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Austin Peay history professor explores Civil War home front in new book

Dr. Minoa Uffelman
Dr. Minoa Uffelman with her new book, "Sarah Kennedy Letters: Life under Occupation in the Upper South."

(Posted on Thursday, June 8, 2023)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn - Dr. Minoa D. Uffelman, professor of history at Austin Peay State University (APSU), recently published her latest work, "Sarah Kennedy Letters: Life under Occupation in the Upper South."  

This compelling book delves into the experiences of Sarah Kennedy, a slave-owning wife and mother, as she navigates the challenges of the Civil War while her husband, D.N. Kennedy, serves the Confederate Treasury Department. With a keen focus on the home front, Uffelman offers readers an inside look at the realities faced by families like the Kennedys during this tumultuous period in American history. 

About the book: 

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sarah Kennedy watched as her husband, D.N., left for Mississippi, leaving her alone to care for their six children and control their slaves in a large home in downtown Clarksville, Tennessee. D. N. Kennedy left to aid the Confederate Treasury Department. He had steadfastly supported secession and helped recruit local boys for the Confederate Army. “Sarah Kennedy Letters: Life under Occupation in the Upper South” showcases the letters Sarah wrote to her husband during their time apart, offering readers an inside look at life on the home front during the Civil War through the eyes of a slave-owning, town-dwelling wife and mother. 

Featuring 52 of Sarah Kennedy’s letters to her husband from August 16, 1862, to February 20, 1865, this important collection chronicles Sarah Kennedy’s personal struggles during the Civil War years, from periods of illness to lack of consistent contact with her husband and everything in between. Her love and devotion to her family is apparent in each letter, contrasting deeply with her resentment and harsh treatment toward her enslaved people as Emancipation swept through Clarksville. A useful volume to Civil War historians and women’s history scholars alike, “Sarah Kennedy Letters” pulls back the curtain on upper-middle-class family life and social relations in a mid-sized Middle Tennessee town during the Civil War and reveals the slow demise of slavery during the Union occupation. 

Dr. Minoa Uffelman, Dr. Ellen Kanervo and Phyllis Smith.
Phyllis Smith, Dr. Minoa Uffelman and Dr. Ellen Kanervo.

About the editors: 

The book’s editors, Minoa D. Uffelman, Dr. Ellen Kanervo and Phyllis Smith, are esteemed professionals in their fields. Uffelman is a distinguished history professor at Austin Peay State University, while Kanervo is a professor emerita of communications at the same institution and the executive director of the Clarksville Arts and Heritage Council. Phyllis Smith, a retired member of the US Army, serves as the historian of the Mt. Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in history at APSU. This talented trio previously collaborated on two other significant primary works from the Civil War era by Clarksville women: "The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman's Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863–1890" and "The Diary of Serepta Jordan: A Southern Woman's Struggle with War and Family, 1857–1864." 

“Sarah Kennedy, along with Serepta Jordan and Nannie Haskins Williams, show the diversity of women’s Civil War experiences even though they lived within 5 miles of each other,” Uffelman said. “Nannie was an elite teenager, Serepta was a working-class young woman and Sarah was the wife of a prominent banker and civic leader with six children. They all lived in Clarksville during Federal occupation, and yet their lives were extremely different.” 

Purchase, events and book signings: 

"Sarah Kennedy Letters" is available for purchase at the Barnes and Noble Austin Peay Bookstore, Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center and on Amazon. The scheduled book signings and author events are as follows: 

An additional discussion and book signing is being planned at Austin Peay in the fall. The date and details for this event will be announced soon. 

For more information about the book signings and author events, please contact Uffelman at uffelmanm@apsu.edu or call 931-221-7704.