Joseph Waddell

Joseph Waddell
Virginia Union University
Image by elycefeliz
"When I read of wars in my boyhood, I thought of them as belonging to the dark ages of the world, and never expected to witness horrors of the kind. — The thousands now lying slaughtered in Pennsylvania, and the thousands mangled by wounds, the thousands who are anticipating evil tiding! Such is war — to say nothing of the destruction of property, fields laid waste, and all the innumerable outrages and griefs which follow in its train".
Diary of Joseph Addison Waddell, Tuesday night, July 7, 1863

Joseph Addison Waddell
Joseph Waddell lived in Staunton in Augusta County, Virginia, during the Civil War. The surviving portions of the diary held by the University of Virginia covers the period from June 1855 to October 1865. His diary presents a neglected perspective from the Confederacy. Most Civil War diaries by Confederate men followed marches and battles across the South. Diaries of the Confederate home front are usually the diaries of the women left behind, struggling to maintain order in a world increasingly depleted of men. The home front was not solely the sphere of women.

Joseph Waddell told the story of the men who stayed home. Before the war, Waddell owned and edited a newspaper in Augusta County, Virginia, the Staunton Spectator. On the pages of his paper, Waddell supported Southern institutions.

Privately, however, he noted in his diary his misgivings over slavery and his desire to see it extinguished in God’s time. In the prewar sections of his diary, Waddell described everyday happenings of family and community life as well as extraordinary events like feared slave uprisings.

Waddell opposed secession, but supported his state in the Civil War nonetheless. Initially too old to be drafted and later exempted by disability, Waddell did not serve his fledgling nation as a soldier. Instead, he performed his duties to the Confederacy as a clerk in the Quartermasters Office. During the war years, Waddell recorded his views on slavery, abolition, politics, secession, and the war in his diary with great detail and clarity. His commentary ranged from perceptive political observation to extensive battlefield rumors. In his diary, Waddell recounted the confusion that greeted news from the battlefields of the South and the trepidation that greeted no news from the same quarters. He described gatherings with friends and family, remarkable not for serving delicacies like "genuine coffee" but for their juxtaposition with the sacrifices of everyday life.

As conditions on the home front deteriorated, he celebrated the homespun ingenuity that transformed handkerchiefs into suit linings and "Confederate candles" into meager, but treasured, lighting. Surrounded by hardship and tragedy, he expressed anxiety for loved ones separated by war and gratitude for those close at home. He bemoaned the institution of slavery, but feared for the fate of an inferior people left to their own devices. Through the war, Waddell remained a believer in the Confederate cause, but became increasingly depressed about its chances of success.

Once Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Waddell counseled against further attempts to wage war. In the subsequent months, Waddell described the looting of Confederate property in Staunton following surrender, occupation by Union military authority, and the assassination of Lincoln. He expressed his disapproval toward both those who ingratiated themselves with Union commanders and those who flaunted symbols of Confederate patriotism. Waddell became increasingly disturbed by the unruly behavior of ungrateful "negroes" emboldened by the presence of the Yankee occupiers. Toward the end of his diary, Waddell discussed early attempts to restore Virginia to the Union, an endeavor in which he desperately wanted to participate.

Waddell ended his diary in October 1865 when he ran out of writing paper.

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