My Civil War Journal

By: John Dodson

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Journal 1  March 5, 1863

Dear journal, I am John Dodson and I live in Washington DC. My family and I live as free black citizens. My father's father was a slave who bought his and his family's freedom and moved to Washington DC. Then my father married my mother and had me and my three older brothers. I worked for the shipping company where I loaded and unloaded shipments of supplies. When the Civil War broke out, my brothers and I all tried to join the army. We were not allowed to join the army, even though we were free. Finally they created the first all black regiment. They call our unit the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. I am the Sergeant for the 54th Regiment. The reason that I wanted to join the army and fight was because I am fighting to free my fellow man. Fighting to give them the same Constitutional rights that all men deserve.

Journal 2 March 7, 1863
Braxton: Hey possum I’m played out, I just toed the mark.John: Me too, I just been through the mill training the fresh fish.Baxton: Those Sunday soldiers, ain’t they a hard case.John: Ya, I had to have the joy juice to get through the dayBraxton: Can I have some of that joy juice out here it’s as scarce as hen's teeth.John: You’re going to have to give me a whippen to get some of my joy juice.Braxton: O common possum, I have got a pepperbox in my right hand, and a Arkansas toothpick in my left. So gimme somma that joy juice or you know whats gonna happen.John: Fine I will give you some of my joy juice for some of your goobers. Braxton: Deal, I don’t like any of those goobers anyway.John: That will be nice, that will fill both of our bread baskets.

Dear Mother and Father,
Camp life is not as glamorous as I thought it would be. No man is allowed to leave the camp without a pass from the commander. If we leave and get caught by the army police we will be arrested. We also have a strict schedule that all men have to follow. At sunrise, the trumpet sounds and we have to report to the fields. From there we have to practice drills. We practice fighting tactics like bayonet practice and rifle instruction. We even practice marching in formation. Even when we do have a break from drills we have to do chores like cleaning and even making pathways with pine wood. I thought I would be fighting, not cleaning. One group of men were forced to parade around our captain's tent for 15 hours. They started at 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. Camp life is not easy, but I am surviving.
Your son John Dodson

Jeremiah, when you chose to join the Union over fighting for the Confederacy, what caused you to make that choice?

Well, at first I was not sure whether I would fight for the Union or for the Confederacy. I could see why southerners wanted to secede from the Union because slavery was a part of life for them. I realized how bad slaves had it, so I wanted to help them. I also helped many slaves cross the Ohio River to get out of the South and get to the Union. All of this finally caused my to join the Union over the Confederacy.

Jeremiah, looking back, what is something in your life that you are proud or happy about?

I was proud of my decision to fight for the Union. I feel that choosing to go with the Union and fight against slavery was the right choice. It made me feel that I was not just fighting for me and my way of life, but I was fighting for my fellow man. No, I was fighting to free my fellow man.

Jeremiah, what is one thing about your life you wish had been different?

I feel if I could go back and change my decision I would have gone with my brother. I was proud that I was fighting for the Union, but I did not see my brother. I felt sad not knowing whether I would see him again. That has caused me to wish that I could go back and go with my brother to fight by his side.

Jeremiah, how did you and the Union troops, some of whom are African-American, react to slaves you met?

We all knew from stories we heard and books we read that slavery was terrible and that many slaves were treated horribly. We could not imagine how terrible they looked. Most of them did not have proper clothing if any at all. The men walked the streets with no shirts and having their scares exposed from lashings. The slaves were also very mal-nurished. For one old man, I was able to see every bone in his body.  He was carrying things that even men in our regiment would have had trouble carrying. I was completely shocked by how terrible these people looked. This made me feel proud about what I am fighting for.

Way back down in my home landLife was as calm as soul in heavens landBut I packed my bags and go fight this war,And I might not ever come back home.
I never going to come back again. leaving home with my soul in my hand,going to fight the war we want to end.
Long way from home, fighting for our country and a familiesTime to go we need to stop these rebel armyShot after shot rang in my earForever tearing our ol’ country apart
CHORUSNever goin’ back homeTo my safe ol’ familyFightin’ for my country For what I believe
Fighting my way throughTo make it rightTo make it fairTo make it safe and sound
Things are a winding downStartin’ to calmGunshots disappearingAnd the world a ticking time bomb
I can feel things changing Endin’ quicklyWith the Lord on my sideI walked away free

Dear Parents,
It has been a long winter. At first I hated having to work so hard during the day at the camp, but now that it is winter and I have all of this free time, it is getting a little bit boring. I have been betting to pass the time. I  bet on stuff like cards or cockfighting. Some of the men in my camp have been going to the extreme when it comes to betting. They have bet on everything like wrestling, baseball, and dice games. One group was so bad that they even were betting on a bunch of lice races. This winter has also caused food to be scarce. I used to go to bed with a full stomach, but now I am lucky if I get a salty piece of meat and a hardtack. There is not any vegetables out here. All we get are vegetable cakes. They are a bunch of mashed up vegetable scraps. Most of the time the cakes have leaves, twigs, and even worms in them.

Dear Journal,
Life at camp has been bad. It seems that we are losing more men from sickness than from the war. Men have been dropping like flies. Men have been going to the medical tent for all sorts of things. Many have stopped at the medical tent for diarrhea. Some have also been going because they have a fever. The doctors have been treating them, but they don't seem to get better. Some men don't even trust the doctors. I heard a couple of the men have been treating themselves. I believe it doesn't really matter whether you are treated by a doctor or you treat yourself because out here if you get sick, you are as good as dead.

Dear Mom and Dad,
Throughout this war I have seen things that no man should every have to see. I have seen my friends who I was talking to mere hours before slowly drifting away. I have seen men being dragged off the battle field after a cannon hit and not having their arm or legs.  They have been teaching us how to march and be in formation, but once the battle starts it is a free for all. Some men charging towards the front ready to die and others hoping they can stay alive long enough to see their families again. Me, well I'm a little bit of both. I want to come home so badly that I would give anything to see you again. God forbid, if I am struck down I will have been proud to have fought for the country I love. But don't you worry ma, I will be back home soon. The war can't last forever.

This is a standard Civil War rifle that all men had with them at all times both in camp and on the battle field.

Most men after waking up in the morning would go and eat their breakfast before having a long day of

A cannon that would be used frequently in the battles of the Civil war.

My home in the outer part of Washington D.C.

Cards and gambling was a big part of the fun at camp.

Works Cited"54th Massachusetts (1863-1865)." Tangled Roots. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2014. <>."Cannon Reloading." Florida State Parks 75th Anniversery. N.p., 2010. Web. 15 May 2014. <>."Home Campfire Cooking System." Pop up Portal. N.p., 24 July 2010. Web. 15 May 2014. <>."Run down Home in 1923." Ghost of D.C. N.p., 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 May 2014. <>.

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