Union Soldiers’ Diaries

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Northern Diaries, Letters and Memoirs

The American Civil War saw the writing of soldiers’ diaries explode into use. Partly it was due to the sheer number of soldiers in both armies. Partly it was due to the fact that soldiers on both sides were better educated. And partly it was due to the length of the war that kept many soldiers away from their homes for long stretches of time.

Many of the diaries documented mundane daily occurrences but many detailed key actions in battle as seen by soldiers at the ground level of the conflict. In this post we will highlight two of these diaries by Union soldiers. The following post will cover Confederate soldiers’ diaries.

Sergeant Henry W. Teasdale was a member of the 35th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Teasdale’s unit was formed during the summer of 1862 and it was assigned to Ferrero’s (2d) Brigade, Sturgis’ (2d) Division, Reno’s (9th) Corps. Teasdale was a 25-year old grocery clerk who felt impelled to enlist as he described here.

…enlisted as a volunteer in the service of the U.S. Soon after the Presidentís call for the 300,000 volunteers felt it my duty to be one of them, feel it as much a Christian as a political duty, and feel that every citizen ought to feel it so. And certainly have never felt more peace of mind as flowing from a sense of duty done, as in this matter of enlistment into the service of our country.

Teasdale’s first action was at the Battle of South Mountainon September 14th where their regimental colonel lost his arm. Three days later at Antietam, they took horrendous losses with 214 killed or wounded. At Fredericksburg they lost yet more men. But Henry Teasdale was not there having been wounded in the first action. Here’s Teasdale’s description of the fighting at South Mountain.

At little after 5 PM were upon the ground where the booming of artillery the screaming of shot and shell and rattling of musketry told us we were mid the stern realities of actual battle…drawn up in the line of battle in a cornfield and then advanced through a sort of wooden field to a thick wood where we met the rebels or a few scattering ones for their main body was on the retreat…Just after we entered the wood was wounded by a rifle ball passing through my left leg just opposite the thighbone. As the ball struck me it gave me a shock which led me to feel at first that the bone must have been struck and shattered and for a moment did not dare to move for fear it was so. Found on moving that the bone was not injured and that I had only a flesh wound…I think that the shot must have been fired by some straggling rebel or sharpshooter in a tree, as we had not yet got up to within reach of the rebel lines.

Teasdale was evacuated to a hospital and only returned to his unit the following February. His unit was part of the Ninth Corps under General Ambrose Burnside. They were transferred to the Western Theater in mid-1863, serving in Kentucky and Tennessee. They were at the siege of Vicksburg and the subsequent fighting at Jackson, Mississippi.

Teasdale’s unit returned to the Eastern Theater in April 1864. He was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness after becoming separated from his unit. He was a prisoner of war until he was exchanged in March 1865. Teasdale returned home, married, became a father and by 1870 owned his own grocery store.

Lieutenant (later Captain) Cornelius C. Platter of the 81st Ohio Infantry Volunteers kept his diary from November 10, 1864 – April 27, 1865.  This period covered their service in the XV Corps. It was during this time that they were part of Sherman’s March to the Sea, the March through the Carolinas and the final series of battles that led to General Joseph Johnston’s surrender to General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Platter gives dates, times, and lengths of marches and describes the weather, locale, scenery, and food as well as orders, rumors, positions, troop morale, and administrative duties. The diary also includes a description of the burning of Columbia, South Carolina, the news of the Confederate surrender, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

His first entry on November 1oth describes the start of the March to the sea. It seems that soldiers’ rumors were fairly accurate as to their destination, Savannah.

During the last two weeks we have been expecting “marching orders”. More than a week since we rec’d orders to prepare for a “long arduous & successful campaign”. Many different opinions have been expressed as to our probable destination – Some think we will make direct for Charleston S.C. others that we will visit Mobile – but the most general belief is that Savannah will be the objective point – Nothing definite however is known concerning the coming movement – Received orders this evening to move at six o’clock tomorrow morning – All tents and other government property which we can not take with us to be left standing undisturbed – The 52d Ills. [Illinois] ] is to be left behind to destroy everything and bring up the rear. 

Platter detailed how the soldiers foraged for food and other supplies throughout the march.

In the meantime “layed around” reading eating & sleeping. We lived on the fat of the land today. The Reg’t [Regiment] had more Fresh Pork Sweet Potatoes & c than they could possibly use. Made a regular detail to forage for the Regiment.

Platter gives a description of his first ride into the city of Savannah.

With the exception of Huntsville it is the prettiest city I have seen in the ‘Southern Confederacy” – The “Wharfs and docks” are magnificent but on account of the obstructions in the River below [illegible] Jackson our fleet cannot come up. The town was quite full of Soldiers – quite a number of stores were plundered by soldiers assisted by negros and “poor white folks” who seemed delighted at having a chance to pillage – As a general thing the Citizens kept ‘in doors”. Saw the Rebel [illegible] Savannah and a gun boat laying on the opposite side of the river — The enemy finished crossing this morning about daylight and are supposed to be making for Charleston.

Platter also wrote about the down times in between significant events.

Nothing of special interest happened today — Made out a report of the operations of the Regiment since Oct 5th 64 and sent to Brigade Hd Qrs. – Went into Savannah this evening to attend a concert but it was indefinitely postponed — Before returning to camp called at the Hd Qrs. 66 Ills and had a pleasant Chat with Lt Marrot.

Platter’s unit was one of the ones that captured Columbia on February 17, 1865.

This has been a day long to be remembered – We entered the Capital of the state which first passed the Ordinance of Secession…We crossed Broad River in rear of 1st Div and went through Columbia with bands playing Colors flying &c.  &c.  It was indeed a grand sight to see a “victorious army” marching through the “stronghold of secession.” A great many stores were plundered. and the negroes were wild with delight. A great many soldiers were drunk having obtained whiskey from a distillery. Columbia was quite a nice city. Contains some splendid residencies – The new state House will be a splendid edifice when completed. We went in camp one mile from the city – 15th Corps in line of battle. About dusk the city was set on fire and from then untill midnight the fire raged. and as the wind was blowing fiercely the sight is said to have beggared description — It was indeed grand as seen from our Camp. The streets were full of drunken soldiers, guards, firemen women and children &c. &c. – All was confusion & excitement and as the wind was very high it was just impossible to extinguish the flames. The boys were loaded with delicacies. Tobacco was plenty – more than we know what to do with – Most of it was taken from the stores in the city. The burning of Columbia does not reflect much credit on our army – A very disgraceful affair – but whisky done it and not the soldiers.

Platter’s final entries concern the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He wrote about Lincoln’s death on April 17th.

– A sad – sad day – We heard the news of the assassination of President Lincoln – I never saw such a gloomy set of men in my life as the soldiers were after the news came It was known by most of the officers during the forenoon and this evening it is known throughout the whole camp. — His loss is a great calamity — and the nation mourns his loss as she never mourned before. – It seems a plot was laid to assassinate Seward Sherman and Grant.

Finally, Platter wrote about the feelings of the troops with the surrender of General Johnston.

Glory to God! in the highest – Our Country stands regenerated after its four long years of bloody war. April 18th 1865. will be “our 4′ of July” – The whole Rebel army surrendered to day. – Glory! Glory!! Genl Sherman came in from the front this evening after his interview with Genl Johnston. The whole Confederacy has “given up the Ghost.” – Each state has surrendered – no more fighting – The troops of the different Rebel states march to the capitals of their respective states stack their arms and quit – We are anxious to see the correspondence between Sherman & Johnston before surrendering – Do not know what disposition will be made of our grand armies – but suppose we will be mustered out in the course of a few months. 

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