June 20, 2013 08:00 PM EDT Cincinnati


CSA Colonel George K. Griggs, Virginia 38th Infantry, WIA at Seven Pines & Gettysburg, Civil War Diary

Approx. 220pp.

As rare as Confederate diaries have become, diaries from high-ranking Confederate officers are even rarer, and diaries from regiments as active as the 38th Virginia Infantry even more so. Col. George K. Griggs, the diarist, was a trained military man, born on Sept. 23, 1839, and educated at VMI. On June 3, 1861, Griggs enlisted in the 38th Virginia Infantry, a regiment raised in Pittsylvania, Halifax, and Mechlenburg Counties. Over the next four years, he saw continuous hard service, mostly in the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by some of the Confederacy’s most noted commanders, including Jubal Early, Armistead, Barton, and JEB Stuart. From the Peninsular Campaign through Gettysburg, the 38th took part in battle after battle, suffering heavy losses at Seven Pines and Malvern Hill, and losing 55% of their effectives at Gettysburg alone.

After several months' duty in North Carolina, they were recalled to their home state, were buffeted at Drewry’s Bluff and spent much of the rest of their service under siege in the defenses of Petersburg before surrendering at Appomattox with only 12 officers and 82 men reporting. Throughout, Griggs distinguished himself for his courage and leadership, earning promotion to Major after Gettysburg, to Lieut. Colonel in Nov. 1863, and then to Colonel in May 1864. He was also something of a pincushion, either one of the unluckiest men in the service or one of luckiest, having survived several near misses in remarkable fashion. After being laid low by measles in July 1861, he was wounded at Seven Pines on May 31, 1862, and again at Gettysburg July 3, 1863, earning him a stint in hospital from July through September, and he was again wounded at Drewry’s Bluff, resulting in a second hospitalization. Nevertheless, Griggs returned to duty on July 1864 and was with the regiment when it surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

This extensive diary begins as Griggs led the Company of Cascade Riflemen he had raised to Richmond to be incorporated into a regiment. We had quite an affecting scene at Bach-Hall, he wrote, parents leaving children husbands wifes & children, parents. I have 97 men with me who are as brave as need be. We got to Danville about 3 o’clock after a hard drive... it was very hot & a very disagreeable night. We stoped in New hotel, 2 other companies were in it... several of my men got drunk & I did not sleep an hour during the night. Oh God unto thee I look for help and guidance. Give me strength & wisdom to do thy will... The 38th was first placed under Joseph E. Johnson and rushed to Winchester in July 1861, with Griggs commenting I have great confidence in my men making a good fight if they have to do so. I do not know what I shall do but I trust in God & shall endeavor to do my duty... On July 16, the regiment got its first taste of action: We formed line battle in morning but returned to our camp at 12 M. We had hardly rested when our cavalry came in reported they had been attacked by the enemies artillery & our entire force march to line battle determined to give the enemy a warm reception if he came. We were disappointed he did not come & we had to lay on our arms all night.... I feel rather sad contemplating the great slaughter that would follow from an engagement but to God we look for success... In rapid order, Griggs and his men marched to Bull Run, arriving just after the battle was over, though he reported one of the more interesting rumors of the early war: The enemy repulsed our troops by a cowardly act using our flag but we beat them back in evening capturing great many...

After a winter at Centreville, the 38th was thrown again into action as George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac began their slow march up the Peninsula toward Richmond. In his laconic, never-complaining style, Griggs’ entries from the Campaign show the slow turn of fortunes in which an apparently overwhelming Union threat was turned back, growing into confidence for the southern cause. A selection of entries:

Mar 10, 1862: We stayed in our huts last night for the last time. Do not know where the regt has gone we have part of 5 Cos with Col which blew up Stone Bridge. Rainy. Burnt my cabin went to Gainsville halted for the night destroyed large quantity commissary stores &c over 1000 bbl flour wasted... Manassas Junction burned, all my baggage lost, the enemy occupied Centreville.

Mar. 15: Rainy. Reported fight on Warrenton road. We are cut off from the army do not know whether will be able to get to it or not will try very hard to do so... entered Warrenton this AM. Strong probability of being attacked to night... Our men are all quite cheerful. I have a recruit who succeeded a few day ago in escaping from the enemy by climbing up a chimney & hiding untill they had gone...

April 20: Ordered to ditches last night at 8 it rained in torrents. My Co with Co I was cut off from the regt & before we got back a Surprise took place & the entire line pickets commenced to fire. The roar of musketry was very heavy & it [was] some time before it was found a false alarm. As I could not get to my regt at first I attached with 8th George but as were not needed did not remain with it. I joined the regt this morning. The Yankees have been firing across the swamp at us all day. No body hurt the balls whizzing over our hears. Our men are nearly all broak down for want of sleep. It is very cold have no tent...

May 15 crossed Chickahominy great fear among our Soldiers that we are going to evacuate Virginia. I hope not but there is a dark gloom hanging over our Confederacy...

May 31: Col Edmonds has just told us that the army will move forward at 1 PM to attack the enemy & putting our faith & hope in Christ we calmly await the issue. 7 PM wearied & sad I write our brigade advanced on the enemy at Seven Pines at 1 PM & pretty soon were hotly engaged with his infantry & artillery. They threw their deadly missiles thick & fast over our troops moved steadily forward driving the enemy from his breastworks & capturing canon, soldiers &c making him desert camp equipage &c We lost good many in wounded. I had 18 wounded & two killed. I captured a marker flag of 104 Pennsylvania Regt. The enemy were posted in thick Pines a large portion of which they had cut forming barracades. I thank God for preserving my life. A ball shaved the top my head & one other struck my coat...

Despite his wound, Griggs continued with his regiment and offered a fine description of Battle of Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run (“the enemy badly slaughtered”), South Mountain, and Antietam: Sept. 17: Marched all last night crossed the Potomac into MD at Shepherdstown at 8 AM battle raging in front as we march we meet numbers going to rear with wounds at 12 our Brigade drawn up in line battle near Centre. I never heard such cannonading or saw such destruction by it. I was rendered Hors de Combat by the concussion of a shell & left the field about 2 PM. Battle closed at dusk. We still hold out lines & on some portions have driven the enemy loss heavy. We have a great many stragglers not less than 30000 from the army...” After Fredericksburg, as at other times, his language took on biblical overtones: Dec. 13: “Thank God for another victory over the foe... the enemy advancing on our right & left moving up their heavy columns in grand style but it was only to meet with defeat. We drive them back with great slaughter...

One of the highlights of this exceptional diary is a first-hand account of Pickets Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. After the battle’s second day, Griggs wrote I have just gotten through one of the most terrible ordeal of my life, but his experience would be even worse on July 3:

Our division charged the enemy across a field about half mile wide. They being behind a rock fence dirt works &c we had no protection had to climb two fence the enemy throwing shell grape & all kind of missiles of death at us but we moved steadily forward driving them from their strong positions capturing all their guns but we had lost too many to hold our trophies & having no reinforcement & the enemy being on our flanks & rear had to cut our way back. Our loss was heavy I do not know now what Col Edmonds & Capt towns are reported killed. All my Lieuts are wounded 20 of my Co are wounded & 17 missing. I do not know who is living. I carried 49 musket in fight. Kind Heavenly Father we would humbly pray thee to Comfort those who lay wounded from to days work....

The confusion continued during the retreat, with the wounded Griggs describing his scrambling efforts to find an ambulance to transport him and making do with what he could while under attack. In the Bermuda Hundred Campaign of May 1864, he describes his third time being wounded at Drewry’s Bluff: Moved forward at 4 AM soon engaged the enemy. Moved over heavy abattis & wide field drove the enemy from his entrenchments capturing Brig. Gen. Heckman & large number prisoners. I received very severe wound in left thigh. Regt lost heavily 23 killed 77 wounded. It was in front line in entered the enemys works...

The rest of Griggs’ diary documents his time in the defenses of Petersburg, with occasional revealing episodes -- Nov. 27, 1864: Negro troops in our front on duty. Much indignity felt among out troops. Monday 28. Fired into the enemy Negroes pickett to day. Tuesday 29. Pickett fighting. Member Co A killed in trenches by sharp shooter. One wounded Co. C. -- and increasing reports of desertion and challenges to morale.

At a low point in January 1865, Griggs copied out a highly unusual resolution adopted by his regiment, responding defiantly to the hardships they had faced and saw before them: whereas it has been represented to us... that the army as a whole and ourselves as a regiment have wearied of the war and are willing to submit to such terms as the enemy may impose, that we have lost all confidence in our government and doubt our ability to maintain it, Therefore we as members of the 38th Va. Regt. in mass meeting assembled unwilling to submit tamely to these aspersions upon our manhood and fidelity.... do resolve 1. that those who are patriotic and have the good of the cause at heart should not receive with any degree of indulgence the statement... and so on.

Barely skipping a beat, but in very rapid order, Griggs’ diary continues to the end of the war, providing sad details on the desperate last hours of the Army of Northern Virginia. On March 28, Griggs reported seeing Gen. Robert E. Lee pass by while they were constructing fortifications and three days later, they were crushed by Phil Sheridan’s cavalry at the Battle of Five Forks: ...threw up rifle pits on road. The enemy attacked our Division in evening with about 35000 Infantry all his Cavalry & during the engagement I was ordered to the left of our lines with my regt deployed in single line the enemy with 3 regular line Battle. Soon turned my left flank comming up in my rear flank & front capturing the most of my men after they had fired their last cartridges. A few of us escaped... I lost seven good men.

At the hot center of Sayler’s Creek on April 6, Griggs remarkably managed to escape once again: we repulsed him in front but he turned our flank & in our rear with large numbers overpowering & capturing most of the Division. I made with my regt the last effort to check the enemy but powerless to do so & barely escaped being captured myself retreated to Farmville. The end, however, came at Appomattox Court House three days later, an end that Griggs reported even more laconically than usual: Marched at 9 AM about 1 mile... & the Army of Genl R.E. Lee surrendered to day to Gen. Grant. All private property & side arms respected. Officers & men to be paroled & return to their homes until exchanged. Number of muskets surrendered about 8000, men about 200000. I was the only field officer in my Brig. Tellingly, he copied out Lee’s famous General Order 9 and agreement of surrender, also adding a morning report for his regiment on April 9 that listed only 46 effectives. Griggs survived and after the war became Superintendent of the Danville and Western Railroad, dying on Sept. 18, 1914.

Although most of the entries in Griggs’s diary are brief, typically three to four sentences each, with three to four daily entries per page, their brevity is more than made up for by the continuity of the narrative and the completeness of the record (missing Jan and early Feb. 1862, when Griggs was apparently at home on leave). A great rarity for a senior Confederate officer with sterling content, Griggs’ diary includes accounts of the Peninsula, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Pickett’s Charge, but most importantly a continuous account of the war from one Virginian’s view from optimistic beginnings all the way to the bitter end.

Provenance:Descended Directly in the Family of Colonel George K. Griggs

Condition:Bound in paneled full leather with raised bands on spine. A few pages loose and some wear and minor areas of loss on the binding, but a remarkable survival of a remarkable soldier.

Estimate: $3,000 - $5,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium


Have a Similar Item?

Consign With Us