2 pocket diaries; two tintypes, 1864-1865.
Corporal Levi McConkey was a survivor: a survivor of the Civil War and a survivor of the 67th Ohio Infantry, a regiment that suffered more than its share of losses. A three-year regiment organized in the fall and winter 1861-1862, the 67th Ohio took it on the chin from their first forays into the field in western Virginia through the bitter end of the war. After the rigors of the Peninsular campaign in 1862, the regiment reported only 300 men fit for duty, and things did not soon improve. Sent to the Carolinas to take part in the siege of Charleston, they sustained heavy losses during the assault on Fort Wagner, and after their reenlistment and a return to Virginia, they took heavy casualties at the Battle of Chester Station and Bermuda Hundred in May 1864. To cap their misfortunes, the regiment lost a third of the men who charged and captured the enemy’s rifle pits at Deep Bottom in August. By some counts, the 67th was under fire 200 times in 1864 alone, with a casualty rate approaching 60%. Those who survived took part in the Siege of Petersburg and were present to witness the surrender at Appomattox.
Writing daily in his diary, McConkey’s entries are typical of smaller pocket diaries of the era, with very brief and sometimes nearly telegraphic writing. His first diary begins March 24, 1864, when McConkey left home from his reenlistment furlough, but it begins in earnest in May, when the 67th Ohio entered a steady period of combat:
May 10 Camped within five miles of Petersburg fighting in the front bringing in some wounded tore up about five miles of the Petersburg & Richmond railroad rebels in the rear got into a fight drove the rebels. Took a prisoner. Wednesday, 11. Come back to camp last night brought in 10 Rebbel prisoners today moved Head quarters. Out of rations pretty well used up from the fatigues of our march... Friday, 13. Received orders to march. Started about 9 clock AM towards the Petersburg & Ritchmond RR come onto the rebbels near Chester Station our men drove them at all points to within 2 miles of Ft. Darling & from Ritchmnd. Saturday, 14. Fighting still gowing on, bullets and shell whistling over our heads bringing back a good many wounded. Raining today or men still driving the Rebbels back pretty well worn out. Sunday, 15. Fighting still gowing on don’t gain mutch ground. Rebbels charging on Our lines every once and while but gets Repulsed every time. Still bringing in wounded. Out of rations and tired. Health good. Monday, 16. This morning verry foggy. Rebbels take advantage of it, and make two or three successful charges on our lines with superior force. Ordered to retreat just got away in time without being captured.... Tuesday, 17. Today our Gunboats are engaged hunting out torpedoes in the James River, everything quiet...
Friday, May 20. This morning the Rebbels come down on our men with vengeance. Charged and recharged on our rifle pits but got repulsed with heavy loss. Captured brig. Gen Wakler & another Gen named I know not both wounded. Our loss considerable.
Throughout June and July, McConkey reports a steady stream of Confederate deserters coming in, and he includes a frenetic account of Deep Bottom in August that gives a hint of that affair: Monday, 15. Recrossed this morning and crossed back again on another pontoon opposite four mile crick. Fighting gowing on in the front bringing back a great many wounded today verry warm and sultry. Tuesday, 16. Our troops still advancing verry heavy fighting at the front bringing back a great many wounded. Our brigade charged on the rebs & took 230 pris 2 stand of colers... Despite the bloodshed and trauma, it did not take the irrepressible McConkey long to get on with things. On September 8, he seems to have returned to his normal self: Was detailed to hunt up some skedadlers today that was hid back in the woods to get rid of duty. Had a big time, ketched 4 of them...
The diary has few entries from mid-October to end of year, but he returns to form in 1865 while recording the final weeks of the conflict in Virginia, which constitutes perhaps the most interesting section of his diaries. He describes the critical moment at Petersburg in at somewhat greater length than usual: April 1, 1865: Heavy skirmishing both on right & left today in the evening. Recd marching orders & moved about 3 miles farther to the left lay in line of battle all night. Such a night I never put over a continual musketry fire all nite. Sun 2d. Our Brigade was massed this morning to assault the Rebble works order was countermanded. The 6th Corps breaking through their lines on our right. Needed out assistance. We immediately went to their assistance marched about five miles part of the time on the double quick. Brigade charged on fort Greg the last fort that protected Petersburg took it and about 1500 prisoners our loss heavy.
Going for the jugular, the Army of the Potomac went riding after the shattered Army of Northern Virginia, and McConkey had the shotgun seat. Sat 8th. Continued our march found no enemy in our front marched to cut off Gen Lee halter about 12 o’clock at night after marching about 37 miles. Sun 9th. Under arms this morning at 3 clock ordered forward went about 3 miles & got on the extreme right flank of Gen Lee southwest of Appomattox St House where our cavalry was skirmishing with the enemy. We was immediately pushed forward on the double quick & was formed in line of battle. Our cavalry immediately fell back and was immediately checked the enemy’s advance. By this time we had them entirely cut off from the south. Our lines was immediately ordered forward. our lines was gradually closing in on them when we was ordered to halt. in a short time we received news that Lee & his whole Army had surrendered. We all pointed out guns into the air & discharged them, in fact we was so overjoyed we knew not what to doe being verry tied we immediately went into camp. This evening our men issued 27 thousand rations to the Confederate Army...
McConkey includes only a brief reference to the assassination of President Lincoln, and his diary ends with his discharge on June 22, 1865. The two tintypes included with the collection are first a classic studio image of two Civil War soldiers in uniform, one a corporal (McConkey?), the other a man with a revolver prominently displayed, and second a gem tintype in pinback frame depicting an older man.
A tough man in a tough unit, Levi McConkey made up for a lack of eloquence with exceptional experiences. Some wear and fragile hinges on diaries, but condition as expected, with only minor soiling.