1862-63: Augustus Oswald McDonell Diary & Musings

Augustus Oswald McDonell (1839-1912), Image found on Richard Ferry Military Antiques.

These diary entries were made by Augustus Oswald McDonell (1839-1912), the son of Alexander Harrison MacDonell (1809-1871) and Ann Elizabeth Nowland (1808-1880). Augustus was born in Savannah, Georgia, and came to Florida in 1854 where he was educated and working as a merchant in the gulfport city of Alachua when the Civil War started. He joined the Gainesville Minute Men (militia) in 1860 and then enlisted at Gainesville, Florida on 5 April 1861 in Co. H, 1st Florida Infantry. In mid-April 1862 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. K. He was wounded at the Battle of Perryville in October 1862 and promoted to the Captain of his company sometime early in 1864. He was taken prisoner by the 23rd Army Corps before Atlanta on 7 August 1864 and was not released from Johnson’s Island Prison until taking the oath on 16 June 1865.

In the 1860 US Census, “A. O. McDonell” was enumerated as a “merchant” in Alachua, Florida. His father was enumerated at that time in Marion county, Florida, and owned 25 slaves ranging in ages from 1 to 73. In the 1850 US Census, 8 year-old “Augustus” was enumerated in his father’s residence in Early County, Georgia. Others in the household included his siblings, George (age 19), Roselin (age 17), Hannah (age 8), and James (age 4). 

I discovered McDonell’s diary in the P. K. Yonge Library at the University of Florida [see Augustus O. McDonell Papers, Diary, 1862-1864, to Download] while researching a letter than I was asked to transcribe written by McDonell in May 1861 [see 1861: Augustus Oswald McDonell to Elizabeth (Nowland) MacDonell on Spared & Shared 23]. Images of McDonell’s diary were made public on-line by the Library and I found them to be incredible reading and couldn’t wait to transcribe them for others to enjoy. My thanks to the university for sharing them.


Camp near Lookout Mountain
August 10, 1862

We left Tupelo on Saturday the 2nd inst., and arrived at this place last night about dark after a tedious (but somewhat pleasant) journey. Our Battalion and the 30th Mississippi Regiment were sent up the river from Mobile to Montgomery. We were very much crowded and the passage was anything but a pleasant one. We stopped in Montgomery one night and notwithstanding the General Order forbidding the officers and men from leaving their commands, some of them (yes, nearly two-thirds of them) ran the blockade and went up to the city and had a gay time generally. Some of them got slightly inebriated and talked too much, hereby letting the cat out of the bag. We left Montgomery for Atlanta, Georgia, about 2 o’clock the following day. Several of the men were left then but afterwards caught up with us before arriving at Chattanooga. We were greeted with smiles & cheers at every station along the road from the ladies. At some places refreshments were prepared for us by the fair hands of woman. I think the ladies in Georgia, as a general thing, are more enthusiastic & evince more genuine concern for the soldiers than in any state I have passed through.

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
August 17, 1862

I obtained permission this morning to visit Lookout Mountain, the first time I have left camp since my arrival in Tennessee. We had quite a time getting to the top of the mountain. Lieutenants Anderson, Williams, Rangan and myself composed the party. We had to make our rests frequent in our ascent as the mountain in some places is very steep. At last we arrived and here we are. Lieut. Anderson is seated on my left making a note of the beautiful scenery. We occupy a ledge of rock that overlooks a deep abyss. The prospect is a grand one. As far as the eye can reach are nothing but mountain peaks and in the gorges and valleys beneath are little farms and beautiful plots of grass dotted with little farm houses which gives the whole a picturesque view. While I write, I gaze upon the grand panorama of nature and the cooling zephyrs gently, quietly, fan my cheek and whispers to me of one beloved and others around whom affectionate remembrances always cluster. I would like to spend a day or two up here. One feels lifted nearer to heaven when he contemplates the vast and stupendous works of nature and then beholds the hand of nature’s God.

We took dinner on the mountain at a private house. The landlady dealt extensively in Irish potatoes. This is quite a little village on the top of the mountain. The most of these [ ] abodes are occupied as hospitals for the sick. I don’t think a more desirable place for a sick man could be found anywhere—the water is so pure and the air so invigorating.

The Tennessee River flows at the base of the mountain and is quite a bold stream but from Lookout Rock, it appears like a huge serpent basking in the sun, its meanderings are beautiful—a rich green border fringes its banks, its bright sparking waters and the beautiful oasis formed by the serpentine windings of the stream gives it an air of enchanting loveliness and renders the scene at once picturesque and grand.

On our return to camp we took a different route which was not so steep and more pleasant to walk. We visited the Blowing Cave with its very cold water. It is quite a curiosity. The spring flows out of the side of the mountain into the river and out of the [ ] in the rock issues a perpetual breeze so cold that it will make you shiver in a few moments to stand near the mouth of the cave. We also visited thew Saltpetre Cave and witnessed its operation.

Chattanooga, Tennessee
August 20th 1862

While I was engaged finishing the court martial proceedings of which I was judge advocate (on yesterday), an order came to prepare 2 days rations and e ready for marching by 12 o’clock. I soon tumbled the writing proceedings into my valise & commenced packing up to leave. Everything was soon bustle and confusion, however, we were ready & took up our line of march at 2 o’clock p.m. We had an awful dusty time getting here. As we passed through the city, we were greeted with smiles & cheers & the waving of miniature flags by the fair daughters of Tennessee.

We camped in the city in a beautiful green valley. The dew was rather heavy and wet our bed clothes considerable. I must confess that I never enjoyed a night’ rest more in my life. I slept soundly and sweetly. We were all up at an early hour, attended rolls, and ate breakfast.

We crossed the river about 10 o’clock and marched about six miles to where we are now encamped. We have a delightful spring of water near us and plenty wood but nothing to eat.

Camp near Chattanooga
August 21, 1862

My gentle slumbers were slightly disturbed last night by the falling rain. Fortunately it was very slight and did not do much damage. I pulled on my coat & boots, turned in again, and was soon lost in dream land. I thought I was at home, that peace had been restored to our land, and that the dread clarion of war was heard no more—that victory was ours and our independence been won. I thought I sat in the old arm chair in the long piazza at home and Annie W. was by me. We talked over the trials and troubles, the joys & pleasures that we had passed through since our separation. Oh how happy I felt with my arms resting on her small white neck and my fingers [ ] with her silken curls. We talked of the future, the happy future that was to crown us the happiest of earth’s children. While I thus dreamed, the morning dawned and the rattling drums beating reveille awakened me to the consciousness that it was all a dream.

While I write, an order comes to be ready to move in half an hour. Poor soldier—there is no rest for him. Privation and toil is his life’s lot. The men are all grumbling very much about something to eat. We left Lookout Mountain after an hour and a half’s notice so we had not time to prepare anything. I can’t blame them much for finding fault with the management of affairs. It does seem to me they could be done better. We got a little fresh beef this morning but have no salt or bread to eat with it, and have to roast it on the coals.

Well, I am seated again. Our march was not very far. It was only to give us more pleasant grounds and room for camping. The 3rd Florida arrived today and was united to our Brigade. Col. [William S.] Dilworth commands the Brigade. I saw a good many of my old acquaintances in the 3rd Regiment.

Camp near Glasgow, Kentucky
September 14, 1862 (Sunday)

We left Camp Moccasin on the 29th ult., and have marched almost every day since. In some portions of Tennessee we were welcomely received, but in others nothing but sour looks & short answers has greeted us. And now we have crossed Tennessee and have advanced 50 odd miles into Kentucky without ever firing a gun at Yankees. Who would ever have dreamed such a thing. I certainly expected we would encounter Buell and have one desperate battle before leaving Tennessee but that gentleman seems to have taken to himself wings and left the country in double quick time. But if he is not very smart, he will be slightly tripped up before he gets in his safe retreat.

We left camp this evening, passed through Glasgow, and were enthusiastically cheered by the beautiful women of that place. Flags and snow white handkerchiefs waved as shout after shout went up from the stalwart soldier as he witnessed this demonstration of fidelity to our cause. We reached 18 miles that evening and night and arrived at Cave City about 4 o’clock on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, September 16, 1862

We left Cave City this morning about 9 o’clock and marched 12 miles to Mumfordville where the Yankees are in force about 5,000 strong. Gen. [James R.] Chalmers attacked them on Sunday in their fortifications and after a desperate fight, was repulsed with the loss of 200 killed and wounded. I think Chalmers was rash in making the attack with so small a force. After our arrival at said place, our guns were soon placed in position so as to command every point of the enemy’s fortifications. Gen. Bragg then sent in and demanded a surrender of the place, which was refused until that night about 2 o’clock [when] they surrendered unconditionally the place with 5,000 prisoners. Col. [John T.] Wilder commanded the Yankee force.

The Battle of Munfordville, Kentucky, September 14, 1862. Harper’s Pictorial History of the Great Rebellion

Camp near Bardstown, Kentucky
September 26, 1862

Col. [William] Miller, [Thaddeus A.] McDonell, [Lucius A.] Church, and Captain D. Bird, C[apers] Bird, and myself went out in the country and spent the day with a good Unionist. We went out to dinner by invitation. They had a very nice dinner prepared for us, & treated us in a very hostile manner. Grigsby was the name. They have a pretty daughter about 14 years—very intelligent and precocious for her years. She plays and sings very well. The old folks have a son in the Federal Army. Miss Ella (the young lady) I think is a little smitten with our young friend Capt. C. Bird.

Wm. Capers Bird, 1st Florida

Ella Grigsby (1849-1871) was the daughter of William Remey Grigsby (1797-1887) and Martha A. Newman (1824-1892) of Bardstown, Nelson county, Kentucky. Ella was married in February 1869 to Richard Eastham, but died two years later. It was Ella’s older brother, Redmond T. Grigsby who served as a sergeant in Co. K, 6th Kentucky Cavalry, fighting for the Union. The handsome captain Ella was smitten with was Wm. Capers Bird, of Co. I, 1st Florida Infantry.

Camp near Bardstown, Kentucky
September 27, 1862

Julius Keifer and myself started out this morning with Lieut. Gonzallius on a foraging expedition. It rained on us nearly all day. All we were able to obtain was a turkey apiece. We got a first rate dinner with a sporting character. Also a good wetting and returned to camp.

Sunday, 28th 1862

We all left camp at an early hour for picket guard. The Brigade was left about 7 miles from town. Capt. Pool’s company and Co, B, myself in command, were sent on outpost at the bridge.

[The following was written after the Battle of Perryville in a different hand.]

October 8, 1862

[The] Battle [of Perryville] occurred at about 3 p.m. 15,000 engaged on our side. The enemy was supposed to have had 30,000. we occupied the battle ground at night. I was wounded in the right arm. The loss of the regiment was as follows:

Wounded 55
Killed 12
Missing 6

[In Augustus’ hand]

N. B. This note was made for me by Sergt. Enisstre at Camp Dick Robinson. My arm was too painful to be used but it is now all right. — A. O. McD

[The following was written after the Battle of Stones River. It appears that after he was wounded in the right arm at the Battle of Perryville, McDonell was permitted to return home to recuperate before joining his comrades in time for the Battle of Stones River.]

Near Manchester, Tennessee
Sunday, January 4, 1863

An order came yesterday evening for all the wagons to skedaddle to the rear after fighting the enemy 5 days, driving him back and capturing a large number of prisoners. Rosecrans was said to be heavily reinforced and as usdyal we had to fall back. It was rainy yesterday when we started back and it continued raining, the wind blowing hard all night. We marched twenty miles through it, soaking wet with a skinned foot. I limped along through wind and water. I don’t know when I suffered from the cold as much. How my mind reverted to the pleasant and comfortable home I had jus left and sighed to be back again enjoying its sweets. This morning I was fortunate enough to find a pie or two at an old woman’s [place] along the road. They were coarse and dry but I was hungry and swallowed them down like a sweet morsel.

I really feel a sympathy for the poor people through this portion of the country. They are almost destitute and then our armies having to fall back, the Yankees will destroy the little they have left.

Camp near Murfreesboro
January 1, 1863

New Years Eve! What visions of departed glory loom up from memory’s corridor at the very words “Years gone by,” when our hearts were young. What gay times would we have in the old hall, and how we would laugh and shout, until every rafter would reverberate with our merriment. When the old year was slowly declining and the new rising upon the ashes of the past, then joy reigned supreme in our hearts. Childhood’s blissful time! why Oh wehy will not the thrill of joy course through our veins as once it did?

Oh! for one single moment of that exquisite ecstatic bliss which thus we thought do enduring. The remembrance of New Year’s eve is ever an oasis in the great desert of life, back to which even now my thoughts delight to wander.

When wearied with our amusements, how many nice things collected by our parents were there to refresh our bodies! and what fun to see the great table fairly grown beneath the weight of what we children called goodies. How free we all felt for no restriction was ever placed upon our mirth during those bright holiday times. Laugh, shout, dance as we pleased, and nobody would say a word, no matter if the very house was turned inside out.

New Year’s Eve! What a sad night. What a time for reflection upon the past year! Tonight the winds shriek a requiem for the departed year, gone from the earth forever, and seemed to whisper into our ears solemn words of warning. Oh! the changes which have swept over our paths since this time one year ago. “It’s shade is on each brow, it’s shadow in every heart.” Hope, joy, and love, which then so colored our existence, are now lying stark and cold upon the altar of our hearts.

Tonight we may gaze upon their pale forms, may resurrect the past, and scatter dead flowers where once life and beauty reigned. We may look upon the faces of those whose hearts, one year ago, beat high and bounding hope, but now are hid forever from our view by the cruel turf of the graveyard. Through the telescope of the past the new year would indeed be a dreary prospect did not hope, with her brilliant colored pecil o’er the canvas of the past and gild with bewildering loveliness the unwritten pages of the future. By her radiant beams, those loved forms now asleep forever in deaths embrace are beheld and thought of as in a former clime, where pain and parting are unknown and upon whose peaceful shore the storms which cloud our sky were burst, and naught save beauty, order and tranquility reign forever. Did no thorns pierce our feet upon the dusty highway of life. We could never fully appreciate the flowers which at every step spring up and gladden us with their enlivening presence. Bulwer has truly said that “Hope is a plant which can never be rooted out of a noble heart, till the last heartstring cravk as it is pulled away.”

I am sad tonight. Memory recalls vividly the bright and happy days recently spent with loved ones at the dear old homestead in my ever sweet “land of flowers.” They, like the old year, are gone forever. God only knows if I shall ever visit again this “sunny land,” where all that is dear on earth to me dwells. Dread war still desolates our land. While I write, the reverberations of distant cannon break upon my ear and denote in deep toned language the fearful carnage of yesterday. There has been but little fighting today. At intervals artillery and musketry have been heard in blended tones, plainly telling that our skirmishers were contesting gallantly the ground they occupied. The battlefield is still strewn with the enemy’s dead—their bland eyes & distorted features show in wht agony they died. Our wounded with the enemy’s have all been cared for and our dead buried. The battlefield is one vast grove of cedars and thousands of these beautiful evergreens are wrent in shivers by the bursting shell and lightning grape shot. Among this beautiful forest wreck are the graves of the noble dead, the newly turned sod silently says, “Here sleep the Masters of Liberty.” They have passed from earth, but their memories are embalmed in the hearts of a grateful people, and when the springtime comes, the daisy and violet will spring up and spread their sweet fragrance o’er their mouldering forms. The blue bird will warble his song of love, and the gentle zephyrs chant a requiem to the heroes of the past.

Camp near Tullahoma, Tennessee
February 10, 1863

We moved our encampment today. When the order came for the change, we were all delighted as we thought as a matter of course we would be moved to more pleasant grounds and where we would find wood and water more plentiful. But just to the reverse of the two, our former camp was the more pleasant one. Our disappointment was not small when we halted in an old field covered with briers, mud and dirt, the boys were very indignant and declared they were subjects for the hospital or would be in about three days. We had sickness enough before the change but I’m confident it will be increased double.

February 22, 1863

This is the Sabbath and had it not been for the kindness of General Hardee, I should now instead of writing in my diary, be on duty at the fortifications. It rained incessantly yesterday and notwithstanding the extreme unpleasantness of the weather, an order was issued to prepare rations for dinner and breakfast and be in readiness at seven o’clock this morning with my company for duty on the entrenchments. Owing to the rain, it was a matter of impossibility to cook anything ad when the time arrived for the regiment to assemble, we were ready to go but with empty haversacks. “It’s a devil of a hard case a man has to dig clay all day on an empty stomach,” might be heard all along the line. I thought so too and did not blame the men for grumbling but said nothing.

The whole country is flooded with water and we would have had to wade for two or three miles before reaching the fortifications. The regiment was moved forward, Col. Dilworth at the head. In passing Gen’l. [William] Preston’s Headquarters, Hardee happened to be present and turned the detail back. I never saw a more rejoiced set of fellows in my life. They could not resist the temptation to hallow, so peal after peal of joy echoed o’er hill and valley as they were marched back to camp in double quick time. It has been very cold and muddy all day and on that account, I have thought much of home and loved ones.

February 23, 1863

This morning at seven o’clock we started to the fortifications. Nearly all of the regiment went out. we also got a detail of 100 men from the 20th Tennessee. The morning was bright and beautiful and promised to be a charming day but to our disappointment, about eleven o’clock distant thundering was heard. It soon became louder and nearer, the clouds lowering and dark. In a little while, hailstones began to fall thick and giant but did not last long. The rain followed and plenty of it. As a matter of course, we had to suspend operating. My detail consisted of axe men. I had the axes returned to the [ ] tent and we were dismissed. We arrived at camp about 3 o’clock soaking wet & bespattered with mud. I don’t know when I have had a more unpleasant walk. I soon dried myself and felt alright again. No mail today. The heavy rains having washed several of the railroad bridges away, the cars cannot run until repairs are made.

Eatonton, Georgia
April 7, 1863

I left Tullahoma in company with Capt. Means on the 2nd inst., with orders to report to General Pillow at Huntsville, Alabama, we we did not the night of the same day and received orders to report at once to Lt. Col. McDonell for duty in East Florida. We stopped one day in Atlanta and stayed that night with Judge Neal. We left Atlanta on Sunday morning, arrived in Macon 1:30 o’clock in the afternoon. After dinner, I went round to Mr. Rodgers’ and spent a very pleasant evening. I am more pleased than ever with cousin Julia Rodgers. I think her a magnificent woman. Will be a prize for the fortunate man who gets her. We left Macon at 7:30 o’clock p.m. I parted with the captain at Gordon where I took the train for Eatonton. Arrived 20 minutes to 12 o’clock the same night. I succeeded after a little trouble in finding the parsonage, awoke the inmates of the kitchen and soon brother and sister Mag, up and glad to receive me.

Eatonton, Georgia
April 11, 1863

This morning being appointed by the young folks of the place for a fishing party, they assembled at the Academy about 9 o’clock a.m. and then repaired to the picnic grounds. Miss Genie Walker and myself went about two o’clock & found others amusing themselves in different ways. In the course of an hour we all adjourned to the 3rd story of the mill and some of the young folks formed for a dance & engaged for some time in that fascinating entertainment, We changed, however, in a little while and engaged in the play of “Steal partners” which was highly amusing. I enjoyed myself highly talking to the young ladies. Miss Fanny J. was preset and looked more charming than ever. I think her beautiful. She must really be very fastidious or she would now be the partner of some loving spouse.

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