The daughter of Joseph Henry, one of America’s most renowned scientists, Mary Henry was 21-years-old when her family moved into the only castle in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institution Building.
A prolific writer and astute observer, Mary began recording a diary in 1858, including a daily log of her personal reflections, events at the Smithsonian and conversations she had shared with many of the most influential leaders in America.
It would have been impossible for the youthful lady, filled with juvenile yearnings and wanderlust, to have imagined the unspeakable horrors that would soon fill the pages of her blank diary, as she penned her first entry in November 1858. Mary’s entries soon included personal conversations with Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant, common citizens and captured southern troops.
A staunch unionist and American patriot, the young woman’s diary reveals the incredible dilemma held by millions of Americans throughout the War Between the States – as she often sympathized with the southern plight, mourned Confederate causalities and criticized the Lincoln administration’s every move.
For nearly a century and a half, Mary’s diary sat upon the dusty shelves of her sacred home, the Smithsonian Institution, waiting to be read and shared.
In the summer of 2014, a team of volunteers, carefully handling the stiff and cracking pages of her life’s most enduring work, set out to transcribe her every word. Their work was long, difficult and uneasy, as years of aging had rendered many of the diary’s pages nearly unreadable, but by July, their work was completed.
Upon reading the transcripts of her diary, Jeremy T.K. Farley, a local author, set out to make her diary accessible to the American public.
A student of the Civil War, Farley devoted countless hours to formatting, diligently translating and clarifying the entries of her diary, so that they could be presented to readers in a hardcopy format that was both easy to read and accurate to her original text.
In addition to reformatting her words, Farley also added footnotes in order to explain important individuals and events mentioned in Mary’s entries.
“After I got done reading her diary, I felt like I had lived through the Civil War and found an intimate friend in Mary Henry,” said Farley, adding, “It is my hope that everyone who reads her diary will feel the same way.”
Farley says that although her writings provide one of the greatest insights into the Civil War in the past quarter-century, Mary’s diary is far more than a collection of random thoughts on matters of science and politics. Her diary is a story of both a young woman and a struggling nation coming to age in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
An added treat to readers from Southwest Virginia will be found in the May 1867 entries, when Mary Henry, passes through the region for the first time following the war.
“Her tour of southwestern Virginia begins in a hotel along the side of a steep hill in Lynchburg and continues – by rail – to Christiansburg, into Pulaski County and then to Wytheville, where she spends the night,” said Farley, adding, “It was really cool hearing her talk about all of these places I have grown up around.”
From Wytheville, Mary Henry rides the rails to Mount Airy, what is present-day Rural Retreat, and then to Salt Ville, a place she describes in the following terms: “The salt works which have supplied nearly the whole south with salt are situated in a lovely valley surrounded with picturesque hills.”
Individuals interested in purchasing Farley’s book, which is entitled, The Civil War Out My Window: The Diary of Mary Henry, may presently do so through Amazon.com. The book will also be available at both Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million within the next two weeks.
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