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Ancestor's diary fuels interest
Stafford woman says Civil War diary of relative who fought in region she calls home has deepened her connection to local sites

 Pat Barker of Stafford inherited a copy of Matthew Jack Davis' diary from a relative in 1988, but only recently rediscovered it. Davis, who served in a Mississippi regiment during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, writes of that brutal winter.
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ROB HEDELT
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Date published: 1/25/2005

By ROB HEDELT

WHEN PAT Barker was given the diary 16 years ago by an aunt, the Stafford County woman was excited about getting it.

After all, it contained the 144-year-old words of a relative, Matthew J. Davis, recounting his experiences as a Confederate corporal in the Civil War.

But with a family to care for and a preschool operated in the basement of her Ferry Farms home, Barker didn't have spare time to peruse the pages. The diary got filed away.

But a few years ago--with her children now grown and the books closed on her preschool--Barker rediscovered the diary.

Taking out the collection of hand-typed pages, taken from the original ledger book Davis filled by hand, Barker was entranced.

As someone who'd always enjoyed history, she found this tale of the soldier in the 19th Regiment of Mississippi unexpectedly moving.

Especially when she turned certain pages to find out that this relative of hers trod ground so familiar to her in and around Fredericksburg.

"I found myself going to the battlefields where this ancestor of mine had been," said Barker, whose ties to Davis reach back through the Deere family she was born into in Oklahoma. "There's a special peace I feel in those spots now, a special atmosphere when I walk those grounds."

Reading through the diary, which Barker was nice enough to share with me, it's not hard to see why she's been intrigued by it.

Soon after arriving in Fredericksburg in November of 1862, Davis--whose prose is a colorful mix of battle details and snippets of a soldier's life--tells a humorous fish tale while camped along what he calls "Maries Heights."

After procuring two nice fish, Davis explains that he and a fellow soldier presented them to an officer in their unit.

But the next morning, the officer--camped near Davis and others in the unit--is surprised to see them feasting on two fish that look suspiciously familiar.

"Colonel, did you never read of the miracle of the loaves and fishes?" Davis quoted himself saying. "The Colonel laughed, so we escaped punishment."


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