Collections Document of the Month

Document of the Month | Diary Entries From January, 1861


By John Coski
Historian

“Arose at 7.30 – Called on the President (Buchanan) and bade him “a happy New Year.” Poor old Buck! he looks care-worn, and the effects of “Secession” are visible in his countenance.” This was the first entry that James Thomas Petty wrote in his pocket diary in 1861. Within a few months, the 24-year-old Virginia native and Washington, D.C., bookkeeper would himself “secede” and become a soldier in the Confederate army. Three volumes of his pocket diary were donated to The Museum of the Confederacy in the 1940s.  Three volumes of a diary kept by his younger brother, John Summerfield Petty, who had migrated to Ohio and fought for the Federal army, were donated recently to the American Civil War Museum collection. The Petty brothers and their diaries will be the subject of a feature article in the next issue of the Museum Magazine.

Thomas Petty’s New Year’s visit to the President’s House in Washington took advantage of a decades-long tradition of a New Year’s Day “levee,” or reception at American executive mansions. Confederate President Jefferson Davis emulated the tradition at his executive mansion in Richmond – the “White House of the Confederacy.”