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Guide to the Theresa Milburn Diary

MSN/CW 8021


Collection Summary

Title: Theresa Milburn diary
Dates: 1863-1878(bulk 1863-1865)
Collection No.: MSN/CW 8021
Creator: Milburn, Theresa Rebecca, 1844-1928
Extent: 1 container; 2 linear inches
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A manuscript diary kept during the Civil War by Theresa Milburn, a young woman living on a plantation in Avoyelles Parish in central Louisiana.

Selected Search Terms

Women -- Louisiana -- Diaries
Louisiana -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives
Plantation life -- Louisiana -- History -- 19th century
Slavery -- Louisiana
Alexandria Region (La.) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century
Red River Expedition, 1864

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: Theresa Milburn Diary, MSN/CW 8021, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The manuscript descended from Theresa Milburn to the granddaughter of her sister Sophie, Laura Eloise Nugent. It was purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in March 2016, from William Reese Co. of New Haven, Connecticut. Arranged and described 2016, by George Rugg. Finding aid 2016, by George Rugg.

Biographical Note

Theresa Rebecca Milburn was born on 14 January 1844, the fifth child of Henry Blair Milburn and his wife Minerva Ferguson Milburn. She was raised on the plantation established by her father at Gold Dust, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, on the Bayou Boeuf south of Alexandria, in the central part of the state. Henry Milburn was killed in a cotton gin accident in 1849; the 1850 Federal census shows the plantation under the ownership of Minerva Milburn, with real estate valued at $12,000. At that time the Milburns held ten slaves. For some years in the 1850s Theresa Milburn attended school at Minden, Louisiana, east of Shreveport in Webster Parish. The war years were spent mostly at home with her mother and younger sister Elizabeth Sophia Milburn, called Sophie (1847-1933). Unlike some of their neighbors, the family did not abandon their home when the region became a seat of war during the Red River campaign of March-May 1864. Also at home during the war, sporadically at least, were two older brothers: Elijah Curry Milburn, called Curry (1836-1922), and William Columbus Milburn, called Buddy (1841-1932). Curry Milburn married in 1860 and settled in St. Landry Parish. From 1862 to 1865 he served the Confederacy in several military capacities. Buddy Milburn left home for military service in 1863 and was captured in 1864 during the Red River campaign. Later in life Theresa Milburn married David. L. Knoll (1888). Following a divorce from Knoll she lived with her sister Sophie in Avoyelles Parish. She died on 6 May 1928.

Scope and Content Note

The Milburn diary survives in a group of 88 disbound leaves, 78 of which (155 pages) contain entries running from 10 August 1863 (when the diary was begun) to 13 May 1865. Twenty pages of the diary, with entries from August to October 1863, are lacking—though their text is preserved in the form of an old typed transcription. The manuscript diary text runs to more than 25,000 words. Entries were typically made on Sundays, recounting events of the previous week. Content is particularly dense for the fall, winter, and spring of 1863-1864. There are relatively few entries for 1865. A great deal of the content relates to the war. Milburn remained at Gold Dust throughout the period covered by the diary, and lived with both the rumors and the realities of Union troops passing through the area, Her entry for 18 March 1864 describes members of a regiment of U. S. Colored Troops on the plantation, encountering the Milburn slaves. Confederate officers were frequent guests at the plantation, and enlisted men camped there. The entries also contain news of the doings of her brothers and other friends and relatives in the army, and news and rumors of both the war in Louisiana and the broader war. While Milburn laments the war's disruptions and tragedies she is inflagging in her sympathy for the Southern cause. She speaks with incomprehension of tales of unrest among Louisiana's slave population, and of the Northern use of black troops. Following the leaves dedicated to the diary are 11 leaves (17 pages) of poetry and other material in Theresa Milburn's hand, dating to as late as 1878. Accompanying the manuscript is a bracelet owned by Theresa Milburn's sister Sophie; it is woven from the hair of Curry Milburn and contains a tintype portrait of him in the clasp.

Arrangement Note

The diary and attendant leaves are held in a single folder; the bracelet in a second folder.

Container List

  • Theresa Milburn. Diary and miscellaneous writings, 1863-1878. Item 1 (MSN/MN 8021-1).
    88 disbound leaves, 20 cm., with 172 pages of content.
    • [Sophie Milburn]. Bracelet woven from the hair of Curry Milburn, 1862? Item 2 (MSN/MN 8021-2).
      17 cm., with tintype portrait of Curry Milburn in the clasp.
      Documents accompanying the diary state that bracelets made from Curry's hair were owned by both Sophie Milburn and Theresa Milburn. This is most likely Sophie's, since it seems to have accompanied the diary in its descent through the family.