Confederate Diarist of Northeast Tennessee
Eliza Rhea Anderson was born 1 August 1816 at Blountville, Northeast Tennessee. Her father died when she was still a toddler. After losing financial support with the death of their husbands, women of the antebellum era moved in with their closest male relative. Mrs. Anderson’s lived with her brother for many years.
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain’s diary published in 2004,
edited by a distant relative, John N. Fain
In 1832, Eliza’s mother marries Nicholas Fain, a merchant, banker, and president of the Rogersville and Jefferson Railroad. On 17 December 1833, sixteen-year-old Eliza marries Nicholas Fain’s son and her step-brother, Richard Gammon Fain. Richard owns a two-hundred-acre farm east of Rogersville, Hawkins County, Northeast Tennessee, where Eliza raises chickens [probably] and thirteen children!
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain is not the mistress of a large plantation. She is of the wealthy class, but not nearly as rich as a plantation mistress. Her hometown of Rogersville is in the valley of Crockett Creek, a southwest-flowing tributary of the Holston River—not an ideal place for a plantation.
American Civil War
As the Civil War approaches, sentiments in Rogersville is divided between the North and the South. Many of its citizens are Unionists who support the twenty-six East Tennessee counties whose leaders tried to secede from the state of Tennessee and remain in the United States of America. The Tennessee General Assembly denied their request.
The Fains strongly support secession and slavery. They own eight slaves when the Civil War begins; four are under the age of twelve. Eliza’s views of slavery are sometimes offensive, and I will not be sharing those entries with you. Some of her religious expressions are also a bit much. However, hers is the only diary I know of that chronicles life in Northeast Tennessee so well.
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain keeps an excellent diary from the age of 19 until her death at age 75—from shortly after her marriage to Richard Gammon Fain in 1833 until her death in 1892. During the Civil War years, she records her daily activities and the impact the war has on her home and family—as it unfolds in and around Rogersville and the Fain farm two miles away. Confederate troops occupy Rogersville for most of the war, but Union forces occasionally take control as the conflict progresses.
Monday, 14 January 1861
I have been reading tonight from the New York Observer, the Sentinel of the Country. All as yet seems to be hostile with no concession on the part of the North and no giving way in the South.
Thursday morning, 24 January 1861
Gloomy this morning with a mist falling. Yesterday quite a cold day and sleeting the greater part of the day. I at home so happy with the loved of this precious place. Our political world still wears the aspect of hostility and want of love and patriotism. … We as a people of the South have shown to the North the most unmistakable evidences of love and forbearance. What have we not done to conciliate and now the blow has been struck which forever seals our destiny in the election of a sectional President who takes into his hands the reins of our Federal government. He will appoint a cabinet of his own selection which the South cannot approve of. …
I love my country, I love her constitution. I love everything connected with her whole history, but the disposition I see in one portion of her to usurp entire control. I cannot find it in my heart to say I submit. … Treat us as brethren or let us go so that we may treat each other as brethren of the same parentage.
4 March 1861
Today is the inauguration of President Lincoln. The struggle has come …
16 April 1861
Days are dark in the extreme in the history of our country. All overtures of peace from the South have been rejected. … Fort Sumter was attacked by the Confederate troops under the command of G. Beauregard on Friday morning at 4. Gen. Anderson it is said has surrendered.
18 April 1861
Never before in our country’s history have we been called to witness such dark foreboding hours. … Fort Sumter has been taken without any serious loss of life. … On Friday morning 4 o’clock Ft. Sumter was attacked—surrendered on Saturday at 1. … The horrors of battlefield scenes has been deeply impressed in my mind during the last 10 days. … The South have sued for peace upon all terms; consistent with the maintenance of her dignity of character; as a part of a free self governed people; how has she been treated – with duplicity, intrigues and cunning which her high toned peace loving men were not able to detect. Now what alternative has she left? Nothing but to defend herself …
29 April 1861
Peace is still a stranger in our beautiful land. Of all places of the earth none seems to have been so lavishly decorated as our own fair, yea fairest Republic but I fear the desolating hand of civil war.
12 May 1861
I have bid my sons farewell a few minutes since. I do feel I have given my sons [?] not to make war upon an enemy but to act in self defense to resist the invasion of a foe to civil liberty … The name traitor rebel, and other odious epithets are heaped upon us and for what—because we have dared to resist an oppression threatening the extinction of the whole Southern population. …
Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain’s sons Nicholas “Nick” Fain (1840-1900) Samuel A. “Sam” Fain (1842-1874) and her nephew Samuel “Sam” Rhea Gammon join the 19th Tennessee Infantry Regiment CSA in May 1861. They receive training at Knoxville and serve in a unit called the “Hawkins County Boys.”
18 May 1861
Yesterday morning I bid my beloved husband [Richard Gammon Fain] farewell. How hard to part from those so dear at all times, but how peculiarly trying at this time, when everything in our political world wears an aspect of such gloom and darkness. … My dear loved one has gone to act as Commissary General for Tennessee troops. … I feel much worn down, have been passing through scenes of such excitement for several days … My garden and other domestic cares press heavily. Had my sheep sheared yesterday—today in my garden.
MINI BIO: Richard Gammon Fain
Before the American Civil War, Richard Gammon Fain (1811-1878), husband of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, was a merchant and bank officer in Rogersville and president of the Rogersville and Jefferson Railroad. He also served in several civic positions, including postmaster of Rogersville for several years in the 1840s.
An 1832 graduate of West Point, Richard accepts the rank of major in the Confederate Army. He serves as Commissary General for the Provisional Army of Tennessee in Knoxville from 14 October 1861 until June 1862. After the Provisional Army of Tennessee is absorbed into the Confederate Army, Fain becomes Assistant Commissary of Subsistence on the staff of General Felix K. Zollicoffer, still in Knoxville.
In June 1862, Fain is assigned to organize the CSA 63rdTennessee Infantry Regiment, with himself as colonel. The Fain boys, who were old enough to serve in the Confederate Army, eventually joined their father’s regiment.
Because of ill health, Richard Fain writes his letter of resignation from the Confederate Army from Missionary Ridge while serving with the Army of Tennessee in the Chattanooga Campaign. The letter, now in the National Archives, includes a statement from an army surgeon about Richard’s health:
“I certify that I have carefully examined Col. R. G. Fain, 63rd Tennessee Regiment, and find him unable to perform the duties of the office because of chronic disease of the liver and peculiar irritability of the system which prostrates him on the least exposure. I therefore recommend his discharge from service.”
As you will see in her diary entries, Eliza is very unhappy with Richard leaving his army post. She does not take his health issues too seriously. She is mortified when he takes the oath of allegiance to the United States and applies for a pardon, which President Andrew Johnson grants in October 1865. Eliza wonders why “a God of truth, of love, should permit such a people to overcome us.”
Richard Gammon Fain dies on 11 September 1878 at Mossy Creek (Jefferson County, Tennessee) and is buried in the cemetery at Rogersville Presbyterian Church.
2 June 1861, Sabbath
Darkness, darkness, all is dark as yet so far as our difficulties with each other are concerned. The troops from the North are still advancing. Troops are moving in from the South to meet and repel this attack … My soul is troubled to its greatest depth. My husband, my sons are gone. The sacredness of the home circle has been invaded—perhaps never again to be as it has been.
On last Friday morning before day I was awakened from my sleep with a feeling of indescribable grief. I rose early, my purpose fixed to write to a friend who was throwing his influence on the side of the North. I sat down and addressed to him a few lines which I do trust may lead him to think …
6 June 1861
Troubles are still thickening around us. This evening received from my loved husband the lengthiest letter I have yet received dated 4 June. I have been thinking all day of the pleasures I should feel in welcoming him home but his letter has rather driven the hope from me. They are expecting orders every day to march to Virginia.
I received this evening a printed letter from the editor of the Mothers Magazine soliciting so earnestly for remittance from his southern patrons saying he has never felt like taking sides against the South, has ever felt they knew better how to manage their affairs than they of the North could do it for us. …
16 June 1861
At home sweet home although so sadly broken up. My helpless little darling daughters lying around me on the floor giving vent to the girlish impulses of t he heart not knowing or comprehending the deep sources of grief which disturbs my peace on this calm, beautiful Sabbath morning. My husband has been permitted to revisit his home. … He came Saturday the 8th and remained until Tuesday morning the 11th a 6:00 o’clock when I set out with him to Knoxville. We arrived at Knoxville around 11 having had a comfortable ride.
Put up at Lamar House and after dinner went out in omnibus to fairgrounds to visit my dear, darling boys [her sons]. Never will I forget the feeling I had when I came in sight of and entered the gates leading to tents. I had often imagined to myself the look of the tented field but never until that day had any realization of its appearance and never, while I live, can I forget the expression of gladness beaming from the sunburnt face of that band of noble volunteers. … I feel there are many connected with nineteenth regiment East Tennessee who are good young men. … My heart rises in gratitude and love to God for giving to Southern homes husbands, sons, and brothers who go forth so cheerfully, so nobly for the maintenance of civil and religious freedom. …
10 July 1861
Had a letter from Nick [her son, Nicholas Fain] yesterday. He says Capt. Heiskell did not seem displeased with him for staying over his time—spoke jokingly of putting him on extra duty. He went back 1st of July, Monday. They are not encamped on Cumberland Mountain. As they stand sentinel upon the fastness of the mountain may their thoughts be turned by thy Holy Spirit … My dear Sam [son Samuel A. Fain] seems to have forgotten he has ever known a mother’s love or a mother’s care.
Eliza is fortunate that her husband and sons are stationed nearby in Knoxville, which allows all of them to visit back and forth.
11 July 1861
On the 2nd of this month—Tuesday night—I saw for the first time the comet … which appeared during the reign of Charles the fifth and caused the abdication of throne by him. I was so struck by the grandeur and beauty of the sight—was walking through my yard listening for the return of Powell [son George Powell Fain] and Gus [son John Lynn Fain] when my attention was directed towards the heavens and what a beautiful sight struck my view. …
23 July 1861
I have said farewell again this morning to my best, my dearest earthly friend. my loved Richard [her husband Richard Gammon Fain] more precious than any other living being on earth. Heart doubly sad this morning—husband gone—hours of darkness rapidly approaching. The news from Virginia calculated to elate the heart in one point of view but in another to make it feel so sick of the wickedness of man. The news was received yesterday of a great battle [First Bull Run] between the Southern and Northern troops. …
The dark and lowering clouds of civil discord seem to threaten the destruction of our loved East Tennessee. A man came to brother Hiram [Eliza’s brother-in-law, who also kept a Civil War diary] Sunday night saying a difficulty was likely to occur at Sneedville—that the Union men were or had taken H. Roses’s company of volunteers prisoner. …
There are errors in Eliza’s diary, particularly when it comes to news of the war. Not only does information travel slowly through the mountains, but the inaccuracies are often outrageous, causing Eliza to worry over information that is totally false or highly adulterated. News of the First Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, didn’t reach her until July 23, and she believed the battle was still being fought on the 23rd. It’s like the game where people whisper a certain message to each other, and by the time it reaches the last person, the entire meaning has changed.
28 July 1861
My Sabbaths are days now of such intense feeling and I cannot keep from asking questions concerning the well being of those who have left all in our Southern homes to go forth for what I feel is civil and religious liberty. This morning brother George got back from Knoxville having gone down on Wednesday to make some arrangements about their company. … on that day he travelled with some who were going back from Virginia who had been spectators of the deadly conflict this day week [a week ago today] (21st) ever memorable to one who was on that train with the remains of a darling son who had fallen to rise no more … I asked George if he thought his father seemed much distressed He said he seemed so much elated at the success of our armies [in the First Battle of Bull Run—a Confederate victory] he did not seem to feel the death of his child much. I have always felt to the truly patriotic heart there is no cause where we could lose our sons which would carry with it an alleviation of sorrow so much as the thought of Liberty, Liberty.
Sabbath, 18 August 1861
I do so feel this morning crushed at the thought of the great desecration of my holy day. … O the baneful influences of military life over the soul. It is this I dread more than all things else. I dread that the hearts of my sons will be estranged for all that is good. Sam is home today but cannot remain long in one place … seems to be so reckless.
The scenes of the 21st fighting [First Battle of Bull Run] are vividly impressed upon the minds who now travel upon our trains. Fain has again been down the country, saw on the trains several wounded. One who had both hands taken off. O how many how many poor soldiers have been crippled for life, how deplorable the results of war. … Our Southern people have many of the Northern wounded to care for. …
[Account of a trip to Nashville]
We got on comfortably to the river in Col. Walker’s hack, crossed the river, were soon seated in our comfortable train. Moved on quite pleasantly to Gap [?], waited a short time when the train which was to bear us from our home to the west came up. What a sorrowful sight I was called to witness as I entered the car. Our noble soldiers returning wounded and sick and maimed for life. My heart was sad indeed at the sight. … We traveled nicely but crowded until we reached the collision which had taken place that morning between a freight and gravel train. … About 2 o’clock on Thursday 5th of Sept., with him [her husband] who is dearer to me than all else, left Knoxville for Nashville. … We travelled over that long and dangerous road [railroad] between Chattanooga and Nashville [the C&N]. … After supper Richard went out into another car to smoke, staid so long I felt uneasy. I did not know what to do. I imagined many things and amongst others felt afraid that someone had knocked him the head but after a while he came and I was relieved. Took breakfast at Murfreesboro and arrived at Nashville about 7 o’clock and in a short time was surrounded by the loved friends of Nashville.
13 October 1861
On Wednesday 25th Sept, Sam [Samuel A. Fain] came home from camp sick. I felt so glad to have him at home. My heart would have been so distressed at the thought of a son sick in camp. He is now well for which I do trust and feel so thankful.
27 October 1861
This day week [a week ago] I was surrounded by the sight of home, husband, sons, friends. … On Tuesday morning Abram Gammon, Nick Fain, Sam Fain and J. K. P. Gammon left us for their Kentucky camp. I felt so sad at parting from them for ought we know it is the last look we may ever have on their loved faces.
10 November 1861
This morning finds heart , soul and body in a state of great excitement from the rumor of burnt bridges and strong apprehensions of a rebellious movement on the part of the Union desperados of East Tennessee. I fear at a late hour men of standing who have aided and abetted that feeling may find themselves as well as the rest of us involved in irretrievable ruin.
14 November 1861
Last Sabbath evening my beloved husband returned having been so strongly solicited by Mr. McFarland and others to come and see what could be furnished for the reconstruction of the burnt bridges from our timbers at the river. He went back on Monday and got to Knoxville at 9 o’clock p.m. When shall my home be home again, when will the loved be restored. On last Tuesday morning about 5 a.m. messengers from town came requiring sons Sam and Ike to go immediately and make preparation for a trip to railroad to succor troops stationed at Watauga Bridge. Before going a great distance they ascertained they had been fired upon whilst out on a scout from Mr. N. Taylor’s barn. Some were slightly wounded but no lives lost I understand. How deplorable is such a state of affairs.
Isaac “Ike” Anderson Fain (1844-1917)
The Fains’ fourth son, Isaac “Ike” Anderson Fain was 17 when the Civil War began. Records are unclear as to when he enlisted in the Confederate Army. He joined his father’s regiment, the 63rd, with the rank of sergeant but was demoted to private in December 1862. He then served as an orderly for his father, but in June 1863 he was appointed forage master, a low-level position. He did not accompany the Sixty-Third to Virginia in spring 1864 and was removed from the regimental roll. Ike then joined a local cavalry unit and served near Rogersville for the remainder of the war.
Sabbath, 24 November 1861
Gloom Gloom impenetrable gloom hangs over me this morning. My son Ike left home this morning with gun strapped on his back and his provisions in a bag to go to Bays Mountain where it is said a number of our poor deluded and infatuated Union men have collected for resistance to the law and to work wickedly.
26 December 1861
Since listing the above, all things have been made to succumb to military rule. The rebellion has been suppressed and many of the members of it have been arrested. Some have paid the high price of life for life. Old Mr. Bird an old man of 60 years was one of the ringleaders … He was shot on a high spur of that mountain region … I have felt troubled when I thought of his death and feel upon the leading Union men of East Tennessee rests the blood of these poor deluded victims. Two more men by the name of Harmon [Jacob and Henry] have been hung in Knoxville; implicated in that atrocious and diabolical deed of bridge burning. … Buck [a slave ?] and Ike made a narrow escape. Ike told me that he never felt so frightened in his life with bullets flying by him and he could see no one. A merciful God preserved the life of my child.
“60th Tennessee Infantry in the Civil War,” Hawkins County Genealogy & History, accessed 25 May 2021, tngenweb.org/hawkins/60th-tennessee-infantry-in-the-civil-war/
Carolyn Medine Jones, “Sanctified Trial: The Diary of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, a Confederate Woman in East Tennessee,” Civil War Book Review, accessed 4 January 2021, digitalcommons.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1966&context=cwbr
“Confederate Commissary General,” State of Tennessee, Tennessee State Library and Archives, accessed 5 January 2021, sos-tn-gov-files.tnsosfiles.com/forms/CONFEDERATE_COMMISSARY_GENERAL_PROVISIONAL_ARMY_OF_TENNESSEE_KNOXVILLE_LEDGER_1861-1862_JOURNAL_OF_ELIZA_RHEA_ANDERSON_FAIN_1872-1875.pdf
“Fain Diaries,” Angelfire, accessed 4 January 2021, http://www.angelfire.com/tn/hawkinscocivilwar/fdiaries.html
Holly Young, “John H. Crawford Papers: Letters from the Civil War,” (2011). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 15, accessed 25 May 2021, dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=honors
John N. Fain, editor, Sanctified Trial: The Diary of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, a Confederate Woman in East Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 2004
28 July 1861
My Sabbaths are days now of such intense feeling and I cannot keep from asking questions concerning the well being of those who have left all in our Southern homes to go forth for what I feel is civil and religious liberty. This morning brother George got back from Knoxville having gone down on Wednesday to make some arrangements about their company. … on that day he travelled with some who were going back from Virginia who had been spectators of the deadly conflict this day week [a week ago today] [First Battle of Bull Run] ever memorable to one who was on that train with the remains of a darling son who had fallen to rise no more … I asked George if he thought his father seemed much distressed. He said he seemed so much elated at the success of our armies [in the First Battle of Bull Run—a Confederate victory] he did not seem to feel the death of his child much. I have always felt to the truly patriotic heart there is no cause where we could lose our sons which would carry with it an alleviation of sorrow so much as the thought of Liberty, Liberty. I feel glad that I am not where these scenes of excitement would be before my eyes; I feel I can hardly bear it when I am just to hear of it.