Pellissippi State hosts editor of Confederate woman’s diaries

John Fain

John Fain

In 1892, a devoutly religious farm woman and staunch Confederate sympathizer named Eliza Fain was laid to rest in Rogersville. The East Tennessee community was the site of a Civil War battle fought nearly three decades earlier.

Her death was duly noted in the local newspaper, but Eliza Fain’s life story remained hidden until 1967. That is when her diaries were discovered by a distant relative, John N. Fain, in a trunk in the attic of his parents’ home.

Now Fain has published portions of the diaries in his book “Sanctified Trial: The Diary of Eliza Rhea Anderson Fain, a Confederate Woman in East Tennessee.”

On Jan. 18, John Fain will share the contents of the diaries in a presentation at Pellissippi State Technical Community College. The event is at 2 p.m. in the Goins Auditorium on the Pellissippi Campus on Hardin Valley Road.

A professor and holder of the Van Vleet Chair of Excellence in biochemistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Fain is one of six authors whose work is being showcased as part of Pellissippi State’s Common Academic Experience.

This year’s Common Academic Experience centers on David Madden’s Civil War novel “Sharpshooter,” and the college is hosting several activities related to the Civil War.

“Eliza Fain wrote more than one million words in her diaries, which covered nearly 60 years,” John Fain said. “My book focuses only on her writings during the Civil War era.”

Contrary to popular belief, East Tennesseans were not all Union supporters, which is the main reason he decided to publish the book.

“Eliza, like many other secessionists, believed that slavery was divinely ordained,” he said. “Unlike most other women in the region, however, she was an exceptionally literate woman. All the Rheas were well-educated members of the frontier aristocracy in East Tennessee.”

The mother of 12, Eliza Fain was a stern matriarch. She and her merchant husband, Richard, owned several slaves on their 200-acre farm near Rogersville. When her husband left to fight for the Confederate cause, she stayed behind to run the farm. The farm was occupied at different times by troops from both the North and South.

She never abandoned her lifelong commitment to the Confederacy and her Christian faith, even though her family lived in poverty after their days as slave owners were over.

“She was a remarkable woman,” the author said. “Her greatest strength was robust physical and mental health that enabled her to face the problems of life with a positive attitude. She was a survivor with immense self-confidence and assurance.”

Certainly, there was considerable heartache for her to endure. Although none of her six sons was killed in the war, three of her daughters and two sons lost their life to tuberculosis before reaching their 35th birthday.

John Fain spent almost 40 years transcribing the diaries and conducting background research for the book.

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