Reading diaries can be an excellent way to delve into the everyday lives of the men and woman from our past. I had the opportunity to do just that when I recently began digitizing and transcribing some of our Civil War dairies here at the Archives. My goal is not to digitize every diary that we have but to have good representation of the ideas and voices found in dairies from the Civil War period.
The first diaries that I will add to the Civil War Collection of the North Carolina Digital Collections are four diaries written by William H. S. Burgwyn during his time as a 1st lieutenant and a later Captain of Company H of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment in the Confederate Army. William H. S. Burgwyn (1845-1913), was the second son of Henry King Burgwyn (1813-1877) and Anna Greenough (1817-1887). Henry King Burgwyn was the owner of Thornbury Plantation on the Roanoke River in Northampton County. He was also younger brother to Henry King “Harry” Burgwyn, Jr. (1841-1863), who was later known as the “Boy Colonel” due to attaining the rank of colonel at the young age of twenty. Henry “Harry” is thought to be the youngest colonel in the Confederate Army and he was killed in Gettysburg before he ever reached his twenty-second birthday. In all of William’s diary entries he refers to his brother as “Harry;” William’s second diary has several entries that pertain to Harry’s death.
The first diary runs from August 1, 1862-March 2, 1863. William begins his diary with his journey to camp, riding his brother’s horse. He was accompanied by his brother Harry and then Colonel Matt Ransom, they are on their way to then General Robert Ransom’s brigade four miles from Petersburg.
His first few days at camp were spent with Colonel Vance’s Regiment. On Monday, August 4, 1862 William was elected 1st Lieutenant of Company H of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment; his Captain was David G. Maxwell and his Colonel was Matt Ransom. William mentions the weather in just about every entry of his diary and in the first few days the weather was very hot. He was given permission to go to Petersburg to pick up his trunk and while in Petersburg he took a bath “which was very much needed…also put on some new cloths throughout which had a very salutary effect after keeping on my clothes for a week.” His Regiment stayed just outside Petersburg to build fortifications around the area until August 18thwhen they joined back up with Army of Northern Virginia and take off on their journey.
I have put together an animated map of the William’s travels with events of special interest noted and battles the regiment was involved with highlighted. You can find this map at Animaps (search public maps and enter William Burgwyn) or click map image. Please note this map works best when using Firefox or Explorer 8.
I have also put together a list of entries that I found of particular interest. This list consists of quotes from William’s diary they will link you directly to the page where the quote appears and from there you can read from the diary page or open the “page and text” view to read the transcript.
William’s Diary Quotes
September 13, 1862 “our troops on the Maryland side were shelling the enemy at Harpers Ferry.”
September 16, 1862 “Was wakened up at 1 AM and ordered to march…”
September 18, 1862 “expecting to have a very decisive and bloody battle but…”
September 19, 1862 “Arrived at the Potomac river about 1 1/2 AM and crossed immediately”
September 22, 1862 “told by my surgeon that I was taking jaundice…”
September 26, 1862 “Had frost this morning for the first time”
October 1, 1862 “Felt much better today my appetite commencing to return.”
October 14, 1862 “Yesterday was the first drill we had since we left Richmond…”
October 23, 1862 “Commenced our march in the direction of Winchester at sunrise”
October 29, 1862 “Received orders about 2 1/2 AM to be ready to march immediately…”
November 25, 1862 “Found my Knapsack that I had lost.”
December 5, 1862 “The moon was eclipsed tonight”
January 2, 1863 “Was detailed to take command of a working party to day…”
January 16, 1863 “Got the Conductor to put me on the train…”
January 31, 1863 “they recommenced the dance at 11 AM today + danced till 3 PM…”
February 24, 1863 “Started on the train for Wilmington at 7 3/4 AM…”
March 11, 1863 “Sent in an application for a furlough at 11 AM.”
March 12, 1863 “At 7 2/3 commenced our march towards “Topsail” sound”
March 16, 1863 “Wrote an application to Genl Whiting to go on his staff.”
March 28, 1863 was the last entry made to this dairy. William was on furlough visiting family and friends in Raleigh North Carolina at this time. The next diary will be added to the collection soon and resumes with his time on furlough through January 20, 1864. The second diary was one that William found on a battlefield in Virginia; the diary had previously been the possession of H. Brantingham a Union Solder from the New Jersey Volunteers.