The 1864 Diary of Benjamin Linton, 4th New Jersey Infantry

Benjamin’s Pocket Diary

The following diary was kept by 29 year-old Benjamin Linton (1835-1864) during the opening phase of Grant’s Overland Campaign. Benjamin was a sergeant in Co. F, 4th New Jersey Infantry. He died at the Division Hospital on 14 May 1864 from wounds he received fighting at the Bloody Angle (or “Muleshoe”) on the 12th in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. He was buried on the battlefield. His term of service was due to expire on 15 August 1864.

From the inside page of Benjamin’s diary, we learn that he was related to “Mrs. Hannah R. Linton, of Franklin Street in Philadelphia.” Hanna R. Wittshire was married to Dr. James D. Linton (1838-1898), a graduate of Jefferson Medical College, and an Asst. Surgeon in the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery and later in Co. D, 124th Pennsylvania Infantry. Benjamin and James were brothers—their parents being Benjamin Linton (1772-1849) and Abigail Ann Wert (1800-1839) of Philadelphia.

The 4th New Jersey Infantry entered the Battle of the Wilderness as part of the Jersey Brigade (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 10th, and 15th New Jersey Regiments) under the command of Col. Henry W. Brown. The Jersey Boys were the 1st Brigade of Brig. General Horatio Wright’s 1st Division and Major General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps.

The cdv that came with Benjamin’s diary. An annotation on the reverse side claims that Benjamin is on the left though the face has been altered considerably. The image would have had to have been taken before December 1861 when he was still a private. The backmark indicates it was taken at Weitfle’s Photograph Gallery in Newark.

In the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania of the Overland Campaign, the VI Corps encountered the hardest contested fighting of its experience. At the Wilderness, the Vermont Brigade—Getty’s Division—lost 1,232 men out of the 2,800 effectives that crossed the Rapidan River on the previous day. At Spotsylvania, the Jersey Brigade of Wright’s 1st Division was engaged in a deadly struggle, the percentage of killed in the 15th New Jersey being equaled in only one instance during the whole war. General Sedgwick was killed by a sniper’s bullet at Spotsylvania on May 9, which caused great distress to the soldiers of the corps, who loved and admired their “Uncle John.” General Wright succeeded to the command of the corps, Brig. Gen. David A. Russell succeeding Wright in the command of the 1st Division. On May 10, Col. Emory Upton led a storming party of twelve picked regiments selected from the VI Corps; they carried the Confederate works in the “Mule Shoe” after a hand-to-hand fight in which bayonet wounds were freely given and received. On May 12, the entire corps fought at the “Bloody Angle,” where the fighting was among the closest and deadliest of any recorded in the Civil War. The casualties of the corps at the Wilderness were 5,035 (719 killed, 3,660 wounded, 656 missing); and at Spotsylvania, 4,042 (688 killed, 2,820 wounded, 534 missing).

[Note: This diary is from the personal collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Inside Cover of Benjamin’s Pocket Diary


A page from Benjamin’s diary showing his handwriting in pencil. The entries were made without regard to the pre-printed dates in the 1863 pocket Diary.

[Excerpts in parenthesis and italics are quotations from the book, “First New Jersey Brigade,” by Camile Baquet, 1910]

May 4—started at half past 4 to the front. [“It was getting well on towards dusk before the Jersey men arrived at the halting place for the night…The Jersey Brigade camped about a mile from German Ford They had crossed earlier in the day), along the side of the road. Little sleep visited the men who sat around their small campfires in groups, talking in low tones, smoking, some writing letters by the lights of the campfires, and many repacking their knapsacks (lightening their loads).”]

May 5—Went through the Wilderness and there engaged the enemy at 15 minutes past three. Relieved the 6th Maine by a charge on them which was just in time as they were giving away by a half flank movement. This morning started about sunrise. Had a tedious time getting into line as we were going from an early hour in the morning until 3 p.m. , we being then on the road 11 hours. All that night, laid on the skirmish line. At daybreak the ball opened again. Our boys made another charge in the evening and drove them for the 4th time. The morning passed very slowly, being up so early to the work of death. But Lo! William, amid the excitement which always exists more or less human [ ily] in such occasions, one don’t fear or have such a thought to enter his mind hardly although he may think of it when off duty or even on duty but at a different time or in another place. One more charge with the same success driving the Johnnies clean into their rifle pits. [“The regiments of the Brigade had difficulty keeping in touch with each other and the Fourth Regiment was entirely separated from it….Some firing was done by the Brigade but as no enemy could be seen, it died down to now and then a shot, as the men fancied they saw moving objects or caught sight of sharpshooters. The line advanced several times during the day to not only keep the lines intact, but to take advantage of the enemy retiring, to secure the abandoned positions. It was only after advancing several hundred paces that dead Confederates were found, indicating where their line had been….About 5 o’clock (p.m.) a charge was made by the enemy…The Confederates came on with great dash and spirit, charging right up to the low breastworks the Jersey men had thrown up, and which were on fire in several places. The first line held their ground adn pured a hot fire into the rebel ranks, causing great confusion and disabling many of them…The deadly fight lasted twenty minutes or more, when the enemy…retired.”]

May 6th—About 8 o’clock a.m., we were relieved by the 1st [ ] New York when we went back in the 3rd line. Towards noon we were allowed to make small fires to cook coffee. In the afternoon about 4 o’clock the enemy made a flank movement on our right which was a weak point. The enemy found it out and came up close. [“The wierd rebel yell accompanied the discharge (of musketry) and the men of the Jersey Brigade saw a vast crowd of Confederates pouring over the half-built breastworks in front of Seymour’s Brigade on which they were at work when the enemy charged….A wild scramble for the rear ensued, and the rebels, pursuing, kept up a fierce fire on the retreating troops…”] The enemy got in their position very nicely and gave us a severe shelling of balls along the line for 3 or 400 yards, our men giving way slowly. On the right here the enemy got in the rear so we had to vacate our position. [“The right of the Jersey Brigade was broken and forced back by the stampede and the men backed off towards the left and rear so as to present a decent front to the enemy.”] So about 12 o’clock p.m., took up the line of march towards Fredericksburg.

[May 7th]—On the morning of the seventh, got out in the neighborhood of Chancellorsville Heights. The enemy followed us. About daylight we stopped [and] got a little to eat. Capt. [Samuel Mayhew] Gaul is in command of the company. We got a little coffee and fried pork but had to leave to take our position in line. Heretofore we couldn’t use our artillery but they got every grape in this case after which they were a little slow to come so close. In the meantime, we threw up a line of breastworks along the whole line. That night the enemy made another attack on us but received a galling fire and fall back. We intended to evacuate this evening (Sat. 7th) at 8 but did not move until 10 Saturday evening on account of the attack. We set out this evening [and] took up our line of march [on the Germana Plank Road] for this place—Spotsylvania, but the road was so stopped up that we moved very slowly going all night and then again all day nearly. [“The night was very dark and warm and the men, tired out with little sleep and food and much hard work, staggered along the road, some falling asleep while marching, awakened only by the shock of their fall.”] Arrived at this place on the 8th instant late in the afternoon. the sun was very warm, roads dusty.

[May 8th]—The 1st Division of the 5th Corps had drove the enemy a short distance back to a line of rifle pits. We were a little rested by this time, unslung our packs, went forward but this time we were in the 2nd line. The 10th and 15th [New Jersey] regiments were in the 1st. On the right of the 5th Corps men, [were the] Pennsylvania reserves. They fought well, driving the enemy out of the rifle pits. Now it was dark, Sunday evening the 8th. The fighting ceased about half an hour after dark when our men fell back to their original position. Our turn coming to go on picket, [we] went and laid out front all night, sleepy as we were. Were there until 8 this morning.

[May 9th]—Monday. There is some little skirmishing along the line but don’t amount to anything. It is near 9 o’clock, [when we] moved in and to rear to partake of coffee. From that position we moved towards the left in support of [5th United States] Battery M. [“Being about a half a mile from the enemy’s line, the men could see plainly their movements and the disposition of their troops behind the breastworks which appeared very formidable. While resting here, …they were horrified to see (Gen. Sedgwick) straighten up with a jerk and fall backward. He was caught before he struck the ground and was immediately surrounded by his staff and orderlies, who, after some delay, secured a stretcher and had the General carried past the rear of the Jersey Brigade towards the field hospital.”] Laid there the night of the 9th and all day the 10th. Towards night, orders came to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. When there, the centre broke.

May 10th—Afternoon, ready to go forward on the grand charge. Went forward about 3 o’clock. Made a grand rally on the enemy, took the rifle pits, and two pieces of artillery. Held the ground part of the line until about 2,000 prisoners were captured and brought in safe after which the enemy made a flank movement. [“Wright’s 1st Division, including those regiments of the Jersey Brigade not with Colonel Campbell, with the 3rd Division (6th Corps), made a charge as a column of assault under Col. Upton, which, while one of the most gallant of the war, was also at all points successful.”]

Hand to hand fighting in the Muleshoe at Spotsylvania in 1864

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