1863: “We Are Making History”

October 13, Tuesday (In Clarksburg)

Read the diary of an English officer who was in the Pennsylvania Campaign and at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was evidently penetrated with the Southern views on that occasion but his account of the battle is graphic and interesting. He scorns the idea of the Southern power being broken in that battle, but his account differs from what I hear in Virginia at Martinsburg.

October 14, Wednesday 

…Visited the Old Academy and found Dr. Sherman installed there. We had a long talk about the war. We are making history which will make the nineteenth century memorable. It will one day be considered a great privilege to have lived in these days, to have played a part in the greatest war that has shaken the earth for many a year, to have been acquainted with the actors, leaders, and localities of so famous a drama – the crushing out of the last traces of feudalism in the United States.

October 16, Friday

…Talked to the mustering officer of this department. My regiment must be full in numbers and complete in companies before I can be legally mustered as colonel. Received the appointment of chief of cavalry for this department. Startling news that Lee was across the Rappahannock and that a general engagement was going on at the Old Bull Run battleground, and that Dan Sickles was at the head of the Army. This sounds bogus. A telegram from Martinsburg that two divisions of Longstreet’s Corps were marching up Back Creek Valley to burn the railroad bridge. Some of Gilmor’s men were really engaged in such an enterprise and thirty-nine of them were captured.

October 18, Sunday

…A squad of prisoners passed through yesterday, about twenty in number. Our own teamsters arrested for plundering their own wagons, stealing public property therefrom. The teamsters, as a rule, are the worst men we have about the army…

The movements look as if Lee was about to repeat his first Maryland Campaign. Kelley evidently thinks so and, contemplating the investment of Harpers Ferry, telegraphed Sullivan to hold it all hazards, even if Lee’s whole army came against it. General Halleck seconds the order saying, “Any officer who would abandon it or surrender it deserves to be hung.” This is the proper spirit…

Diary entries by David Hunter Strother (Union), October 1863

Arthur Freemantle

Who’s Who

Personal diaries are great primary resources, but sometimes the names come rapid-fire, leaving readers wondering who’s who. David Strother was especially good at recording the happenings and rumors without explaining background on the people – after-all, he knew these folks well or by reputation.

English Diarist – Arthur Freemantle, a British army officer, toured war-torn American in 1863 and did go campaigning with the Army of Northern Virginia. He did not officially represent England or Queen Victoria, but his observations on the war and presence encouraged the continued Confederate hopes of foreign intervention.

Dan Sickles – a problem political general at Gettysburg did not receive command of the Union Army of the Potomac. Strother was right to call this “bogus.”

Harry Gilmor – a leader of Confederate cavalry in Western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley

Benjamin F. Kelley – the Union commander of the department encompassing western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley during the autumn of 1863

Jeremiah Sullivan – Kelley’s son-in-law who had transferred to that military department to help guard the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and other strategic points, like Harpers Ferry.

Henry Halleck – General-in-Chief of all Union armies. Known for firing off telegraphic messages from Washington and threatening generals who didn’t perform well or win victories.

Imaginary Campaigns & Harpers Ferry

The rumored fight near “Old Bull Run battleground” likely referred to the Battle of Bristoe Station. In reality, Lee was not going to attempt another invasion of the north; he pulled the Confederate army back to the Central Virginia area.

Harpers Ferry

However, the Union officers had every reason to worry about Harpers Ferry. That strategic town stood at a major transportation crossroads for rivers and railroads in Virginia (state of West Virginia to be modernly precise). It had been the location of the John Brown’s Raid in 1859, gathering point for Confederate units early in the war, and would change hands eight times during the war. The previous year – 1862 – the Confederates under “Stonewall” Jackson had placed artillery on the heights above the town and captured it, taking prisoners and supplies during that Maryland Campaign. General Halleck didn’t want another Harpers Ferry debacle and made a serious threat in 1863.

David H. Strother

Historical Musings

David Strother mused on the importance of the Civil War and saw it as a turning point in American history. Significantly, he saw it as a social turning point. Slavery (last traces of feudalism, as he called it) would end, ushering in a new society to the South.

The war was a mighty conflict with far-reaching effects and changes. Even before the war’s end was in sight, Strother started thinking about the coming differences and concluded that future generations would look back on the Civil War as a “famous drama” and counted it a privilege that he took back in “making history.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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