• Civil War Battles, Lincoln, Murder Of Col. Ellsworth, Destruction Of Harpers Ferry Arsenal Detailed In Diary

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    H.W. TRUE of Lewiston, Maine, was a judge and served in different capacities for the Lewiston and Auburn Horse Railway.  Offering his remarkable diary-journal, 6 ½ x 7 ¼, with marbled covers, dating from 1858 – 1862 with sporadic but many detailed entries of important Civil War events. His early entries deal mostly with weather, travels, religious and philosophical meanderings and attending lectures, which was a major form of entertainment in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But True provides a historically important narrative beginning right before and during the early part of the Civil War, enabling the reader to learn details of some major battles, the formation of Maine regiments and the fine treatment they received from towns people.  


    True writes of President Lincoln’s call for 700 troops from Maine, the Union occupation of Alexandria, VA, and the subsequent shooting death of Lincoln friend Col. Elmer Ellsworth by a Confederate sympathizer as Ellsworth lowered the Confederate flag at Marshall House Hotel [research included]. He provides specific details about the battles of Great Bethel, Bull Run, Antietam, and mentions the death of Confederate Gen. Johnson and the wounding of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, the blowing up of the Harpers Ferry federal arsenal together with 15,000 arms and the destruction of bridges to prevent the enemy from using them. He writes of the infamous Camp Jackson Massacre at St. Louis and the death of his cousin, George, at Antietam.  We also learn of the deaths of Lincoln opponent Stephen A. Douglas and Rev. Theodore Parker, a member of the Secret Six who helped fund John Brown’s infamous raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The pre-Civil War raid led to Brown’s hanging.  Most of True’s remarks about important events provide reasonable detail, But of John Brown’s hanging he simply writes, “John Brown executed.”


    True writes several entries about Harpers Ferry, which became a significant army camp, headquarters site and logistical supply base for the Union.  May 30th, “…The bridges west of Harpers Ferry are burned and it is supposed from apprehension of an intermediate attack.” He then pivots to Fort Monroe. “All quiet at Fort Monroe. It is not probable that Gen. Butler will make further advance at present…Major [Alexander] Shaler of the New York Seventh Regiment has been tendered the Colonel of the Zouvaes lately commanded by the lamented Ellsworth and has accepted…It is supposed the NYork Seventh left for home today. They are ready to return when action…calls them. Cairo [IL] is still being fortified. All quiet there today. [Cairo, at the juncture of the Ohio with the Mississippi River, became an important Union supply base, protected by Camp Defiance.] A Union press and paper have been established at Alexandria in place of the “Gazette” defunct.”


    True writes that 800 rebels were taken prisoner at St. Louis in May 1861, which led to the Camp Jackson Massacre. “…News that 800 rebels were taken at St. Louis and some 15 or 20 killed. Good news if true.” [Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon had taken command of Company B of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Regiment. Missouri was basically neutral but its Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, was a strong Southern sympathizer. On May 10, 1861, Lyon led the Infantry to Camp Jackson, forcing its surrender. Riots broke out in St. Louis after Lyon marched his prisoners through the city. Lyons’ troops opened fire on a crowd of civilians, killing 28 and injuring 90. The Camp Jackson Affair (Massacre) polarized the Missouri population, leading many once-neutral citizens to advocate for secession.]


    We learn that Alexandria, VA, was taken by Union Forces on May 24, 1861. At a later point, he mentions that Alexandria is under Marshall Law.  [The day before the Union occupation began, a majority of Virginia voters had ratified the decision of a state convention to become part of the Confederacy. Alexandria was the first of many Confederate cities to become occupied by Union forces.  Alexandria was a crucial strategic site for the defense of Washington. The city would play an increasingly important role as the Union army and navy built up supply depots and other facilities that were used for various campaigns.]


    True provides a descriptive account of Col. Elmer Ellsworth’s death at Alexandria. “Col. Ellsworth of Zouave notoriety was shot dead in the Marshall House [Hotel] while cutting down the secession flag by the landlord Mr. [James] Jackson – Jackson was shot instantly on the spot by a private. Their noble men will surely avenge the death of their brave and much esteemed Col. It is thought they will burn the town as soon as the women and children can be taken out…”


    “I fear [a] bloody war commenced. Harpers Ferry may have been taken – if not it soon must be…” Two days later, he follows up with, “…A sketch of the life of Col. Ellsworth came in the “World” today. He was born in Mechanicville, NY, April 2 [Actually, research shows he was born in Malta, NY but buried in Mechanicville.] He was 25 years old. Read law with President Lincoln and was admitted to the bar last Spring. He has for the last two years been engaged to Miss Carrie Spafford of Rockford, Ill…News of Battle at Sewall’s Point. All quiet at Alexandria.”


    Of the battles, True writs, June 11th, “Yesterday, an unfortunate affair occurred at Great Bethel 12 miles from Fort Monroe – 30 soldiers killed and 100 wounded and the Federal troops were repulsed…” [The Battle of Big Bethel was one of the earliest land battles of the Civil War. Confederate Col. John B. Magruder was sent down the peninsula to deter any advance on the state capital Richmond by Union troops based at Fort Monroe. Union forces suffered 76 casualties with 18 killed. The Confederates suffered only eight casualties with one killed. Although small in nature, the battle attracted exaggerated importance because of the general feeling that the war would be short.] The next day, True writes, “At the Battle of Great Bethel, there were 14 killed, 71 wounded and 4 missing, not as bad as first reported. It was an unfortunate affair though the best way we can look at it.”


    July 21st, “Great Battle at Bull Run…our army driven back with terrible loss estimated at from 700 to 1,000 killed and as many wounded. The slaughter must have been as great amongst the Rebels. It was a very unfortunate affair from some great blunder…What a fearful thing is war.”  [The First Battle of Bull Run was the first major battle of the Civil War and was a Confederate victory. Union forces were slow in positioning themselves, allowing Confederate reinforcements time to arrive by rail. Each side had about 18,000 troops poorly trained and poorly led in battle.]


    “Burnside has Newbern in a desperate encounter. Gen. Shields has gained a glorious victory over the rebels at Winchester…Grant and Buell have whipped Beauregard and Johnson [at Shiloh]…The battle was fought last Sunday & Monday, April 6th & 7th.Tremendous loss was sustained on both sides, estimated at 18,000 or 20,000, the enemy at 25[000] or 40[000]. Gen. Johnson killed and Beauregard arm shot off.”


    As the war progresses, sermons were preached throughout the country, including in Maine.  “At Universalist Church… listened to a very forcible sermon on the state of the country from both ministers. Large crowd gathered on the street to hear telegraphic news—no news…much excitement” True adds an account of a celebration in honor of the Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington while expressing distain for the Civil War. “In front of city hall, speeches were delivered by Messrs. Wilcox and Clay to a large and enthusiastic collection of people. The band [played] soul-searching music. God bless the emblem of [our] country. Long may she wave…While traitors gather with the god of Battle, we will meet them.”


    He later writes of an incident at the church, “The newly enlisted soldiers went to the Universalist Church this morning and Mr. [?] preached a very firm discourse to them from the words – “tis better to put your trust in God than man…Quite a panic was created at the Unitarian Church from the cry that the East Gallery was coming down. Hundreds marched out…to the great charge of … life…To add the finale, a drunken man rode furiously up to the church and began to assail the crowd…After a sharp contest with the constable, he was secured in the lock up. There are many evils connected with war, the shedding of blood and loss of lives and drunkenness is one of them.”


    Continuing to write about the formation of regiments, True states, “The second company is filling up fast, rather a shabby set – though…The organized company marched through the streets several times a day – they improve in their movements rapidly. Times have become troublesome and every movement of the government so important. The history of our country has sprung up…By the hope of the bright and glorious future, there may be for our own country, we will manfully strive to do our duty and await the end…Soldiers marched to Augusta after their guns. Got back about 6 pm. The band dressed in new uniforms went with them.”


    Patriotism reigned in Maine.  “John hunter was posted on the street this morning as a traitor, not an enviable title by any means these times.  A new recruiting has been opened today. Gary M. Atwood read the list and the recruiting officer…has some power.”


    May 13th, “…Soldiers of company 1 – with the band – went to Augusta this morning to meet the 2nd regiment from Bangor. Regiment did not get to Augusta till 5 o’clock evening to the loss of the bridge. They passed through here a little past 8 o’clock…citizens lined the road all about the depot and at the bridge – company 1 came down in the steamer just before them. The regiment filled 17 cars.”


    May 27th, “Lieut. Oliver O. Howard of the regular army was elected Colonel of the third regiment of this state. Until his election, he was one of the professors at West Point…”


    June 1st, “More trouble at Baltimore from the traitors, I fear, a large part of the action. I think the city must be under strict Marshall Law. It would not be well to have a repetition of April 19th. [True is referencing the Baltimore riot, which produced the first deaths by hostile action in the Civil War and was nicknamed the “First Bloodshed of the Civil War.”]


    June 3rd, “Judge Douglas, better known as Stephen A. Douglas, died this morning at 9 o’clock. His is a loss to his country. Though a man of some faults, he had many virtues…[Douglas was the Democratic nominee for President in the 1860 election but was defeated by Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln.]


    June 4th, “This is the last day of the 3d Regiment…and thousands of people were there to see them to bid farewell to their friends, others from curiosity. They were all paid off and mustard into United States service…a fine looking regiment it is. They will leave at 5 o’clock tomorrow morning for Washington…”


    June 5th, “Got up at 5 o’clock this morning to see the regiment [leave]. Large crowd at depot…There were 19 cars in the train…”


    June 8th, “The Third Maine Regiment arrived at NYork by the steamer Bay State 10 ½ o’clock Thursday morning June 6.  This regiment, says the ‘World,’ as far as bodily aptitude is concerned is decidedly the most powerful that has appeared in that…city. The average height is five feet eleven inches – and although there is not a fit man in the regiment, their average weight is one hundred and sixty-five pounds…”


    June 12th, “General Scott passes his seventy-fifth birthday today. He is the full image of manhood. May God spare his life yet a little – that he may carry the country he loves so well through this dark [time].  He will do it better than any other man.”


    June 17th, “This morning on the early train, Col. Tucker left for the seat of war to join his regiment (3rd Maine). The band escorted him to the depot and guns were fired at his departure. I wish him a safe return to his family.”


    Nearing the end of 1862, True is feeling war-torn and writes thoughtfully, “The Battle cry still sounds through the land. The great rebellion is not yet crushed but our hopes grow stronger and our fear of ultimate defeat less each day. The whole world now views this great battle field with anxious eyes and wonderous interest.


    True concludes his diary after the death of his cousin, George, who was wounded at Battle of Antietam.  He writes, “George W. True shot in the side. Lingered till Friday afternoon September 19th and expired. A brave man and a good soldier. He done his duty and died an honorable death.”


    [The Battle of Antietam was technically inconclusive but the Confederate troops had withdrawn first from the battlefield.  Victory went to the Union and it gave Lincoln the confidence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  McClellan refused to pursue Lee’s departing army and Lincoln removed him from his command as a result.]


    Expected wear to the boards with some scuffing on the spine. Writing is a little light at the beginning, but darker as he gets into the Civil War listings.  An excellent example of Maine’s involvement in the Civil War and some important early battles.


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