Civil War Diary Translation?


I feel so very lucky that my family has saved and cared for both

family photos and also diaries, letters and other family pieces. Reading the diaries and letters is particularly eye-opening.

With my mother's side being mostly German, much of the correspondence needs translating, but I've found that my second great-grandfather's 1862 diary wasn't so easy either!

With a little bit of patience and diligence, Stefan has transcribed this small treasure (not even 4 inches tall!) opening up a view to the life of 18-year old Robert Israel, the first enlistee of the 36th Ohio Infantry.

Several things struck me when reading his words. Much of the diary he writes about food (or lack of it), occasional news from home, picket duty, the weather, sore feet and drilling. Obviously, that's what was relevant to him as an every-day soldier. A couple times he talks of stealing a goose to get food or eating rotting meat. Or in April "This is E[a]ster Sunday but no eggs to eat."

News from home and about the war is sporadic. Robert mentions hearing of a big fight (such as in Winchester, VA) or that "our men had taken 6 thousand [prisoners]. Early in the year, he gets a "pare" of gloves from home but doesn't know who sent them. Then a month later, Robert writes it's a sad day and that he heard his mother died.

It took me a little bit of research to understand why Robert kept talking about Pickett Duty and the Countersigns. I've since learned the Countersigns are basically the pass code that someone entering camp is allowed in - fascinating to realize.

Robert's grammar and spelling was quite poor. He must have had only a limited education. He often writes about a "prity day"

In some ways, the diary is a little dry. Much of the diary is just day-to-day mini updates. Even so, it's such an incredible snapshot of an average person during a critical time in our country's history. I love that I feel more connected to my ancestors but also to the larger history of what was going on at the time.

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