Category Archives: 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry

The 1862 Diary of James Wilson Barnett, 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry

In 1860 he was a 20 year old divinity student living on his parent’s farm in Derry Township, Westmoreland County, PA. His parents were John and Nancy (Morrison) Barnett. James mustered into service as Private, Co. K, 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry sometime after 16 September 1861.

Inside cover of Barnett’s Journal

After the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, James was appointed Commissary Sergeant of the regiment and later Quartermaster Sergeant. He passed an examining board and was commissioned First Lieutenant, 10th Regiment, US Colored Troops, and mustered and joined the regiment on 22 November 1863. He was appointed acting regimental Assistant Quartermaster in February 1864, and was acting Brigade Quartermaster (in 1st Division, 25th Army Corps) from June to September 1864. He was back with his regiment from January to April 1865, then detailed again to Brigade staff (in 3rd Division, 25th Army Corps), then at Corpus Christi, TX. From October 1865 to January 1866 he was Brigade Assistant Inspector General, briefly back with his regiment, then in March and April 1866 the Depot Quartermaster at Houston, TX.

After the war, he taught school for a year and was a clerk in a Pittsburgh, PA store. He opened his own store in Johnstown, PA in 1868, then, in 1870, with 2 partners, two more stores, in Derry and Hillside, PA. He ran the Hillside store as sole owner after 1874. At the 1870 census he was living with his parents in Derry Township but by 1880 he was a dealer in general merchandise living in his own place with his wife and 5 children. In 1900 he was ticket agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad, but by 1910, still living in Derry, was the postmaster at Hillside, PA. He’d finally retired completely by 1920.

To read excellent letters by other soldiers in the 53rd Pennsylvania that I’ve transcribed and published on Spared & Shared, see:

George Scheetz, Co. A, 53rd Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
Lionel Stanley, Co. H, 53rd Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
Adam Yeager, Co. I, 53rd Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
James W. Burrell, Co. K, 53rd Pennsylvania (1 Letter)

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


Camp at Harrison’s Landing, August 5th 1862
James W. Bennett, Co. K, 53rd P. V., 3rd Brigade
Richardson’s Division, Sumner’s Corps D’Armie

The only image of James Wilson Barnett not in an officers’s uniform so this might be the image he had taken at Harrison’s Landing in August 1862. There is no back mark on the image.

Monday, August 4, 1862—Went down to the artists and got picture taken. Cost $1.00. Were paid off on Sabbath for the two months ending June 30th. Making the fifth payment, sum total one hundred and twenty-three dollars and fifty-five cents ($123.55) I sent home $15. I altogether I have sent home $80 and from various sources have received $30 in addition to the above. Deducting the amount sent home from the sum total leaves $73.50. What I have spent since entering the service on the 16th of September 1861. A rather large sum considering that Uncle Sam has kept me in grub and clothing.

Tuesday, August 5, 1862—The first item of importance that I have to record is my ne memorandum is the taking of Malvern Hill by our forces this morning by portions of Hooker’s and Sedgwick’s Divisions. The cannonading commenced about six a.m. and was very heavy for two hours. The affair was attended with a good deal of loss on both sides. We packed up expecting to be called out but when the news came of the success of the expedition, we felt much relieved. Two hundred prisoners were taken, 5 killed, eleven wounded on our side. Received a letter from Father & one from J. S. this morn. John sent me his pen. Wrote home & to A. F. Sent a gold dollar to father.

Wednesday, August 6, 1862—Are under marching orders today. Went with Ed to the artists. Got his picture taken. I stand behind him leaning against a tree. Gen. French drilled us in Division drill till eight p.m. A few minutes after, orders came to march in ten minutes.

Thursday, August 7, 1862—Marched out within half a mile of Malvern Hill. Remained an hour and marched back to a hill a mile and a half from our fortification where we remained till this morning. After daylight all of our Division left us except the 57th and a battery (Frank’s). All of our troops having gone in except some few regiments that had been left on picket. The sun was scorching hot and we suffered a good deal. In the afternoon most of us left our stacks and sought the shelter of trees.

Friday, [August 8, 1862]—Slept well last night on corn husks. This morn one of the 11th came up. He is one of the released prisoners who came down from Richmond on Thursday. All of the 11th that were taken during the seven days fighting. Orders came near noon for our Brigade to go to camp. Though but three miles, it was a most terrible hot and fatiguing march. The roads were dusty and the heat intense. The men suffered very much. Went to the river to bathe this evening.

Saturday, [August 9, 1862]—Went over to the 11th last eve. Saw several of my old friends. Rob, Roy,Jos. Walkinshow, and others. They were rather the worse for their hardships and were very glad to get back. McNulty, Holther & some more were up here today. They give a sorry account of their captivity and have no desire whatever to try it over. It seems that the rebels are somewhat short of provisions and cannot supply the prisoners with a sufficient quantity of food. All they got daily was half a ration of bread and beef full of maggots, a little soup. This was rather hard fare. And if all the soldiers knew it, would shun capture.

Sabbath, August 10, 1862—This is another very warm day and the flies are as bad as ever. They are an almost intolerable nuisance. There was preaching this morning in the 64th. I did not get there in time to hear the text as I was up assisting to draw rations. It was a good sermon. I received a letter from Mr. J. Culbertson this morning. Everything seems to indicate an onward movement at no distant day. Orders for baggage were read this eve on dress parade. Richmond is again to be attacked in front and rear. God grant that our arms may be successful and but little blood be shed, and that rebellion may speedily be crushed out.

“It does seem a little as though the Peninsula was to be abandoned and the James left to the gunboats entirely. Perhaps it is as well so. It has been and is one vast charnel house where the bones of brave comrades and their rebel foe lie moldering.”

—James W. Barnett, 53rd Pennsylvania, 11 August 1862

Monday, August 11th 1862—Last evening we were told that we would march at one today. This morning we were ordered to pack up all our baggage and carry it out. we did so, only keeping tent and gum blanket. The knapsacks were taken down to the river to be put on transports. Appearances indicate that we are going to make a big move but we don’t know where we are bound for—whether to the rebel city or northward. It does seem a little as though the Peninsula was to be abandoned and the James left to the gunboats entirely. Perhaps it is as well so. It has been and is one vast charnel house where the bones of brave comrades and their rebel foe lie moldering.

Tuesday, August 12, 1862—Last night I was detailed with a squad of nine men to load the knapsacks on the boat. We packed them into and old canal boat which was to hold the baggage of French’s Brigade. It was rather an old hulk and there will be some danger of them getting wet. We got through at midnight. This morning an order came round for roll call every hour, and to be in readiness for marching at a moment’s notice. The sutlers have packed up and left. Everything seems dull and lifeless. All seem to be waiting for the order to march and all too are anxious to get away. This state of uncertainty is what we all dislike.

Wednesday, August 13, 1862—This is a cool pleasant morning—not near so warm as it has been for several days. No more signs of a speedy movement today than were yesterday. This evening copious orders were read on dress parade from which I would infer that we are to make a big march, Some think it will be towards the York [River] and connect our lines with those of Pope. I rather think we will move up the [James] river and attack Richmond in the rear. But whether we move on the rebels or away from them, I don’t think that our movement will be the result of fear. The officers of the 11th came down from Richmond today.

Thursday, August 14, 1862—Was down to see Col. Gallagher today. He is quite unwell. They give (the officers) a hard account of their treatment while in Richmond prison. And the clothes and appearance of each bears out their testimony. Quite a number of them came up to our quarters this eve. Ate supper with the Captain and had a jolly time generally. Our company officers got a keg of ale with which they treated their visitors and also their company. I expect there will be a rather high time in [Co.] K tonight. Some of the officers did not present a very sober appearance on dress parade. Lieut. Weaver is acting Quartermaster—Rice being sick.

Friday, August 15, 1862—The Orderly of Co. G was buried this morning. He died yesterday. A man in Co. H fell over dead. Do not know what ailed him. It was a very sudden death. It is said that we will march at five a.m. It is as yet to us a mystery where. Have been waiting very patiently all day for the order to march. Everything is torn up and in marching trim. I suppose the advance has left ere this and on their way down the peninsula. Our pickets are out yet as far as usual & the Rebs will be apt to be surprised in a day or two to find Harrison’s Landing & the Yankee Army goners.

Saturday, August 16, 1862—At eleven got orders to march. Was in line in a few minutes where we lay for an hour. After fixing up things around our camp in a manner to suit our taste, we “fell in” and took up the line of march.We made frequent swoppegs [?] before getting outside our fortifications, marched four miles at a moderate pace and passed some very fine farms. Halted for the night in a large bottom and side by side to a cornfield. We made good use of our opportunity and enjoyed a good big mess of roasting ears—roasting them on the coals. Oh! Secessia!

Sabbath, August 17, 1862—Started pretty early this morning and made a big day march of 16 miles and through rough, wooded country. Passed by Charles City Court House—a rather dilapidated looking place for a county seat. At dark arrived at the Chickahominy half a mile from its junction with the James River. Crossed it on a pontoon bridge half a mile long. It was solid, noiseless, and a great success. It proves a great benefit to our army. Camped for the night on the point of land between two rivers. One other Division (Slocum’s) is camped on this side.

Monday, August 18, 1862—Moved at eight this morning. Passed through a tolerable looking country. A great deal of timber land but not very heavily wooded. A great [deal] of scrub and underbrush. Stopped for the night on a farm near the James. Strolled around and found a cornfield which was laid under [ ] for a large quantity of roasting ears. They were delicious and formed quite a feast for us. The roads were quite dusty today and made the marching very disagreeable.

Tuesday, August 19, 1862—Left camp at an early hour and marched to Williamsburg where we halted an hour. In the afternoon we marched three miles out from town and camped. Williamsburg is a very pretty rural village and wears the aspect of one of the old provincial towns. The homes are scattered and the streets very much shaded. It is indeed a pleasant place, or rather was before the war commenced.

Wednesday, August 20th 1862—Marched to Yorktown today. Camped near our old camping place. The probability is that we will have to march to Newport News. Kearny and Hooker’s Division are embarking tonight. Go to Burnside.

Thursday, August 21st 1862—Left early this morning and going outside of the Rebel fortifications, took a road leading most of the way between the two lines. Halted three hours at Warwick Court House and got our dinner. Found an orchard not far off and got as many peaches and apples as could carry. Marched five miles further making 16 miles for the day and camped for the night. It was a pretty hard day’s march and very many of the boys gave out. Our company was rear guard and had great difficulty in keeping up stragglers. We were about played out ourselves.

Friday, August 22, 1862—Newport News. Arrived here this morning after a short march of five miles. It rained very hard the last half hour of the march but it didn’t incommode us very much. By the time we got our tents pitched, the rain had ceased. We are camped above the point on a bluff overlooking Hampton Roads. It is a beautiful and pleasant location. This afternoon I sauntered down to the landing which is inside the fortifications and found it to be a very business-like place. There are barracks for several thousand men and a great number of army stores and sutler shops. Franklin’s Corps are embarking today. We will likely go as soon as possible.

Saturday, August 23, 1862—Am on guard today. Our stacks being right on the edge of the bluff. The sea breezes wafted o’er the “Roads” are a luxury well worth enjoying. It is indeed pleasant to sit on the bluff. The salt water foaming on the beach below making music melodious to the ear—the zephyrs playing with the sea air—while the broad expanse of water the shipping on its bosom and the landscape around found a panorama equally grateful and pleasing to the eye. We received a large mail today which had been waiting on us nearly a week. I got four letters—one from home, [ ], M. R., & sister M. J. P. The boys are fishing for crabs in the river today.

Sabbath, August 24, 1862—Orders came to go on board a vessel this morning. Got on the steamship United States about noon—our regiment and the 64th. Gen. French was was on board.

Monday, August 25, 1862—Our corps is getting on board the different vessels as rapidly as possible. Will not get away till morning. The most of the troops will be loaded this evening.

Tuesday, August 26, 1862—Cast anchor at an early hour and steamed down the roads past the fortress and rip raps and our noble ship ploughed her way up the bay. Our boat is very much crowded.

Wednesday, August 27, 1862—Cast anchor last night in the river and today were taken on shore by a lighter. Remained about two hours when we were ordered on board again. Steamed up the river and cast anchor off Alexandria at ten p.m.

Thursday, August 28, 1862—Landed at Alexandria. Marched out to Camp California and camped a short distance from our old camp. The place seems quite familiar. I did not think when we left it last spring that we would return under the present circumstances but such are the fortunes of war.

Friday, August 29, 1862—Got marching orders this morning and ordered to have four days rations. Wallace is quite unwell and is likely to have a hard spell of sickness. Ed. Wils, Hummes, Hols. Horbach, and Blakely are also sick and will have to be left behind. The boys got somewhat rapid today and pitched into some sutlers’ wagons rather roughly, tumpbling the articles out and making way with them. The sutlers were selling their truck at high rates for which there was no excuse & the boys thought they would punish them “instanter.”

Saturday, August 30, 1862—Marched last eve at five. Passed through Alexandria and took the road for Arlington Heights where we arrived about midnight and bivouacked. This morning we marched a mile further to the Georgetown Aqueduct where we again halted and pitched tents. Any number of hucksters came around and the soldiers soon got to relieving them of their loads. While in the midst of them, orders came to march immediately by leaving tents behind. Heavy firing has been heard all day in the direction of Bull Run.

Sabbath, August 31, 1862—Marching to within 3 miles of Centerville last night. This morning came on and took up a position on the heights. The battle yesterday proved very disastrous to our arms. McDowell’s Corps retreated in great disorder to Centerville. I saw several of my old acquaintances that were in the battle. Lieut. Dalby of Hillside was killed. McDowell is severely censured and Pope seems to be played out. There was evidently a want of generalship on our side. The veterans of McClellan’s army covered themselves with glory. There appears to be a good deal of disorder. No fighting today.

Monday, September 1, 1862—Quietude seems to reign today. We are in some doubt as to whether we are to go backward or forward.

Tuesday, September 2, 1862—About midnight we were ordered to “fall in.” Took the back track and about daylight arrived at Fairfax. Marched two miles this side on the Vienna road and camped. The sun came out warm and we enjoyed a fine rest. Porter’s Corps passed us and at three Sumner’s Corps fell in the rear of it. Our Co, K was placed as flankers on the left, marching some 150 yards from the main body.

Wednesday, September 3, 1862—When we arrived at Balls Cross Roads last night, the 53rd with two pieces of Capt. Pettit’s Battery was left to guard the turnpike until the Corps got past. Just when we were ready to start, firing was heard in front and cavalry coming back reported that we were cut off by rebel cavalry from the [rest of the] Corps. The battery and regiment were immediately ordered down the pike on a double quick towards Falls Church. At Upton’s Hill, we took the road to Georgetown, halting soon in a cornfield where we remained till this morning when we marched down to the camp we left on Saturday. We are quite tired and will relish a good rest.

Thursday, September 4, 1862—Left our camp at Georgetown last eve at five. Crossed the aqueduct and proceeded up the river on the chain bridge road. when nearly there the Colonel overtook us and we turned up the hill taking a road which led us back to Georgetown. Then we took the pike for Tennallytown where we camped. The Colonel [John R. Brooke] and Lieut.-Colonel made an inexcusable blunder in taking the wrong road. The men are very tired and footsore. This is a pleasant place. Our whole Corps is here. Fulton came up to see us. We were very glad to see him, not having seen anything of him since last winter.

Friday, September 5, 1862—Marched at three p.m. Banks’ Corps is alongside. Halted for the night one mile from Rockville.

Saturday, September 6, 1862—Marched this morning at eight. Passed through Rockville and met the [wagon] trains coming back as it was reported the enemy were advancing. Went a couple of miles where we were maneuvered about till evening and almost exhausted when we were placed in a strip of wood in line of battle and permitted to rest. Rations are very scarce and we are doing as well as we can on corn and apples.

Sabbath, September 7, 1862—A very beautiful and quiet day. Oh, how I could enjoy a seat with my friends today in the Holy Tabernacle. This evening we drew two days rations of bread which is very acceptable.

Monday, September 8, 1862—Gen. French today received the command of a new Division and Col. Brooke takes command of the Brigade. Lt. Weaver is adjutant.

Tuesday, September 9, 1862—Left Camp Defiance at noon, marched six miles, bivouacking for the night in a clover field—the clover being cut for seed. We used it for beds.

Wednesday, September 10, 1862—Marched three miles today. Bivouacked in a wood.

Lt. Col. Richard McMichael led the 53rd Pennsylvania Vols. after Col. Brooke was promoted to Brigade Command on 8 September 1862.

Thursday, September 11, 1862—Started early this morning and arrived at Clarksburg at one p.m. Our regiment lay in a cornfield. Being out of rations, we eat corn. At dark, [Lt.-]Col. [Richard] McMichael was ordered to take the regiment out on picket. He run us around nearly all night, not being able to find the line.

Friday, September 12, 1862—When we came in this morning, the Brigade was gone. We followed on in the rear. Reached Urbana in the afternoon and camped where a body of Rebel cavalry had been a night or two before on the bank of a beautiful stream where we had the pleasure of a bath.

Saturday, September 1862—Marched at an early hour this morning, passed Urbana, and soon crossed a range of hills when the Monocacy [river], its beautiful valley, and Frederick City, appeared to the view. Crossed the river on the turnpike bridge just below where the railroad crosses. Marched through the town and camped in a clover field beyond. The ladies welcomed us with flags and smiling countenances as we passed along.

Sabbath, September 14, 1862—Was on guard last night. Nearby the inhabitants of it were a fair specimen of secession sympathizers. Marched this morning. Crossed the Catoctin Range and descended into the valley of the same name. The advance of our army was fighting on the next mountain. Towards evening the heights were carried and our Corps was ordered up. We halted for the night at the foot of the hills. Passed quite a number of wounded which was evidence of a pretty hard fight. On our way we met Lt. [Hugh] A. Torrence, Quartermaster of the 11th P. R. C. [40th Penn. Infantry] wounded in the face [at Turner’s Gap] and unable to speak.

Maj. Gen. Israel Bush Richardson led the 1st Division of Sumner’s 11 Corps at Antietam. The 53rd Pennsylvania was in the 3rd Brigade of his Division. He was mortally wounded in the battle.

Monday, September 15, 1862—This morning our Division moved up the mountain supporting Hooker. Cast about awhile for the enemy but found him not. Our Division was then ordered down the mountain on the national pike in pursuit. By ten we arrived at Boonsboro—a pleasant village—an hour behind the enemy. The 8th Illinois Cavalry and a battery of flying artillery took the Hagerstown Road while we turned off on the Sharpsburg Road. About five miles out we hove in sight of the rebel front, formed on a range of high hills. They presented a very bold front. Gen. R[ichardson] got three pieces up and commenced shelling them—a rather hazardous experiment considering our small force. We were formed behind a hill and did not suffer any. Towards eve the army began to come up,

Tuesday, September 16, 1862—Shelling commenced on both sides this morning and continues vigorously Our troops are getting up and into position ready for the expected battle. It seems certain that tomorrow will witness a great battle and a very desperate one. The contending armies are now putting on their armor and burnishing their weapons for the conflict. The loyal and patriot heroes wait with longing for the command of the young and gallant chieftain to move on the traitor horde.

A sample of Barnett’s Handwriting; his entry on 17 September 1862

Wednesday, September 17, 1862—This morning the battle opened on the right. Our Division supporting a battery in front was ordered to the right about seven a.m. We crossed the Antietam creek [at Pry Ford] and marching to the front formed in line of battle—the Irish Brigade in front, Caldwell next, and Brooke in the rear. [Thomas] Meagher and [John] Caldwell soon became engaged hotly. Our regiment was ordered into an orchard and told to hold it at all hazards while the remainder of the Brigade were taken into the action on the left. We did not get firing a single shot during he day. We had two men wounded—Joe Coulter and Toby [Tobias] Sigel. Lieut. John D. Weaver [of Co. K] was mortally wounded & he was very gallant brave soldier—a noble patriot—beloved commander—a martyr in the country’s cause. Future ages will extol you as among the noble band of heroes who left the peaceful pleasure of home and laid their lives a sacrifice at the altar of their country’s freedom. Soon after he was wounded, he said, “Tell my mother that I died as a brave man.” I assisted to carry him back to the hospital and remained a short time with him. His wounds were cleaned and all in human power done for him. Kew and [John] Keenan carried him to Keedysville.

The 53rd was moved from the battery to the right and two companies thrown out on picket. Gen. Richardson was wounded severely in the shoulder by a grapeshot and carried off the field. Although our regiment did not get firing any, we were in pretty hot places at times and at other times the sharpshooters’ bullets whistled uncomfortably near. The storm of battle raged fiercely on the left where Burnside was posted late in the eve., seeming to be one great spasmodic effort of either party to gain the day. When night came on, we arrived at the conclusion that the enemy were practically whipped but they might be rash enough to try it again on the morrow. Many of our generals were wounded and many regiments disorganized.

A map of the Fighting in and around the Sunken Road (“Bloody Lane”) on 17 September 1862. The 53rd Pennsylvania is shown at upper right being detached from the rest of the Brigade and sent to support a battery planted in the orchard of William Roulette behind which his house and barn were filled with Union wounded soldiers. (Map from Antietam, the Soldiers’ Battle)

Thursday, September 18, 1862—This morning there is a lull—pickets skirmishing now and then—but there is no sign of a renewal of the conflict. Both parties seem exhausted. Our lines embrace the greater part of the battlefield and the rebel dead are strewn thick upon the ground.

Historic photo of Roulette Farm taken several days after the Battle of Antietam. Alexander Gardner (Antietam National Park Archives)

The following is Lt. Col. R. McMichael’s Post-Battle Report:

Headquarters 53rd Pennsylvania
Camp of Richardson’s Division
September 21, 1862

Sir, I have the honor to make the following report of this regiment in the several engagements near this place. On Monday, the 15th ultimo, we arrived in sight of the enemy near Antietam Creek. My command being on the left of the brigade, I was ordered by Colonel Brooke, commanding the brigade, to halt in a cornfield, being then in rear of the 57th New York. We were considerably exposed to the shells from the enemy’s batteries while in that position. Some time afterward I was ordered to march by the right flank and follow the 57th New York. My command was then placed in the second line, in rear of the 69th New York, of General Meagher’s brigade. I remained in that position until the morning of the 17th ultimo, when I was ordered to march by the right flank on left of the brigade.

After crossing Antietam Creek, I was ordered to halt in front of the 57th New York, and have my men load and prime their pieces. Shortly afterward we were again advancing in same order as before, until we came near the scene of action. I was then ordered to form in line of battle on the left of the 66th New York, which was done speedily and in good order. We were then in the second line. While in this position, General Caldwell’s brigade passed through the line of this brigade on the right of my regiment. Shortly afterward we were ordered to advance to the front and take position on the left of the brigade. On arriving there, however, found the enemy, after repeated efforts, had succeeded in piercing the line of the division immediately on our right, leaving us in imminent danger of being flanked. Colonel Brooke at once saw that they must be held at bay at all hazards. Ordering the 53rd to file to the right, my regiment passed down the enemy’s line to the right in perfect order, receiving their fire with entire composure. General Richardson ordered Colonel Brooke to send the 53rd Regiment forward, and hold in check the rebel brigade now on our right and in front; also to hold at all hazards the barn and orchard a short distance in front, the barn being used as a hospital. Steadily, under a shower of musketry, my regiment advanced to the orchard and gained the barn about 100 yards in front of the main line, and, still pressing onward, reached the crest of the hill and drove back the enemy. We moved forward until we formed a connection with General French’s division, and held that position until ordered by Colonel Brooke to support a battery.

While in this position, First Lieut. John D. Weaver, acting adjutant of the regiment, was mortally wounded when nobly cheering the men on to victory. It was here, also, that First Lieut. Philip H. Schreyer was wounded. We were exposed to a murderous fire from the enemy’s batteries during the whole time we were in this position. After we had supported the battery for some time, I was ordered to move my regiment and occupy the ground vacated by the 5th New Hampshire Regiment, in front line, on right of the brigade. I moved my regiment there under a heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries, yet my men behaved splendidly and never once flinched. I sent out my left company (B), commanded by Captain Eicholtz, as skirmishers, to a corn-field some distance in the front. During the balance of the day my regiment was continually exposed to the destructive fire from the enemy’s batteries, yet I had not a man who left his post or went to the rear. My regiment remained in front line until the 19th ultimo, when I was ordered to be in readiness to march, the enemy having retreated.

My loss in killed is 6, including Acting Adjt. J. D. Weaver, who died on the 18th ultimo; wounded, 18; missing, 1. I cannot particularize any of my officers, from the fact that they all did nobly. Capt. S. O. Bull, acting major, ably assisted me during the whole engagement, as also did all the officers of the regiment.

Very respectfully, – R. McMichael, Lieut.-Colonel, Comdg. 53rd Regt. Pa. Vols.

[There are no entries between September 19-29, 1862. The regiment is known to have forded the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry on 22 September 1862 and encamped the following day on Bolivar Heights, where new shoes and clothing were given to the men to replace the clothing worn since the previous winter.]

Tuesday, September 30, 1862—Drilled this forenoon in company drill. In the afternoon we were brought out in review (Col. Brooke commanding) and formed in “close column” on the heights. Just as we got into line a pelting rainstorm came on but soon after the sun smiled gladly upon us. A salute of 24 guns warned us that some high dignitaries were on hand. In a few minutes “Od Abe” * came riding down the line accompanied by “Mac” and [his] staff. Round after round was heartily given to them as they passed from the enthusiastic soldiers. Ling live “Old Abe” and “Little Mac.” They are the soldiers’ hopes, and the pets of the Nation.

* It has always been assumed that President Lincoln did not leave Washington D. C. until the morning of October but this entry places him in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry on 30 September and already in company with McClellan. He would spend several more days with McClellan at Grove’s farm (“Mount Airy”) just outside of Sharpsburg during which time he would gently, but futilely, urge McClellan to take the offensive against Lee’s army.

Wednesday, October 1, 1862—The President looked jaded yesterday. McClellan was bright and full of smiles. This morning they reviewed the troops on Loudon Heights [near Harper’s Ferry]. Everywhere they go they are greeted with great enthusiasm. The President exhibits great interest in the soldiers and they appreciate it. Today we drew new clothes. I took mine to the river, washed and changed from top to toe and having previously shaved and had my hair cut, I feel like a new man. I have got rid of all the “raiments” and I hope to keep clear of them. Our regiment looks much better and have higher spirits since getting the clothes.

Thursday, October 2, 1862—Did not drill any today. Are waiting for inspection. Our brigade has been furnished with new clothes and today are drawing canteens, haversacks, and knapsacks. We are anxiously looking for some of our friends to see us. Cy had a letter from Wallace which is in Washington sick. I believe that I never felt so anxious at any time since I left home to see some of my friends as I have been during the past week. It seems as though we were going away from home again.

Friday, October 3, 1862—A very warm day—quite sultry. I was very much surprised to see T. B. enter our tent accompanied by Robert Elder. I was indeed glad to see them and will enjoy a good long conversation with them. They were out in a militia company and being disbanded at Harrisburg, came down by way of the Antietam Battlefield to see us. It does one good to look on their familiar faces. It brings back past scenes to memory when we mingled together in the peaceful pleasure of good old Elder’s Ridge.

Saturday, October 4, 1862—T. B., Robert, Cy, & I rambled about the forenoon and took a bath in the clear waters of the Shenandoah. I got dinner for them at the boarding house and then went down along to Harper’s Ferry and saw them off on the cars for Harrisburg via Baltimore. I think they were well pleased with their visit. Harper’s Ferry is assuming a more business aspect than it did when we came. Everyone seems anxious to make something off the soldiers and many little shops are starting.

Sabbath, October 5, 1862—This morning we were inspected byCol. Brooke, he having returned to the regiment of the Brigade by Col. Frank and he by Col. Zook. I have been at no preaching today and I do not know where there is any. As yet, we have no chaplain in our regiment and the officers do not seem to care whether we get one or not. Dr. [William B.] Wynne has been promoted to a Major Surgeon and we have got another in his place—a very young and seemingly inexperienced man [Charles William Spayd].

Monday, October 6, 1862—Nothing important transpiring today. It is very hot.

Tuesday, October 7, 1862—Weather continues warm. Men are engaged cutting down the timber on the surrounding heights. Was detailed for fatigue today at Gen. Hancock’s Headquarters. Was engaged fixing up a pine dining arbor for him and putting a pine floor in his tents.

Wednesday, October 8, 1862—On fatigue today again. About 9 a.m. I saw two gentlemen walking along and recognized them immediately as my father and Mr. Altman.

Thursday, October 9, 1862—Went round with father a good deal yesterday showing him the sights. This afternoon I got a pass for myself and John Altman to go along with them as far as Sharpsburg as they expect to go home by way of Hagerstown and Chambersburg.

Friday, October 10, 1862—Left camp yesterday about 4 p.m., crossed the river on the pontoons, found the roads extremely dusty. Stopped for supper sometime after dark four miles from the Ferry. Got a good supper for 21 cents. After we were through eating, an ambulance came along and I got father in it with the baggage. The rest of us walked and came up with him at Sharpsburg. We proceeded to the battlefield last night and bivouacked in a corn field. This morning went to a farm house on the edge of the battlefield and got the girls to make us some coffee. After breakfast we started over the battlefield passing over it from where the left of our Corps fought till where the right of Hooker’s Corps rested. After they had viewed the field of strife to their satisfaction, we started to hunt up some of our acquaintances, leaving their baggage at the toll gate. We went first to the 11th [Pennsylvania], Col. Richard Coulter, and found the boys well. Then to the Reserves and the 56th Pennsylvania and finally we went to the 133rd P. V. and there I found several of my old school mates. I was sorry to [hear] Sammy Gilson was very sick and in the hospital. Unless he is removed from that, he will stand but a poor chance of recovering. We left their camp between three and four, father and Mr. Altman going to Sharpsburg, there to take a hack for Hagerstown, and John and I taking the Harper’s Ferry rod. The Heavens were overcast with clouds and gave abundant indications of rain.

Saturday, October 11, 1862—It commenced raining on us last night about the time we got on the towing path and soon became so dark that we could not see our way. We sat down by the foot of a tree and remained till midnight when we tried it again. We arrived at the pontoon bridge about daylight the preceding morning. We drilled in the afternoon. Today we got the news of the invasion of Pennsylvania and the rebels [JEB Stuart’s Cavalry] being in Chambersburg. It is certainly very daring of them and yet it is more than likely that they will get away safely.

Sabbath, October 12, 1862—This morning I was detailed on picket. After we got out to the main reserve, I lay down and fell asleep. About noon I woke up and found D. Wineland and Joe Landis had come out to relieve John Atman and I. Our fathers had been turned back at Greencastle on account of the Rebel raid and had made their way back to camp. Mr. Altman intends remaining a day or two to take Murray home with him as he is getting his discharge. There was cannonading this forenoon in the direction of Edwards Ferry and the probability is that the Rebels are attempting to effect a crossing back into Virginia.

Monday, October 13, 1862—Father left on the two p.m. train today. I hope he may have a speedy journey home. Nothing of interest transpiring today. [Alexander] Douglass and McAuley were taken up in Bolivar by the Provost Guard. They were taken to Harper’s Ferry and incarcerated. Capt. [Henry S.] Dimm [of Co. I] released them this morning.

Tuesday, October 14, 1862—Am on picket today on the 3rd Relief. Will be on duty from 10 p.m. till 4 a.m. Picketing is quite easy duty the way it is managed now! Each sentinel has to stand guard only two hours in the twenty-four.

Wednesday, October 13, 1862—Nothing of special occurrence occurred today. Came off picket this morning.

Thursday, October 16, 1862—Last night received orders to be ready to march at daylight this morning in light trim with two days rations. Our regiment and the 1st Minnesota took the advance under the command of Col. Brooke. Our Division and a Brigade of Howard’s with the requisite amount of artillery and cavalry followed all under the command of Gen. Hancock. The object was a reconnoissance to Charlestown [Va.] and beyond. About eight our advance cavalry and light artillery came up with the rebel outposts when soon after four pieces were opened on us which were promptly replied to. The artillery duel lasted nearly an hour when the infantry skirmishers from the advance regiments were thrown out and the column advanced slowly to the town encountering no further opposition. We halted outside the town and remained till night in that position. One man was wounded in Co. A. No firing was done by infantry but what was done by the skirmishers from our regiment. There were three regiments of the enemy—all cavalry and one battery.

Friday, October 17, 1862—[part of page left blank as if he intended to write something there later; then began…] At this point we captured a lot of prisoners & decided to parole them. I was detailed to go to the Provost Marshals offices in hotel opposite stone jail (Charlestown, Va.). I was left there without being notified. Became alarmed—looked out of door and saw all guards gone. Looking up street I saw convalescent soldiers & militias in command. I looked down street and saw the Rebel pickets coming. I jumped into street and took to my heels & as I passed a ten or eleven year-old boy pulled off [ ] straw hat, swung it around his head and yelled, “Go it blue belly.” He commenced [ ] and crowded in street behind. I ran until I reached the top of the hill to the tree where John Brown was hung. My regiment was camped on opposite hill. I got to them as soon as possible & found them eating supper. On my way I met Maj. Bull on his way back for me. I avoided the command closing in on me, a safety guard, and gave me courage.

[There are no entries again until October 29, 1862]

The needlepoint cover of Barnett’s “housewife” carried with him in the service.

Wednesday, October 29, 1862—We were not relieved on picket till five o’clock. Marched rapidly into camp and found our Division engaged pulling down tents and packing up, having just received orders to be ready to march in an hour. I was glad to find Cy’s father in camp, he having come at noon and brought some things for Cy & Foster & I. Did not have much chance of talking to him. He brought Cy a pair of boots but they were rather small. I got a can of peaches from sister Martha P. We also got some butter and apple butter.

Thursday, October 30, 1862—Marched last night at eight. Crossed the Shenandoah on a pontoon bridge and proceeded around the base of Loudon Heights and halted for the night two miles from the Potomac & four miles from Harper’s Ferry. This morning we again marched and made about six miles. Camped and pitched our tents.

Friday, October 31, 1862—Our regiment was ordered out on a reconnoissance. Just as the regiment was starting, the Captain directed me to stay and make out a muster roll. They got back by three p.m. without meeting the enemy. I worked busily all day and had the roll ready for mustering by eve.

Saturday, November 1, 1862—Marching orders this morning. Started about ten. Marched eight miles. Bivouacked in a wheat field. A very heavy picket sent out.

Sabbath, November 2, 1862—Our Division took the lead this morning. Reached Snicker’s Gap by noon. Marched up the mountain at a rapid rate and found the enemy hastening up the other side but we got there first & got the position. Our Brigade went up to the summit on the left of the pass and from our picket line had a fine view of the enemy. Sykes’ Division relieved us at dark and we marched down to the Valley and and camped.

Monday, November 3, 1862—Last night several of us went over to Humphrey’s Division to see some of our friends but the lost of them were on picket. This morning Singleton and Tom Davis came over. Both look well. Marched at nine a.m. Reached the splendid farm of a Col. Carter of the Rebel Army (but killed at Malvern Hill) near Ashby’s Gap—a distance of eight miles.

Tuesday, November 4, 1862—Had marching orders this morning.

Wednesday, November 5, 1862—This afternoon we received orders to be ready to march. Started at three. Made a very rapid march of eight miles. Reached an old mill by dark and were sent out on picket (53rd).

Thursday, November 6, 1862—Took up the line of march at an early hour this morning. Crossed the railroad (Manassas Gap Road) at Piedmont and wound round the hills to Rectorville. We halted at two p.m. and pitched our tents. The clouds became very black and the wind rising threatened to bring us some snow. Harry Fulton came over from headquarters to see us.

Friday, November 7, 1862—Quite stormy and snowy today. This is a forsaken looking country—bleak and barren. Today I was ordered to report to the Quartermaster as clerk. It may prove to be worth something and may not.

Saturday, November 8, 1862—Last night we got marching orders. The troops started at the appointed time, 7 a.m., but the train did not get stretched out until four p.m. We had a very tedious march of 11 miles over a bad road and did not get parked till ten at night. Did not get with the regiment.

Sabbath, November 9, 1862—Troops started at seven but the train did not stretch out till eleven. Marched about 8 miles over a hilly country to Warrenton where we camped. reached the regiment about three p.m. Put up our tent. Got supper and went to bed to sleep.

Monday, November 10, 1862—he great event of today was the leave taking of Gen. McClellan. He took his final departure. The cause we know not, but it has caused great sorrow throughout the army. When he rode along the line of troops, McClellan looked sad and yet magnificent.

General George B. McClellan Bidding Farewell to Army of Potomac, November 10, 1862, Watercolor by Alfred R. Waud

Tuesday, November 11, 1862—Gen. McClellan left in a special train for Trenton, New Jersey. All seem to regret his leaving very much yet it may all be for the better.

[No entries November 12-14, 1862]

Saturday, November 15, 1862—Orders came last night to march at seven this morning. Rations were drawn and issued last night. At the appointed hour this morning the column moved. Our trains did not move till ten. Our course lay along the Warrenton Railroad for some five or six miles, when we kept to the right, striking the Va. Central Railroad two miles below Warrenton Junction where we camped for the night. Went a mile to get some rails to make a fire. Got some coffee and retired.

Sabbath, November 16, 1862—Troops started at seven. Trains got started about ten. Marched 14 miles through a barren pine region, thinly populated and abounding in nothing. Camped on a large plantation. Water tolerably convenient. I do not see how the country we came through can support any population whatever. Barrenness reigns supreme.

Monday, November 17, 1862—Column moved at daylight. The 53rd [Pennsylvania] having the advance. Trains started out at the usual time. After having travelled 10 miles, heard quite heavy cannonading in front which proved to be our advance batteries (Capt. Pettit) shelling the Rebels across the river at Falmouth. We went into park two miles from the village and put up for the night, finding it impossible to get to the regiment. Drew the balance of clothing due on estimate.

Tuesday, November 18, 1862—This morning the Quartermaster and Whitney went out to find the regiment while I packed up the clothing and loaded it. They came back in an hour or so and took a team with rations to the regiment. Our train moved on two miles and parked. In the afternoon orders came to draw three days rations at the Brigade Commissary. Two days were taken to the regiment and the remainder left in park. All of the regimental wagons went in except one which was loaded with rations.

Wednesday, November 19, 1862—This morning at daylight, I started to the regiment with the team in advance of the train. Found them lying in front of Fredericksburg and having a good view of it. One day’s beef was drawn and [ ] together with one day’s hard bread. The clothing on hand was also [ ]. None of our troops have yet crossed the river and the Rebels seem to be quite busy in removing supplies &c. from the town. Why they did not cross when the column first came up is a query.

Thursday, November 20, 1862—This has been a dreary, wet day, and very unpleasant. Forage is very scarce and the poor mules suffer very much for want of it. All of our supplies must come from Aquia Creek and the roads are so thronged that it is difficult to get along with a train of wagons. Fredericksburg lies directly opposite us and we have a very good view of it. Our pickets are within hailing distance of the enemy. They sometimes talk together.

Friday, November 21, 1862—Drew fresh beef this morning. Before we were done issuing, orders came to pack up and move to town. The quartermaster started away this morning with all of our teams but one to Aquia Creek for supplies and we have but that one team to do all the moving with. I remained at the camp till dark, went down and fixed up our tent, while Whitney went back for another load. We have things quite nice now. The regiment is comfortably quartered in the town.

Saturday, November 22, 1862—Everything went on swimmingly today till evening. We were issuing rations when orders came to pack up and move all the baggage out of town immediately. With a good deal of hurrying, we succeeded in getting everything packed and loaded by nine, sending the teams out to park. W & I stayed in town with our Co. K. I was expected that the Rebels would shell the place and we thought to stay and see the fun. Col. Brooke took up his quarters in a house preferring that to a tent.

[end of diary]

1862: John McLaughlin to his Aunt

The only thing I know for certain is that this letter was written by John McLaughlin. There were numerous Union soldiers by that name and several alone from the state of Pennsylvania where I believe this soldier was from. Since the author wrote the letter to an aunt who seems to have been on the cusp of moving from “Old Mifflin” [Mifflin County, Pa.] to Indiana, I looked for McLaughlins in that county and found a McLaughlin family residing in McVeytown. This was the family of Daniel M. McLaughlin (died 22 April 1857) and his wife Mary Catherine (Hedler) McLaughlin (1802-1881). In the 1860 US Census. Catherine was enumerated as the head of household with two sons, John (b. 1838) and Daniel (b. 1841).

I was able to confirm that Daniel enlisted in Co. K, 49th Pennsylvania Infantry who became ill during the Peninsula Campaign in June 1862 and was in the hospital at Savage Station when he was taken a prisoner of war on 29 June. Before he could be returned to his regiment, he died at Richmond on 27 November 1862. It isn’t clear where Catherine’s other son, John, was at the time—whether he was serving in the army or not. In any event, I don’t believe he was the author of this letter. My hunch is that Catherine was the recipient of the letter. [David’s pension record informs us that his father and mother were married on 18 December 1823 in Waynesboro, Franklin county, Pennsylvania.]

At first I thought the author might be the John McLaughlin of Pottsville, Schuylkill county, Pennsylvania who enlisted on 23 September 1861 at the age of 20 in Co. G, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry (Gosline’s Zouaves) to serve three years. This soldier was a miner before the war. But in the third paragraph of the letter, he mentions receiving new uniforms that were not Zouave uniforms and though Gosline’s Zouaves replaced their baggy pants with trousers, they maintained their Zouave jackets throughout the war.

Though I cannot confirm it, I’m inclined to believe this letter was written by the John McLaughlin who served in Co. C, 53rd Pennsylvania. Following the Battle of Antietam, this regiment drew new shoes and clothing to replace the faded blouses, coats and trousers worn by most since the previous winter. While it may have been rumored they would be given Zouave uniforms, they were not. Unfortunately I cannot find any evidence that this regiment was encamped near Alexandria in early October 1862, however. The regimental history implies they were still in Maryland.

[Transcribed by Stacy Cookenour/edited and researched by Griff]


Camp near Alexandria, VA 
October 4, 1862

Dear Aunt, 

I now take the opportunity to pen you a few lines to let you [know] that I have not forgotten you yet. Well, Aunt, since I last saw you I have seen some ups and downs in this mundane sphere but then I’ll not complain. This folly talks of cloudless skies. I should feel thankful that I have got along as well as I have. I have. I have went through nine hard fought battles and never had blood drawn but once and that was by a shell hitting the ground in front of me and scattering the dust and pebbles among us, knocking a piece of skin off my thumb. I have had some bullets through my clothes. May they always take the clothes in preference to the flesh. Both Abraham and George McLaughlin 1 have fell victim in this war. I have heard nothing about them since I heard that they was dead. If you knew what regiment Uncle David’s Joseph is in, and what company, let me know. 

Aunt, I think you had better stay in Old Mifflin this winter where there is plenty of coal to keep you from freezing and not go to Illinois where they have to depend on corn cobs for fire till next spring when I may go along if this war is over, for you know I’ll be going out West to look at my 160 acres. But without joking, if I am spared through this war, I am going to take a trip through the West.

There is nothing of importance going on here. We have to go on picket every fifth day and on working duty the same and some camp duty to perform, such is about the routine of our life at the present time. We have got a new suit of clothes but not a Zouave one as stated, but we may have to take the Zouave dress yet. The brigade in general, I believe, do not want it. I was at Alexandria yesterday. Matters and things are very dull there but then tis Autumn—the season of rapid decay, which may account for it. People never seem to me to be so genial when old winter is coming on as in the month of May. Why it is, I know not. 

But I must close for the present. I want you to write and let me know all about Illinois—its soil, its stock, its birds and last though not least, its pretty girls.

Your nephew, — John McLaughlin

1 I believe that George and Abraham McLaughlin are the same two by that name who both served in Co. C, 105th Pennsylvania—a company that was recruited in Clearfield and Clarion Counties, Pennsylvania. George McLaughlin (1826-1862) died on 11 July 1862 of wounds he received at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on 31 May 1862. Abraham died at Philadelphia on 25 June 1862.