Nanacy De Gennaro, The Daily News Journal, March 13, 2016
In recognition of March as Women’s History Month, Oaklands Mansion will host local Civil War historian and author Shirley Farris Jones at 6 p.m. Friday. Jones will speak about her book, “Valor and Lace: The Amazing Women of the Civil War,” as she’ll be selling copies of her newest release, “Letters from Home.”
Jones will take an in-depth look at some of the ladies from all walks of life who endured the Civil War, and share about their involvement in the war effort.
“These ladies had no voice and no vote, yet proved their worth time and again alongside their male counterparts and were able to effect change and make a difference in ways never before imagined.
They proved time and again that there was so much more beneath their bonnets than just a bunch of pretty curls. Whether their feats were recognized at the national level, in their local communities or simply within their own homes, they all contributed and sacrificed in various ways and means. They were indeed valor and lace,” Jones said.
The Daily News Journal caught up with Jones to ask about her interest in Civil War history and why the past plays an important role in the future.
You have made quite an impact on preserving the history of this county and of Tennessee. How do you feel you’ve contributed? How would you encourage other women — and men — to contribute and preserve history?
I love the never-before-told stories — whether it’s within my own family or simply some poor woman whose identity has been lost to history when a fragment of a letter she wrote to her husband who was serving in the Confederacy was found in a Bible in a box of books at an estate sale. Keeping these stories alive is so very important or they will be forever lost to history. Documenting the accounts of the lives of ordinary people and hardships behind the lines of battle is just as important as the actual battle itself.
Certainly not to minimize the suffering of those in combat, but so many times people forget what happens to a community after the armies move on, leaving so much death and destruction.
There was so much vital information included within personal correspondence, so much oral history passed down through generations. I would encourage anyone who has heard family folklore stories, letters or pictures to research and preserve their stories in written form.
What intrigues you so much about history, and why should we all be concerned with the past?
History reminds who we are, where we came from and, possibly, where we are headed. I have a favorite quote that says it all: “Linking the past, with the present, for the generations of the future.” There is always something new to be learned, and many times when we find the answers to one question, it only opens a door to many more.
Why is Civil War history so important to you?
We live in an area so rich in Civil War history.
Stones River National Battlefield, Oaklands, Sam Davis Home and our wonderful antebellum Rutherford County courthouse, just to name a few right in our own front yard. The American Civil War was one of the most defining moments in our nation’s history, and those defining moments were especially true for women. Lives were forever changed as a result of the death and destruction brought about by a nation at war with itself. Although we cannot change what happened more than 155 years ago, we can still learn from those experiences.
Who is your favorite “character” in Rutherford County history and why? How did you come to know about your favorite character?
Now that’s an easy question. Martha Ready Morgan was indeed a woman ahead of her time and my kind of gal. Having grown up on North Spring Street, not far from where Mattie lived and was married, I became intrigued with her persona at an early age. Her house was still standing during my childhood, although it had been converted to offices and shops.
My research on Mattie actually began as a college history class term paper. Gene Sloan actually knew Mattie’s own daughter, Alice Ready Williamson Bone.
By the time I had finished talking to people and gleaning from them their thoughts and remembrances, and actually having the privilege to look at their wonderful family treasures, my two line paper had suddenly grown into more than 12 handwritten front and back pages. The family members and descendants of Mattie Ready have been so wonderful to me over the years. I truly feel the connection to Mattie and the Ready family.
Tell me about your lecture, “Valor and Lace: the Amazing Women of the Civil War.” How did you choose which women to feature?
Women were involved in just about every aspect of the Civil War. Whether rich or poor, famous or unknown, each woman’s individual contribution was of value. Traditional roles to aid the war effort were that of women who rolled bandages and sewed uniforms, or raised money for supplies and medicines. They volunteered at hospitals and wrote letters home for soldiers. They gave the wounded, suffering and scared young men warmth and companionship, and they sometimes even cradled them as the brave soldiers slipped from this life into the next.
The roles taken by ordinary, everyday women were not all that surprising. Women have performed similar functions in all wars. Women were Angels of Mercy, soldiers disguising themselves as men, spies and prisoners of war. Women were first ladies, Army wives and mothers. Yet no matter how high their station in life, none were spared the inconveniences, suffering or loss that affected every family.
How do you think we, as a society today, can learn from these women of yesteryear?
We can learn from their strength, their fortitude and their dedication. They showed us how to be brave, to have great courage in the face of adversity, how to have compassion even for the enemy, and commitment to a cause they believed in, even when they knew it was lost. They were strong yet gentle, like steel magnolias. They were indeed “Valor and Lace.” They were indeed the amazing women of the Civil War.
Tell me something about your new book soon to be off the press.
“Letters from Home” is a post-Civil War book which deals with the trials and tribulations of my greatgrandfather, Dr. John Kennerly Farris, a Civil War veteran and country doctor, living in the Prairie Plains area of Coffee County. During the two decades following the Civil War, he had worked hard to establish a medical practice, while at the same time providing for his growing family.
The shining star seemed to rest upon the fifth-born child, a son, William Rice, who desired to follow his father’s footsteps. The next year the Depression hit the nation and when Rice became ill, it became a major struggle to continue his studies.
During this bleak time, the letters from home from his family were the only bright spot which kept him going so that he was able to graduate on time.
One hundred years later in 1995, the letters came into my possession. These letters provide a very personal glimpse into the times just before the turn of the 20th century.
The book will be available through the Coffee County Historical Society or from me for $20.
Reach Nancy De Gennaro at 615278-5148 and on Twitter @DNJMama.