Civil War Diary


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(CIVIL WAR) EDGERLY, James B. Civil War Diary. No place, [1861-62]. Two volumes. 12mo and 16mo (measures 3-1/2 by 5-1/2 inches and 2-1/2 by 4 inches), original full black morocco, larger volume with wallet-flap portfolio closure.

Rare 1861-62 Civil War diary in two volumes by James B. Edgerly of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers, who was involved in intense front-line action during the Seven Days Battles in Virginia of June 25-July 1, 1862, between the Union forces led by General McClellan and Confederate forces under General Lee, with mentions of seeing Abraham Lincoln on a visit to camp less than a week after the Seven Days Battles—"he was received with great feeling by the troops"—as well as visits by Generals McClellan and Sumner at several points, and a mention of seeing the U.S.S. Monitor, "a very unassuming looking craft." A very clear and legible diary kept by an observant soldier whose regiment participated in several key battles in the summer of 1862.

Of these two diary volumes, the smaller one covers 1861 and the larger 1862. The 1861 diary includes intermittent recordings of Edgerly's activities, expenses, and his September 18 enlistment in the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry: "Enlisted as Musician in the regimental band for fifth NH Reg. Vol." Before his enlistment, his recorded activities consisted primarily of working as a clerk (after his March 12 entry, "Was elected Town Clerk of Farmington") visiting friends, traveling and playing with his local band, and other relatively mundane details. On Monday, March 4, he notes, "Abraham inaugurated." After his September 18 enlistment, on the 23rd he notes, "Resigned office of T. Clerk and recd. pay $40." Entries become more regular after October 26, when he "Left with Father twelve dollars to pay taxes and incidentals. Went to Concord & was mustered into the service of U.S. Paid Davis & Co. $10 for uniform, which amt I received as bounty." Three days later, he wrote that his regiment "left Concord this morning for Washington." After arriving in the nation's capital, Edgerly fit in some sightseeing. On November 18, he noted that he "went into Washington—visited White house, Capitol, Patent office, Smithsonian institute, etc." In addition to touring sites in and around Washington and the drudgery of picket duty, Edgerly and his fellow soldiers had some time for fun and games, particularly on December 25, Christmas Day, when they "had foot race—wrestling match, greased pig." The former town clerk is always meticulous about recording payments and letters, both sent and received. The end of the year 1861 finds him and his regiment in Virginia.

In his first entry of the second volume, January 1, 1862, Edgerly writes: "Find myself on the sacred soil of old Virginia – commenced fixing up our tent for Winter by driving piles around and drawing the tent over the top." Edgerly clearly also spent some time cooking for the regiment, in addition to his duties in the band, as seen on February 14: "Took my turn at cooking and got up some tip-top hash – the first we've had in the army – Serenaded Gens. [Edwin Vose] Sumner and [Oliver Otis] Howard in the evening." After a rainy and muddy winter in camp with some picket duty, the regiment received its marching orders on March 9: "Recd. orders at 12 o'clock at night to cook three days rations and march with the entire army of the Potomac at 6 o'clock in the morning." March 28, after encountering a few abandoned campsites, they make their first significant contact with Confederate forces: "Continued the march. Went about a mile & a half when we discovered rebel cavalry in the edge of woods about half a mile distant. (Found a bowie knife.) Sent a couple of shells which caused them to scatter lively. We could occasionally see them at every opening till about four P.M. when we came in sight of a Fort which opened on us making some good shots but injuring no one – our batteries briskly returned the fire. Having driven the enemy across the Rappahanock last night, they burning the bridge (which was the object of our mission) we returned to the first good camping ground for night." April 3: "[Colonel] Dick Cross took a squad of men and robbed a sutler of a demijohn of whisky which was drunk by the Col. and other officers!!!!!" April 6: "Reached Fortress Monroe about three P.M. where we find the Monitor [the famous Union ironclad] and other war vessels. The Monitor is a very unassuming looking craft." Through April the regiment began moving toward Yorktown: "This is a tremendous force gathering for the battle of Yorktown" (April 15); "Firing is going on briskly today with cannon and musketry" (April 18). The troops were drawing close to Confederate forces, and Edgerly notes on April 14 that General McClellan had ordered "that no bugle calls sounded nor music played by bands until further orders," presumably to not reveal Union positions or strengths at this time. Edgerly was detailed to assist in the hospital for a day, attending soldiers sick with typhoid fever, "most of them very sick, talking & raving." On May 3 Edgerly notes that the Confederates had left Yorktown before daylight, on the following day writing "The brakes were taken off from musicians by command and all hands are playing national airs." And in timeless military fashion: "Receive orders to march in pursuit of the rebs. Order countermanded and we remain in camps."

Late May they were again on the move and closing in on Confederate positions, with a May 26 order for "no more music or bugle calls till further orders." On May 29 he writes, "Five hundred rebel prisoners passed today under guard. They are North Carolina troops & hardest specimens of soldiers I have seen – ignorant looking and poorly dressed." From their camp outside of Richmond, at Fair Oaks, on May 31 he writes, "We hear heavy firing, both artillery & musketry – very brisk." Then on June 1 the regiment is called into battle: "Started for the battle ground at 3 A.M. got in at sunrise and find dead and wounded lying on the ground – we began to collect them till the battle commenced this morning. The rebels concealed themselves in a thick swamp in the woods till our brigade ran almost upon them when they opened a terrible fire – our brigade suffered severely. Gen. Howard and two of his aids disabled Col. Widlow killed, Col. Cross, Maj. Cook & many other officers were wounded and disabled." The next day he writes, "Firing ceased before noon yesterday we worked hard bringing off the wounded. Saw Gen. McClellan yesterday for the first time – he told our men to hold their position two hours longer and it would be all right." The following day, "A great many of our wounded are being sent off by R.R. [railroad] today – it looks rather rough to see the surgeons take off legs and arms & stack them in piles." By June 8 he notes that "It is found that the killed, wounded & missing in our brigade at this morning's fight is 536 – our Regt. 177."

They spent much of the next week on picket duty and building fortifications and digging entrenchments, tough work in the hot Virginia summer. On June 16 Edgerly notes, "Gen. McClellan came around this P.M. & inspected the fortifications here. His presence puts life into the soldiers." Several times they endured shelling in camp or the picket lines were called on to resist rebel advances: "the enemy threw about half a doz shells into our camp today making business lively for a while" (June 20); "An attack was made on our line today by the enemy in force for the purpose (as a deserter says) of taking one of our batteries that has been troubling them of late but they found too hot work and left in a hurry – our boys gave them three cheers to help them along" (June 21). On June 25 the Regiment participated in the Battle of Mechanicsville: "Our left wing advanced about half a mile and held their points. Second N.H. lost in killed, wounded eighteen out of our Co. of forty two which was the principal loss of the Regt. Nineteenth Mass lost about forty killed and wounded – Our batteries kept firing most all day. Battle of Mechanicsville." This was the second battle (but the first major engagement) of the Seven Days Battles during the Peninsula Campaign. Over the next few days Edgerly notes actions in the Battle of Gaines Mill, Battle of Chicahominy, Battles of Peach Orchard and Savage's Station ("this makes two nights in succession without sleep"), Battle of Turkey Bend & Malvern Hill, referring to all of these battles by name in his diary.

Although the end result of these engagements outside Richmond is now seen as a victory for General Lee, he suffered 20,000 casualties to drive the Union back, compared to 16,000 casualties on the Union side, and on July 1, at the Battle of Malvern Hill, Lee launched futile frontal assaults and suffered heavy casualties in the face of strong Union infantry and artillery defenses. This may explain why the mood in camp, as recorded by Edgerly, was remarkably good on July 4: "Never celebrated a 4th under such circumstances. Our artillery are firing salutes. Rhode Island 2nd, Penn. 81st, N.H. 5th bands serenaded Gen. McClellan and Sumner. Played National Airs & some other tunes together." The following day he notes, "It is understood that this army will stop here (Harrison's Landing) for a month or two to recruit the health and number of men – our instruments are about played out & the boys are anxiously awaiting an order to report to Washington to be mustered out of service which they expect daily." On July 8th the camp received a special visitor: "Abraham Lincoln visited us escorted by McClellan & other Gens. of the Army. He was received with great feeling by the troops." In late August Edgerly is discharged from the army and makes his way home, continuing his diary, though a bit more sporadically, through the end of the year. Portions are written in faint pencil, though still legible; the last several leaves are in a heavier script showing some smudging, though also still legible. Most leaves are very legible—as to be expected from a soldier who had been elected town clerk before enlisting. With six pages of company rolls recorded in the back of the larger volume, as well as a few sums and other lists. A typed transcript of much of the second volume accompanies the diaries, though both are very legible.

A bit of wear, chiefly to flap, of smaller volume only, interiors clean, handwriting legible. Exceptionally good condition. A particularly desirable Civil War diary, written by an observant soldier, with mentions of visits by Lincoln and McClellan and much fascinating battlefield content.

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