Judge Robert McGinley Hooke was racing to save his family. The Union Army had attacked Chattanooga on Aug. 21, 1863; his sons were fighting for the Confederate Army; and as a prominent member of the Southern establishment, he was a wanted man, so he was moving quickly to escape.
His plan was unique. As a wealthy investor in the railroads, Judge Hooke had money and connections, so he secured a railroad car for his family, removed the seats, and moved in. He then began traveling from place to place in an attempt to stay ahead of the Federal Army, stopping first in Dalton, Ga., and then moving farther south. When the war ended, he returned to Chattanooga, glad he and his family were alive.
While Judge Hooke was on the run, his 22-year-old daughter Josephine kept a diary in which she detailed her experiences on the rails and in the cities they visited. After the war, the journal exchanged hands a few times and eventually ended up in the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, Tenn. When ethnohistorian Raymond Evans and Civil War reenactor David Scott got a hold of a transcript while researching a book on the Lookout Mountain Artillery Battery, they decided it was too good to leave buried.
Also, Evans was looking for something unique to publish.
“The funding sources I use for various activities wanted to do something for the 150th anniversary of the war that didn’t pertain to battles. Since the diary was written by a civilian, it’s as far removed from battles as it could be,” Evans says.
As the Hooke family spent months on the train, and occasionally disembarked to live in a rented house for a short time, Josephine wrote about her day-to-day life and documented her thoughts about her experiences.
Early entries reveal her belief that the war would soon end and her life would return to normal, Evans says.
“She’s wondering what’s happening at home, what her friends are doing, things like that. Then some time passes, and she’s still thinking that the Confederates are going to take back Chattanooga, and that things will be like they were before the war.”
As more time went by, Josephine began to accept that things were going to turn out differently, and concentrated on making the best of the situation.
To pass the hours, she kept a record of her various purchases. Scott was amused by a list in which she mentioned purchasing a dress pattern for 90 Confederate dollars - an outrageous price for the day.
“You could purchase that same pattern today for about 30 cents. That was ridiculous, but it was a time of war,” Scott says.
Despite her attempts to focus on the minutiae of her daily life, Josephine was unable to distract herself from her greater concerns, particularly those concerning her family.
Judge Hooke and Jefferson Davis were friends, so the Feds had put a price on her father’s head. Plus, her brothers were away, fighting for the Confederacy, and she didn’t know if they were alive or dead.
As Josephine writes, a portrait of a well-educated, cosmopolitan young woman emerges.
A rare picture of the war takes shape as well. Before reading the diary, Evans, who’d researched and written several books centered on the hostilities between the North and South, had never given much thought to what civilians did during the fighting.
Josephine’s diary served as a window to a little explored facet of what some say was the most difficult chapter in U.S. history.
“What struck me more than anything else was the lack of communication. At times, they were only 60 miles away from Chattanooga, but they still didn’t know what was going on. That put Josephine under a lot of strain.
She’d write about how she was wondering where they’d be in a year. I’d never thought of that aspect of the war before,” Evans says.
The diary ended up in the hands of a relative who later became a historical archivist in Tennessee for the Federal Writer’s Project, a government jobs program FDR started during the Great Depression. Through her, Josephine’s diary made its way to the state library.
Working from a transcript of the diary available at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library, Evans and Scott compiled “Chattanooga Refugees: The Diary of Josephine Hooke.” Available through CASI Publishing (www.casipublishing.com), it comes complete with commentary by the editors and “the best collection of wartime photographs of Chattanooga in existence,” says Evans.
Evans and Scott will read portions of Josephine’s diary during a book signing scheduled to take place August 20 at 2 p.m. at the Downtown Library Auditorium.
Copies of the journal will be available for sale at the event.