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Civil War Diary of Unidentified Ohio 123 Infantry Soldier, POW

Lot includes a pocket diary, 6 in. tall, soft leather binding with flap and string tie, 92pp. Also includes a transcription of the diary. Plus book on Ohio 123rd Inf.: Keyes, C.M., ed. The Military History of the 123d Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Sandusky (OH): Register Steam Press, 1874. 12mo, brown cloth, 196pp. There is nothing in the diary or text to identify the writer, but he is literate (he can even spell "bivouac").

He identifies the diary as having been written at Martinsburg Va. Jan 10th A.D. 1864. The diary begins by describing the formation of the unit at Monroeville in Huron Co., Ohio in the autumn of 1862. He notes: Before it was a full reg't (1000 men) the boys were guarded on the space of about ten acres by a camp guard, which was the only way to keep the men together. If they were not guarded the men would have been scattered from camp to their homes by hundreds. The guards with unloaded guns did their duty as faithful as if they were in the heart of the enemies country. Those that were not on guard were almost afraid to talk to a guard for fear of being hurt although he was no more dangerous than any one else. He then notes the loss of men over time. When they first set out, The reg't was then very near as large as our whole brigade is at present.

He describes the journey by train, then another train, then riverboats, then another train, etc. He does make special note of the landscape. For a regiment derived from the relatively flat northern part of Ohio, its southeastern region was something of a shock. Particularly around Marietta and Parkersbug (just across the river), we were not in what might be called a "Hilltaneous country." It was just a "warm up" for what they would find once they crossed the river into western Virginia and West Virginia, on their way eventually to the Eastern battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. The nature of the terrain was to nearly have disastrous consequences. One train to which they transferred in Virginia only had freight cars. That road is a branch of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, one of the roughest railroads I suppose in the United States. The cars run around hills over hills & through hills. We run through twenty-three tunnels ere we reached the town of Clarksburg. A slight accident happened among those hills which I suppose will never be forgotten by the boys of the 123rd Ohio. They encountered a freight train headed toward them on the same track. Those two trains were able to stop before colliding, but the train behind the author's, which also carried soldiers from the 123rd, could not see the traffic ahead and ran into the rear of the first troop train. The last three cars of the first train were destroyed, but no one killed. They rolled the damaged cars off the track, doubled up in the remaining cars and continued into even hillier country.

They moved from one small town to another - Clarksburg, Buckhannon (an old dirty looking town like most of the Southern cities), Beverly, Huttonsville, Webster and New Creek, where they stayed about a month. Unfortunately, part of that time the winter rains arrived, and many became ill marching in the cold and wet. The first deaths from disease struck the regiment. In this march a great many got a bad cold confining them in hospitals for a long time & some in their little chambers never more to rise.

They expected Jackson to raid New Creek, but he never did. So they marched to Burlington which is a town of one or two houses and a barn like most West Va. towns. They stayed there a few days before proceeding to Petersburg, 29 miles away. They held up at Petersburg for several weeks until summoned to Moorefield. The dispatch state that Moorefield was attacked. We could not doubt it in the least for we already heard the few canons playing very actively which told at once that there was something wrong at Moorefield....our teams with tents and everything else were sent toward New Creek for fear of being captured....

He becomes critical of the command. Would our [officers] have had the comd. there we would have captured a good portion of them, but the col. who had command was to[o] cowardly even to let those fight that wanted to and so let the whole away with but a few killed.

In a show of chivalry that would not last long into the war, the author describes an incident that occurred after the skirmish. On our way back we did not confiscate more than about five thousand chickens, turkeys & ducks. Our general in comd. ordered every chicken to be thrown down that he would not have his reg'ts disgraced in such a manner. Foraging became essential as the war ground on. In this incident, however: Well we cared but little for the chickens then for we had no kettles to cook them in. Their supply wagons were headed the opposite direction. They "made do" heating coffee in their tin cups and throwing the beef directly into the coals, ...but in the sleeping we did not do quite so well for we had not shelter to sleep uner & it was cold....Snow was about two inches deep while we were at Moorefield. Just as they were ordered to Romney, their supply train arrived, though this was not the blessing that it appeared. With the cold and rain the ground froze. It would have done well enough in a level country but in a [country] that abound with hills like Va. it was hard...it took four & five men to guard a wagon not from being captured but to keep it on the road. If a wagon once got a start on sliding down a hill there was no use trying to get it any more. It took two days to reach Romney, where they went into winter camp. They didn't have much to do other than picket, but horse thieves were very bold in this part of Virginia. If a team was sent but a mile from camp for wood it had to be guarded to keep the bushwhackers from taking the horses.

Romney was far from supply lines, so forage operations became essential to get through the winter. The mistake was the regularity of the trips. The "rebs" in the area figured out the schedule and took to attacking the forage trains, burning the hay and wagons and capturing the horses and men.

They left Romney and headed to Winchester in rain, sleet and snow. He notes that one army or another had occupied Winchester since the start of the war and a number of battles fought, large and small. A B&O branch ran through the town, and the generals appear to have been of differing opinions as to whether or not this section needed a guard. The 123rd was under the command of Genl. Robert Milroy at this point. The men fixed the old fort and better fortified the town, but then had nothing to do. We had been at Winchester... so long that we got tired of the place. Milroy then ordered that if one wasn't on guard duty, they had to be out scouting. The author notes that many volunteered to be scouts, in the hopes that ...we would get in a little scrape sometimes for all were anxious to get in some sort of a fight with rebs.

Well, a fight they had. June 12 (1863) saw everything change. They lured a small rebel force into an ambush. Our Gen. (Milroy) was not aware of the enemy being in as large a force before him or else I suppose he would have evacuated the place at once. He did not get the news that Lee's whole rebel army was marching up the Shenandoah Valley, but he supposed that there was some of his force marching up this way. The following day Lee's forces were surrounding the town, although Milroy's forces still held the roads. He describes an encounter the 123rd had on the Strasbourg road. They then retreated to camp and eventually to the fort to rest, being held in reserve the following day.

Milroy was waiting for orders, which never arrived. The telegraph was out and the town surrounded. He decided to try an escape to Martinsburg, the least heavily defended route out of Winchester. However, they were overwhelmingly outnumbered by rebel forces. They continued to fight until it was obviously suicidal. Milroy escaped, but hundreds were taken prisoner - the entire brigade except Co. D which was transporting prisoners to Harpers Ferry. In the three days of fighting at Winchester, the 123rd lost about 135 killed and wounded.

The author then describes the conditions as a prisoner of war, a story told all too often. The Confederates took everything of value, including eating utensils. The author describes not only the poor quality and quantity of food, but the novel ways in which it had to be prepared. If one didn't have a tin cup in which to mix the fistful of flour with water, one looked for a shovel or board or stone on which it could be mixed and baked. If none of these were to be had, the men just cleared the ground, scraped a depression and poured the flour and water in there, then baked it on a stone. They were transported to "Castle Hasting" in Richmond, one of many tobacco warehouses purchased by the Confederacy for prisons. There they were counted, relieved of more usable items such as blanket, knapsacks, haversacks and canteens, then marched to Bell Island (known by the prisoners as "Hell Island"). Lack of shelter, inadequate food, bad weather and summer heat were added to the previous complaints. He spends several pages describing the meat with maggots that was stewed for the early meal, and the broth containing the dead maggots becoming the basis for the soup for the evening meal. After a few weeks of this the unit was moved to another processing camp with the expectation of being paroled. On the journey to City Point (New York) they did not have any way to get water, so men with hats that would hold water would get permission to fill them so several men could get a drink.

By July 20 they arrived at Annapolis, and were sent home to await exchange. That took another two months, then the unit reformed and was sent to Martinsburg where they erected a winter-style camp to await the spring campaigns.

Robert H. Milroy was a native Hoosier. His education was civilian, but his degrees were in classical and military studies. He served in the Mexican War, then finished a law degree. He practiced law until the Civil War broke out. His performance as Colonel of the 9th Indiana Vols. earned his a brigadier generalcy and command of the Mountain Department. His policies to reduce guerrilla depredations earned him a contract on his life - the Confederate Congress offered a reward of $100,000 for Milroy - dead or alive. He fought at the second Battle at Manassas, earning the rank of Maj. Genl. He then was sent to Winchester with the division of 8,000 men. His evacuation of Winchester without orders from Schenck and the great loss of men killed and captured led to confinement and an investigation. Milroy maintained that his men held Lee's forces there for three days (a diversionary tactic) to allow Union troops to get in position to meet Lee at Gettysburg rather than deeper into Pennsylvania. Milroy was eventually returned to the field in May 1864.

Condition:Rear free endpaper numbered 105, thus 6 leaves torn out (pp 93-104). Minor toning of leaves. A few end pages also loose. Pages 31-41 somewhat faded, hard to read; the other 80 or so are fine. Leather with expected wear, but overall better than average condition.

Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium
$1,175
06/11/2010

 

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