Inventory of the J. F. Rowley Diary:
J. F. Rowley was probably a farmer, and possibly a teamster, since a list in the diary seems to refer to hauling loads of cotton, living in Texas during the 1860's. While obviously not well schooled, he could both write and draw reasonably well, and had a flair for framing vivid, if not tall, tales. He seems to have understood and spoken the Spanish language, since he reports conversing with the natives in their language in Mexico. Whatever his profession, he was in any case an admitted and dedicated draft-dodger, later deserter, from the Confederate Army, and appears to have had strong Northern sympathies.
Col. John Salmon Ford of the 2nd Texas Cavalry, who, "between 1862 and 1865 … discharged with tactful moderation the duties of commandant of conscripts," was the man who first attemped to draft Rowley into the Confederate Army. When finally impressed into service with the Confederates, Rowley served very briefly with Cook's Regiment, or the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment, before promptly deserting after being granted a leave to visit his home. Rowley performed a personal raid on Duff's Partisan Rangers to recover stolen property, and at one time records being afraid of being hung by the commander of Sibley's Brigade. Rowley appears to have had a stepson named Fred, who drifts in and out of the diary's narrative. Another son remaining back home is also mentioned.
The J. F. Rowley Diary (1863-1865) is handwritten in ink on both sides of the pages of an imitation leather-bound, machine-ruled blank book, with an insertion flap on the outside. The diary, measuring 14 cm. x 9 cm., is now housed in a clamshell box measuring 16 cm. x 11 cm. The clamshell box, received by the repository with the diary, has a leather spine, marble paper boards, and is stamped in gold on the spine: "Journal of J.F. Rowley, 1863-1865: original manuscript."
Seventeen drawings that illustrate Rowley's adventures are included, drawn on some of the diary pages. They are all done in ink, pencil, and color; the color appears to be have been rendered with some type of colored pencils and possibly watercolors. The diary itself is undated, but states that the narrative with which it is concerned began on August 27, 1863. Rowley's account was most likely, therefore, written down at a later date, serving more as a memorandum of events rather than an actual day-to-day diary.
The language and spelling used throughout are rough. While Rowley obviously knew how to write, he lacked much knowledge of accepted American English spelling or punctuation; in fact, no punctuation is used throughout the whole work. The diary also has a short list of numbers and names written in pencil on the endpapers, with mentions of cotton loads or consignments. Rowley possibly used the endpapers as a ledger to total the amount of cotton he produced or took on for hauling. In a pouch of the diary is a note, written in ink, stating: "[indistinguishable] was folded July 1st, 1904."
The text of the diary recounts Rowley's attempt to escape being conscripted into the army of the Confederacy. From August 1863 until the war ends in 1865, he is constantly on the run throughout Texas and Mexico, trying to escape from Confederate troops and guards and Mexican troops. Although he is captured many times, he always manages to escape, and eventually makes his way back home by the end of the war.
Rowley dates the beginning of the narrative in his diary as 27 August 1863, when he was already in flight from Colonel Ford, who was in charge of the conscripts in the Texas home guard. Rowley heads for Mexico, and arrives in Matamoros on 1 October 1863. When the Federal troops take Brownsville, Tex., Rowley returns to Texas and, in company with his stepson, Fred, tries to get to New Orleans. Completing the trip turns out to be too expensive, so Rowley and Fred go to Port Lavaca, Texas, instead, where they arrive on 18 January 1864. Along the way, they have several close calls with Rebel troops. Rowley is eventually shot in the thigh, and is captured by Confederates. Rowley and Fred are taken to a camp, where they are chained to a tree and starved for two days. They are kept at this camp for ten days, and then moved to the Lavaca River, where Rowley (Fred has apparently escaped somehow, or at least he is not mentioned further) is chained to another tree for eight days. He is next sent to Houston with a guard of fifty men. An amusing anecdote occurs when Green's Brigade (actually Sibley's Brigade, which at this time was commanded by Col. Thomas Green) marches through the camp one night—Rowley is afraid he is about to be hung, but it ensues that Green is "just drunk."
Once Rowley reaches Houston, Tex., he is deposited in the courthouse for two nights, and then forwarded to Galveston, Tex., to be stationed at the South Battery with Cook's Regiment of heavy artillery. After twelve days of service, Rowley is furloughed home. On 28 April 1864 he heads for South Bernard, Tex., where he has heard that Duff's Regiment has a camp. Apparently Duff had taken some of Rowley's property, which he wants returned. After accosting the troops, he steals a bugle and absconds. Rowley records that Duff's troops then follow him all over southeast Texas, even setting up an ambush on a stagecoach. According to Rowley, however, he is too smart for his followers, outfoxing them several times, so that he eventually returns to his home on 7 May 1864, where he remains for eighteen days.
Rowley then goes to Hempstead, Tex., where his "old regiment" (Cook's?) and 3,000 cavalry are stationed. He stays for a month and a half. Nevertheless, Rowley deserts again on 18 September 1864, with three others. They live rough in the woods for eight months, again doggedly chased by the Rebel troops. Rowley and his two companions finally reach the Rio Grande, and cross over to Piedras Negras, Mexico. After several days of wandering in Mexico, having met up with a troop of hostile Mexican soldiers, who have taken the three men to their commander, Rowley reports pleading with the commander to spare their lives and only take their possessions, which the commander promptly does. After a few days, news of the Confederacy's surrender reaches Mexico, so Rowley heads home.
Unfortunately, when Rowley arrives home, neighbors apparently try to kill him by poisoning his cistern and bribing a black tenant farmer to shoot him. The farmer is killed by Rowley's son, and both Rowley and his son, claiming self-defense, are found innocent by a jury. Rowley closes his diary by railing against the rebellious and dishonest Southerners.
The seventeen drawings that accompany the text show scenes of Rowley's adventures. They are simple line drawings, mostly in ink, but are quite poignant. Among the most notable is one showing the picket camp where Rowley was chained to a tree, and another of a road in Mexico lined with crosses showing where men had been murdered.
Two transcriptions of the diary are included. Both are undated. One is handwritten in ink on yellow legal paper, in two columns. The other is computer generated, printed on white stock paper, measuing 8 1/2 inches x 11 inches.
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Processed by Melissa Zajicek in May 2003
Detailed Description of the Diary