MSS 0097, Item 059 - Pocket diary


This diary was kept by a member of the 56th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry, possibly named James E. Smith, from January 1 to May 5, 1864, during the U.S. Civil War.

The author begins the diary by describing his enlistment in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during which spirits were high and after which the new recruits were paraded through town "bunting flying". He continues by describing the process of drilling and mustering in Provincetown. The author notes that he is photographer musician in civilian life, and a bugler in the army. By April, his unit had left Massachusetts and marched to Camp Holmes in Annapolis, Maryland. They then marched south into Virginia. He describes life in the army as harsh and unpleasant with rations being scarce. The entries end abruptly after May 5, in which he states that he had endured a hard, thirty mile march to a point near the Rapidan River in Virginia. This date and location coincides with the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864) in which the 56th Massachusetts participated.

This small, bound pocket diary was published in 1864 and the first 20 pages of the diary contain a 1864 almanac a chart of railroad distances and time by rail from New York City, a table of stamp duties, population statistics, and information on tides, postage rates, and moon phases. After these pre-printed statistics, the entries begin. The diary has a protective leather cover with a clasp to secure the cover when closed. In the front of the diary there is an impression where, at some point, a flower was laid in along with the note "Mattie R. Alwood 20 years old 20th day Sept. 1863." There is a list made of items "to carry to war" as well as a list of cash accounts settled. In the back of the diary there are simple mathematical calculations, most likely made by the author. The diary also contains a laid in photograph from Trask's in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The date 1863 and the name J. E. Smith are handwritten on the back of the photograph. A three cent stamp is also attached to the back.

This collection gives insight in to the rapid process of recruiting and deployment of soldiers during the U.S. Civil War as well as the harsh living conditions these soldiers were subject to. It demonstrates how quickly enthusiastic recruits would go from the relative comforts of home into combat and the depths of misery.

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