“I was out in the woods chopping with Charles Nowlton [sic: Knowlton] and was just thinking of going home for the night, when Lieut. Geo. S. Darling came out where we were to work, seeking for recruits, and as I had been wanting to enlist, this was just the opportunity, so I took his pencil and paper upon an oak stump and made myself a soldier for three years in Co. F., 31st regt.”
Thus begins the Diary of Richard F. Underwood, just one of scores of newly-discovered manuscripts of Civil War diaries, reminiscences, and personal recollections of members of the 31st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Comprised mainly of troops from the four western counties of Massachusetts, the unit was known as the “Western Bay State Regiment.” The regiment was the first to enter New Orleans in 1862 and from then until the end of the war the unit was stationed in and around Louisiana, having participated in the Siege of Port Hudson, the Red River Campaign, Sabine Cross Roads, and other actions.
The manuscripts were found in the archives of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History in Springfield, Massachusetts. They had been collected in the early 1900s by the regimental historian, Lewis Frederick Rice, with the purpose of publishing a regimental history which was never completed. In 1929, the documents were donated by the dwindling regimental association to the Connecticut Valley Historical Society, whose collection was absorbed by the current museum. They have remained unprocessed until now. The collection includes more than fifty manuscripts written by more than thirty individuals. Most have been transcribed and typewritten, but none, to our knowledge, has been published before. For a complete list of the manuscripts, click here.
Some of the documents are simply transcripts of the day-by-day diaries kept by the soldiers at the time. Most, like the Underwood transcript, appear to be edited reminiscences based on actual diary entries. Others are personal recollections written retrospectively. All combined, they draw a vivid and insightful picture of Civil War camp life in and around Louisiana from 1862 through 1865.
Funding for the development of this website was provided by a grant from the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War. The website was created by Cliff McCarthy, Larry Lowenthal, Stan Prager, and Jose Hernandez.
Notes: To aid modern readers, some punctuation and paragraph breaks have been added to the transcripts, however, we have made every effort to keep the original “voice” of the writer, including misspellings. Editorial notes added by us, are identified by brackets [ ].
Also, we recognize that some of the thoughts and language herein are considered racist by today’s standards, however we have not altered or edited them, preferring to let the reader discern the author’s intent and measure the progress made in the century since these narratives were written.
This website is dedicated to Lewis Frederick Rice, who compiled these manuscripts, but never saw the fruits of his labor.