Originally published in 1867, Judith McGuire’s “Diary of a Southern Refugee” offers enormous insight into the experiences of civilians displaced by conflict. At the time of the Civil War’s outbreak, McGuire (born in Richmond in 1813), her husband John, and their children resided in Alexandria, Virginia. By the end of the month, however, the McGuires fled Alexandria for the Shenandoah Valley. On Christmas Eve, 1861, the McGuires departed Winchester by stage and headed south to Strasburg. Slightly more than one month later, the family arrived in Richmond.
McGuire’s diary, which spans from May 4, 1861, to May 4, 1865, illuminates an array of perspectives about the conflict and its impact on civilians. While it reveals much about life in the Confederate capital, it is a useful source for those interested in the Shenandoah Valley’s wartime experience. McGuire’s entries from the spring of 1861, when the family first arrived in Winchester, through the year’s end, offer important insight into Winchester’s condition in the conflict’s early months. Her diary offers gripping accounts of the hospitals established in Winchester and life in the community. Additionally, although much of McGuire’s diary is written while away from the Shenandoah Valley, she always maintained a keen watch on events in the Shenandoah. Throughout the diary, McGuire offers her thoughts on military events in the valley — an important perspective for those seeking clarity as to how people beyond the valley processed events such as General Turner Ashby’s death, Stonewall Jackson’s victories in the spring of 1862, and General Jubal Early’s defeats in the autumn of 1864.
This diary, portions of which were serialized by James I. Robertson, Jr., as part of the “Virginia at War” series published by the University Press of Kentucky more than a decade ago, is readily available in print and electronic formats.