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Museum exhibit features 'community diary' from Civil War

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Eloise C. Strader sits in her home in Winchester holding the book she transcribed from Mary Greenhow Lee’s Civil War journal. — Josette Keelor/Daily

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Susan Robare, a docent at the Hollingsworth Mill in Winchester, stands beside a display of a journal dated 1862-1865 that Mary Greenhouse Lee wrote during the Civil War. — Rich Cooley/Daily


By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

A museum exhibit at the Hollingsworth Mill at 1360 S. Pleasant Valley Road in Winchester isn't your typical Civil War display.

The "Mrs. Lee's Friends and Foes in Occupied Winchester, 1862-1865" exhibit includes articles of clothing, pottery and photographs that belonged to Winchester residents who lived 150 years ago, but it also features a journal so extensive that those associated with the exhibit still are stunned by its existence.

"This is an outstanding diary," said Eloise C. Strader, who transcribed the handwritten journal and edited it into a hard-bound book named "The Civil War Journal of Mary Greenhow Lee." Including footnotes and other research about the writer, the nearly 700 page tome is more a story of life during the Civil War than an account of war.

"She wrote something every day, and it's very technical and she's very thorough, and it covers everything that went on in Winchester," said Strader, who was president for the historical society from 1987 to '91. "It isn't a personal diary. It's a community diary."

According to Sissy Shull, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, Mrs. Lee sent a portion of the diary to a friend, Jeannie Mason, as an account of how the war was affecting her and others in Winchester.

Daughter of James Murray Mason, Jeannie Mason must have kept the journal pages safe, Shull said.

"We don't know how, the amazing thing is that at one point all the parts came back together," Shull said. Ultimately the journal came into the possession of Lee's niece, who donated it to the historical society.

Strader's introduction to the journal explains that the account from March 11, 1862 to Sept. 4, 1863 was mailed to Mrs. James Murray Mason in Charlottesville. Lee then continued the journal for her own benefit.

Wife of Hugh Holmes Lee and a member of one of the first families of Virginia, Lee was a snob, Shull said, calling her very politically incorrect.

Still, she aided those wounded by war, helping at the war hospital on Cameron Street and gathering dinner for the wounded. She despised northerners, Shull said, but would care for them if they needed help.

Her husband passed away in 1856, before the war started, and afterward she focused her energy on caring for family members -- her sister-in-law Laura Lee and her brother's four children, whose father was operating the Taylor Hotel at the time.

Because she was outspoken, Mrs. Lee attracted trouble, effectively being banished from Winchester when in 1875 Union General Philip Henry Sheridan sent her "through the lines," Shull said. Mrs. Lee and her family made their way to Staunton for the summer, later visiting Baltimore where she remained until her death.

"And she never came back to Winchester, but she is buried here," Shull said.

"It's a valuable book," Shull said, later adding, "And now it's so much easier for scholars to use."

The museum exhibit includes items belonging to friends, family members and neighbors Mrs. Lee mentions in her journal, like a tea cup and saucer belonging to Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Taylor Dandridge, daughter of President Taylor, mentioned when "Mrs. Dandridge went to see Mrs. Emory yesterday. I knew she would not have the moral courage not to go" or gloves belonging to Evelina Tucker Moss Parker.

Also mentioned in the journal is Mary Eleanor Hollingsworth Ledger, who lived at Abram's Delight -- next to the Hollingsworth Mill -- during the war.

Strader, who taught mathematics from '47 to '78 at John Handley High School, spent time over the last 15 years transcribing Lee's tiny handwriting into a more readable format, but Strader said the actual writing and research took much less time.

Asked how long, she said, "Well that's a good question, because I started it and then stopped it to write Mr. [Garland R.] Quarles' books." Another project spearheaded by the historical society, Strader said, "I just edited them. They were in paperback."

Six edited hardbound books later, she returned to Mrs. Lee's journal.

"Yes, [it was] a lot of research, but I had some good help," she said.

To record her sources and additional information, she said, "I started using footnotes and they were so overwhelming. They took up too much space on the pages." So she moved them to the end of the book instead.

Strader has known about the journal for at least 30 years. Before transcribing Mrs. Lee's book, she said she mostly had edited only her own family history. History has always been a passion of hers.

"I went to college with the intention of majoring in history, but I hate to say this, I excelled in math, so I majored in math and ended up teaching it, and I enjoyed it very much," she said.

"When I retired, I went back to history, to my local history."

The "Mrs. Lee's Friends and Foes in Occupied Winchester, 1862-1865" exhibit at the Hollingsworth Mill will continue through Oct. 31, and Eloise C. Strader's book will be on sale at the Mill. For more information, call 662-6550.






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