Union Soldiers Reflect on the Battlefield

December 27, 1863/2013
Volume 4, Issue 52 (168 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

On the Battlefield, General Meditates Upon a Skull, “smooth, white, and glossy”

On December 27, 1863, Union Brigadier General John Beatty, of Ohio, recorded in his diary: “Today we picked up, on the battle-field of Chickamauga, the skull of a man who had been shot in the head. It was smooth, white, and glossy. A little over three months ago this skull was full of life, hope, and ambition. He who carried it into battle had, doubtless, mother, sisters, friends, whose happiness was, to some extent, dependent upon him. They mourn for him now, unless, possibly, they hope still to hear that he is safe and well. Vain hope. Sun, rain, and crows have united in the work of stripping the flesh from his bones, and while the greater part of these lay whitening where they fell, the skull has been rolling about the field the sport and plaything of the winds. This is war, and amid such scenes we are supposed to think of the amount of our salary, and of what the newspapers may say of us.”

SOURCE

John Beatty, The Citizen-Soldier, or, Memoirs of a Volunteer (1879), pp. 365-66, quoted in part in The American Civil War, Margaret E. Wagner, p. “July 31.”


On New Year’s Day a Union Soldier Reflects on the War

January 1, 1864. As the fourth calendar year of war began, Major Josiah Marshall Favill in the Union army camped in Stevensburg, Virginia wrote in his diary, “Who would have dreamed in ’61, that those of us who started out to finish the war in the course of a three months’ service, would still be in the field three years afterwards, with the task still unaccomplished? . . . [I]n the meantime we . . . are no longer enthusiastic boys, but veteran soldiers. . . . Over one half of our original number has disappeared from the muster rolls; killed in action; died of wounds, of disease, of fatigue and exposure, or perhaps resigned, unable to stand the constant shock of arms. This old state of Virginia has become a vast cemetery, in which thousands of once bright and ambitious men belonging to the army of the Potomac now lie scattered in its shady nooks or somber woods unmarked except by their bleaching bones and the accumulation of various parts of their accoutrements, which still lay rusting and rotting about them. Amongst the survivors, the excitement and enthusiasm of early days has long since passed away, but the resolve still remains, and until the work is done this army will never lay down its arms.”

SOURCE

The Diary of a Young Officer Serving with the Armies of the United States During the War of the Rebellion (1909), p. 273; quoted in part in The American Civil War: 365 Days, Margaret E. Wagner, p. “August 31.”

Editor’s note: These entries were submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council, executive director

 

 

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1863

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