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John William "John Billy" Peyton diaries and account books

Identifier: MSS 4944

Content Description

Peyton's diaries cover the Civil War and Reconstruction periods and frequently mention conflicts, specifically the Yankees and how many people were killed on both sides of battlefields. His diary entries describe the Yankees being at his home and near his neighbors in Rapidan, Virginia. Many southern generals are mentioned including General (Stonewall Thomas) Jackson, General (J.E.B.) Stuart, and General (Richard S.) Ewell. There are also references to President (Andrew) Johnson.

Peyton writes on May 31, 1865, "The people of the South quietly awaiting to see what the Yankees are going to do with them." He also mentions enslaved people, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Amendment to the Constitution, abolitionists, and the exclusion of southern representation in Congress.

Peyton starts every entry with comments about the weather, and activities of the family. He also writes about family social events and local Baptist church activities.Included in the collection are two letters from William Alexander Hill about the Baptist Church in Madison, Virginia.

In addition to the 44 small handwritten diaries of John William Peyton, there are also four account books and a bound transcription of the diaries from 1862-1865. (The diaries are fragile and not always legible.)


  • Creation: 1862 - 1911

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

John William "John Billy" Peyton’'s daily diary depicts his life in Rapidan, Virginia, during the United States Civil War. Peyton, the oldest child of William Snyder and Willianna Newman Peyton lived from 1839 to 1914 and was a postmaster in Rapidan. His father worked for the Orange and Alexandria railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad. His siblings were James Franklin, Anna Maria Genevieve ("Jennie"), George Quintus "Crooks", Francis Bradley "Bradley", Alexander Newman, "Newman," Lucy Jane, and Philip Barbour. According to Halbrook D. Swanke, editor of the published diary of John William Peyton, "Eyewitness to War in Virginia,1861-1865 The Civil War Diary of John Wiliam Peyton," Peyton

"had a close relationship with the railroads, which provided him with access to the news and military actions of the opposing forces. The operations of the railroad and the bridge over the Rapidan River were essential to the movement of troops, arms, supplies, and equipment. Peyton bought and sold quantities of sugar, apples, and tobacco. His home was used by many guests from all walks of life. From wounded soldiers and generals to doctors, lawyers, trainmen, and travelers, he was the center of local affairs in the midst of the killing fields of battle."

Swank adds that

"Peyton, physically unable to join the army, remained in Rapidan, which was a strategic location and community on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and the Rapidan River. Within the triangle of Manassas, Orange Court House, and Fredericksburg, the Raccoon and Somerville fords would be used time and again by elements of the Union and Confederate armies. Early November 1863 was the last time Robert E. Lee would move up to or across the Rapidan River. When the armies moved away from Spotsylvania on May 21, 1864, they left behind the bloodiest ground in North American history."

Source: Peyton, John William. "Eyewitness to War in Virginia, 1861-1865: The Civil War Diary of John William Peyton" (Civil War Heritage Series, 16) Paperback – January 1, 2003, Walbrook D. Swank (Author, Editor)Shippensburg, Pa. Burd Street Press, 2003.


0.8 Cubic Feet (3 document boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was a gift from Alan J. Shotwell to the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia Library on 15 July 2016. On December 3, 1954 and January 18, 1955 we received a deposit of these diaries from Alice Peyton Taylor and microfilmed (M-687) them and then returned them to the owner. Now they have made their way here as a gift. There is also microfilm of the diary of his brother George Quinton Peyton M-689.

A book "Eyewitness to War in Virginia, 1861-1865: the Civil War diary of John William Peyton" has also been written (using the microfilm M-687) There are also related collections MSS 4944-a and MSS 4944-b, and M-689 George Quinton Peyton diary (brother of John William Peyton).

Related Materials

MSS 4944-a are Alan J. Shotwell's transcribed excerpts, notes, and copies of Peyton's Civil War diary with illustrative maps of the area.The diary is also microfilmed (M-687). There is also microfilm (M-689)of his brother's diary (George Quentin Peyton).

Catalogued separately is a book that was a publication of the diaries, "Eyewitness to War in Virginia 1861-1865: The Civil War Diary of John William Peyton, edited by Walbrook D. Swank. (using the microfilm)

Topics in the diary and notes include military maneuvers and engagements, pillages by the troops, deserters, flight of enslaved persons, and the burning and rebuilding of his home.

Donated by Alan J. Shotwell, 15 July 2016. This collection was originally a deposit from Alice Peyton Taylor on December 3, 1954 and January 18, 1955. Special Collections microfilmed the collection (M-687 and M-689) and returned the originals to the owner. This collection from Alan Shotwell are the originals.

John William "John Billy" Peyton diaries and account books
Ellen Welch
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States