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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Josie Underwood: The Civil War-Era Socialite Who Owned Slaves, Hated Lincoln, and Loved the Union

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A well-educated, outspoken member of a politically prominent family in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Josie Underwood (1840–1923) left behind one of the few intimate accounts of the Civil War written by a southern woman sympathetic to the Union. This vivid portrayal of the early years of the war begins several months before the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861. "The Philistines are upon us," twenty-year-old Josie writes in her diary, leaving no question about the alarm she feels when Confederate soldiers occupy her once peaceful town.

Today’s guest, Nancy Disher Baird, published Josie’s memoirs as the book "Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary." It offers a firsthand account of a family that owned slaves and opposed Lincoln, yet remained unshakably loyal to the Union. Josie's father, Warner, played an important role in keeping Kentucky from seceding. Among the many highlights of the diary is Josie's record of meeting the president in wartime Washington, which served to soften her opinion of him. Josie describes her fear of secession and war, and the anguish of having relatives and friends fighting on opposite sides, noting in the spring of 1861 that many friendships and families were breaking up "faster than the Union."

The diary also brings to life the fears and frustrations of living under occupation in strategically important Bowling Green, known as the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy" during the war. Despite the wartime upheaval, Josie's life is also refreshingly normal at times as she recounts travel, parties, local gossip, and the search for her "true Prince." Bringing to life this Unionist enslaver family, the diary dramatically chronicles Josie's family, community, and state during wartime.
August 16, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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