. Your brother.

W.S. Holbrook

I don’t know exactly when William Walter Scott Holbrook penned this sweet eulogy to his brother. The 1860 U.S. Census for Titus County, Texas, lists W.W.S. Holbrook as a 2 year old, so it’s likely the entry was written much later than his brother’s death, which is said to have occurred sometime in 1862.

It’s possible the younger Holbrook didn’t even remember his brother, but wrote the entry based on what he was told by other family members.

Soon, I’ll post eloquent farewell letters, written in Holbrook’s diary by his neighbors and friends. But I guess that’s enough for now. Until later…

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