Cornelia Peake McDonald

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Cornelia Peake McDonald
Born Cornelia Peake
June 14, 1822
Alexandria, Virginia[1]
Died January 11, 1909
Louisville, Kentucky
Residence Winchester, Virginia
Occupation homemaker, mother

Cornelia Peake McDonald (June 14, 1822 – January 11, 1909)[2] was an American diarist who was the author of A Diary with Reminiscences of the War and Refugee Life in the Shenandoah Valley, 1860-1865 in which she recaps her life as a woman living in Winchester, Virginia. Her writing is significant as it recaps the views of the American Civil War from the point of a view of a woman living in one of the most counter occupied towns of the conflict.[2] She became known as one of the "Devil Diarists of Winchester."[clarification needed]

Peake was born in 1822 in Alexandria, Virginia. She was the youngest of six children of Dr. Humphrey Peake and Annie Linton Lane. She married Angus William McDonald in 1847 in Hannibal, Missouri. The couple would have nine children.[3]

During the Civil War, her husband was away from Winchester serving as the colonel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, leaving Cornelia to stay home with the children. (He would die in December 1864, leaving her a widow.)[4] She kept a detailed diary during the Civil War, which was published in 1875, with a second edition in 1934. It was reprinted in 2003.

She was buried beside her husband in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.[5]

Influences on the Civil War[edit]

Her diary is very beneficial in aiding research about women during the Civil War. In her diary she discusses the war, her feelings toward the war, her opinions on the issue of slavery and she gives insights into being a woman in the United States in the 1800s. Peake shows a devotion to her state, Virginia, not her country or even the Confederacy. She also describes her inner conflict of following her husband and their friends in their thoughts on slavery or to follow her own instincts about slavery being outdated and wrong. She confesses the need for some change in the South, but she also expresses fears about losing her way of life. Cornelia Peake McDonald's diary is very insightful about a woman's role during the Civil War and the conflicts women were facing during that time.

It is crucial to recognize that the Women's Right's Movement was in its beginning stages while she was writing her diary. Many women during this time found the war to be liberating. Change was taking place in both the South and the North, Blacks were gaining freedom and women were left to care for finances, farms and families while men went to war and sometimes never returned. These new responsibilities linked with the new independence movement pushed women to question their ideas and stations in life. In Cornelia Peake McDonald's diary, a perfect example of this is seen, she starts to question herself and her ideas.

Cornelia Peake McDonald is a good example of how women began to progress starting during the Civil War.


  • McDonald, Cornelia Peake, "A woman's Civil War: a diary, with reminiscences of the war from March 1862 (MAdison: University or Wisconsin Press, 1992).
  1. ^ MacLean, Maggie (2006). "Civil War Women - Cornelia Peake McDonald". Retrieved 2008-01-02. 
  2. ^ a b Eicher, David J. (1997). The Civil War in Books:An Analytical Bibliography. University of Illinois Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 0-252-02273-4. Retrieved 2008-01-02. 
  3. ^ Descendants of William Peake. Cornelia was the second wife of McDonald, an 1817 graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
  4. ^ Find-a-Grave biography for Colonel McDonald,
  5. ^ Find-a-Grave biography of Cornelia McDonald,