Rose Greenhow made the first entry in her diary on August 5, 1863, the night she ran the Union blockade to escape her native South on a mission to Europe. Her handwriting was almost illegible, probably on purpose, because she was capable of writing in clear script. She made her last entry a year later as she boarded a blockade runner to bring her home. Mrs. Greenhow drowned at sea, and the remarkable record of her mission seemed to have been lost with her. Her body washed up on the beach at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, on October 1, 1864, the morning after she drowned. The diary remained on board her grounded ship, The Condor. A leather trunk containing Mrs. Greenhow's belongings was removed from the ship and later sold at auction.
The diary wound up buried in the voluminous papers of David L. Swain, a former governor of North Carolina and president of the University of North Carolina, who died in 1868, four years after Greenhow. No one noticed until the state archivist, who spent years cataloguing the Swain papers, identified Mrs. Greenhow’s diary.
On November 17, 1965, Dr. H. G. Jones made the following entry in his own journal: “I found the diary of Rebel Spy Rose O’Neil Greenhow in the archives unidentified. Apparently never used.”
Jones painstakingly transcribed the pages, intending that the diary be published, but the annotation necessary for publication was never completed. During her research for the book that would become Wild Rose, Ann Blackman discovered the existence of the original diary in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, but she couldn’t read it.