Civil War Diaries: Key to the Past

by
Rebecca Blackwell Drake

 

Emma Balfour of Vicksburg wrote the most popular local diary of the time. Emma's home, in the heart of the Vicksburg, provided her with a front row seat to all the events unfolding between May and June of 1863. The first entry in Emma's diary dated May 16th occurred four days after the Battle of Raymond. "Since I last wrote, all has been uncertainty and suspense," she recorded. "We have just heard that Jackson is in the hands of the enemy. At the same time, a dispatch from General Pemberton ordering a train out to Edwards depot to bring in our supplies which are in danger. This looks ominous, but I still have hope." Unfortunately, Emma's hope was short lived. After the fall of Vicksburg in July of 1863, her home was taken as military headquarters for the Union occupation force commanded by General McPherson.

Emma Balfour provided a key to the past with her accounts of the Siege of Vicksburg

A personal diary made public during the Vicksburg Campaign Re-enactment was that of a Union soldier, Merrick Wald, who fought at Champion Hill, the Battle of the Big Black River, and the Siege of Vicksburg. An interesting portion of Wald's diary reads,

"May 15, 1863 - "was called off picket about dinner to start on a march, right away went 1/4 miles through a place called Raymond. The roads are very bad, marched till twelve o'clock, they were fighting here. Yesterday we took a lot of prisoners.

May 16..we was called up this morning at 3:00 a.m. and started before the sun was up..went eight miles then the fighting commenced, run us from one hill to another until I was pretty near gone up the spout. One shot came very near killing Col. Webb. Liet. Of Co K was wounded this evening, we was drawn up in line of battle to charge on a battery, but they were thought to be too many for us. This battle was called Champion Hills.

"May 17..Started at sun up and went eight miles, plenty of the boys gave out, General is fighting today again. A lot of prisoners and cannons drove the Rebels across the Black River. Our division took a regiment of prisoners. The Rebels burned the railroad bridge over the Black River. This was called Jefferson Davis Slaughter House. Stayed here all night.

May 18..crossed Black River at 11:00 p.m. and marched ten miles. Stopped for the night in a large hollow within four miles of Vicksburg.

"May 19..we was put in advance to begin the great Battle of Vicksburg. We advanced to within half mile of their works, we had to go over a high hill right in fair view of all their batteries. The way they poured in their shot shell and canister was a horrible sight, killing and wounding twenty men in a few minutes. I was struck by a small piece of shell on my hat but did no harm. Plenty of boys was struck but so light as to do them no harm."

At the end of the diary, written July 4th 1864, Wald concluded, "Well Vicksburg has surrendered at last. When they (Rebels) first came out of their holes they looked like they hadn't drawn a long breath for six months.. ..how sad these noble soldiers looked and how I respected them for fighting so hard for their Cause." Linda Schott, descendant of of Merrick Wald and keeper of the diary, later stated that out of Merrick's unit of three-hundred and fifty men, only forty-five survived the entire war.

The Balfour House was built in 1835 by William Bobb and purchased in 1850 by Dr. and Mrs. William T. Balfour. The house left its mark on history in 1863 during the War between the States as the home of Emma Balfour, a diarist, who kept one of the most accurate accounts of the Siege of Vicksburg.

Another personal diary that surfaced during weekend of the re-enactment was that of a twenty-four year old woman, Darwina Francis Loud, who lived in a "civilian camp" during the summer of 1865. The camp, referred to as Midway Station, Mississippi, in the diary was the first railroad station north of Tugaloo. In her diary, Darwina recorded, " September 3, 1865.. .."This is my last night in Midway. I feel almost sad as I sit and write in my dear little tent for the last time. These ten feet of canvas walls shut in all the home I can call mine, in all this beautiful great world, so full of happy homes and loving, generous hearts. I wonder why I can't creep into some of them and find rest and shelter? Where and how is it all to end?"

Darwina Loud's question was answered several months after breaking camp. She married an Illinois native, Henry Burton, and moved to Oklahoma in a covered wagon. Darwina's children never grew tired of listening to her Civil War stories. Her children and grandchildren eventually referred to her Civil Warm memoirs as, "The Diary of Grandma Burton."

In keeping with other Civil War memorabilia, old diaries rank high in regard to public interest. The diaries, once used to mark time and events, now provide a romantic element to Civil War America. They also provide interesting information from a personal point of view.

*Linda Schott, great-great granddaughter of Union soldier, Merrick Wald, lives in Arkansas where she and her family participate in National Living History events.

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