Warner and Lucy Underwood Face the Secession Crisis
February 5, 1861

In this diary entry from February 1861, daughter Josie Underwood describes Warner and Lucy Underwood's reactions to the secession crisis.

Feb. 5th--1861

...The policy of the state is neutral but the people are not—goodness knows. Every man woman and child is either "Rebel or Union." All the older and thinking men—who have most at stake and love their country best and as Pa says--know disunion means ruin to the South and her "peculiar institutions" and a terrible war--want to preserve the Union. The unthinking hot-heads and blatherskites are in for secession. They want change and excitement and “War” (Warh) as that simpleton Box Cox says. He never did a day’s honest work in his life—owns nothing and lives on Uncle Joe—(his brother-in-law). Uncle Joe rises early and sits up late trying to preserve Kentucky to the Union and save the country from war. Box Cox rides into town about 10 o’clock, on one of Uncle Joe’s best horses, puts it up at the Livery stable, at Uncle Joe’s expense, and stands around the streets (in clothes Uncle Joe has paid for) all day—talking secession and abusing Union men. I don’t see how Uncle can be so tolerant—If I were he—Mr. Robert Cox would have to secede from my home—pretty quick or keep his mouth shut—whatever he chose to think—

Ma has always been the most intense Southerner I ever knew and hated Abolitionists as envious meddlers and had little use for anything above “Mason and Dixies Line” and she says now to think that the South will be so foolish as to break up the country for which their fathers fought, bled and died and give up the old flag, to the Yankees—instead of staying in the Union and fighting for their rights under the Constitution of our fathers—is more than she can bear. Her grandfather Gen. William Henry was in Washington’s army and he and his six sons—her father, Mathew [sic] Winston Henry (one of them) fought through the war of 1812 and she has inherited the combined patriotism of the family. It nearly kills her that Uncle Gus Henry of Tennessee (Jack’s father) and Uncle Pat of Memphis should favor secession and she glories in the fact that “Uncle Wint,” her youngest brother, is at West Point and in case of War will be ready to do honorable service under the old flag and yet it is so hard to think the South so wrong. Today she said, “O, if it had been—Massachusetts and Connecticut that seceded how happy I would have been.”

Pa’s love for the South is just as great and he has not a relative or personal interest above the Mason and Dixon’s line, but his patriotism transcends section and personal interest and he cannot bear the thought of seeing this great country with its glorious future among the nations and influence in the world if she holds together—broken up into insignificant provinces—for he says “the doctrine of secession once admitted and established means continuous deteriorations and he can see only evil to the whole country and absolute ruin to the South—in a division of the country—on the basis of any state seceding whenever they have a real or supposed grievance.” He gets letters continually from his friends throughout the South—men with whom he served in Congress—Senator [William] Gwin of California—[James Murray] Mason and [Robert Mercer] Hunter of VA.—[Felix] Zollicoffer—whom Pa loves, as David did Jonathan—all setting forth their views of the situation and trying to bring Pa to their way of thinking—but dear Pa—cannot agree with them. He cannot on any grounds think it right or best for the country or any part of it to break up the Union and hard as it is for him to be separated in thought and action from so many he loves—he must stand firm to the principles he thinks right and many sad hours it brings him. Emerson Etheridge of Tenn. agrees with Pa—and I am always glad when a letter comes from him for though I do believe Pa would stand firm and true to his own conviction of right if all the world were against him. It is hard for one who loves his friends and section as Pa does to go against them. I am glad he has the comfort of most of the prominent men in Kentucky being Unionists. Men like Gov. (now Senator) John J. Crittenden—Joe Holt, (Attorney General), [Robert] Mallory—most of the Congressmen from this state—George D. Prentice, editor of the Louisville Journal, most of the prominent lawyers in the state and all of them in Bowling Green are strong Union men. In fact all the men in Bowling Green of any position or prominence whatever are Union men—and yet many of these men have—wild reckless unthinking inexperienced sons—who make so much noise [about] secession as to almost drown their fathers’ wiser council…


Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary, ed. Nancy Disher Baird (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009).