The Tennessee Civil War Veterans’ Questionnaires form an extensive collection of documents housed in the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville and are a useful tool for the study of the state’s nineteenth-century social conditions. The questionnaire’s 1,650 respondents dictated their memories of life before, during, and after the Civil War, thereby providing a rich source valuable to genealogists, Civil War students, and southern scholars alike.
Largely collected between 1915 and 1923, the questionnaires solicited information from Tennessee’s Confederate and Union veterans, just over 1,200 of whom were native to the state prior to 1861; the remainder had resided in states across the South. Each questionnaire constituted a short, uniform autobiography. It requested from an aged soldier information on his antebellum lifestyle: how much land did his family own; did his family have slaves and how many; what kind of house did his family occupy and how many rooms did it have; what kinds of activities were engaged in by his father and his mother; what type of work did he do as a boy; and how much education did he receive? This was followed by a series of questions devoted to the veterans’ opinions concerning social class relations: did white men respect manual labor; did slave owners and those without slaves have friendly or antagonistic relations; was slave ownership a factor in politics; and were there opportunities for a poor man to advance economically? The men were then encouraged to relate their Civil War experiences. They were specifically asked to name their regiments; tell when and where they enlisted; and recount their first battle. This was followed by an invitation to discuss briefly their military engagements, their camp life, and, if relevant, their experiences in hospitals and prisons. The questionnaire concluded with a request that each veteran recount his life since the Civil War, stating his occupation, where he lived, his church relationship, and whether he held a civic office.
Gustavus W. Dyer and John Trotwood Moore, archivists at the Tennessee State Library, collected the questionnaires between 1915 and 1923. Dyer, an eccentric Vanderbilt sociology professor, developed the questionnaire, but collected few of them before his political position was terminated. Appointed librarian in 1919, Moore revived the project and secured the vast majority of the responses. Defenders of the antebellum aristocracy, both men hoped that the questionnaires would provide the raw material for a “true history of the Old South” demonstrating the essential class harmony among the planters, the plain folk, and the poor. Ironically, when Tennessee’s normally inarticulate people were given voice, they suggested significant differences in lifestyles, cultural expectations, and social attitudes across the nineteenth century’s class structure.
In 1985 the Southern Historical Press (Easley, South Carolina) published a transcription of the questionnaires in six volumes. Although faithful to each questionnaire, its compilers abridged collateral material filed with them–newspaper articles and personal letters. This project was unique to Tennessee; no other state made a similar survey of its Civil War veterans.
Fred A. Bailey, Class and Tennessees Confederate Generation (1987)