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Frances Peter was one of the eleven children of Dr. Robert Peter, a surgeon for the Union army. The Peter family lived on Gratz Park near downtown Lexington, where nineteen-year-old Frances began recording her impressions of the Civil War. Because of illness, she did not often venture outside her home but was able to gather a remarkable amount of information from friends, neighbors, and newspapers. Peter's candid diary chronicles Kentucky's invasion by Confederates under Gen. Braxton Bragg in 1862, Lexington's month-long occupation by Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, and changes in attitude among the slave population following the Emancipation Proclamation. As troops from both North and South took turns holding the city, she repeatedly emphasized the rightness of the Union cause and minced no words in expressing her disdain for the hated ""secesh."" Her writings articulate many concerns common to Kentucky Unionists. Though she was an ardent supporter of the war against the Confederacy, Peter also worried that Lincoln's use of authority exceeded his constitutional rights. Her own attitudes towards blacks were ambiguous, as was the case with many people in that time. Peter's descriptions of daily events in an occupied city provide valuable insights and a unique feminine perspective on an underappreciated aspect of the war. Until her death by epileptic seizure in August 1864, Peter conscientiously recorded the position and deportment of both Union and Confederate soldiers, incidents at the military hospitals, and stories from the countryside. Her account of a torn and divided region is a window to the war through the gaze of a young woman of intelligence and substance.

She recounts the clandestine relays of information and news from the troops, the sweeping waves of the injured as they poured into the hospitals, and the chasms formed between families and friends as the wedge of the issue of slavery tore at the fiber of Lexington society. -- Chevy Chaser Magazine

The editors comment perceptively on significant characteristics of the diary and place it in the historiography of the Civil War and of women’s history. -- Choice

The enigma of Kentucky—so overlooked in the historiography of the Civil War, possibly because it was only marginally the ‘dark and bloody ground’ of major battles—is strikingly portrayed in this poignant Unionist diary. -- Civil War Courier

Provides important insights in areas of current concern such as the contours of Southern unionism, women’s experience of the Civil War and the culture of the South’s planter class with its commitment to Confederate nationalism and Southern conservatism. -- Civil War History

A rare Border State diary which is most informative in describing how a divided urban community handled wartime scarcity, internal divisions, and the impact of black emancipation and freedom. -- Filson History Quarterly

Vividly illustrates how the Civil War in the border states estranged neighbors and broke apart families. Although a young woman with a disability, . . . [Peter] astutely chronicled military and political events around her home. -- Jane Turner Censer

Provides more than insight into Lexington’s role in the Civil War. It provides a rare glimpse of the war from the feminine perspective. -- Journal of Illinois History

Her vivid account of the overlap of loyalty and disloyalty, slavery and freedom, make this an invaluable source for examining the war along the border. -- Journal of Southern History

A reader finds a vivid picture of life in a city where both factions, Union and Confederate, found supporters in the civilian population. -- Journal of the Jackson Purchase Historical Society

A remarkably clear and intelligent account of Civil War events, feelings, and opinions. -- Kentucky Libraries

The only first-hand account written by a Kentucky woman and Union sympathizer. . . . Provides insight, through lucidly-written prose, into attitudes and relationships of Unionists and Confederates in a divided city and state, as seen through the eyes of a sophisticated, intelligent young woman. -- Marion B. Lucas

A small gem, reflecting the woes, chaos, and concerns of a neighborhood war, where a young woman can literally see from her window the tangle of political and military strife of the Civil War. -- North Carolina Historical Review

Fascinating reading and provides rich ground for historical interpretation. -- Ohio Valley History

A significant resource for understanding the experience of women in the Civil War. . . . Gives voice to the many other Union women who remain, as yet, unheard or unknown. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Frances Dallam Peter, Women, Lexington, Kentucky, United States, Civil War


United States History

A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky: The Diary of Frances Peter
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