The diary that Confederate Sgt. Jesse Barber brought home to White County after serving with the 8th Arkansas Infantry in the Civil War contains a surprise: It was used by a Union soldier before Barber began to write in it. The diary now belongs to Sammy and Rosemary Vaughan, who live in the Four-Mile Hill community. It has been in Sammy’s family for four generations. His great-grandmother was Barber’s wife until he died in 1882 at age 40. She later married John Patterson, and their son Milburn Patterson is Sammy’s grandfather.
The diary is small and water-damaged. Jesse Barber also wrote over some of the Union soldier’s entries. The diary was so hard to read and understand that the Vaughans sought help from the White County Historical Society (WCHS). Eddie Best, a WCHS board member, put them in touch with Paul Haney, a history professor at Harding University.
One of Haney’s graduate students, John Boone of Searcy, took on the diary project. His job was two-fold: To transcribe the diary and to do historical research that would make the brief entries in the diary more meaningful.
Boone has enjoyed the project. “I like to dig into area history,” he said.
Before transcribing the diary, he made large copies of each page to make the writing easier to read and to save wear and tear on the 141-year-old diary paper.
As Boone delved into the diary, he began finding passages like “We chased the Rebels” and “We ran Morgan’s raiders across the river.”
“I knew then that it was a Union soldier’s writing,” Boone said. He had expected the diary to contain only Jesse Barber’s writing; that’s what the Vaughans had also thought. And because the Union soldier’s diary entries came first, it was evident that he owned the diary first.
The Union soldier mentioned being in Kentucky and Tennessee towns in 1862. One battled mentioned was at Perryville, Ky. Boone found that three Kentucky units had fought there for the North.
An entry two weeks after that battle led Boone to the 4th Kentucky Infantry as the unit that the Union diarists must have belonged to. The passage told about a Corporal Hiram Bolin killing a Private John D. Smith. Boone found both men’s names on a roster of the 4th Kentucky, Company C, and felt that the diarist was a member of the same company.
Other passages indicate that the Union diarist had quartermaster duties. So far, Boone hasn’t been able to learn his name, but he hopes to get help from Kentucky Civil War Round Table members in identifying him.
Boone thinks the diary changed hands at the Battle of Chickamauga in northwest Georgia. “The 4th Kentucky and the 8th Arkansas fought there on November 7, 1863,” he said. “The diary may have been dropped there. Paper was scarce, and Barber got the diary some way and used it.”
Some of Barber’s entries mention his being in hospitals at Marietta, Ga., and Columbus, Ga. He also tells of being captured at Nashville, Tenn., in late November 1863. He was sent by train to Camp Douglas, Ill. The camp, named in honor of Stephen Douglas, a political leader, housed about 26,000 Confederate war prisoners during the Civil War.
One of the puzzling parts of the diary is Barber’s mention of several men and the money they owed him or perhaps he owed them. His January 25, 1864, entry gives the amount owed him as $297 and indicates that one man owed $155 of the total.
Since soldiers’ pay was low during the Civil War, Boone wonders about the large figures. Some area Civil War Round Table members have suggested that the figures may represent gambling gains and losses.
Barber wrote that he was released from the Union prison on June 18, 1864. He made his way home to his parents’ home in the Mount Pisgah/Four-Mile Hill area. The family had moved from Tennessee to homestead there in 1859.
Boone began working on the diary in September 2001, and completed much of the project before getting his master’s degree last July. But he’s still trying to identify the Union soldier who started the diary. He wants to find out about the wounds or illnesses that sent Barber to the hospital two times.
The Internet has been a great help, Boone said. It has furnished information on the Arkansas and Kentucky units represented by the two diarists. It has also put Boone in contact with Kenneth Barber, a great-grandson of Jesse Barber, who is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel living in California. Kenneth has furnished several old pictures and is trying to find out for Boone where the Barber family lived in Tennessee before they moved to Arkansas.
Jesse Barber and his wife Mary Jane Hart Barber were buried at Mt. Pisgah. Sammy Vaughan thinks they may have attended church at Mt. Pisgah. Their farm was not far from Mt. Pisgah, Four-Mile Hill or Crosby.
Sammy said that Boone has done a wonderful job on the diary. The Vaughans treasure the little volume and [have donated it to the Arkansas History Commission in Little Rock].
John Boone hopes to publish an article about the Blue/Gray diary in an Arkansas historical journal. He plans to use his study of history as a teacher in high school or college. [He presented his findings at a public meeting of the White County Historical Society March 24.]
The main surprise in his diary project was finding that it was kept by soldiers on opposing sides. A non-diary – but related – surprise came when he checked the Confederate monument at the courthouse in Searcy and found that Jesse Barber’s name was not listed among the White County veterans. Boone thinks the omission may have occurred because the three Barber sons and a daughter had moved away long before the monument was erected. vvv
A complete document on this research project is now on file in the Arkansas Room of the Searcy Public Library as well as the Arkansas History Commission. John Boone’s research continues. If you have additional information on this diary or this family, contact the White County Historical Society, P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145, firstname.lastname@example.org