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Diarist Sirene “Rene” Bunten was born in French Creek in Upshur County on April 11, 1847. From New Year’s Day 1863 into the 1870s, she kept a diary about various aspects of her daily activities, such as attending church and school, and left behind an often-emotional account of life on the West Virginia home front during the Civil War.

The teenage Bunten perceptively tracked military and political developments over the last two years of the war. While no major battles occurred in Upshur County, the county seat of Buckhannon was occupied 12 times by both armies. She described military actions that affected her region, such as the May 1863 Jones-Imboden Raid, and distant battles, such as Gettysburg. The day that battle began, a 16-year-old Bunten wrote in her diary, “Oh what a glorious flag is ours, if I were only a man to help fight for it. I believe I could fight.” A staunch supporter of the Union and West Virginia statehood, she criticized Abraham Lincoln for changing commanding generals so frequently and mourned his death on April 15, 1865.

Her diary captures how families coped with a country at war with itself while going about their day-to-day lives. In particular, it reveals the inner feelings of a young woman concerned about the well-being of her nation and of her three brothers’ safety in the Union Army. She wrote, “Everything is swallowed up in the all absorbing topic [of] war.” Two of her brothers would die in the struggle: one of starvation shortly after being released from Richmond’s Libby Prison and another in Georgia’s Andersonville Prison. A third brother was wounded at Shiloh and Chattanooga but survived. He returned to the family home after the war. In the diary, she agonizes over first the uncertainty of their situations and then their ultimate fates.

Bunten married Joseph Socrates Reger in 1872, had three sons, and lived at Ruraldale on Hacker’s Creek in northwestern Upshur County. In 1901, she picked up her diary one last time and wrote a final entry: “My last record in this book was thirty-four years ago and I was only twenty years old. Now my ‘bonnie brown curls’ are getting gray and I will soon be fifty-four. Youth is far behind me and I begin the descent. I have enjoyed reading these pages, many of them were written in stirring times during the Civil War and we were surrounded with dangers often. Both armies marched by the old homes time and again. I am glad I lived then not that I love war but as it had to come, I am glad I saw it.”

Sirene “Rene” Bunten Reger died in Buckhannon on May 30, 1912. In the 1970s, Ellen Carter, her great-granddaughter, donated the diary to West Virginia Wesleyan College. In 1993, Wesleyan published it, edited by history professor Stephen Cresswell. In his introduction, Cresswell wrote of the diary’s significance: “We see what war was like for many West Virginians. Families were divided by conflicting loyalties, reduced in number by deaths on the battlefields and in prisons, and constantly fearful of raiding parties that commandeered horses, cattle, blankets, and shoes.”

Last Revised on April 04, 2023


Sources

Cresswell, Stephen, ed. We Will Know What War Is: The Civil War Diary of Sirene Bunten. Buckhannon, WV: West Virginia Wesleyan Press, 1993.

Cresswell, Stephen, ed. A Civil War Diary from French Creek: Selections from the Diary of Sirene Bunten. West Virginia History, 48, 1989.

Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Sirene Bunten." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 04 April 2023. Web. 24 May 2024.

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