Food on the Borderlands: Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary and the Kentucky Home Front, 1860-1862


WAR & SOCIETY, vol.36, no.2, pp.81-97, 2017 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 36 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2017
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/07292473.2017.1326581
  • Journal Name: WAR & SOCIETY
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.81-97
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


The diary of Johanna Louisa Josie' Underwood (1840-1923), the daughter of Kentucky lawyer, politician and plantation owner Warner Underwood, portrays what happened to many elite households in Kentucky during the American Civil War (1861-1865), especially with its depiction of food as a scarce, and thus increasingly valuable, resource. Spanning the first two years of the conflict, Josie's diary is essentially a war narrative written by a well-educated, articulate, outspoken, Unionist woman from a slave-owning family who was barely out of her teens when the fighting began. As she reveals through her entries, her state and in particular her hometown of Bowling Green, was a hotbed of political and military action', and at the centre of this hotbed' of activity was food. Often historians think about wartime hunger as a function of the later years of the war, but as Josie's diary elucidates, food scarcity was an immediate and constant issue. Consequently, food became an important commodity in the borderlands during the war, especially in occupied cities like Bowling Green, where it was a vital, yet elusive, military and civilian resource which, when accessed and controlled, functioned as social currency and a political symbol of power, especially for women.