Monday, December 22, 2014

Letters to Santa...

Did you ever wonder if Santa was able to deliver presents during the Civil War or what children asked him to bring them in the 1800s? Well, wonder no more. Let items from the Tennessee State Library and Archives answer your St. Nicholas questions.

In her diary entry of December 28, 1862, Lucy Virginia Smith French wrote:

"We had to be “Santa Claus” ourselves this season, for cakes, apples, a little candy, & some picture books were all that could be procured for the children. We had to tell them Santa Claus couldn’t get thro’ the pickets, - Jessie wanted to know why “the old fellow couldn’t go to his Quartermaster & get him a pass?” They seemed to enjoy their Christmas quite as well as usual however, notwithstanding that Santa Claus was blackheaded."

Lithograph portrait of Lucy Virginia French from Women of the South Distinguished in Literature (1865) by Mary Forrest. She appears to be seated, looking directly ahead while wearing a dress. The printed letters, G. R. Hall, (presumably the engraver), rim the bottom of the portrait, while the name L. Virginia French is written beneath the portrait. According to the preface, the portraits in the volume were made expressly for the book and "with one exception, from life."
Library Collection, TSLA

Lucy Virginia French (1825-1881) was born in Accomack County, Va. In 1848, she and her sister moved to Memphis, where they became teachers. While living in Memphis, she began writing for the Louisville Journal under the pen name "L'Inconnue," and in 1852 became the editor of the Southern Ladies Book. In 1853, she married Col. John Hopkins French and relocated to McMinnville, Tenn., where they had 3 children, 1 boy and 2 girls. She kept detailed diaries during the Civil War, including this diary entry from December 28, 1862...

Lucy Virginia French diary entry, December 28, 1862.
Lucy Virginia French Diaries, TSLA

In another example from our collection, the Boyd Family Papers, 1838-1947, contain letters from Franklin Boyd and Amie “Dovie” (Boyd) Nicholson. Both letters are dated Dec. 22, 1896, and are on J. F. Boyd stationery. The letters were written from Shelbyville, Tennessee.

In Franklin Boyd’s letter, he asks for a long list of items, including a horse, roman candles, and firecrackers. He also asks Santa not to forget his sister. Dovie asks for multiple things as well, including a doll trunk and a set of wooden dishes. She signs her letter, “your little friend Dovie Boyd.”

Dovie Boyd's letter to Santa, Dec. 22, 1896.
Boyd Family Papers, 1838-1947, TSLA

We hope you receive all you have asked for from Santa Claus this holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

"Christmas Gifts" sheet music cover from the Kenneth Rose Music Collection, TSLA

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Battle of Nashville: 150 Years Ago Today

Beginning on this day 150 years ago, the Confederate army launched a desperate assault on federal forces in Nashville as part of Confederate General John Bell Hood's attempt to threaten Union-held territory and lure General William T. Sherman away from Georgia. Despite the Confederate bloodletting at Franklin on November 30 of that year, the Confederates pursued their federal counterparts toward Nashville. Arriving on the south side of Nashville around December 2, 1864, the Confederates entrenched in an unlikely effort to besiege the strongly-fortified city. The thin Confederate lines stretched from the Cumberland River on the west to another bend of the river on the east. With perhaps 20,000 effective troops, the Confederates lacked sufficient manpower to complete the encirclement.

Major General George H. Thomas commanded Union forces during the Battle of Nashville.
Tennessee Historical Society Picture Collection

Inside the city, Major General George H. Thomas enjoyed the advantage of strong fortifications and earthworks which had been built in anticipation of a potential Confederate attack. With concentrations of African American refugees in the city available for military labor, and as many as 18,000 civilians employed by the army, Nashville was one of the strongest fortified cities on the continent. Thomas’s army, with a three-to-one advantage in numbers over Hood’s army, was primed for a major victory.

View of south Nashville from the campus of the University of Nashville. Fort Negley can be seen in the distance. Nashville had been occupied by the Union since 1862.
TSLA Photograph Collection

President Lincoln and General Grant pushed the cautious Thomas to destroy Hood’s army as quickly as possible. Thomas, however, refused to move until everything was in order and delayed further when a major ice storm hit the area on December 12. While the Confederates sat in frozen trenches with little or no food, few overcoats, and suffering low morale after the fiasco at Franklin, Thomas’s men prepared for the attack.

Written “in the field near Nashville” December 5, 1864, this receipt of medicines and hospital stores was issued to Senior Surgeon Robert W. Mitchell, Vaughan’s Brigade, CSA, 10 days before the Battle of Nashville. It includes alcohol, morphine, surgeon’s needles and silk, opium, and a large amount of whiskey.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

Finally on December 15, the weather broke and the federal advance began. Thomas sent his cavalry out Charlotte Pike in an effort to envelop the Confederate left flank. On the Confederate right, federal infantry, including a brigade of United States Colored Troops seeing combat for the first time, advanced to hold the Confederates in place. By the evening of the 15th, the Confederates had been forced to give up their positions and had fallen back to a shorter defensive line from Peach Orchard Hill on the far right, to Shy’s Hill on the left. There they sat, awaiting the next day’s attack.

This two sided hand-drawn map of Nashville, probably drawn for Army of Tennessee commanders by a Confederate spy, includes many features of wartime Nashville. Signed by “J.C.,” it shows “64-pounder” gun emplacements on the Cumberland River, the Brennan Foundry, and the stockade and fortifications around the State Capitol. The reverse side shows sentry houses and firfle pits on St. Cloud, Cathy’s, and Overton’s Hills, and military “graveyards” to the east.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

The federal plan of attack for December 16 was much the same as the day before—hold the Confederate right in place with a diversionary attack while also pressuring the center and flanking on the left, using cavalry. Confederates entrenched on Peach Orchard Hill inflicted heavy losses on the advancing United States Colored Troops, but the Confederates atop Shy’s Hill crumbled under the weight of attacks from three sides. The collapse of the Confederate left flank put the rest of Hood’s army in flight. It was only the brave rearguard actions by some Confederate units that prevented the complete destruction of the Army of Tennessee.

Pre-Civil War cased tintype of Col. William Shy, 20th Tennessee Infantry, CSA. Shy was killed at the Battle of Nashville on December 16, 1864, defending a hilltop position that now bears his name.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

The Battle of Nashville was the most complete federal victory of the Civil War and ended any Confederate threat to the state. Amazingly, those Confederate soldiers who remained with the defeated Army of Tennessee would fight again before the war finally ended in May 1865.

Dr. William H. Givens, an assistant surgeon attached to the 1st Division, detached from the 14th Army Corps, USA, wrote this letter to his wife on December 18, 1864 from the Rains House in Nashville. “We have suffered severely in the loss of men, but have gained one of the greatest victories of the war. We have captured large quantities of guns, small arms ammunition and prisoners . . . The fighting was quite severe all around here, and just in sight of here dozens of dead men have lain in the rain . . . nearly every one had been stripped of some article of clothing, all of them of their boots and shoes, most of them pants and many of coats, hats and all.”
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

TSLA’s current exhibit “1864: War Rages in Tennessee” features the Battle of Nashville and will be up in our Memorial Hall through the end of the year.

Many of the images come from Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee:

The Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) has several other Civil War collections:

Other Civil War Resources at TSLA:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tennessee's starring role in Elia Kazan's "Wild River"

In Tennessee today, it is not unusual to see film crews around the state, whether filming a TV show like ABC’s “Nashville” or making movies like “The Green Mile,” “The Firm,” or “Walk the Line.” In 1959, however, the filming of an entire major Hollywood movie in Tennessee was a momentous occasion, especially in a small town. That year, director Elia Kazan and actors Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick were among the stars that descended on Bradley County to make “Wild River.” Most of the filming took place in the Tennessee towns of Charleston and Cleveland and on Coon Denton Island in the Hiwassee River. More than 40 local residents had speaking parts, and dozens more served as extras.

In a scene from "Wild River," Miss Ella (Jo Van Fleet) attempts to illustrate her determination to keep her land by pretending to force field hand Sam Johnson (Robert Earl Jones) to sell his beloved hunting dog "Old Blue." Sam offered to give her the dog, if she was going to stay on the island.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

The film dramatized the plight of rural landowners who lost their homes and farms when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built dams that flooded their land. Assistant State Archivist Dr. Wayne Moore notes, "In one of the largest uses of eminent domain power in American history, tens of thousands of Southerners had their property taken from them by the Federal government in order to build these dams and create the lakes.”

The Garth Island field hands leave the farm as the lake begins to rise.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

If you are interested in learning more about the people who lost their lands to the lakes created by TVA dams, TSLA has many resources to explore. Borden Deal's novel Dunbar's Cove (1957) was one of two novels on which the "Wild River" screenplay was based. Two academic studies of the subject are TVA Population Removal : Attitudes and Expectations of the Dispossessed at the Norris and Cherokee Dam Sites (1995) by Michael Rogers, and TVA and the Dispossessed : the Resettlement of Population in the Norris Dam Area (1982) by Michael J. McDonald.

TVA's trouble shooter, Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift), and eminently worth-the-trouble Carol Garth Baldwin (Lee Remick) find romance amidst the drama in "Wild River." In the end, they have to join hands with the law.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

To see more images from the Department of Conservation Photographs Collection related to the movie, search "Wild River" in the TSLA Photograph Database:

The movie set used as the "Garth family homestead," in the motion picture "Wild River," 1959.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

More about “Wild River”

The Library of Congress selected "Wild River" for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry in 2002.

Allison Inman directed a documentary, “Mud on the Stars: Stories from Elia Kazan’s Wild River“ (2011) about how the making of “Wild River” affected people in Bradley County. View a trailer for the documentary here:

These notes from the Turner Classic Movie website are informative:

At right, "Garth Island," reached by a current-pushed ferry. This location, at Coon Denton Island, a few miles up the Hiwassee River from Calhoun and Charleston, Tennessee, was chosen as typical of bottomland before the TVA dam was closed.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.