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A story within a story, three members of the Special Collections and Archives team recount the discovery, preservation, and access of an exciting and well-traveled gem from the collection. We hope readers will enjoy the story and keep the relevance and enduring nature of the “Lebanon Greys” alive for at least another century!
It is amazing what gems we discover in the University Archives and NC Baptist collection on a regular basis… One day last week a researcher called asking to see the “Diary of the Lebanon Grays”. Our able student intern, Kathleen, took down the request and then told us what the researcher was looking for. The request was met with a resounding “huh?” by all of us. I checked our finding aids to see if there was a match, no luck. I went to the trusty ProCite database that usually contains information that isn’t listed anywhere else, no luck. Finally when Megan and I resorted to Googling the name, we found a listing on the Tennessee State Library page, under a Bibliography of Tennessee Civil War Unit Histories >Confederate. Interestingly enough, it listed a transcription of the diary that was done in 2000, the title of which is Diary of “The Lebanon Greys” Located in the Minutes of Sandy Springs Baptist Church, Iredell County, North Carolina, Reposited at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N. C. Lebanon, TN: T. E. Partlow, .
Obviously Mr. or Ms. Partlow had found the diary and done the translation sometime in the past, but we could find no information about it here in our listings. Maybe it was a misprint and the diary wasn’t really here, or maybe it was at the WFU historical museum the town of Wake Forest… Luckily when I went to investigate, I found that we had the original manuscript records for the church as well as the microfilm. As I looked through the records, I came upon a small book that was literally falling apart. I opened it carefully and saw a diary entry from April 23rd 1861 that said “On Tuesday the 23rd day April 1861 at the Court House in the town of Lebanon a company for the defense of the South was organized comprised of the Young men of the town and vicinity- Said company was duly organized at 2 o’clock of the day above mentioned and by report of a com. appointed for that purpose it was unanimously determined to call themselves The Lebanon Greys. “ Regular entries continue only through August of that year, but one final entry was added that said “April 9th 1865 today the Army of Northern Va surrendered Quite an unpleasant day with the Rebs to day in Va.”
So how did this wind up in a book of church minutes, you ask? On the following page is the inscription “This Book was found one the Battle field of Manases Brought here by T F Hayne and sold to M.S. Vestal and then M.S. Vestal taken this book an presented it to the Sandy Springs Church. M.F. Vestal, C.C.” I suppose that because resources were scarce in the South at that time, the church decided to use the book for its records, which begin on the next page and go through 1879 and hold quite an interesting history of their own as well.
Rebecca Petersen brought this diary/church record to Preservation. I don’t think I am alone in thinking about the person who actually held this book on a battlefield during the Civil War. This kind of makes you get goose bumps. It is one of the pleasures of being part of Special Collections and I’m sure is part of the reason most of us are drawn to this work.
In Preservation, I was able to repair this diary, which was missing the front cover and was about to lose all the pages. I stabilized the text block with Japanese tissue and created a new cover piece which I attached to the text block. I scanned the rear cover and printed out a copy of it for the front cover. After covering the new front cover with book cloth, I glued down the scan of the rear cover I’d made to the cloth so it was roughly similar in appearance. I also created a new end sheet with was glued to my new cover and the recently repaired text block. A few other minor repairs like repairing paper tears and loose hinges meant the book was structurally sound enough for handling and scanning. I have to confess, I didn’t want to give the diary back to Vicki and Rebecca.
It is amazing to hold this book and know that a soldier who fought in the Civil War wrote on these pages. It is even more amazing that we found itbecause of a research request and probably wouldn’t have ever known about it if the researcher hadn’t asked. Just another unique piece of the history we have here in Special Collections!
By the time the diary made it back to me, it had a new chapter to the story and a new front cover. Craig did a fantastic job of restoration and our plan to digitize the item was easier now that the diary was stable. The Special Collections and Archives team has completed many digital projects this year focusing on Civil War materials to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the war between the states. We have already contributed the Herbert E. Valentine Civil War Diary, the Lipe Family Civil War Letters, the Confederate Broadside Collection, and the George L. Bright Civil War Diary. ASERL has put together a “Civil War in the South” to highlight archival collections relating to this time in American History. We intend to digitize the Diary of the Lebanon Greys and add it to both our digital collections page as well as the ASERL project.
It is amazing that an object like a diary can have so many different stages of “life.” We are excited to show the world the journey from Lebanon, Tennessee, to Manassas, Virginia, to Sandy Springs Baptist Church, to the ZSR Preservation room, and finally to a new life as a digital object. Stay tuned and we will soon have the diary available in both the physical form and a digital representation for the public to view, learn from, and enjoy.