William H. Burgwyn Diary (August 1862-March 1863)

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.

William H. S. Burgwyn image

William H. S. Burgwyn, (1845-1913)

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.

Map Image

Map of William H. S. Burgwyn's movements from August 1862 - March 1863. Click map to view

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

August 19, 1862 “The dust was almost intolerable so thick you could not see sometimes the men of your own company.”

August 22, 1862 “the grave of Pochattan and the rock where Smith was bound to await the fatal stroke when Pocahontas saved him.”

September 1, 1862 “Marched on the RR foarded [sic] the Rapidan and another river the bridge being burnt by the Yankee’s in their retreat…”

September 6, 1862 “First put my foot on the Maryland shore precisely at 5 minute of eleven AM the men as they would step on shore would raise a shout.”

September 9, 1862 “Halted for three hours drawing rations but did not have time to cook them left at 5 1/2 PM for the Potomac for the purpose of blowing up a bridge and acqueduct [sic]…”

September 13, 1862 “our troops on the Maryland side were shelling the enemy at Harpers Ferry.”

September 15, 1862 “Took 14,000 prisoners. Two Generals 50 pieces of cannon from 18 to 20,000 stand of new arms.”

September 16, 1862 “Was wakened up at 1 AM and ordered to march…”

September 17, 1862 “We formed in line of battle our whole Brigade + charged through a storm of shell and grape once in jumping over a fence.”

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 6, 1862 “books are as avariciously pounced upon whenever or wherever seen as gold would be”

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 24, 1862 “waded the Shenandoah at 10 1/2 AM water so cold I thought I could not get across”

October 29, 1862 “Received orders about 2 1/2 AM to be ready to march immediately…”

November 3, 1862 “received permission to visit Culpeper to get one of my boots mended.”

November 9, 1862 “the blue ridge in many places presented a magnificent sight being partly covered with snow and the sun shining on it.”

November 14, 1862 “found a large bundle of Carpet blankets sent to me by my Uncle Tom for me + my men’s use and a keg of eatables.”

November 19, 1862 “Commenced our march at 7 1/2 AM and with great fatigue owing to the state of the roads which were very wet and of clay soil marched 20 miles by 4 PM”

November 23, 1862 “Remained in Camp near Fredericksburg Va all day Lost my Knapsack containing all my clothes and my Colt Pistol”

November 25, 1862 “Found my Knapsack that I had lost.”

December 5, 1862 “The moon was eclipsed tonight”

December 8, 1862 “Put water on my head this morning in washing + it froze before I had finished wiping my face.”

December 11, 1862 “About 4 Am heard the two signal gun agreed upon for the signal to prepare for immediate action…”

December 16, 1862 “Sent some of my men on the battlefield to get themselves overcoats and blankets…”

December 18, 1862 “Genl. R called the officers of his brigade to his tent this morning to solicit their charity for the people of Fredericksburg.”

December 25, 1862 “gloomy Xmas weather early misty +cloudy + cloudy almost all day Weather warmer than I ever knew it to be at Xmas.”

January 2, 1863 “Was detailed to take command of a working party to day…”

January 7, 1863 “The place we halted today is the same as the place I slept the first I came to the Brigade”

January 10, 1863 “My brother George came to see me today from the Plantation and brought me some provisions.”

January 16, 1863 “Got the Conductor to put me on the train…”

January 20, 1863 “was taken sick soon after coming to the Regt and after going to the hotel was taken very sick with the cholera morbus”

January 26, 1863 “to witness the execution of a deserter (Wyatt) 26 N.C.T but he was reprieved…”

January 31, 1863 “they recommenced the dance at 11 AM today + danced till 3 PM…”

February 5, 1863 “Staid all night on the soaked ground with my oil cloth only to cover with + it raining all the time passed a hateful night.”

February 24, 1863 “Started on the train for Wilmington at 7 3/4 AM…”

February 27, 1863 “Received permission to visit Wilmington and in town met my Cousin Hazel.”

March 4, 1863 “Witnessed one of the Batteries near our camp constructed on the river bank practice firing. Was much disappointed + mortified to see it so poorly done + the guns worked so badly.”

March 10, 1863 “commenced our march through Wilmington + on the Planks road…”

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 13, 1863 , “Received my furlough at 7 AM but could not start for want of transportation till tomorrow morning…”

March 14, 1863 “paid for my Uniform today $175.00 + for a pair of boots $50.00 + a hat $20.00”

March 15, 1863 “Heard today Genls Longstreet +Hill were respectively attacking Washington and New Bern. Anxiously expected news but could hear none of importance.”

March 16, 1863 “Wrote an application to Genl Whiting to go on his staff.”

March 27, 1863 “To day being the one set aside by Mr. Davis for fasting humiliation + prayer I went to church in the morning and evening.”

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.

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2 Responses to William H. Burgwyn Diary (August 1862-March 1863)

  1. Josh Howard says:

    The former owner of the second diary, “H. Brantingham” was Sergeant Henry Brantingham, Company C, 28th New Jersey Infantry, who was killed in action on December 13, 1862 at Fredericksburg. He was a resident of Piscataway and South Plainfield, N.J., and had only been in the service for a little over two months at the time of his death. He left a wife and one child, possibly two. Great post. Just wanted to add a little on Brantingham.

    • tiffmaz says:

      Thanks Josh,
      I had been wondering about H. Brantingham. I am working on that diary right now and hope to add it to the collection soon.

      Tiffanie Mazanek
      Information Technology
      North Carolina State Archives
      NC Department of Cultural Resources
      Ph: (919)-807-7347
      E-mail correspondence to and from this address may be subject to
      the North Carolina Public Records Law “NCGS.Ch.132” and may be
      disclosed to third parties by an authorized state official.

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