Vernon, Oneida County, N.Y. July 17, 1861 - March 30, 1862. pp., on light blue paper. Approximately 22,500 words. Small quarto. Contemporary half calf and marbled boards notebook, spine ruled in gilt. Front board and first few leaves neatly separated, some abrading to edges, corners, and boards. A few gatherings detached, one small section cut out of one leaf, but clean internally. In good condition overall. Item #WRCAM55199
An engaging home front diary kept by an unidentified minister in central New York during the opening year of the Civil War. The minister writes much on faith, religion, and theology in his diary, along with his and others' activities in the community, but like many of his generation, he is preoccupied with the war. His diary is filled with constant mentions and reports concerning the Civil War, which he refers to at one point as "the secession heresy." He often attempts to reconcile the import of the war with his faith and the philosophy of the country. It is clear from his language that the reverend expected the Civil War to be a short-term affair, a fairly common opinion in the early months of the conflict, though the early entries in the diary speak regularly of the fear of a Confederate move on Washington, D.C. In the opening entry of the diary, the minister admits to being forty-seven years old, and comments that "Within the last year Civil War has broken out, contrary to all my darkest dreams." Too old for service himself, the minister does what he can to help families in Vernon and the surrounding area suffering losses during the war - preaching, visiting families of the dead, and performing many funerals (including for a young girl who drowned in a local pond in September 1861). He returns again and again to reports of "the seat of war." In his second entry, on July 21, he writes: "The great Battle at Bull's Run or Stone Bridge was fought between the Rebels under Beauregard & Johnson, and the Union forces under Gen. McDowell. Success seemed at first to favor the Union forces. But overpowered by numbers & a senseless panic, a complete rout, eclipsed the brilliant successes of the first part of the engagement. The killed and wounded have been variously estimated on both sides. The Loyalists officially report theirs at less than a thousand, which is probably correct. The Rebels lost some two or three thousand according to their own account - one put it as high as eight thousand. It was a great fight of quite unequal forces - 75 to 80 thousand Rebels to about 20 or 25 thousand government forces, yet neither a victory for the one nor a defeat for the other." He reports on the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri on August 10: "...the tenth of Aug. which will ever be memorable in American History, for the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield Mo. Between the US Government forces, Commanded by Gen. Lyon and the Rebels led by Gens. Price and Ben McCullough - 5000 Loyalists to 25000 Rebels. The latter were beatten [sic] but the former in consequence of the smallness of their forces thought best to retire which they did in good order and the enemy reoccupied the field and entered Springfield which they hold - Great slaughter on both sides - Gen. Lyon killed." By August 19, he has heard about "Rumors that the Rebels are advancing upon our lines and contemplate an attack upon Washington - think they had better remain in 'Dixie's Land.'" Over the course of the diary, the minister records news of battles in West Virginia on August 30; Bailey's Crossroads in Virginia on September 5; North Carolina on September 6; Missouri on September 23; Hatteras, North Carolina on October 10; "the upper Potomac" at Edward's Ferry on October 22 and October 25; Bellmont, Missouri on November 8; Port Royal in Beaufort, South Carolina from November 9 to 11; Kentucky on December 18; Kentucky again on January 21 and subsequent entries (reporting the Battle of Mill Springs, which saw the Confederates lose 275 men, including their general, Felix Zollicoffer); Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina Expedition on January 28 and in subsequent entries; Fort Henry in middle Tennessee on February 13 (where the Union forces are received well, and where locals "give a grand Ball in honor of the Union victory at Fort Henry"); Fort Donelson on February 17 and subsequent entries ("Fort Donaldson [sic] was taken yesterday after a severe fight of more than two days, 15,000 prisoners were captured, among whom were Gens. Pillow, Johnson, and Buckner"); the beginning of the skirmishes at Island Number Ten on the Mississippi River on March 21; and Winchester, Va. on March 24. Overall he seems most concerned with the war in Missouri and Kentucky, and reports more than usual on skirmishes in the trans- Mississippi region. He keeps track of the navies and actions in coastal forts, including actions at Island No. 10 and Fort Donelson, and notes when a fleet leaves for Ship Island (near the mouth of the Mississippi). On September 3, the minister reports that the telegraph in town received news of the death of Jefferson Davis. The next day's entry begins, "Report of Jeff Davis Death discredited. On September 9, the minister writes about a lamentable situation in which a Vermont soldier is sentenced to be shot for "falling asleep on guard." The next day, he is glad to report the soldier has been "pardoned by Maj. Gen. McClellan - the President and others of high standing interesting themselves in the soldier's favor." The minister records his thoughts on the Fremont Emancipation on September 23. Issued by Major General John C. Fremont on August 30, the proclamation declared martial law in Missouri and decreed that all property - including slaves - owned by those taking up arms in rebellion against the United States would be confiscated. The minister writes: "A controversy has arisen between Gen. Fremont and the President in regard to the Proclamation of Fremont in reference to the slaves of those who are hostile to the government. He declared them free. Mr. Lincoln says, in that act he superceded his Authority. Congress, by its Act at the last session, gave no such Authority. But has not the President gone beyond his Authority since he came into office? In times like these I think the President should not stand upon technicalities. 'Red tape' can be drawn too closely for the good of the cause for which thousands of patriots have taken their lives in their hands and gone forth to this holy war, i.e., holy on one side. And in my opinion the government will be obliged to come up to Gen. Fremont's standard in regard to slavery before peace will perch upon our banners. Slavery is the cause of the war. And Slavery must be abolished before a cure can permanently be secured." The minister mentions Fremont and the war in Missouri in several subsequent posts. He also writes eloquently about slavery and emancipation on October 18 and December 4. From his entry on October 18: "The tenacity of this great Rebellion and the continuance of the war will create a wide spread feeling of hatred against the cause of it, and make emancipation more certain than would a speedy and easy termination of the war. In this conflict I think may easily be read the doom of Slavery. The struggle, though costing thousands of lives and millions of treasure, will be cheap if it blots out forever this greatest of crimes against humanity." On December 13, the minister touches upon the Trent Affair, a diplomatic incident in which the Union Navy, led by Charles Wilkes, captured two Confederate diplomats from a British ship. The situation almost caused a war between the U.S. and Great Britain, but tensions cooled when the Union released the diplomats. Here, he writes on December 13: "England growls about the arrests of Mason and Slidell by Capt. Wilkes. It is not however the voice of the government. If however the British government desire another war with the United States they will make this affair a justifiable pretext. But I think she will have too deep a regard for her own interest to rush hastily into a conflict with a power which has twice whipped her, and that too with far less facilities and strength than that power now possesses." He continues over the next week to mention the potential war with England over the Trent Affair, though by December 20, he writes that "the excitement about war with England has somewhat abated." Indeed it had, and by December 28, "Mason & Slidell, the Rebel commissioners to England sent by the South & taken by Capt. Wilkes some weeks ago, have been given up to the British Government on demand. This removes all pretext for war." By January 3, 1862, the minister writes that "Mason & Slidell have sailed for England." On January 7, 1862 the minister mentions the little-known incident in 1850 in St. Helena, South Carolina, when a group of secessionists created the Southern Rights Association. The founding declaration and the group's constitution had been found in late November by Union officers in the invasion of Beaufort. The minister writes: "The expedition which thus far has been successful at Port Royal and Beaufort is bringing to light some startling revelations concerning the origin, rise, and progress of the present great Rebellion. It was planned and inaugurated as early as 1850 in the St. Helena Parish, S.C. Southern Confederacy was then & there born and chartered 'States Rights.' A declaration & constitution very lengthy drawn up and quite numerously signed in which a settled determination not to submit to the growing authority & power of the North is unequivocally stated. This came to a head in 1861, and the consequences are now seen and felt by the whole nation." On February 4 he is invited to visit an Oneida Indian school to see the progress made by the students. He approves, noting that "Their writing, I think, taking them all together, would surpass any white school in the country." The following day, he takes on slavery again: "Nothing particularly new from the war - The papers are full of the sufferings of the people of 'Secession.' A fearful retribution is already being visited upon the instigators of this wicked Rebellion, and the upholders of the 'sum of all villanies,' American slavery. It is rumored that the Agents abroad of the sham Confederacy, have offered if England will interfere and help establish their Government to abolish slavery. Slavery must die either by act of the North or the South or by Act of both North and South. A return to the old condition of things I regard as impossible and if in consequence of this war slavery shall come to an end, if four millions of God's children shall be lifted from the condition of the most degrading servitude to the condition of freeman, if they shall be brought to the light of education and a pure Christianity. This alone will in some degree compensate for the losses of the war...." On February 6, the minister voices current sentiments on why the war has lasted this long, and why the Union is not taking quicker and more decisive steps to defeat the Confederacy. Coincidentally, the minister is raising these questions during the brief time George McClellan was in charge of the Union Army. McClellan was soon after removed from command by President Lincoln, who had grown impatient at McClellan for his reticence to attack the Confederacy while on its heels. The minister writes: "Long intervals of inactivity seemingly follow every brilliant achievement of the Union forces. The country is heartily sick and tired of this dilly dally way of crushing the Rebellion. If the Government has the power as it claims to have of making this a short but successful war - Why this delay? There is a screw loose somewhere bout the machinery of the government, and the man is yet to be found who has the knowledge, integrity, courage and strength to tighten it...." On February 12, the minister reports in detail on the successes of the Burnside Expedition, and repeats his desire for the war to come to a swift end: "It is to be hoped that the successes of the Government, both east and west, will be vigorously followed up, until the Rebellion shall be entirely subdued, and killed, and buried beyond all hope of a resurrection." On February 17, the minister expands on his earlier comment about a "fearful retribution" for the war: "If any people ever merited a severe visitation of Divine Judgment it is those who have instigated this foul revolt against so good a government as ours - a government under which the South has grown strong as well as insolent. She had always received the lion's share - and what ails her now is that she can't always have - in other words that she can no longer rule." He continues in much the same vein on March 11: "The whole coast of Georgia below Savannah is in the possession of the Government. The limits of the rebellion is fast being circumscribed and narrowed. The Rebels judgment day is fast approaching. Their doom is sealed. A greater crime the earth never witnessed, than this attempt to overthrow a good civil government. And what punishment can be severe enough for such heartless, wicked traitors?" Throughout the diary, the minister is reacting to the reports he reads in newspapers. As such, the diary is an interesting study in how the news - and particularly, rumors - regarding the Civil War traveled around the country. Regular rumors of battle news, captured Confederate leaders, and a possible war with England over the Trent Affair, among other hasty reports pepper the diary. At one point in early December 1861, the minister reports a rumor that Charleston is in ruins, "some say it is the work of an incendiary - others of a slave insurrection." The writer does not specifically identify himself, but a few hints throughout suggest he was probably the minister of the Unitarian Congregational Society in Oneida County. He mentions that the local Baptists do not have a minister and he meets with the Presbyterian and Methodist Episcopal ministers periodically. As far as we can tell, the only other church operating in Vernon at this time was Unitarian. In any case, the author is a native of Vermont, and at the end of the present diary, in March 1862, he leaves to return to his boyhood home to care for his aging parents. The end of the war, which the minister felt was so certain in early 1862 would not come for another three years. A wonderful example of history from below.