The following brief diary was kept by 25 year-old Gilbert D. Wilkinson (1836-Aft1910) who enlisted in Co. F, 4th Alabama Infantry on 26 April 1861 at Huntsville, Alabama. Gilbert’s name was recorded as “George” in the company records and may be found under both names but I’ve used Gilbert since this appears to have been his birth name. Gilbert was with his regiment in the early days of the war until he was “severely wounded through both thighs” at the First Battle of Manassas on 21 July 1861. He was taken to a hospital at Charlottesville for treatment but, being permanently disabled, was never able to return to his regiment and served until November 1864 as a hospital steward while he pursued “studies at the University.” He was officially discharged on 11 July 1865.
A record in his military file written by his surgeon claimed that “this man was very badly wounded at the 1st Battle of Manassas in July 1861 in the thighs & suffered a compound fracture of the left femur in the upper third. After a struggle of six or eight months, during which time the issue was regarded as very doubtful, he recovered with the loss of three inches of the shaft of the bone & consequent shortening to that extent. For a year or more he acted as Ward Master in one of the wards of this hospital [at Charlotte] with extreme fidelity but with great and at length increasing suffering which compelled him to solicit a retirement. He was retired by a Field Board and ordered to report to the Medical Director, W. A. Carrington, for assignment.”
Piecing together Gilbert’s ancestry proved to be a little difficult but we know he was born in 1836 in Missouri from his military records and that his actual name was Gilbert instead of George. This led me to the family of Livingston Wilkinson (1806-1881) and his wife, Rainey H. Granger (18xxx-1843). Livingston and Rainey were married in Lafayette county, Missouri, in 1832, and were living in Johnson county, Missouri in 1837. By the time of the 1850 US Census, Lafayette had remarried (his first wife dying in 1843) and was living in Washington county, Texas, working as a mechanic. 14 year-old Gilbert was enumerated in his father’s household at that time. By the time of the 1860 US Census, 24 year-old Gilbert was no longer living with his father in Texas. Presumably he was working as a mechanic somewhere in the South—possibly in Alabama.
After the war, Gilbert returned to Texas. He was enumerated in the 1910 US Census in Houston, Texas—a 74 year-old widower and an “out of work” physician, residing as a “patient” in the Houston Infirmary and Sanitarium, Ward 6, managed by Dr. Joseph R. Stuart. He may have died not long afterwards, of broken body and mind.
[Note: This diary transcript, never before published, was provided to me for publication on Spared & Shared by the express consent of Greg Starbuck, one-time owner of the diary. He sold the diary about 30 years ago to a dealer who subsequently sold it to a customer but it was reportedly lost in the mail and only Greg’s xerox copy of the diary and his transcript survives.]
May 1861, Harpers Ferry—Orders of the day, one company drill, three battalion drills, and one dress parade at half past six by orders of Egbert J. Jones, Colonel of the Fourth regiment of Alabama Volunteers. Commanding officer at this place—Gen. Joseph Johnston, late of the U. S. Army and commander in the Utah expedition in 1858.
June 5th 1861—This day it rained all day and also yesterday. No appearance of clear weather. Everything has a dull appearance.
June 8th 1861, Harpers Ferry. After waiting two days on the skirmish line, we at last received orders to march, having in the meantime blown up the bridges and public buildings—sacredly respecting all private property—and taking the Pike road towards Winchester. Marched all day and encamped three miles beyond Charlestown.
June 17th—Wheeled to the right and marched towards Martinsburg rapidly. After marching 17 miles, we encamped at a little place called Bunker’s Hill. Plenty of good water but no whiskey and the weather pretty warm. And here I will add that we shall never forget the numerous acts of kindness shown us all along our line of march and especially at the town of Charlestown. God bless the ladies of that place. At Bunker’s Hill there are a great many union men.
June 18th—Waited here to see what movement the federal troops would take. In the meantime, having formed our line of battle, our men being anxious to fight but perfectly cool and collected. About 10 o’clock the federal troops having re-crossed the Potomac river in haste, we were ordered to Winchester where we expected to rest. Marched 10 miles and encamped.
Monday the 19th—[with]in four miles of that place [Winchester]. Remained here until Wednesday the 21st when we moved up into Winchester and were formed into a brigade under the command of Brigadier General Bee of South Carolina. Provisions plenty, [but] no whiskey. Here we were reviewed by Gen. Johnston—the commanding officer of this department who expressed himself pleased with our movements.
This Thursday 28th, camp guards all round the camps. Very rigid orders and very difficult to get out of camp on business or pleasure. The ladies as usual [are] vying with each other in showing us acts of kindness. Our sick in the hospitals—of which, by the way, we have but few—being treated with every kindness. The Mississippians and Tennesseans have quite a number here in the hospitals owing to the severe exposure whilst on their journey to Virginia.
Our boys are in good spirits and pleased with their officers but would like to fight the Northerners and go home. Here the boys receive their letters and money from home regularly and many other things which are calculated to reconcile a soldier to his hard lot. We receive papers from home and other places by which we are enabled to see into the operations taking place elsewhere. A great many amusing incidents come off in our camp such as a small fisticuff now and then, and wrestling, tumbling, evading the camp guards, raising merry hell generally. Here you will see some reading a Bible or a paper, some writing, some playing cards for sport, some cooking, some smoking, some sleeping, some walking the slow and solemn sentry round whist others are being put through the manual of arms or the evolution.
It would be worth six months of a man’s lifetime to see the Fourth Alabama Volunteer regiment cooking and preparing to cook, the most of whom are the sons of the best families of Alabama—wealthy and educated—rolling up their sleeves [and] going into it with determination, if not cheerfulness, some bringing water, some browning coffee, some frying meat, and others making dough for bread. It is truly laughable to think how I have seen them at home—the proudest in the land—now stooping to do this which at home they would die before they do. But war is a leveler of all distinctions and what won’t men do when home and country and liberty are involved? Beneath the tall and white bowled cotton stalk lines coiled the vindictive rattlesnake and beneath this engraving are written these words, “Noli me tangere” [“Touch me not”].
Friday June 29th—The weather is moderately warm. The wind balmily and steadily sweeps across the green orchards and groves and the ripening wheat fields all around the Blue Ridge belt—the horizon forming a scene as the eye need look upon. And still our minds run back to the dear old homes and pleasant faces we left behind us and which we may never see again. Still in imagination we hear the sweet voices of those we love, and silently in our hearts we chant that to us holy name—Alabama, Alabama. — G. D. Wilkinson of Huntsville.
June the 29th—this evening we moved from our very pleasant camp in between two hills to a high shady grove [though] we are not quite so conveniently situated as to water. Everyone seems pleased. Myself and mess are better fixed in our tenting arrangements than we have been since our enlistment. Besides, we have one of the finest views from the back of our camp that is to be seen in many a day’s travel. It is night and reveille is sounding for roll call, so I must close my diary for today. — G. D. Wilkinson.
Saturday, June 30th—This day was passed in the usual drill and in picking raspberries of which a great many abound in the fields and fence corners. In the afternoon, some of the boys treed a squirrel and such yelling and hollering as took place then would have frightened even the Yankees.
Sunday, June the last— It is raining and gloomy with nothing of special interest passing. This day has been by adoption our regimental marching day, but we are permitted to rest this one Sunday I suppose by default with a regimental inspection of arms. By way of amusement, some of the boys are very much disappointed, having laid off to visit the city and flirt with the girls. Amongst the number, none the more so than your humble servant. Orders have been given not to suffer anyone to pass until the inspection is over. — G. D. Wilkinson
Monday, July 1st 1861—This day has passed without anything transpiring worthy of notice but same military routine of a soldier, duty, and camp life. The weather continues pleasant and agreeable. It is a great many degrees cooler here than it is in Alabama or Tennessee at this season of the year. The ripening wheat and grain fields now are in their golden yellow. The farmers are already gathering in their store and I must say, I never saw such another crop as will be gathered from this valley—the beautiful valley of Virginia.
Tuesday, the 2nd July, 1861—This day at one o’clock precisely, we received orders to be ready to march in ten minutes time, Gen. [Joe] Johnston having received a dispatch from Col. [Thomas] Jackson that his command was then engaged in furious combat with the enemy in overwhelming odds under the command of General Patterson at Martinsburg some 22 miles distant from this place. Col. Jackson’s command is the advance guard of the Army of the Shenandoah. At the tap of the drum, our regiment fell into line and amidst the most vociferous cheering, rapidly took up the line of march followed by the other regiments of our brigade & also two others—in all, about eight thousand strong. We left our tents standing, taking nothing but our knapsacks and guns.
[We] reached the little town of Bunker’s Hill at dark, camped, and some of our companies got their suppers whilst others having no cooking utensils, lay down on the hard ground to seek rest and repose—probably the last this side of the cold grave. The clouds looked lowering, but luckily we were spared this the most unpleasant mishap of a soldier’s career—a cold rain at night without tents. Gradually towards ten, the clouds cleared away and full in the North, a blazing comet met our gaze. It was truly sublime. Its tail almost spanned the heavens. Its head in the direction we are marching. What it may portend, I cannot tell—if anything. In all probability, [it’s] some heavenly visitant sent to mark the fratricidal strife now forced upon us. It is said that a comet appeared in the time of the great Napoleon, at three of the most interesting periods of his eventful career—the rise, the zenith of his fame, and his fate.1
1 “The celestial body soon became known as ‘The War Comet’ and as the comet blazed across the Northern sky in early July, it soon became visible to those in the theater of war…Each clear night, the comet became visible in the summer sky and soldiers and citizens alike gawked at its fiery splendor and reflected on what the comet’s appearance meant to them and to their country…The great comet of 1861 gradually grew more distant, and disappeared from the night sky by late summer. The question of what the object foretold was soon settled—even as the comet flew overhead, the armies of North and South engaged on the battlefield at Bull Run.” [A Civil War Soldier Reflects on the Comet of 1861, Emerging Civil War, 25 October 2017]
July 3rd 1861—Precisely at three o’clock our troops were wakened at the tap of the drum and immediately and in good order fell into line of march. Noiselessly and rapidly we moved onward until we reached the little town of Darkesville to which the Virginia regiments had fallen back to after the fight. We reached this place just as the first gray streaks of dawn were gilding the East and at once prepared for refreshing the inner man. Some went to cooking, some strayed off to the village to hunt something to eat, whilst others too tired for either, stretched their wearied limbs beneath the shade of the tall trees which grew around. [It was] here [that] another one of those painful episodes in the carelessness handling of firearms occurred. A soldier, a fine young man in the prime of manhood, lay reclining in profound sleep upon the ground. A companion of his, more wakeful, was sitting beside him arranging his pistols after reloading them. Through some mishap, the pistol exploded—the ball taking effect in his sleeping friend’s back, severing the spinal column [and] producing a frightful, if not mortal wound. What must have been the feelings of him who unintentionally had ruined—if not killed—his best friend. I will not attempt to describe them.
After breakfast and a careful reconnaissance, Gen. Johnston moved his columns forward and took up his position in battle array one mile beyond this town fully expecting that Gen. Patterson—the commander of the Lincoln forces, now reinforced to 20 thousand strong—would immediately attack us. Our position is a splendid place for positioning sharp shooters and skirmishers, a branch of war in which our troops far excel the Yankees. The regiment to which I belonged had a grove in its rear wherein to camp and fall back upon. Here we found many springs of excellent water—a thing appreciated by our soldiers after their furious marching through the heat and dust. Our men stacked their arms in front of their position and took to the shade, prepared to fall in whenever the enemy should make their appearance, which he declined to do and this night we lay down to rest quietly again.
July 4th 1861—This the birthday of American Independence eighty odd years ago—the day on which our forefathers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in defense of their liberties. We fully expected to fight our (now no more) brothers of the North on precisely the same issues, but the gods decreed it otherwise. Old Pat [Patterson] refused to come to town as we passed the day in quietness with nothing but the hope of meeting the Yankees to interest us or drive dull care away. I forgot to mention that this morning we were aroused at three o’clock and silently took our place beside our guns, each man covering as much ground as he could lie upon, prepared to spring the arms at a moment’s warning.
July 5th 1861—This morning we arose somewhat later owing perhaps to the many disappointments we have been subject to in not meeting the enemy. Our force at this place amounts so far as I can learn to near fifteen thousand fighting men. The sick whom we were compelled to leave behind in Winchester are pouring into camp and our ranks are fuller now than they have been for some time. I have seen several members of the fighting Fifth regiment of Virginia who were engaged with the Yankees. They all revel in stating that they killed a great many more than they lost. Their loss was only two killed and seven wounded whilst from everything we can gather, the Yankees must have lost some two hundred. We have taken thus far in this “war” near eighty of their men prisoner—amongst them one or two lieutenants and one captain and one lieutenant-colonel.
I must not forget to mention the great kindness with which I was treated when hungry and tired by a couple of ladies in Darkesville. They gave me a nice breakfast and treated me with various marks of kindness, refusing to receive any pay besides. I made the acquaintance of two very handsome young ladies—daughters of the postmasters of Darksville, the Misses Mysongs.
The day passed off with nothing of special interest except flying rumors. The enemy are said to have received reinforcements, increasing their force to twenty-five thousand men and plenty of cannon. They fortified Martinsburg immediately after occupying it and we should have been on them before this time. It is reported in the camps this evening that Gen. Patterson sent word to Johnston that if he would stack some arms and go home, he would let him off on favorable terms. General Johnston sent back an answer that if he would wait patiently he would bring them down to him and save them the trouble of coming after them.
July 6th 1861—All quiet this morning. Visited the camps of the 4th Virginia regiment and met an old friend of mine, Pat Feagan. Just as I reached camp, the pickets came running in with the news that the federal troops were advancing and had fired on them. Then commenced a scene I shall never forget. The men raised such a shout as shook the forest around and flew to arms and fell into ranks with an alacrity I never witnessed before, eager to cross bayonets with the foe. Oh! it was a joyous sight for a general to see his soldiers so inspired by the proximity of battle. Can an army of such material be conquered? I do not think they can. Our ranks rapidly took the positions assigned them and waited with perfect coolness the approach of the enemy. After waiting for some hours, it was discovered that the enemy were not advancing and once again we were marched back to camp and in the evening the company to which I belong were ordered out on picket guard.
July 7th 1861—This morning came off picket and found that we were ordered to fall back on Winchester. Gen. Johnston finding that he was outflanked, and that the enemy were strongly entrenched besides receiving large reinforcements rendering an attack on him rash and ill timed, issued an address to the army under him stating that for four days he had with vastly inferior numbers offered battle to the enemy, but that he had refused to accept it, that the army would now fall back to a more convenient and healthy position where he could strike a more effective blow when necessary, and once we turned our backs to the foe, sadly and grumblingly, although we could not help approving the policy of the move. We arrived at our old quarters at Winchester about five o’clock, wearied somewhat after marching fifteen long miles.
July 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th—Nothing of interest [occurred]. The health of the troops is good. The weather is pleasant. The boys have recovered from the fatigue of the march. More troops are arriving daily. Our strength must [now] be somewhat near twenty thousand. We are planting cannon in the heights and throwing up breastworks in the valleys around the town. There is said to be mutiny in the enemy’s camp. Our letters do not come regularly [but] in every respect we are comfortable enough, cheerful, prepared to fight [and] eager and anxious for the fray.
July 12th, 1861—Nothing of special note took place today. The customary drill, the usual amusements, & the batteries are still in course of creation. Our regiment was highly complimented whilst on dress parade by the commander of the brigade. He said that ours was the best dress parade he had seen since he was in the old U. S. A. This announcement was received by our boys with vociferous applause. Last night the hardest rain fell I think I ever witnessed. It fell in torrents, drenching everything.
July 13th, 1861—All quiet. Weather cool and raining.
July 16th, 1861—This day the federal troops attacked our mounted pickets with a battery of flying artillery, killing several and dispensing the balance on the 13th. Our cavalry under Col. [J. E. B.] Stuart attacked a regiment of federal infantry and slew thirty or more, losing one man—Col. Stuart himself being wounded. Just before dark, our troops were moved to their position in case of an attack and everything put in readiness for their warm reception.
July 17th 1861—The night wore off without any alarm and the sun broke again in unclouded splendor upon this beautiful valley and still nobody hurt. This evening our troops moved back to quarters and peace and quiet reigned supreme.
[July] 18th 1861—-This morning at the reveille came to order to strike tents, pack baggage, and prepare.
July 8th 1861 [Composed at] Camp near Winchester
On Darks hill where the sun was high
and nary a cloud was in the sky,
And many a soldiers heart beat high
With hopes of coming victory.
The camp fires burning all aglow,
the sentinel tramped to and fro;
whilst wakeful for the coming foe
And still perhaps impatiently
Beyond within the sentry’s post,
the pride of Alabama’s host;
A thousand eager hearts almost
repose in all security.
And there are some prone at the cards,
And others swearing fast and hard
and others mimicking the bard
of Avon, a droller minstrel.
There you may hear the sleeper’s snore,
and some rehearse the news of war,
and others wrestle, run, or spar
with I might say impunity.
And there are some whose hopes run high,
and there are some whose eyes are dry
and some almost in mode to cry,
at news from home and relatives.
And there a slim [James H.] Brown with constant grin,
and trouble shouting for his tin;
And [Jerome B.] Williams raising hell again,
and full of fun and deviltry.
There’s Sandy White; who sweats try
And [Robert N.] Hilburn of the lying squad;
and [Jasper N.] Risoner with his smile and nod
a laughing trio certainly.
There’s [E. Wilton] Croxton with a devil’s wit,
and [William G.] Cunningham all gas and grit;
and [John B.] Worthem with his face all lit,
with smiles and make incessantly.