Civil War History


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The Leaders:
The Politicians

Jefferson Davis

Above: Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy.
Below: Abraham Lincoln of the Union.

Abraham Lincoln

Charles Terry Saxton
The American Civil War

A War Diary

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page 1

Diary of Charles Terry Saxton, 90th N.Y. Volunteers, from January, 1862 to August, 1863.

Key West, Florida, Jan. 24th, 1862.

              An idea arose in my mind today of keeping a diary of each day's transactions as they occur in my life as a soldier. This idea has frequently presented itself to me before, and I had delayed the work from time to time, but today the importance of such a proceeding appeared to me so forcibly that I acted upon it immediately. As it would be abrupt to commence now without giving any account of preceding events, I thought I would first record the most important occurrences which I had met with from the time of my enlistment until the present date.

              I enrolled my name among those of the defenders of our country on the 18th of November in the year 1861. The same night at 11 o'clock, with three comrades and the Rev. S.N. Brown, whom we all expected would be chaplain of the regiment, which expectation, however, was not realized, started in the rail car for the city of New York. We arrived there, after having rode almost continuously from the time we started, at about half past twelve the next day, and immediately proceeded to the headquarters of the regiment in which I had determined to enlist. In a short time we passed the surgeon's examination, and were mustered into Uncle Sam's service.

              I was thus transformed in a few moments from a schoolboy, accustomed to scarcely any labor except the labor of the brains, and totally inexperienced in meeting the rough buffetings of the world, to a soldier, whose life is made up of stern trials of courage and fortitude both mentally and physically. The regiment being encamped on Staten Island, we, accompanied by Lieut. Van Ness, one of the Lieutenants in the Co in which we had enlisted, took the ferry for that place, and arrived at Camp McClellan about dusk. The regiment was styled the McClellan Rifles and was commanded by Col. Tennelli. Co. E, commanded by Col. Van Ness, the largest Co. on the ground, was the Co. in which I had cast my lot.

              We stayed there, nothing important occurring, until the 22nd, when, having been consolidated with the McClellan Chasseurs, we removed to their encampment in East York on Long Island. This consolidation caused change among the officers, Col. Morgan of the Chasseurs becoming Col. and Col. Tennelli becoming Lt. Col. After arriving we first pitched our tents; but that night and the next day it rained so hard that we were drowned out of them, and some of the Co., among which was ours, repaired to an unoccupied building near. We remained there about a week before we left East York, a great many of the men deserting in the meantime, when, barracks having been built for us, we again changed our place of residence.

              We dwelt in the barracks until the 17th of Dec., on which day we removed to Governor's Island. While at East York, the Capt. appointed me first Corporal of the Co., which is lettered 'D' since the consolidation. While on Governor's Island we quartered in Castle William. The winds blew over the island bitter cold, and as we had no fires except the camp fire outside to cook with, there was considerable suffering; I being sick nearly all the time we were there.

              A night or two after we came, a prisoner in the guardhouse attempting to escape, the guard ran him through with his bayonet, killing him instantly. The guard was tried and exonerated from all blame. Capt. Van Ness, although he had sworn to remain with us, resigned his office just after we left East York, for some reasons unbeknown to me. His brother, the Lieut., having already resigned, and officers were appointed in their places; our officers then were, Capt. Nilis, a French Jew, I think, 1st Lt. Johnson and 2nd Lt. Walsh.

              Before we left East York our Co. had been reduced so much by the many desertions that had taken place that we had about the smallest Co. on the ground; but we expected 18 men from other Co.s in recompense for the regimental band, the members of which belonged to our Co.

              On the 4th of Jan we left Governor's Island and embarked in the large steamship, Illinois. The next day we started down the harbor, and were soon ploughing our way through the deep blue sea, bound for the distant island of Key West. Land was in sight when I went below for the night; but when I went on deck in the morning, nothing was to be seen but the wide waste of waters stretching out on every side as far as the eye could reach. The storm king had been at work during the night, throwing the water into wild confusion; and now the big waves were chasing each other around and tossing the vessel about as though she were a plaything. The scene was entirely novel to me and I enjoyed it very much. But after a while I began to feel the inevitable seasickness creeping upon me, which soon dispelled for the day all the romance of the ocean. After this we had fine weather until the end of the voyage. In the evening it was very pleasant to sit upon the deck, the moon shedding its soft, silvery radiance over the still waters, while the vessel glided swiftly and silently over its course; and listen to a song or the music of the band as it floated through the still air. How music, especially under such circumstances, will charm our minds away from the cares and turmoil of life and soothe and calm our wearied souls. It appeals so directly to the good and holy feeling of our nature; that hard, indeed, must be the heart of the man who is not moved by its wondrous power.

              During the voyage a soldier, only 15 or 16 years of age, fell a victim to the grim destroyer, and was consigned to the billowy ocean cemetery. Poor boy! How I pitied him, thus to die away from home and kindred, with none but the rough soldiers to minister to his wants in his last hours on earth. But it is the common lot of the soldier, and I know not but such may be my fate ere many days have passed away.

              We saw no land until Friday, when we came in sight of some islands called Cedar Islands, I believe. Saturday morning, I went on deck and beheld away off in the distance the shadowy outline of the Florida coast.

              The same evening we anchored off the island of Key West and signalled for a pilot. In the morning, a pilot having come aboard during the night, we began slowly moving toward our destination. We soon came in sight of the island, which presented a very inviting appearance to our eager eyes. It appeared to be covered with beautiful verdure, except that at one end you could see glittering among the trees the white buildings of the city; while from the tops of some of them the 'Star spangled banner' was proudly floating upon the breeze. We passed around Fort Taylor, and hauled up to the dock before noon amid quite a number of sloops, gun-boats, etc.

              We could see from the ship the cocoanuts hanging from the trees, and were very impatient to go ashore and get some of them; as during our voyage crackers and coffee had constituted our chief fare and they tempted our appetite very much. But we did not go ashore until Tuesday; when we marched about a mile from the ship, and after a great deal of work clearing away the bushes and cactuses, we succeeded in getting our tents pitched.

              Since then we have been living quite comfortably, nothing very important occurring. Rain water is used here, as the water obtained by digging is very brackish; and as they had had no rain in a long time before we came, water was very scarce. But last night and the night before great quantities of rain fell; the water coming down in driving, blinding sheets so that it came through our tents in streams, soaking thoroughly everything in them. And now, I think, water will be a little more plentiful.

              At present we drill 3 times a day. We have Co. or squad drill from 10 until 11, and battalion drill from 4 until half past 5. This morning, as it was very wet, we had neither Co. drill or wing drill; but in the afternoon we had the usual battalion drill. I have felt quite weak and unwell and am scarcely fit for duty. As I write the Sergeant comes into my tent and wishes to know if anyone will go out and guard an oven in the woods, which our Capt. has taken possession of for the purpose of having our bread baked in it. I like to go out on such business as this, and although it is not my business to stand guard, I volunteer to go.

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Civil War History

Reasons for the Conflict:

     In 1860 slavery still existed in the southern states of the USA, even though it had been abolished in most of the rest of the world more than a generation before.

      Many Americans believed that it was time that it be abolished in the USA as well.

      This was the primary issue of the American Civil War, though there were other issues relating to how strong ties should be between individual states and the Federal government.

Key West, Florida, 1861:

      Located where the gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic ocean, Key West was of enormous strategic importance in upholding the blockade against the southern states. It was also used to train new recruits.
click for Library of Congress site.

the blockade of the South

Mrs AH Wilcox of
Barrington Street.
Rochester, N.Y.

originally typed up the diary of
her father, Charles Terry Saxton,
and preserved it for posterity.

Trees of London        A James Wilkinson Publication ©