"I BELIEVE THE REBELS MADE A CHARGE AND WERE REPULSED TWO OR THREE TIMES & FINALLY BEAT THEM AT THEIR OWN GAME… PRESIDENT SHOT": EXCEPTIONAL CIVIL WAR DIARY, 1863-65, KEPT BY A SOLDIER IN THE 9TH NEW HAMPSHIRE VOLUNTEERS
(CIVIL WAR) WILLSON, George. Civil War diary. Alstead, New Hampshire, 1863-65. Three volumes. 12mo (approx. 3-1/2 by 6 inches), original full limp black morocco, flap closure, mounted cover labels, all edges marbled. $5500.
Interesting Civil War diary written in pen and pencil from 1862 to 1864 by a soldier in the 9th New Hampshire volunteers, tracing his service from enlistment in 1863 to the summer of 1865, offering glimpses of many of the major battles of the war including the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Appomattox, and noting important historical events including the assassination of President Lincoln.
This is the Civil War diary of George Willson, who served with the 9th New Hampshire Volunteers. This diary traces his association with the 9th New Hampshire from January 1863 [the year hand-corrected from 1862 in diary]—just after Fredericksburg—to July 1865. In May of 1862, Washington sent out orders requesting a new regiment of infantry; New Hampshire responded in the affirmative. In June and July of 1862, recruits were enlisted. By August, the 9th New Hampshire had been formed out of the 975 men mustered. Willson was one of the respondents to the recruitment drive.
Willson's diary begins at the beginning of 1863, shortly after the Battle of Fredericksburg and just before Burnside's so-called "Mud March." Willson painstakingly traces his travel from Fredericksburg to Newport News to Kentucky, e.g. "Started from camp at two o'clock… Men by boat to Newport News." Evidently frustrated, Willson fills many days during that period—particularly in Kentucky—with brief entries recording his location and the work (or simply "day's work") completed there.
Willson's departure from Kentucky marks a reinvigoration of the journal. In the months that follow, Willson records the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Petersburg, and Appomattox, albeit somewhat dispassionately, often noting "fighting". Willson became ill shortly before Petersburg. stating: "Them still marching an I kept up as well as I could but had to give out in afternoon… made in Ambulance in the rest of this day. The troops marched on the front where they had a fight this commenced about dark. Our Corps on a front still engaged the enemy… AR Wheeler was wounded in this hip by minnie ball & amputation was necessary." Petersburg was bad luck for Willson—nine days after his release from the Brig. hospital, he was injured. "In trenchment throughout the day I was hit by a piece of shell on the big toes of my right foot about four o'clock p.m. The shell burst in the air and a fragment came down into the pit where I was sitting on my knapsack and hit my foot." Willson's wound was minor, but writes sympathetically of his fellow soldiers and his beliefs on the course of the battle: "My wound is slight as it is pains me considerable but there is many a poor fellow here that saw much worse… I believe the Rebels made a charge and were repulsed two or three times & finally beat them at their own game."
Willson ultimately spent nearly a year at the Corps Hospital before returning to service in March, 1865. Notably, on April 9-10, 1865, Willson writes: "Genl Lee surrendered his command of northern Virginia. Saluting over the surrender." Just a few days later, Willson writes: "President shot." Willson's diary continues through July, including his June discharge. By the end of the war, 409 of the original regiment had died, over half of those due to disease and most of the remaining from war wounds.
While Willson's own record of his service speaks for itself, his personal life outside of this diary is largely unknown. Willson lived in Alstead, New Hampshire at the time of his marriage in 1835 to Lucy Eliza Isham. The couple had three sons. In 1913, Willson was an established resident of Winchendon, Massachusetts, and, given his age at that time, likely died there. Pencil calculations and drawings on endpapers.
A few loose signatures, substantial overwriting in pen (in some cases, faded pencil underneath likely the previous year's entries), only occasional soiling to interior, expected wartime wear to bindings. Very good condition, handwriting bold and readable.