Margaret Crozier Ramsey’s Confederate Diary

Margaret Barton Crozier is born in Knoxville TN 18 September 1802 to John and Hannah Crozier. She marries J.G.M. [James Gettys McGready] Ramsey on 1 March 1821.

This description of their early married life from Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey: Autobiography and Letters is somewhat different from other sources. The house referred to is Mecklenburg:
On the first of March 1821, I was married to the present Mrs. Ramsey, Peggy Barton Crozier, eldest daughter of Captain John and Hannah Crozier then living at Fruit Hill near Knoxville. After a bridal tour of several weeks we returned and prepared for house-keeping. We lived in Knoxville till January 7, 1823, when we removed to a [building] house I had erected on one of my father’s farms around Gilliam’s Station immediately in the fork of Holston and French Broad Rivers.

Between 1821 and 1848, Margaret gives birth to eleven children:
Henrietta Rutledge Ramsey Breck 1821–1864
Margaret Jane Crozier Ramsey Dickson 1822–1895 
Hannah Elizabeth Alexander Ramsey 1823–1911
John Crozier Ramsey 1824–1868
William Wilberforce Alexander Ramsey 1826-1850
Francis Alexander Ramsey 1829–1925
Robert McGready Ramsey 1832–1890
J.G. [James Gettys] McKnitt Ramsey 1835–1900
Charlotte Barton Ramsey 1838–1863
Susan Ann Amelia Ramsey Alexander 1843–1890
Arthur Crozier Ramsey 1848–1864
In 1860 nine of their children still lived at home or nearby.

Margaret’s husband, Dr. J.G.M. [James Gettys McGready] Ramsey, is a prominent physician in Knoxville; he is also active in politics, banking, and railroads. As a very vocal states’ rights Democrat, he supports secession and serves as a treasury agent and field surgeon for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.

Portrait of American historian J.G.M. Ramsey (1797–1884) by artist Lloyd Branson. Samuel G. Heiskell, Andrew Jackson and Early Tennessee History (Nashville, Tenn.: Ambrose Printing Company, 1921).

Description of Mecklenburg
I could find no image of Mecklenburg, Margaret’s home until it was burned to the ground by the Union military on 1 September 1863. So I have brought you a physical description of Mecklenburg by a correspondent of the Mobile Advertiser, which was republished in the Knoxville Register of 6 April 1862.:

1862: A Visit to Mecklenburg by S. G. Heiskell
I enjoyed a most delightful visit, a few evenings ago, in company with the talented and witty editor of the Knoxville Register, Col. J. A. Sperry, at the house of the celebrated historian of Tenn., Dr. J. G. M. Ramsey, who resides at the junction of the Holston and French Broad Rivers, about four miles northeast of Knoxville. The road to the Doctor’s house is a most delightful one, presenting some charming views of mountain and valley scenery.
At the junction of the rivers, the Holston winds around a beautiful, undulating country, forming a picturesque, indented shore running from the north to the south; while some hundred yards above, it falls over a rocky bed making a pleasant murmuring sound and reminds one of the dark-rolling waters of the Danube. On the right is presented the mouth of the French Broad, running from east to west, with its high, rocky cliffs on the north side, jutting over some sixty-five feet. About three hundred yards from the mouth, under the cliff, gushes a clear, cool spring, which is approached by a small boat, the scene by moonlight is very exquisite.
Crossing the Holston, you ascend a graded bank, and near a high Indian mound stands an ancient looking building, once called Gilliam’s Station built in 1790, and now the residence of the venerable historian, surrounded by primitive forest trees. Near the main building is a small cottage, over which is still to be seen the Doctor’s original “shingle,” on a plain board about four feet long and one wide, which was once painted white, but now faded, with black letters still plainly visible, ‘Doctor Ramsey.’ This was once the doctor’s office and laboratory, and is still in its primitive state, while in an adjoining room is his library and museum. …
S. G. Heiskell,” A Visit to Mecklenburg, “Andrew Jackson and Early Tennessee History, vol. 2, pp. 117-118, accessed 30 August 2021,


JUNE 1863
J.G.M. Ramsey flees to Abingdon, Virginia, when a Union force moves toward Knoxville in June 1863. He returns two months later, just in time to flee again after a larger invasion.

When Union troops advance on East Tennessee again in August 1863, J.G.M. Ramsey flees, this time under an armed guard, just ahead of the Federal occupation. USA Gen. Ambrose Burnside and his Army of the Ohio take possession of Knoxville without a fight and decide to stay awhile.

On 1 September 1863, a Michigan private asks for directions to Dr. Ramsey’s house. Soon afterward, the beautiful old family mansion is ablaze. This is not a popular action among Northern soldiers. After “indignation was publicly expressed upon the streets and in more private circles,” the soldier is identified, drummed out of service, and sent back to Michigan.

J.G.M. Ramsey learns of the event while in exile in Marietta, Georgia and writes:
Everyone who witnessed the infliction of this idle military ceremonial laugh at the inadequacy of the punishment to the enormity of the crime. … The burning of a Southern patriot’s house and making a gentleman’s family homeless and houseless is rewarded by allowing the convict quietly to retire in private life with all his laurels fresh upon his brow.
I thought little of the loss of property. But the apprehension that my library, my manuscripts, my unpublished second volume of the History of Tennessee … also taken or burned did give me a bitter pang—none could be more bitter. Property I could replace or live without. But this loss was irreparable.

Margaret Ramsey writes in her diary:

The old mansion where we dispensed hospitality with a liberal hand is in ashes … the shade trees where our children played so happily, now stand all black and charred, not by thunder bolts, but by the ruthless hands of men. [Scenes of] … our beautiful home all come up before me – the large and stately trees, the grand rivers, the deep and quiet French Broad River … and the grand old bluff so lofty, the green fields with growing grain … All these I was once the mistress of … Now I am the poor governess.

Margaret points out that secession in Knoxville predominates among the upper class. In her diary, she remarks that her family is of considerable stature and that Northeast Tennessee’s lower classes are Unionists:

… those who visited us so often, ate at our table, flattered and fawned the most were the first to injure—together with the still lower class that had been … fed and clothed by our bounty. O for the grace to forgive them.

After fleeing Knoxville in 1863, J.G.M. Ramsey spends the rest of the war in various cities, continuously fleeing the Union Army’s advance. As the war rages on, the family fortunes collapse.

The Ramsey House in East Knoxville
To generate some income, the family are forced to sell the Ramsey House, where J.G.M. Ramsey grew up. The stone house Ramsey’s father built in the year of his birth still stands on Thorngrove Pike in East Knoxville. It is currently a museum. Images of the interior follow.

Images from the Ramsey House in East Knoxville, Northeast Tennessee

JULY 1864
Margaret Crozier Ramsey finally goes into exile at the request of her husband, who recognizes that his positions of leadership in the Confederacy pose a danger to his family. She is reluctant to leave but understands the gravity of the situation. When she flees Knoxville, Margaret is separated from some of her family members and mourns leaving Knoxville, fearing she “should never return.”

Margaret Crozier Ramsey’s Diary
2 JULY 1864

The second day of July 1864, I left Knoxville, Tenn. where I [had] remained ten months under Federal rule or tyranny. … A letter received from Alex, before leaving Knoxville, informed us he was a prisoner, Arthur wounded. Robert was in the fight, that he never saw him after the fight commenced, of course I had cause for anxiety.

8 JULY 1864: Mrs. Ramsey arrives at Bristol
The little town of Bristol is split right down the middle, half in Tennessee, half in Virginia. In this entry she writes about her children, especially her sons in the Confederate Army.

Arrived at Bristol Friday the 8th, found none of our family but Crozier [son John Crozier Ramsey] who has also fled Knoxville.

On Sunday McK.[son J.G. McKnitt Ramsey]returned from a scout; Robert[McGready Ramsey]fighting in the Valley of VA; Alex [Francis Alexander Ramsey]in prison; Arthur gone to his long home [still alive]; Sue in Liberty VA with her Uncle J.H.C’s family, [John Hervey Crozier, Margaret’s brother]. Dr. [J.G.M.] Ramsay in the South. 

We received the order two days before. E.A.B. [daughter Elizabeth Alexander Ramsey Breck] and myself left on Saturday morning. Many came to see us off and accompanied us to the depot. … It was sad times, I was anxious to leave, had heard that dear Arthur was wounded and wished to get to him. We were leaving our native home [not] knowing that we should ever return and where we were going or what sorrowful news we should hear after arriving in the Confederacy. Some friends thought it best for us to remain in Tennessee, but anxiety was so wearing I could bear it no longer. So long had I been separated from my family especially after Sue [daughter Susan was banished from Knoxville in 1864] and Arthur [youngest son joined the Confederate Army that year] left me. I was so restless and anxious. …

At Strawberry Plains, only 15 miles from Knoxville, our trunks were again searched and we all taken to the home of Mr. McBee. Our persons searched by two women was bad, been brought there for that purpose. Maj. Smith, the Yankee officer, in whose charge we were, called them ladies, but they were far from what we considered ladies, so we afterwards told him. … True to his promise the Maj. came the next day with an ambulance, baggage wagon and 25 armed soldiers carrying a white flag. We met with some relatives. … they wished us to stay with them. But I was so anxious to go on, could not think of it.

In the afternoon before we left Mossy Creek, a company of Confederates came, going to New Market under a flag of truce to meet the Federals on some business. Among them were some acquaintances, there I saw Mr. James White of Knoxville, who told me that my poor son Arthur’s foot was taken off, but that he was doing very well. That distressed me, but I hoped I should get to him. He also told me Robert had come through the fight safe. … This escort took us to Greeneville, TN. We were received by Mrs. [Catherine] Williams at her hospitable and elegant mansion [now called the Dickson-Williams House] after a fatiguing journey over rough roads, dust and the hot sun, the kindness of our hostess, her cool rooms, pleasant walks through the vineyard and garden were truly refreshing. …

Two months later, in the same vineyard Margaret Crozier Ramsey strolled through, CSA Cavalry Gen. John Hunt Morgan will be killed by a Union officer on horseback in the early morning hours of 4 September 1864. Someone has ridden hard to the Union encampment several miles away to report that Morgan is spending the night at Mrs. William’s mansion in Greeneville. This scene is part of my novel, Amanda’s Civil War.

The town was full of Yankees when Amanda arrived. A gray murky dawn was trying to break but having little success. She sneaked around the edges of the crowd. … Just then, a Union soldier on a horse came up the alley, gave a shout, fired a shot. General Morgan clutched his chest and fell to the ground. A bullet fired immediately afterward struck a young man who was trying to help Morgan get away.

“Oh, Lord—Luke!” Amanda shouted. She rushed forward, trying to get to her son. The man on the horse raised his gun to her.

“I’m the boy’s mother!” she shouted.

“Oh… Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I’m sorry about the boy. He should have stayed out of the way.

CSA Gen. John Hunt Morgan

Dickson-Williams Mansion in Greeneville, Northeast Tennessee

Margaret Crozier Ramsey continues her journey through Northeast Tennessee
After partaking of a good breakfast, Mrs. C. [Catherine Williams] gave us cheese, pickles, bread, etc. for lunch on the way, and kindly gave me a cheese to take to my poor Arthur, … Arrived at Jonesborough TN in the afternoon, found an ambulance waiting for us, here Mrs. J stopped at her father’s. We were urged to stay all night by several kind ladies. Mrs. Akers said she had prepared for us.

Col. Brazelton asked what I wished to do – told him I wished to go on if it would not put others to inconvenience as I wished to get to my son as soon as possible; he said nothing, for he knew I should never see him again. It was known by all in Jonesborough but no one would tell me. …

We came on ten miles, I believe, to Mr. Devaults – … we crossed the river by moonlight – it was wide but shallow – spent the night at Mr. Devaults. In the morning after we had breakfast and were ready to start, I saw Capt. Carnes coming and ran to the door to meet him – asked the news from Bristol, he then told me the sad and to me, distressing news of poor Arthur’s death. … I returned to the room, threw myself on the bed and cried out in agony. O, that is too hard, too much, more than I can bear.

When dear C. died [daughter Charlotte died of typhus fever in 1863 at the age of 24], it was a very sore trial and I did nothing but weep, for months after; and then dear Ettie* but, I did not feel like replying against God. But this was such a shock I wish for death. The ladies stood around me and my kind hostess said, “I wish I could do something for you.”

*During a raid by Federal cavalry called Sanders’ Raid on 19 June 1863, Henrietta ‘Ettie’ Ramsey Lenoir’s husband, Dr. Benjamin Lenoir, is arrested. He is later released; but their children are very ill, and he has not been available to care for them. Two of their sons die on the same night. Henrietta does not recover from that loss:
James Ramsey Lenoir born 26 August 1859; dies 9 October 1863 at age 4.
Charlie Barton Lenoir born 9 November 1861; dies 9 October 1863 at age 1.
In spring 1864, Henrietta Lenoir bears another son but remains deeply depressed. She dies 25 May 1864 at age 30.

Capt. Carnes told the ladies he disliked very much to tell me [about Arthur’s death] but [her son] Crozier told him before he left Bristol to do so. I suppose Crozier did not want to tell me himself.

… We crossed the Watauga [River] by moonlight, could see as well as in daylight, everything was so serene and beautiful, could have enjoyed it so much under other circumstances. I cannot write of these things without my eyes filling with tears, and often when the thought of these three lovely ones comes across my mind, I am obliged to throw it off and force my thoughts to some other subjects.

At Bristol we met with kindness from many of the ladies. Stayed at the Lancaster House eleven days where we were kindly treated by Mr. Lancaster and family. … It was hard living at Bristol, and as they [are] liable at any time to have [a] raid from the enemy, we thought best to leave the border and go into the interior of the Confederacy, especially as Crozier and McK. expected to leave that place [Bristol].

Poor Crozier delayed too long, he was caught with many others and taken to Knoxville and put into prison, were treated very badly. [Crozier, with] Mr. Wm. Sperry and Fox put in irons and marched through the streets of Knoxville, were taken from the Rebel Prison and put in with Yankee deserters and horse thieves – robbed of everything and expected to be murdered.

A Yankee officer came into the prison at night, made a speech to these lawless fellows, said these three Rebels were very bad men, he could do nothing, his hands were tied, but they could do with them as they pleased, and no injury should be made, that if he had his way they should soon be put out of the way.

The three lay back and heard all that he said. It was Christmas and the fellow had been drinking. After he left, Crozier got up, sat down by the fire, talked with the men and found them in good humor. They said we are not going to hurt you; we would rather kill that fellow; he had been having a jolly time while we are shut up and half starved.

Mr. Sperry came to NC and told us all about their capture and how they were treated at Knoxville. He said he was always so mad he could not talk to their enemies, and Mr. Fox was so scared [he could] say nothing, but Crozier always talked to them and amused them, so that they became his friends. …

We left Bristol in October 1864, arrived in July before. Went on to Charlotte, NC, the cars were in bad condition, very rough traveling, left Bristol 12 o’clock at night. There was very little light, no fire and it was very cold going through the mountains. When we got to B—-keville in Va. met the train from Richmond with many sick and wounded soldiers. They filled the car we were in, the gentlemen with us had to stand. It was distressing to hear the groans of the poor soldiers, all night and very dark … could be very kind to them, but had a poor chance to do anything for them, the car was so crowded. It was very unpleasant and dangerous trip; the road was not safe and the cars very shackling. That fearful high bridge in VA, was terrible and we went so slow, seemed as if we would never get to the end. But Providence took care of us and we went over that dangerous way without any accident.

6 MARCH 1865
Arrived here at Mr. Cannon’s this evening. My son J.G.M. Ramsay came with me. This is a pleasant place, kind and hospitable people. After dark, my nephew John Crozier came, we were very glad to see him. The last time was at our own home almost two years ago, then my dear son Arthur was with us, my heart yearned to this young boy whose presence brought up many sad recollections, and I wished I could do something for him. It is little I can do, now, for the soldiers. He was riding without a saddle, had no overcoat, was cheerful.

7 MARCH 1865
This morning the two young soldiers left to go to their command. McK. [name she calls her son James Gettys McKnitt Ramsey, probably to a void confusion with similar names in the family] to Wytheville, [nephew] John to Raleigh to [CSA cavalryman Gen. Joseph] Wheeler. When shall I see them again? God only knows and I pray to Him to protect them, it is always sad to part with soldiers. I commenced teaching the children, two little boys and one little girl, very pleasant children.

9 MARCH 1865
Four soldiers came here to stay all night, going to Raleigh, … they were wet and cold, had been raining all day. The family did everything for their comfort. They were S. Carolinians and told us of the desolations and cruelty of the enemy in that downtrodden state.

10 MARCH 1865
A bright day after the stormy weather yesterday. Went to church, this is the day of fasting and prayer, for our Confederacy. 

12 MARCH 1865
Heard yesterday from my son Alexander [Francis Alexander ‘Alex’ Ramsey] who is a prisoner, had not heard from him in six months. I was greatly relieved, had been extremely anxious …

20 MARCH 1865
Dr. Ramsey returns to Charlotte.

23 MARCH 1865
Letter from my son McK. Stayed one night at Liberty [VA] with our relations … saw his two cousins I. and O. Deaderick, just returned from prison, they had heard from Alex. McK. also saw an acquaintance of Alex from Camp Morton [Union prisoner-of-war camp in Indianapolis IN], who had seen A. [Alex], said he would be sent off soon. Heard too from poor Crozier [John Crozier Ramsey in Knoxville jail], the chains had been taken off and he is now treated better; his friends are now allowed to visit him, which was at first refused.

25 MARCH 1865
This is Dr. Ramsay’s birthday, no family union, no social cluster around the fireside now, no gathering around the beautiful table, our household scattered. Our home [in] ashes, three beloved ones taken from us, to a better home we trust, dear Crozier and Alexander, prisoners. Robert and McK. at the front, the rest of us scattered in NC, seldom more than two together.

27 MARCH 1865
Pleasant. All hands farming and gardening.

29 March 1865
My poor son Crozier very sick in hospital.

6 APRIL 1865
Letter from Dr. R. [Ramsey] says R. [Robert] and McK. in danger, would like to know when any of our poor boys were not in danger. Richmond given up; the armies falling back from VA and TN.

8 APRIL 1865
Dr. R. came to-day, seems hopeful, is not ready to give up our cause yet. A. not yet come.

This cruel war is over
After the American Civil War ends, the Ramseys are left homeless and penniless, with a “joint fortune of forty-two dollars of available money on which to start in the world again.” Margaret and her husband, both in their sixties, and three of their children [Elizabeth, Susan, and Robert]remain in western North Carolina, moving between Charlotte, Hopewell, and Salisbury. Dr. Ramsey returns to medical practice and begins writing short newspaper articles.

Despite receiving a presidential pardon from Andrew Johnson on 10 November 1865 and taking the amnesty oath, Dr. Ramsey remains in exile, fearing retribution and uncertain of what property he might be able to reclaim. Moreover, arch enemy Parson Brownlow has been appointed the U.S. Treasury agent in charge of abandoned property in the area.

More to come …

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