Were you of the generation that wrote a diary during our childhood, and perhaps kept it up as adults?
I wasn't one of them (which was strange, considering that I started to write stories at an early age) but many of my contemporaries did.
We (I am 60 years old) may well be the last of the handwritten diary/journal generation. I fear it is a dying practice, although I could be wrong. I don't count digital diaries or blogs because if the technology that allows them to exist disappears - or changes - future people will have limited or no access to them.
What a shame if that had happened to all those Civil War diaries?
But it didn't.
The other day, a New York Times blog devoted to the Civil War wrote a fascinating pot on the role of diaries in the Civil War.
For many soldiers, their diary was a link to sanity. They were portable, and in their down time (sometimes there was a lot of down time in the life of a Civil War soldier - it wasn't all forced marches and battles) out would come the diary to record the day's events, frustrations, or grievances.
These diaries were almost like a modern day planner, with the date and a few lines for writing - the soldier, by writing the diary in the space provided, could track the passage of the days.
There was just enough space for a short entry - perfect for the soldier who might be barely literate, or writing in the light of a fire, or writing in the rain.
Some of these Civil War diaries have been published as books, some are even available online. They offer a fascinating glance into the daily life of a soldier, and - yes, the battles they were in, from their viewpoint.
For our local infantry where I live in New York (the 137th Regiment, NY Volunteers), there is at least one published diary available in book form. Our 137th was mustered in right after Antietam in September of 1862, and fought in many famous battles including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain, plus they participated in Sherman's March to the Sea.
Not only soldiers wrote diaries - civilians did. Ken Burns, in his famous Civil War series, depended on one of the most famous, the diary of Mary Chesnut. Chesnut was, in many ways, "in the right place at the right time."
Her diary has been in print continuously since 1905.
Online, I even found portions of a diary of a Civil War nurse.
There are also many collections of letters, a related topic.
To me, the diaries of women are the most interesting, as this example shows. Perhaps, when I retire, I will be able to spend more time with this source material and enter the world of those who lived during the Civil War in a way I haven't been able to before. My family didn't immigrate to the United States until the early 20th century so I have no family connection with the Civil War. Perhaps that fact is is part of my fascination with the subject as a person who was born in, and grew up in, New York City.
If you are interested, here are several Civil War diaries and collections of letters that are online. The first two are Union and the last two Confederate:
Henry Tisdale (Massachusetts)
Frank Eldredge (Ohio)
The Hackworth Collection (letters written by an Alabama family before, during, and after the war)
Richard Adams (Alabama), a POW for some two years and one of the Immortal 600.
Does your family own any Civil War diaries or letters of ancestors?