Josephine Hooke, Civil War Refugee

Born in Fort Payne, Alabama, Josephine Hooke moves to Chattanooga TN with her family while still a child. In 1863 her father, Judge Robert McGinley Hooke, is a prominent member of the Confederate establishment in Chattanooga TN; he serves as a Confederate enlistment supervisor in Chattanooga and sends three of his sons to war. Hooke is also a wanted man; because he and Jefferson Davis are friends, the Union has put a price on his head.

The city of Chattanooga in 1864

21 AUGUST 1863
When the Union Army begins bombarding Chattanooga on 21 August 1863, Judge Hooke is in a hurry to leave town. As an investor in the East Tennessee railroads, he has connections. He obtains a railroad boxcar, removes the seats, and moves his family in. Josephine and her family flee from Chattanooga on the railroad car.
Twenty-two-year-old Josephine Hooke keeps a diary in which she details her experiences on the train and in the cities they visit. She writes about her day-to-day life. Early in the war, Josephine’s diary entries show that she believes the war will end soon and her life will return to normal. As time passes, those hopes are dashed; and she concentrates on making the best of the situation. As she attempts to focus on her daily life, Josephine is unable to distract herself from her greater concerns about her family.
The Hooke family spend months on the train, traveling from place to place to stay ahead of the Union Army, stopping first in Dalton, GA—where her brother Robert is a clerk in the Confederate Armyand then moving farther south. They have to adjust to their frequent movement and life on the railroad.
They do their best to continue doing domestic chores. Josephine notes in her journal that she is sewing, and in late 1863 she records having to make alterations to their clothing. Though her thoughts frequently turn to her family’s plight, she records the events and her feelings about their situation.

and where O where are they all gone—fled for refuge from the vile merciless invaders of our homes. How long, O how long will God permit this cruel war to rage? Are we not humbled? Why do we not forsake our sins and be saved.

Josephine Hooke and her family also continue to receive visitors. Even as they travel by boxcar, rarely knowing where they would go next, friends come to share news and enjoy their company. Family friend Captain Clark comes to spend time with the family and brings a Confederate newspaper to them. During a particularly hot spell that September, Hooke remarks:

We receive all our company under the trees, night or day, ladies or gentlemen.

She reports in her diary that the Union troops at Chattanooga are defeated and flee the city. The next day, however, she receives a visitor who declares the rumor is untrue and assures her that federal soldiers still control the city. This misinformation about the Civil War continues throughout their travels, even when they are within a few miles of a battle.
September 1863
As fall comes, colder weather is a hardship those on the trains had to endure. In her diary entry for September 18, 1863, Josephine laments:

Never have we felt the loss of home so much as tonight. We have no stove in our cars and to feel the bleak weather coming on makes us think of the dear old home we have left and all the comforts with which we were surrounded. None but those who have been exiles, wanderers in a strange land, can sympathize.

Brother enlists in the Confederate Army
Two more of her brothers also enlist in the army at some point.

Ma is very sad all day today Brother Bob [Robert Hooke] left us last night to go to Maj. Bransford. … We are done with seeing our brothers or having them with us while the war continues.

Hooke later reunites with her brothers, but her spirits fall when she discovers that:

“Orders [have] come for the boys to go to the front.”

Josephine is unable to attend church while her family lives on the road. She is clearly distraught and longs:

… to be at home … to attend church, hear Cousin Tom preach, [and] sit in the choir.

She worries about their situation and often wonders when the war will end and where her family will be forced to go next. Concerned with the fate of her home in Chattanooga, Josephine Hooke does her best to monitor the Yankee occupation and Rebel attempts to reclaim the city. She calls the federal occupiers of Chattanooga, “merciless invaders.” When she hears of the capture of a Tennessean known as a traitor to the Confederacy, she expresses hope that he will be “executed as a spy.”

When Josephine hears about the destruction of Chattanooga, she writes:

and where O where are they all gone—fled for refuge from the vile merciless invaders of our homes. How long, O how long will God permit this cruel war to rage? Are we not humbled? Why do we not forsake our sins and be saved.

Hooke often turns to God to plead for an end to the war and her family’s troubles. She begs God to intervene, passionately crying:

How long, 0′ how long will God permit this cruel war to rage. Are we not humbled? Why do we not forsake our sins and be saved?

25 November 1863
As the train travels on, Hooke writes in her diary about hearing news of the terrible Battle on Missionary Ridge:

O, that we were nearer the scene of conflict that we might assist in taking care of the wounded. To be able to relieve in some degree the suffering of any soldier who bleeds in defense of our homes should be esteemed an honor and a privilege by Southern women.

12 December 1863
Josephine Hooke takes time to note in her diary, what a “‘dreary, rainy” Saturday. Her thoughts might have been with her brothers in the Confederate Army, and she does not know if they are alive or dead. The family begin to lose hope:

I think now our chance of getting … home is poor, in fact our hope is almost gone.

17 April 1865
Letter from brother Robert Hooke:

In Dockie’s [another brother?] letter he said he was having a real good time visiting the young ladies &c., and oh how homesick I got on reading it. … I would give anything on earth to be there.

In this letter, dated just over a week after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox [9 April 1865], Hooke also mentions his regiment’s plans of “going either down near Florida or west;” but he did not mention surrendering.
The Hookes do eventually return to Chattanooga, though I cannot find the details of their later lives. Josephine Hooke never marries and lives out her life in the company of her sister Lilyan. By the time she would have been considering marriage prospects, the Civil War has already taken its toll on the young male population of the South, changing the marriage outlook for many women in Hooke’s age group and social class.

The diary Josephine Hooke kept exchanges hands a few times and eventually ends up in the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, TN. The diary ends up in the hands of a relative who later becomes a historical archivist in Tennessee for the Federal Writer’s Project, a government jobs program FDR starts during the Great Depression. Through her, Josephine’s diary is now housed in the Tennessee State library.


19 JULY 1862
Letter from R. C. Bransford [CSA]
To Miss Josephine H. Hooke
Relative to loneliness and news from East Tennessee in the wake of Forrest’s raid.
July 19/62
Miss Josephine:
I received your letter of the 9th Inst. but I had so much to do when I arrived at this place that I hardly knew at what point to begin. I now realize the difficulty of one person trying to do or discharge the duties of more than one officer, it was ever my luck to fall heir to the duties of the acting Secty. & Tr., which I regard as an unenviable position. … I feel that the day is not far distant when I shall be allowed to once more visit my home, the dearest place to me on earth, and that the Northern Vandals will be driven from the soil of our beloved Tennessee.
I learned this morning that Gen. [Don Carlos] Buell USA has fallen back from Bridgeport & Battle Creek to Tullahoma TN, where I think they will make a stand for a short time to enable his army to make a successful retreat from Tennessee. I think Buell will attempt to make a final stand at Bowling Green, KY, if our army makes an advance movement into Middle Tennessee, which they will be sure to do if the enemy will fall back as we advance until they get into KY.
I presume you have heard of the capture of Murfreesboro TN by Gen. [Nathan Bedford] Forrest CSA, the fight commenced at 4 o’clock A. M. and lasted until 2 P. M., he took 1200 prisoners, killed 200, one Battery, one Major, and one Brigadier Genl. was captured. He destroyed and captured though 1/2 Million Dollars worth of army stores [and] the N.&C.R.R. Depot was burned. It contained over two hundred thousand dollars worth of Commissary Stores. It is said to be one of the most brilliant feats performed since the war commenced. … It is said that Middle Tennessee is at present all in a blaze, the enthusiasm of our friends is beyond conceptions they hope soon to be set free from the hand of the oppressor, “so mite it be.”
I am sorry you are so lonely in your adopted home. I can appreciate and sympathize deeply with you to leave home & go so far away in the midst of strangers is not a pleasant task. Do you know that I look upon you as being one of the best friends I ever had in my life and that I could entrust you with the most sacred secrets of my heart. It is true, and I hope you regard me in the same light.
I could tell many amusing anecdotes in regard to one person, that I have heard since I saw you last, but will defer telling you until I see you, which I hope will be soon. I regret that I was deprived of the honor of being one of the party who gave you such a nice serenade. How I envy those fellows. I hope they have repeated their visit. It is most cheering to one so far away from the scenes of early life.
 hope you will not give up your Tennessee sweetheart and take a young knight of Georgia. The young gent who asked after you on my first visit to this place is at present in the City, having just returned from Lynchburg. I do not believe he is any sweetheart of yours. It was J. T. W. who is he that can claim as your sweetheart, you say he makes Chattanooga his headquarters. You had better not tell me, I might have a spider put in his dumpling. I know you would then grieve yourself to death.
I am very much pleased with the sweetheart you gave me. She is very pretty and will make a good wife, but it would be presumption in me to think that she cared a straw for one so unworthy of her as myself. How do you know but what she loves someone else, and you do not know but I may love some one else better than I do her, if that be so, what course will you pursue in that case?
I have not seen Will Ward, the young man I gave you, since I left Marietta. I understand that he has returned to his home in Carthage TN. I have not seen Miss Ellen’s paragon; I hope the Yankees have caught him.
Chattanooga is as dull as a meat axe. … When do you expect to move up? Gordon has rented another house. I hope your Paw will move soon. Mr. Anderson wishes to be remembered to your family. Please present my regards to Miss Nellie, Miss Ellen, Miss Georgia, yourself, your Ma, and all the children.
Please write soon, and believe me, as ever
Your devoted friend
R. C. Bransford
P.S. Since closing this, a gentleman informs me that Gen. Buell is not falling back as reported …

Almost a year later Miss Hooke receives this letter from R. C. Bransford’s brother John. I am sure there were many other letters in the interim, but these are the only ones I found.

15 JUNE 1863
A plea for fresh vegetables
Letter from Major John S. Bransford [CSA]
To Miss Josephine Hooke, a plea for fresh vegetables (Hamilton County)
Chattanooga, Tenn.
June 15/63
Miss Hooke:
My friend and fellow Quartermaster, Capt. Wickham, who has been confined to his room for several weeks with a broken ankle, and who has had nothing good to eat during all this time, has excited my sympathy. Will you not therefore, be so kind as to place a few vegetables on a plate and sent them today, to the Captain by my servant boy Allen?
I would not ask such a favor scarcely of any one else, but knowing how generous the impulses of your nature are, induces me to call those divine attributes into exercise. Besides, I have a pride in desiring to show Capt. W. how well I am living, and how truly fortunate I am in being permitted to live in your agreeable and elegant Family.
Capt. W., being unwell, has little or no appetite and I wish you to send only what a sick man could eat. I mean in quantity. Everything from Mrs. Hooke’s table is excellent in quality. The reception of a few vegetables will prove, I am sure, an agreeable surprise to my afflicted fellow officer.
I do not have to eat [as] well as some men, but it really affords me genuine pleasure to boat abroad of what we daily have at “My House.” To hear me speak you would imagine I owned the establishment, and I never pretend to say that I am boarding here. In fact, I am living at Home—and about turning me off, as your good mother talks about, I wonder if she seriously contemplates turning a poor fellow out into the starving world.
I am not surprised that a lady of Mrs. Whiteside’s good taste and good sense should quit her own home for a happy sojourn in the Household that is a home for us all. But I have said more that I intended—but nothing more than I feel is true. Yesterday while I was at Mr. Warner’s I could not let the opportunity to pass, when Mr. McIver’s name was mentioned, to tell the young ladies how very fortunate Van had made in securing a seat at your pleasant table. Feeling sure that no one could surpass in times like these the well deserved dinner of yesterday, I was compelled to give them a list of what we had for dinner, or an every day meal.
But it is not what I get that attracts me so strongly to the family. Like it is the agreeable society with which you surround us that delights me most.
Capt. W. dines at 3 o’clock, and Allen can start after one o’clock and reach him in time.
With much esteem, I remain
Your friend,
John S. Bransford.


David Laprad, “Ethno-historian publishes first-hand civilian account,” Hamilton County Herald, accessed 10 September 2021,

Joan Brown, “Southern Women and Children in the Civil War,” Southern White Women as Refugees During the United States Civil War, accessed 6 September 2021,

Margaret Kathleen Logan, “Rebel Ladies in a Divided Land: The Impact of War on East Tennessee Confederate Women,” accessed 6 September 2021,

Andrew N. Morris, “The Civil War in the West 1863,” The U.S. Army Campaigns of the Civil War, Center of Military History, United States Army,

James J. W. Scott, “‘Liberty is the word with me’: The ideologies and allegiances of Civil War soldiers in Hamilton County,” University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 2014, accessed 6 September 2021,

When Josephine hears about the destruction of Chattanooga, she writes: I think now our chance of getting … home is poor, in fact our hope is almost gone.”

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