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Farley compiles Civil War diary

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By day, Jeremy T.K. Farley works as the Wythe County public information officer. By night, he writes books. And with the publication of his second book this year, he offers readers an up-close look at the Civil War, thanks to a diary of a woman who moved among the nation’s movers and shakers during the time period.

“The Civil War Out My Window,” is the diary of Mary Henry, daughter of Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and one of the most prominent scientists of the time. She lived with her family in the first Smithsonian building, called “The Castle,” in the heart of Washington, D.C. from 1855 to 1878.

Her diary begins in November 1858.

“The book captures not only a young woman coming of age, but of a country coming of age,” Farley said. “She comments with a great deal of thought. It’s interesting to see how her diary offers a great insight into the Civil War and great insights about what was going on in the Civil War in both the north and the south.”

Farley, 29, spent months transcribing the diary, which Henry’s family had donated to the Smithsonian, where it gathered dust for nearly 150 years until this past summer when volunteers started the painstaking work of transcribing the dry, crackling pages of her text.

“Nothing had ever been done with the text, it was smudged and worn,” Farley said. So he set about bringing it to life by translating and clarifying entries so he could print the diary in an easy-to-read format. He uses footnotes to explain some passages and introduce readers to the people and events Henry mentions.

“I tried to make only minor changes to keep it readable and hold the interest so people could get a feel for the time,” Farley said.

The result offers an intriguing glimpse into one of the most important periods of American history, including personal conversations with Abraham Lincoln, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, everyday citizens and captured Southern troops. She also penned entries about Congress and life in the Smithsonian.

Her diary gives an insider’s view of the country before, during and after the Civil War. She gives reports about battles and personal observations about troop movements.

“It shows how complex the war was,” Farley said. “There is no clear-cut reason for the Civil War; slavery was just a part of it.”

After the war, on May 17, 1867, Henry visits Wytheville during an excursion through Virginia to Saltville.

“Before day, we were awakened and taking a cup of coffee, were off at five o’clock with the promise of breakfast at Wytheville… Passed the remainder of the day in exquisite enjoyment of the mountain scenery.”

Farley said when he read that passage, “I really about fell out of my chair and then felt like the book really does belong in Wytheville.”

Trips like the one Henry took after the war, to see areas ravished by the war, were not uncommon.

“Surveying Civil War destruction was probably one of Virginia’s first early tourism claims,” said Farley, who also acts as Wythe County’s tourism director.

Mary Henry’s last diary entry was in April 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. She spent the rest of her life preserving her father’s legacy and died in 1903 while visiting Spain.

“For a woman in the 1800s, she was well educated and opinionated about war and politics. You see in her a forerunner for people like Susan B. Anthony,” Farley said.

“The Civil War Out My Window” spent several days after its release as Amazon’s top release about the Civil War. It is Farley’s second book this year. His first was “The Ghosts of Mingo County,” a history Mingo County, West Virginia, home to Farley’s ancestors.

Farley, 29, published the books himself. He also publishes “Appalachian Magazine.”

“I’m from that area. The stories I have heard my grandfather tell over the years, I realized they have a national significance,” he said, explaining his love of West Virginia history. He also is a student of the Civil War.

A graduate of Victory Baptist College with a degree in theology, Farley and his wife, Allison, often preside over worship services for churches that do not have pastors.

He is already at work on a third book about the USS West Virginia.

“I love history,” he said. “I love the little nuances. I love the side stories of history, the people and personal effects of history. And I love writing.”

To reach Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email mrothrock@wythenews.com

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