January 1st. 1865
No change for the better. No signs of exchange, and some of our poor fellows are weary and heartsick. They are taking the oath of allegiance to the Southern Confederacy, not many although the rebels are giving invitations freely coupled with promises of clothing, etc. The cold snaps multiply and little patches of ice fringe the edges of the creek, and with each cold wave one or more poor fellow gives up the fight, and in prison phraseology is “mustered out.”
Our work squad has been out day by day the last part of the month cutting wood for use in the stockade. Our extras have been cut down, and from what we can see, we have concluded that the rebel guards are not abundantly supplied themselves. Thanks to the negroes who always have something for us as they slyly stray in upon us in our wood-cutting expeditions, and handing us a few sweet potatoes, or a little bag of beans, and often refusing any pay. Up to the middle of January, we were allowed to take our foraging into the stockade without any hindrance. All at once came word from the overseer that no more would be allowed to go in. We meekly received the order, but mentally said, “we would see.” And we did, and for a few days with well padded shirt bosoms, bulky trouser legs, caps well stuffed, we outwardly bore these treasures to our comrades. But this was soon ended, the guard detailed to watch us, and began to more than just look at us and a hand placed upon the cap crown or pant leg ended the flank movement. Another plan was successful for a season, each was allowed to take in a stick of wood upon his shoulder and some men would split and hollow out these logs and fill them with beans, and with the sticks doweled together would march into camp. This also was soon ended, for one night the overseer himself stood by and with a club not over gently tapped each log, and as now and then one would give out a hollow sound, he would distinctly say, “drop that.” One day Joseph Lunt, was given an ox head by the overseer, and for two days we revelled in beef soup. In dressing it for cooking Pratt threw the eyes outside, and to his surprise saw a comrade pick them up and try to cook them but gave it up after boiling them for an hour or more.
With this entry of February 1st, Diary closed for want of paper to write upon.
The following closing account is given from memory.
As the days came and went, we of the work squads were on our job of wood-cutting etc. Two special incidents are fixed in my memory.
One day while at work assisting in transporting a load of wood I was knocked senseless to the ground having been struck square in the forehead. The peculiar part of the affair was, that in regaining consciousness my first mental activities took the form of a review of the main events of my past life in their order. I was a little child with a vision of my childhood home in Walpole. Next a school lad with the vision of the “Walpole corner Red School house”, and early school days. Next our removal to a new home in West Dedham. Next my school days and work days until I was seventeen. Then the vision of my eight years work in the grocery store ending in my enlistment in the “35th.” A vision of the army life ending with my capture and successive prison abodes, and lastly a return to full consciousness the fact, that I was myself again sound and whole with an addition of a good sized bump on my head. A day’s rest in our prison hut pit, put me all right for duty. The other incident was as follows:
Our squad was set to work one day to make some axle grease. The process first, was to cut some pitch pine wood into small sticks of a foot in length, and one-half to one inch in diameter. Hollow out a circular place in the ground about four feet in diameter. Place the sticks uprightly in this hollow and cover them with turf leaving a small opening at the bottom on one side. Then setting the pile on fire with the result that the smothered heat caused the pitch to stew out of the opening and run into the hollow prepared for it, and which when cooled made a fine wagon grease. It is needless to say that the novelty and easy work of the task made us for a little while, forget our rags and hunger.
As the month wore on, those of us working outside made up our minds that if no exchange was at hand-Sherman was-and also the doom of the Confederacy. A stray rebel paper or fragment of one would come into our hands and from it, we thought we could read that perplexity and doubts were with the rebel leaders.
Our extra rations were cut down, but we noted that the rations of the rebel guards were also cut down. Often to appease hunger, I would stroll in the rear of the officer’s quarters during the noon hour and search for bones, sweet potatoe, parings, and bits of corn bread etc. Near the middle of the month, rumors came thick and fast that an exchange had been agreed upon and they gave hope and cheer to all. In the last week the work began, and soon reached our thousand and we marched out with hearts too full for utterance. We felt sure that we had bidden good-bye to our last rebel prison. Many were too weak to walk even the few rods to the now welcome ox cars, and were supported or lugged in blankets by comrades. We were crowded in a the point of the bayonet, but we did not care we were going home. Soon after we started, Pratt was taken sick and grew rapidly worse, so that on the second day could scarcely sit up. We were two nights and one day on the way to Wilmington, North Carolina where the exchange took place.
At the dawn of each day, the officer in charge of the train would come to each car with the question, “any dead men here?” In nearly every car one and in some two would be found who had given up the fight showing that not even going home, could overcome the effects of the weary months of struggle with hunger could force them to go on. Near Wilmington we were taken into a wood where in a log cabin we signed the parole papers. Poor Pratt was too weak to sit up, so we took our blankets and fixing them to poles for a stretcher took him along with us; every movement seemed to hurt him, and he begged us to leave him.
From the wood, we were taken to an open lot where we squated in groups weary and hungry. As the day wore on, the sound of firing at no great distance caused a glow of excitement among us, and soon we were upon the cars again and started away from the city. What could it mean we querried, are we doomed to disappointment again? Were taken to wood nearby, and told to make ourselves comfortable. While waiting for the train to move, we tore open a bale of cotton lying near the track, and soon had a downey bed in one corner of the car upon which we placed Pratt. A smile of complete satisfaction passed over his face as we laid him upon it. Were in the woods but a little while when to our surprise a squad of rebel cavalry straggled by followed by infantry who were evidently in a hurry. An occasional stray shot over our heads told us the cause of their heart ached and haste, and soon came word that General Terry, had captured Wilmington. We felt like cheering but for more than one reason did not. Soon after we were on the move and were landed on the outskirts of the city.
We were cheered with the sight of a train of United State Ambulances, into which we crowded scarce waiting for them to stop. We laid Pratt upon the bottom of one. He seemed to be in a sort of stupor. Pen cannot describe our emotions as we caught sight of the old flag, our cheers mingled with tears of joy. The thoughts rising in our hearts of something to eat, something to wear, and home again! Pratt roused by the commotion when told its caused, cried “let me see it”, and as we lifted him joy shone upon his face as he gazed upon it waving in the morning sun. Much might be said of stay in Wilmington, until the next day. Memory recalls most vividly our first reception of rations-some of the United States boiled fresh meat and soft bread. Almost at the point of the bayonet did many have to be kept from rushing to grasp the coveted food. Many in spite of the watchful guards gorged themselves so that resulting in sickness, and death. In the afternoon were taken to the city and quartered in school houses, churches, etc., with word that next day we were to go to Annapolis. Our mess clung together taking Pratt with us who was in a sort of stupor and raging fever. We were quartered in a small chapel where we passed a dreary night. Our hunger had been somewhat appeased, but we were cold, ragged, and scores of “greybacks”, friends of our prison days reminded us so insistently of their friendship that sleep was hardly possible. In the morning we were inspected and those too weak for the journey were sent to the hospital. We bade goodbye to Benjamin F. Pratt, 3rd. hardly daring to hope of seeing him again. As some of us strayed down the street, we came to a junk shop in which were some grindstones. The suggestion was made to roll one into the chapel and have a fire. We soon had one on the chapel floor with a glowing fire upon it, the adjoining pews furnishing abundant firewood, and many of us squated around it and made vigorous warfare on our friends, the “greybacks.” Soon after noon we were on the steamer. Here we met a dozen or more of the 35th, who had been enduring the vigors of a winter in the rebel prison at Salisbury, North Carolina. On the journey most of us were seasick, and it is needless to say we were weak and trembling as we landed at the dock just at dark. With wise forthought the United States Sanitary Commission was at hand with a barrel of hot milk, a mug of which was handed each of us as we filed from the streamer. We were taken to a hospital building, given a warm bath with vigorous applications of soap and scrub brushes, our hair cropped and given a new suit of United States clothing. Felt like holding on to my prison uniform as a war relic, but concluded under the circumstances it would be useless to try to do so. From the bath we were put into comfortable cots where with varying emotions we felt our prison days were over for good. On the morrow came the word, “thirty days furlough soon as you are able to go home.”
Ten days in hospital put me on my feet, so that on this date started for home on a thirty day furlough. Of joy of home greetings will not write. The three years have brought about changes. Find Nellie at work in Boston, as a Milliner. Carrie at work in Straw Shop at South Framingham. Abbie, Ronnie, and Herbert, graduated from school life and working as machinist apprentices in Worcester. The thirty days soon passed in pleasant visiting with Uncle, Aunts, Cousins, and old acquaintances.
On this day came the glorious news of “Lee’s Surrender.” Felt like jumping and claping hands for joy.
Just as I was preparing to start from Worcester, “for the front” again, came word of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. With streaming eyes I read the fatal words on the newspaper bill board. Started from Washington, in afternoon. At every station were crowds eager for the latest news of the sadest tragedy of the war.
Landed in Baltimore on this date. Found that we are “exchanged”, but that it was uncertain when we should be sent to regiments.
The body of our beloved President Lincoln, was for five hours in the city hall. Tried to get in to view it but all in vain. Do not think I ever saw such a crowd in numbers. The expression of grief was universal.
Were removed to Fort Federal Hill, just outside the city, but overlooking the harbor and Fort McHenry. Found the quarters anything but agreeable for physical or mental comfort. Like most places I have seen where convalescents and men from different regiments are kept in waiting for returns, it is anything but clean and illustrates the maxim “that which is everybody’s is nobody’s.” It is not very pleasant to see the bed bugs crawling up and down the side posts of my bunk, to have no place for a bath that the only place to wash you face-the pump and trough in the yard, which would be all right if in camp in the field or on the march. One blessing is a fairly well stocked library.
500 or more men were sent off today. Have hopes that I may be sent soon. Have got through the past two weeks rather pleasantly in the main. Letters from the dear ones at home and friends have given me cheer.
The prospect is now that we shall remain here until discharged. This is not at all pleasing as I had hopes of being able to join the regiment and go home with it.
Find all sorts and kinds of men among our 1500 or more. In the main most are well behaved. But Satan comes also. This might be said of many of them, for today twenty were tied up by their thumbs for getting drunk and stealing from their fellows. Have got somewhat tired of reading and concluded to send home for a set of Comer’s Bookkeeping and study up a little in that.
A lovely day. The parade ground and embankments of the fort are covered with visitors from the city. Lots of little folks mingled with them, which is cheering to one’s heart to see. The view from the west over the city and suburbs, is a fine one, also from the east looking over the harbor. Find it pleasant to get out early and get a sunrise view, and at evening to get a view of the sunset over the hills to the west. My box from home with my bookkeeping materials came yesterday, and hope to make a better use of my time hereafter.
Find the time passing pleasantly between bible study, bookkeeping study, reading magazine and papers and in “Mason’s Self Knowledge.” At 10 a.m. came word to “pack up and be ready to move.” Did so but only to find the men belonging to the 10th, 23rd, 24th, and 25th Corps, were wanted so good-bye to hopes of getting to the regiment for the present.
Have added arithmetic and penmanship to my study course. Had privilege of attending Methodist Church, in the city this a.m. Enjoyed it very much. Have finished reading “Self Knowledge.” Found it a hard book to read but I think profitable and worth reading again. Papers and magazines have piled in upon me from home and friends.
Anniversary day of my entry upon that part of army life-”Prisoner of War.” Felt the past year has been one rich in God’s providential care, and the blessing of health in good measure. Felt sort of blue and doubtless dissatisfied with things in general that is caused by the fact of my being here in semi-idleness, and not being able to be with the regiment in its participation in the grand review of the army at Washington, yesterday. Letters from army comrades telling me of happenings to the regiment since Lee’s surrender, picture them as enjoying the “holiday” side of army life. Are in camp near Alexandria, Virginia.
A lovely day. Felt unhappy most of the day at being shut up in the fort hearing the church bells and not being allowed to go out. Spent the day in reading and bible study and commiting to memory more of its precious teachings. Since my stay, have memorized the 12th ch. of Romans, 5th ch. of 2nd Thessalonians, 13th ch. of 1st Corinthians, and 1st. ch. of James.
Have added checker playing to my bookkeeping, reading, and bible study to give a bit of variety to the past two weeks. Have found quite a number of congenial comrades. They are chafing like myself at what they feel is a needless semi-imprisonment as it were. An agreeable change came today when at 9 a.m. were told to “pack up.” At 10 were en route for the Baltimore and Ohio railroad station and at 2 p.m. were in Washington and soon quartered in barracks for the night. The journey to Washington was delightful every way. One more step towards getting home. Hope to be a real citizen of United States by July 1st., and have a chance to work at haying in the old bay state.
In barracks all day. Disappointed in not getting to regiment but with plenty of reading matter at hand the day has passed quickly.
At 9 a.m. in line and en route once more for the regiment. Crossed the Potomac once more via Long bridge and landed at Soldiers rest in Alexandria. Many reminiscent thoughts of our days of soldiering in August ‘62 passed in the vicinity of Long Bridge. The barracks in which we are placed are the best I have seen thus far. They are neat and well ventilated and convenient. Had a pleasant season of bible study this morning. The last Chapter of Matt.
At 9 a.m. came orders for men of 2nd division of 9th Army Corps, to fall in. Were soon on the move. Reported to Division Head Quarters and by 2 p.m. were at the regiment and ending an absence of one year and eight days. Happy and kindly greetings from officers and comrades of Company I. The year has wrought many changes and the joys of meeting comrades had its severe side as one and another familiar face was missing and the word was reverently spoken. Killed at Cold Harbor or Weldon, railroad, or at Mine explosion or front of Petersburgh, or died from wounds in hospital.
In Adjt’s. quarters most all day writing letter to kindred and friends. Took walk with Adj’t to a neighboring hill where a fine view of the Potomac, Washington, and Alexandria and miles and miles of camps of the returned regiments. A grand and inspiring sight.
A delightful four mile walk today to Fort Barnard. It was through green fields and leafy woods, with regimental camps on every hand. Had pleasant meeting with cousin Frank, who is on duty at the fort. Word has come that the citizens of Dedham talk of having a reception to the Co. as we come marching home. Telling of the Company is to deceive it. Read in Youngs “Night’s Thoughts,” a fine poem and leading one to reflect about what are the things of real value and use in life’s plans and purposes.
A horseback ride and visit to Mount Vernon, made up the day’s events. Delightful in every way. Found the grounds, buildings, and memorials of Washington, and his time more interesting and soul stirring than I had expected. The buildings must have been the best of the times when built. Parlors small, dining room large, also the halls. A fine marble mantle in the dining room. Carvings representing sunset and agricultural scenes. Facsimile of the bed on which Washington died, and portions of his camp equipage also the key to the Bastile, presented to him by Lafayette. One could not look upon the tomb containing his remains without indescribable feelings of awe and reverence. The view of the Potomac from the piazza was fine, and the stroll along its banks delightful. The grounds about the mansion fully laid out, the finest hedges of box bush I ever saw. Fine forrest trees of oak, chestnut, locust, and magnolia, one of the latter shown as having been planted by the General. Cherry trees in abundance. Foolishly bought some pies on the return which I found to my sorrow were anything but easy of digestion.
Busy with letter writing and reading in Atlantic Monthly, and Young’s “Night’s Thoughts.” Received gun and equipments so was able to take part in dress parade.
At 6 a.m. ordered to pack up and be ready to move. Mustered out of United States Service. Packed up and lay waiting nearly all day when word came that we would not start until 5 a.m. next day. Wrote letter to Abbie. Busy reading miscellaneous matter most of the day. Attended prayer meeting of United States Commission in evening. We are now as we call ourselves, “Brave citizens”, and happy and hilarious at the near prospect of getting home. Sobering thought would come as thoughts of the change from three years of military service to the quiet and peaceful life of the homeland again. Questioning too as to what the future had in store for me. Shall I be strong and quit myself like a man?
Up at 4 a.m. On the march at 5, the regiment escorted by the 58th. Massachusetts. Put on my knapsack for the first time in thirteen months, seemed natural and awoke a train of memories of days marching in Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Through a cloud of dust to Alexandria, from thence by boat to Washington. The boat ride was a pleasant one. Many thoughts of the days of campaigning in ‘62, as I took a last view of the city of Alexandria, and of the heights on which was located he old convalescent camp-better known by those of us who enjoyed its shelters as “Camp Humbug.” Were marched to nearly the capitol building where we stacked arms and waited until just at sunset. Took a train for Baltimore. Had a fine opportunity to stroll about the city which we enjoyed especially through the Capitol. Could not help feelings of pride at the grandeur and beauty of the building and thankful for being an American. Of the paintings in the rotunda, that of the embarcation of the pilgrims from Holland interested me the most. We were put into freight cars forty-two to a car. A fine moonlight ride. Many of us climbed on to the top of the cars and stretched out and slept soundly thereon until 12 p.m. when we were landed in Baltimore and at 2 a.m. were en route for Philadelphia.
Slept on the floor of car until daylight. Weather delightful. Scenery of early summer time charming and beautiful. Citizens profuse in their greetings all along the route. A grand banquet in readiness for us at the “Cooper Institute.” A most noble monument of the liberality and whole world regard for the soldiers welfare of the city of Philadelphia. Never can we forget its bounteous good cheer to us on out way to the front, and on our return from our three years service. Crossing the Delaware by ferry to Camden, New Jersey, we were allowed the comfort of regular passenger cars and en route for New York. Arrived at Jersey City at 6 p.m.-then by ferry to New York where we were placed in barracks on the Battery. One more taste of United States rations of coffee, salt meat, and bread for super finished the day. The ride through New Jersey, was cheering and pleasing in every way. Welcome was shouted and the wavings to us from every train, town, and hamlet. The scenery of this place was a perfect feast to the eye of summer beauty. Everything in town and open country telling of peace and prosperity. Hard to picture the contrast presented with what we have just left behind in the desolated towns, and hamlets. Farms, fields, forrests, and deserted houses of the southland. With the joy of going home and the satisfaction that the “three years” of army life with its horrid “engineering of war” were over, and that in full measure of health and strength, I am permitted to take up the work as a citizen and help make our reunited country a land of the brave and free. A land that stands for all that is best and true for world-wide humanity. My heart was full of thankfulness to the “Giver of every good gift”, every satisfaction,and every blessing of life, as the af’t [afternoon] so rich in hope-in sad and tender memories sped along to its close.
A fine sleep. Good meat soup for breakfast. Took stroll about the Battery and spent most of the day reading in the Soldiers Library. At 4 p.m. were steaming out of New York for Providence. Weather delightful and the sail was a pleasant one in every way. Had a pleasant chat with one of the lady passengers.
Had a fine night’s rest on deck of the steamer. Into Providence at 8 a.m. We were treated to a fine collation, interspersed with music from Morris Brothers minstrels. Came upon General Burnside on the street and cheered him most lustily. At 10 a.m. left for Readville. On our arrival were paid off, received our discharge papers, and allowed to take our muskets on payment of six dollars and all other equipments gratis. By nearly noon all the military red tape was cut, a team was procured and we West Dedhamites, were en route for home early p.m. The welcome home joyful in every way, and the old scotch motto-”Do ye the next thynge”-in the form of life as a citizen the next thing in life’s programe open before me.
Finished copying this diary on December 15th, 1923.