Lot 362: Union Soldier Diary

RR Auction

RR Auction

2015-11-30 14:51:24

Lot 362: Action-packed personal leatherbound diary of Union soldier Thomas H. Capern of the 4th New Jersey Infantry, approximately 76 pages, 4 x 6.5, covering the period from May 4, 1864, through February 1865. It is unclear whether this was being kept in real-time during the war, but it appears to have been written as a daily or weekly diary up until about August 1864, with later entries written as postwar recollections. In another instance, Capern kept two identical diaries at once in order to later give one to his mother. The diary opens with the "Commencement of the Island Campaign of 1864 against Richmond." In part: "Broke camp at daylight and started for the Wilderness. Upon our arrival where we found the enemy in strong force. Hostilities commenced immediately. Our Regt. charged them three times with considerable loss to us. After that we laid in line all night…one of the members of our Company by the name of John Crispin…was shot through the heart…Monday 9th…It was on this day that Gen'l Sedgwick (the noble & valiant commander of our Corps) was killed by a Sharpshooter…He is very much lamented by our Corps and also by all the army…We saw many of our wounded who were seriously hurt dragging themselves slowly along…It was truly hard for us to see the poor fellows lying in front of us groaning & crying on account of their wounds & of the danger of their position. But not one of us dared go & help them for fear that the watching rebels would shoot us both…We had a large number wounded & missing. I saw men upon the battle field who had been pierced by so many bullets that they were literally reduced to jelly.Saturday 14th, Moved 5 miles to the left to reinforce Burnside's Corps & at night went out upon the skirmish line…June 1st, Left the Picket line at 4 A.M. very quiet & still indeed & went to Cold Harbor & found skirmishing going on between the dismounted cavalry & the rebels…We found the bullets coming so close to us that we had to pull the fence down to shield us…Indeed a ball came straight for my heart but the fence rail stopped it. In it I recognized the hand of God…I was watching for the rebels who were secreted at the house & presently one of them blazed away at me. Then I looked and saw a rebel sitting behind a rosebush & he was in the act of loading—when I rested my piece &…aim & fired. There was no more firing from that quarter by him. Now although it gives me no feelings of remorse to know that I killed a rebel yet I am not glad that I killed a man.Then we on the skirmish line—got orders to lie down and let the advancing column charge over us. So—they did and then commenced in good earnest the terrible & dreadful battle of Cold Harbor in which the whole of our line charged repeatedly but were repulsed with great slaughter. A good many of the under genls were said to have been drunk and unable to perform their duty for Genl Grant had expected to have whipped the rebels badly…August 17th…I with 17th others were taken prisoners of war. I could hardly walk off the field." The diary goes on to describe life while imprisoned; this portion seems to be written postwar, potentially as a much later recollection as it appears to be in an more elderly hand. In part: "Once Lt. Col. Smith commanding our post sent on word by telegraph to Jeff Davis that we were starving to death fast…Jeff sent back word that he should hold on to us till we told him to let go…We were at last told one time in February at midnight that we were all going to Richmond to get Paroled…Then on the night of the 20th of Feb 1865 we got Paroled." In very good condition, with scattered toning and soiling, some dampstaining, a few loose pages, and one page torn. Accompanied by a modern reprint photo of Capern. RR Auction's Fine Autographs and Artifacts Auction 466 Wednesday, 9th December 2015 Estimate: $400-600
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