Are soldier's letters and diaries worth studying?


Dec 13, 2009
New Hampshire
I have about 150 letters and several diaries from engineer soldiers and their personal thoughts and descriptions of events has allowed me to write a 300+ page book on the activities of the AoP's engineer force.

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
Funny this thread should pop up now. I give living history presentations on the aspects of the music of the CW period. I need to scale down a project I am doing, which really requires more diving into letters, diaries, so on. Letters are, as you all have mentioned... mostly dry stuff. But I will ask here... has anyone come across references that you have found from your letter reading, to any of the music played within camps, as well as the regimental bands? Need to add that I probably have found most of the readily accessible info to music during that period, through dedicated books and of course, the internet! lol

At this point I am looking for additional personal references to details that may not be among the thousand times over, copied quotes. Anything, but unique would be golden. Like... "the (fiddler) we had was wounded... found out he was a she." (like a Gettysburg drummer was; really!) Etc.

A couple of years ago I spoke to Dr. James Davis; SUNY, a musicologist who wrote 2 or 3 books on the subject of CW music. He had never found any reference to women and the fiddle back then, not surprisingly. My own research revealed one, a then famous European classical violinist who made her way to America antebellum and settled in Nashville. She married an officer, lost him and her history goes dark until she moved back north and began concertizing again, often with the beloved band director, PS Gilmore - believe it or not. :smile: So it would indeed be scarce but then again, there were likely a good thousand women cross dressers who participated, and a few musicians were among them.

But just as much...I hope to find more input re: the exchange of tunes played on the eve of Stones River, or after Fredericksburg. I need lines from diaries, journals, etc, not links to the popular CW sites/music stories. Some of them btw, are incorrect re: the timing of the bands who played (no pun intended, lol) as writers seem to copy each other's material too often. Found this digging deeper.

Anyone recall anything? Or point me to something. I will add that live a half hour from LMU in TN. When the Lincoln Library and Museum on campus finally reopens, (Oct?) I may have to just move to Harrogate to save gas. 😊 Sorry for the length, TY!
I have identified 45 mentions of specific songs played by bands of both sides, with a focus on the Gettysburg campaign, mainly on the march.

Here are some unique or unusual mentions that may interest you:

(David E. Johnston, 7th Virginia, p. 186, May 1863, John Whitlock was the drummer boy for the regiment, a little waif picked up in Richmond by a member of the regimental band or drum corps, a mischievous boy who to keep from beating the drum would lose or throw away the sticks.

(Harold B. Simpson, of Company E, 1st Texas) The regimental bands of the Texas Brigade, which had forded the Potomac prior to the infantry, dumped the water from their horns and greeted their messmates with some stirring martial airs.

(James “Newt” Martin of Company E, 3rd South Carolina) April 17, 1863. We supported a company of minstrels known as the Kershaw Palmetto Minstrels, who make fine music. Our quarters are near enough to get a benefit at all times. Not a day or scarcely a night passes without preaching, prayer meeting, or the Minstrels within hearing.

(Eugene Blackford account, sharpshooters in O’Neals Alabama brigade) July 3. I detailed my four buglers who had nothing to do to get the bakery in operation across the street and make biscuits.

(Sketches of the Civil War, 4th North Carolina) At Carlisle [Pennsylvania] the band camped in the barn of one of the good Pennsylvania Dutch citizens. We had in our band a jocular member – R. E. “Bob” Patterson, who loved both fun and chicken. He got after a chicken and asked Charles “Charlie” Heyer to head it off. It ran around the barn into a hog house and Bob and a hog contested passage through the door. The band was originally formed by four members of the Salisbury, NC band, including Edward B. Neave. At one time the band had 18 members, led by E. B. Neave. It played “Hail to the Chief” for Joe Johnston in 1862 and later in the war played in Weir’s Cave including “Sweet Home” and “Vacant Chair.” The band obtained furloughs twice during the war, once for 18 days and the other for 20 days, which included concerts given in Salisbury and at Statesville, NC. Band took part in Seven Pines as litter bearers assisting the Assistant Surgeon.

(Marching in Clover, by Frank Foote, 48th Mississippi, p. 282) Near the Maryland line, bands played a piece known as “Dixie Doodle” part of it being the notes of “Way Down in Dixie,” and the other “Yankee Doodle.” When the “Dixie” part came on a general yell would attest our humor and spirits; and when the “Doodle” part was reached, a corresponding sentiment arose from our captives [Union prisoners].

(Military Images, Summer 2020, p. 46) Jacob Friedrich Gundrum, 2nd Wisconsin, a member of the Iron Brigade band, which serenaded wounded at the Courthouse following the battle. Gundrum met local citizen Susie Herr in town and later married her.

(Avery Harris Civil War Journal, 143rd Pennsylvania, p. 25) Circa November 1862, evenings we were regaled by the music of the 16th Maine band that discovered a very familiar class of music, such as Kitty Wells, Suwannee River, Old Kentucky Home, Massa in the Cold Ground, and other plantation melodies that sent the men’s thoughts back among the Keystones maple and beech.

(Diary of Charles Henry Peterson, Company A, 12th New Jersey - some choice excerpts)
-January 8, 1863: The band boys built a chimney … Isaac Haynes mixed up the mud, Ike Sickler cut and notched the logs, while J. Evans put up the fire place.
-February 2: Band liked to blow their brains out. We played 2 or 3 new polkas and about 13 or 14 other pieces.
-February 17: Evening played, Granny, will your dog bite? First time.
-March 3: We consolidated bands and marched in review before Gen. Hooker. Numbered 21 without drums or cymbals.
-March 4: Harry arranged a new piece called Kingdom Coming. We played it.
-March 10: Been rehearsing a new opera piece by Don Parquil.
-March 16: The boys have all been cleaning up their instruments.
-March 19: After dinner we had two dead marches to play, one from Company A and one from Company I.
-March 30: Brigade review … The [14th] Connecticut band and we joined bands – we numbered 26 pieces.
-April 3: [14th] Connecticut band borrowed our bass drum to rehearse.
-April 13: After dress parade the drum corps played a dead march for one of Company I named Jack Sharp.
-June 3: Drum Major started on a 5-day furlough, we sent for a bass drum by him.
-June 6: The band has been out in the woods nearly all day practicing a new piece. We played in front of the Major’s quarters at 6 p.m.
-June 11: This evening we went over to the 24th [New Jersey?] and played for them. We borrowed the 1st Brigade band drums.
-June 13: I went over to the First Brigade band and got my instrument fixed, that is, I got a key soldered on that I took off at the Chancellorsville fight.
-June 23: Barry and I went over to the First Brigade band and took them some music.
-June 28: Passed through a town, we played a polka.

(Letters of Capt. Charles R. Johnson, 16th Massachusetts) January 1863. Our brigade has been bothered by the band, which has been recently organized out of wretched material. The tune they played was good enough, but one part was played at quick time and another at slow time which put the men out [of step?].

(A Minor War History, by Martin A. Haynes, Company I, 2nd New Hampshire) December 1861, winter entertainment from musical instruments, fiddles, banjos, etc. June 6, 1863, drummers and fifers give concert, on dress parade they made a blunder, then had a big jabbering over it, and came pretty near having a fight.

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Aug 25, 2012
The question is how many letters, diaries and journals are still in someone's attic, chest or basement mouldering away that have so much unknown information that will never see the light of day or have been destroyed over the years ?! What a loss to us all
No one knows, but it is fun to think about.
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