Civil War Journal

By Grace Hauk

     Journal Entry #1

             My name is Jane Bales. I live in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on a small farm. I am 15 years old and just quit school to help at home since my father died of typhoid in the fall. My mother and younger brother Caleb do what they can to keep the farm going. We have two Negroes that also help us. We treat them fairly and they have been with us since I was born.  They are husband and wife and have their own quarters by the barn. I am teaching Big John how to read. I am proud to be a Southerner and, now that North Carolina has seceded, also proud to be part of the Confederate States of America. I think the people in each state should be able to decide how they want to live and don't need a big government telling them their business.

     Since my father died, we have been struggling to make ends meet, selling off animals and land. I saw an enlistment poster go up in town that promised to pay soldiers $13 a month and I knew I had to take the chance to earn money and help provide for my family. I borrowed some of my father's old clothes and used his name -- Elijah -- to enlist with the 30th North Carolina Infantry on September 13, 1861. I think my father would be proud of me.

Me on the farm after my father's funeral, November 13, 1860.
Private Elijah Bales, age 19, Company K, 30th North Carolina Infantry.
The Green Grass of our North Carolina farm

Journal Entry # 2: a conversation between soldiers

Jorge: Drunk

Grace: Soldier

Anish: Soldier

Bryce-narrator

Bryce: The Union has just won a battle and are very played out, but are still celebrating back at camp.

Grace: BULLY!

Anish: Be quiet or I will shove this Arkansas toothpick into you!

Jorge: My possums! You all look ugly! (Falls over into chair)

Grace: Wow you look tight Jorge, why? You are actin' like a fresh fish! Did you grab a bad root or just have too much joy juice?

Anish: He must have drunk a lot of tar water.

Anish: If he doesn't calm down, I'll have to load some hornets in my pepper box and shoot at him like he was a jailbird.

Grace: I’m so played out. I think I’m gonna hit the hay and be snug as a bug so I feel fit as a fiddle tomorrow.

Anish: You better skedaddle before skunks come back and are fit to be tied.

Grace: Hey, I'm no parlor soldier!  I'm Chief Cook and Bottle Washer around here!

Anish:  Don't get all uppity! I'm just toeing the mark and trying to keep order.

Jorge: You bunch of graybacks -- I stole your greenbacks!

Anish: Hunkey dorey, I get to arrest someone!

__________________________________________________________________________

Journal Entry #3

November 25th, 1862

Dearest Mother,

         It has been more than a year since I left home. I miss you very much and ache in my heart. It is cold and lonely in camp, especially for me. I have to keep my distance for fear of being found out and sent home or worse, punished here in camp.  We have been about a day's march from Fredericksburg, Virginia for some time and the men are getting restless. The Union army is close and we are trying to maneuver onto the high ground. The wind has turned and it rains in cold buckets, making it hard to work but we have no choice. We are up before daylight every morning. We all have chores to do to keep the camp livable. I don't mind my turn mending tents and socks, but digging the latrines or scrubbing the infested blankets, especially in this endless rain, are the worst assignments to have. There are already one or two cases of frostbite among the troops responsible for night watch. One soldier ran off during the night but they caught him before dawn, gave him some lashes and then made him ride the horse -- that means he had to sit on a really sharp and narrow piece of wood that is high above the ground so he cannot use his feet for support. He was howling with cold and pain before they took him down again the next day.

       It is hard to watch such punishments, but it does discourage others from deserting or breaking camp rules. The sergeant is very strict and reminds me of my old teacher, sour face Mr. Wilkins. He has a punishment for everything. Last week, Pvt. Getty took an extra ration of strap molasses from another soldier who was dying of infection and the sergeant had him punished. He dragged the soldier away from us and tied his hands together. Then he grabbed a stick, shoved it in his mouth and gagged him. He sat the soldier down and tied his feet together. Then to finish it off, he put a stick between his legs to force his legs apart and hurt his arms. It was the most uncomfortable position I have ever seen a person put in and he had to sit like that all day, just for taking some molasses that a dead man won't need anyway.

      Our sleeping tents are close together to try and create a wind break. The latrines are about 50 feet away, towards the river, to keep the stink downwind and catch the men on the way to bathing. There is a hospital tent and mess tent in the center of camp and officers quarters on the other side. We drill twice a day and eat twice a day, if there are enough rations. Then we each do our own chores, leaving time to write letters or play cards and such. The other men have started to call me 'preacher', and other names, because I don't drink or scratch or take my shirt off like they do (vile creatures). Every day I fear they will learn my secret.

     The holidays are coming and I am wondering how much Caleb has grown.  Is he taller than me now? Is he doing his chores? Is Big John still with us or have some crazy abolitionists kidnapped him? How is Aunt Mercy? All these questions and such little time to write. I hope this letter makes it to your hands. I love you, mother.

                     Your Child,

                            Elijah 'J'

Sunrise over camp outside of Fredericksburg, VA

__________________________________________________________________________

Journal entry #4

Interview with Jeremiah Handley, confederate soldier

Q: Jeremiah, when you chose to stay at home with your mother,
what caused you to make that choice?

A: My brother had already enlisted and I didn't want to leave my mother alone to fend for herself.  Southern families are very close and we help each other every way we can. It was the right thing to do, but I am sorry that I couldn't save her.

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

A: I am proud to fight for the South. I am proud that I was able to save the lives of many fellow soldiers by having them take cover instead of charge at a key point of battle. We fired upon the Union army and drove them back with our Rebel Yell! I became an officer shortly after that. I was young, but I was brave and helped the South to fight another day.

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

A: I wish there hadn't been a need for a war at all.  If the Federal government hadn't interfered with states' rights, there wouldn't be so many young men dying now on both sides.

Q: Jeremiah, do you think you will ever see your brother again?

A: I hope I will see my brother again one day and that we will be able to go home again. But, having seen so many dead lying in ditches or half-buried on battlefields, I am worried that my brother is there, too. I pray every day that my brother is safe. I know he would pray for me, too. In the meantime, every confederate soldier is my brother.

Hanging out and having fun at camp.

__________________________________________________________________________

Journal Entry #5

November 30, 1862

Dear Caleb,

              Days in camp are sometimes long and tiresome. We are all on edge, waiting for orders. Occasionally, I hear gunfire in the distance and it starts my heart pounding and palms sweating. None of us has been in a real battle yet and we're a jumble of nerves. The funny has now become the annoying. Mostly we eat, sleep, work, write and wait. Some pass the time gambling and playing cards for money, food or extra socks even though the sergeant says cards are 'the devil's game'. Not wanting to draw attention by sitting out, I played two games and won some rations. I tried my luck at horseshoes, but it became apparent that I had never played before and they laughed at me. I ain't that good at their football game either, but I play bat ball. One of the men got his hands on a rule book and we are all learning the rules. Apparently there are four bases where you have to run around. A ball is thrown to the person holding the bat. Ours was whittled by a soldier from South Carolina from a hickory branch. You get several chances to hit the ball.  I usually miss, which is called 'striking out'.  If three of us get out, it's the other team's turn with the bat. I am not sure if this would ever be popular at home, but it is a good way to pass the time in camp.

       I've never been so hungry as I have since joining up. It seems like there is never enough food to go around and if we're on a march or in a skirmish, there's no telling what or when we'll eat. It may be because we're tired and hungry, or maybe it is from spending so much time outside, but the Johnny Cakes in camp are some of the best I've ever eaten. If we're lucky, we might also get some cush, which I had never heard of on account of it being from further south than North Carolina, but it is beef and cornmeal fried in bacon grease.  Of course, that's only if we happened upon a cow first. When cook has off, we rotate cooking duty.  Here's my own recipe for Johnny Cake:

- 1 cup water

- 1 1/2 cups ground yellow cornmeal

- 1/2 tsp. salt

- 1/2 cup milk (if you got it, or more water)

- 2 TB butter (or lard or bacon fat if you got it)

- molasses for sweetening

Get the water as hot as you can and mix everything together, except the fat. Melt the fat in the pan over the fire until it sizzles. Pour some batter into the pan and let it brown at the edges.  Turn with a spoon or flip if you dare (but don't drop it!). Serve with molasses or salt and butter if you prefer. I think I'll make some right now! You try it at home.

Love,

Elijah (J.)

            

Journal Entry #6

Confederate Marching Song (sung to the tune of Raging Fire by Philly Phillips)

We are born to fight and here to stay.

We are brave and strong until our last days

So grab your gun and enlist for the war

You know why you're here and when you came

You see pain and loss without mistake

So grab your gun and enlist for the war

Before the muskets fire tonight

Yeah we’ll fight until we die

So come on

Come on

Come on

Won’t you fight with me

Into a raging war

So come on

Come on

Come on

'Til we lose our soul

Into a raging war

Into a raging war

Come on

Come on

Come on

Won’t you fight with me

Into a raging war

Proud confederate soldiers charge the enemy

__________________________________________________________________________

Journal Entry #7

December 12, 1862

Dear Journal,

           Perhaps the hardest thing of all about war, besides the fighting, is the dying. Death is everywhere. I don't know what I expected exactly, being a girl and not seeing much outside our little town until now, but you never get used to the dying. Death on the battlefield is quick and as far as I can tell, the best way to go. But so many more are dying in camp after the battle or between the fighting. We kid each other that if the hornets don't get us, the sawbones will. I think the sawbones would be worse.

           A few days back a patrol was out trying to get a read on enemy positions when they were fired upon. Two soldiers were killed on the spot. Pvt. Peevey took a hornet in the leg while another was shot in the arm. When Pvt. Peevey was brought back to camp, he had already lost a lot of blood. The surgeon has been tending to a few who were still recovering from our last skirmish, plus a few who have the dysentery and one who has trench foot. Since he's the only surgeon in camp right now, he is exhausted and moves from soldier to soldier, draining wounds, changing bandages and checking gangrene. He rushed right over to dig the bullet out of Pvt. Peevey's leg, no time to wash his hands or give the soldier anything for the pain.  Pvt. Peevey screamed even though they had given him a shot of whiskey and then passed out. Well, either they didn't get all off the bullet out or the leg didn't take to healin', because Peevey got feverish and his foot was turning gangrene.

         This morning, I was coming back from fetching water at the stream. It takes me a little longer to get the water because I hike upstream from where all the soldiers are bathing. I don't want to see them and I don't want them to see me and pull me in or they'll discover who I really am. I know most times the soldiers on water detail don't bother to go upstream and just bring back water after they wash themselves first. Sometimes the water is a little murky. Anyway, when I was bringing the water back this morning, I could hear Pvt. Peevey howling. As I walked past the hospital tent, the surgeon called to me to drop my water and come help hold Pvt. Peevey down. His leg had turned putrid and had to come off. The doctor said we were low on supplies and had no ether or chloroform for him, just some whisky and an Arkansas toothpick. I saw that the 'Arkansas toothpick' was just a big knife that looked a bit rusty. The doctor gave Peevey a shot of whiskey and a leather strap to bite. The leather strap already had many bite marks in it -- this was not the first amputation of the day. I held his shoulders down while two other soldiers had his other leg and arms. Pvt. Peevey screamed and it was all I could do to hold him down and not faint dead away. I looked into his eyes and tried to calm him until he passed out. Then I looked away, but could still hear the knife cutting the bone. Finally I heard the thump of the leg hitting the ground and I looked back to see the doctor wrapping the fresh stump in the rags we had for bandages. I skedaddled out of there, all played out from holding Peevey down and sick to my stomach. Later, would warn my possums to stay clear of the hospital when fetching water.

           That hospital reeks of death. Once you go in, you likely won't come out alive. Soldiers are laying on their cots wailing and moaning, begging the doctor to take away the pain. Some soldiers have diarrhea, one or two have the fever, several look like they have the pox. It's no wonder, with the food turned bad or sometimes nothing to eat but corn or whatever we can find. Whenever we set up camp, we try to have water nearby but we don't always know if its fresh until we start drinking it and see if anyone gets sick. Now that the cold is setting in, we're huddled in tents for warmth, but it seems that is only making more of us sick. The war wounds are bad enough and surviving them is tough. Pvt. Peevey's leg is off, but he still has a greater chance of dying than living. But its the other sickness that is killing off more of our soldiers. Our doctor works long hours with few supplies. The chloroform has been gone since the last battle and new supplies haven't reached our camp yet. We're cutting bandages from worn out tents and shirts that can no longer be mended. The doc doesn't get too many breaks because there is nobody to relieve him. I heard that some camps don't have doctors at all and have to wait for a traveling sawbones to make a visit. Yesterday, ours almost took the wrong arm off of a wounded soldier he was so tired.

            Leeches sometimes help to bring down the fevers and maggots have saved a foot or two from being amputated, but I can't imagine having to endure any of that just to live. I have seen horrible things. Some days, the limbs pile up outside the hospital tent until they are taken away for burial. Pvt. Peevey's amputation has scarred me for life. I can see bites on my skin from the bed bugs and some men can't get any rest from the lice infestation. I hike upstream and scrub as often as I can for relief. Compared to many, I am fit as a fiddle, though a bit thin. And when I hear the soldiers' screams coming from the hospital, I bite my tongue to withdraw my scream and count myself lucky.

     Those of us who are fit are being called to battle now, to march through Fredericksburg and hold the high ground of Marye's Heights. I hope my luck holds out, too.

Home

Journal Entry #8

April 13, 1865

Dear Journal,

        The day has finally come. I am going home. After fighting at Fredericksburg and being wounded at Gettysburg, I was promoted to Infantry Sergeant and given the honor of accompanying General Lee to the Appomattox courthouse where he surrendered with dignity to General Grant and the Union army, officially ending the war. It was the darkest moment ever for the south. I must admit that we were treated with respect by the union soldiers present and given food and safe transport once all the signing was over and we turned in our weapons. General Lee stood tall and saluted each one of us as we departed. I have never met a greater man.

     I made my way to North Carolina, sometimes hitching a ride, sometimes on foot. There were no trains running. Many farms have fallen to ruin, their owners gone to war and never to return. It made me walk that much faster to get back and save what was left of my own home. Suddenly, I was there. I stood on the hill overlooking my town.  A dog barked and a door slammed. It was almost the same,but not quite. I ran down the hill, along the lane and across the field until my farm popped up on the horizon. There, in front of the house stood my mother and Big John. I ran to meet them. They didn't move at first, not sure who I was. Then I remembered and pulled off my hat and let my hair down. My mother ran to hug me and Caleb came flying out of the barn.

   That night, we sat and talked for hours, Big John and his wife, too.  They were free, but chose to stay as they had no other place to go just yet. We were a family once again. I handed the last of my pay to my mother.  There would be no more coming from my service and not many opportunities to earn money like that for a girl my age. But I can help on the farm, or take in some washing. Maybe we'll sell the farm and move into town.Rumor has it that Yankee developers are heading this way paying hard cash for land. Maybe I could get a job teaching at the local school. I have certainly learned a few lessons I could share.

Comment Stream