As a large force of Union troops prepared to drive the Confederates from Bowling Green in February 1862, one of the town’s residents confided her anguish to her diary. Virginia native Mary Elizabeth Van Meter (1828-1893), the daughter-in-law of Jacob and Martha Van Meter, was a Southern loyalist who decided that she and her family had to seek safety by evacuating along with the soldiers. A typescript of Mary’s diary at WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections vividly documents her flight from Bowling Green, her travels through Kentucky and Tennessee, and her eventual return home.
Gathering a few belongings, Mary and her family left Bowling Green amid the boom of cannon, “our troops . . . having waited long enough to burn both bridges, some mills, the railroad depot, and other houses containing military stores.” Near Columbia, they find refuge with a friend who had once invited them to stay “if ever we were driven from our home by the vile Yankees.” She rails at “would-be King Lincoln” when she hears that a relative has died in a Federal prison. Throughout her odyssey, Mary anxiously follows news of every battle, her spirits rising and falling with the fortunes of the South. A year after departing, she finally returns to Bowling Green, but not before enduring a boat trip with some soldiers wearing the “hateful blue coats.” Although her home has survived, Mary finds the rest of the town, and her world, changed forever. “I now sit by my window all day,” she wrote, “and scarcely recognize a familiar face.”
Click here to download a finding aid for Mary’s diary, which is part of the Hobson Family Papers at the Department of Library Special Collections. For more on the Van Meter and Hobson families, and Bowling Green during the Civil War, search TopScholar and KenCat.