The Civil War Diary of Benjamin H. Ellicott continued
As the weather heated up in the summer of 1863, so did the Civil War, with the siege of Vicksburg finally completed, and then the momentous Battle(s) at Gettysburg. Benjamin Ellicott, writing from his home in Baltimore, struggled to make sense of what was happening, in an age when communications were still quite primitive, compared to our instant access to events. Despite telegrams and the telegraph, news was hard to get, and reliable news even harder. Ellicott’s journal shows us how different life is for civilians in a civil war compared to a war fought overseas, on someone else’s territory.1
I had hoped to publish his diary in monthly segments, but July turned out to be so eventful, I must divide it in two, and perhaps even three, parts. This part focuses primarily on the Battle of Gettysburg. I am not an historian of this event, so I will leave it to others to comment. As a reminder, late in June, Martial Law was declared in the city of Baltimore, and was very much in effect in July. One other note–those of you who have followed the diary so far may have noticed the number of photographs of Civil War generals. I include them because the photographs are remarkable, the faces, the postures and uniforms so very unique.
July 1st 1863 – Wednesday – The weather is cloudy with occasional showers of rain damp and murky, like August weather – The movements of the Rebs in Penna are not well defined – Ewell Corps seems to have marched towards Harrisburg whilst the main body of Longstreet’s and Hill with Genl Lee are supposed to be proceeding down to some of the Fords or Ferrys below Columbia – and it is said that the large Cavalry force under Stuart Fitz Lee &c recently operating near to this City and Washington, have all gone off to York or in that direction –
The movement of the Fed Army being contraband information, we are in the dark relative thereto – The latest information from Penna would indicate that the Reb. Army was falling back from the Susquehanna, most probably owing to the advance of the Army of the Potomac, part of which was said to have reached York; and that Lee was massing his Troops in the Cumberland Valley, near to Chambersburg. Some skirmishes have occurred between the outposts of the Armies, and the Feds claim to have captured one of Lee’s Trains
Martial Law appears to have worked quite smoothly to-day – excepting several cases of arrest of Parties on frivolous charges – who were kept in confinement until they took the Oath. – One Gentleman was taken in charge for wearing a red and a white rose in his buttonhole –
A Brigade of Volunteers from Genl Fosters Department arrived here to-day on their way home, their Term having expired – Maj Genl Tyler made a Speech to them in Monument Square for the purpose of inducing them “to give their services to the country for a few days longer in this hour of her greatest need where her soil is invaded and the Capitol threatened by a Rebel foe &c.” The response to this is said to have been unsatisfactory, only one of the Massachusetts Regiments having consented to serve for a short period. The N. York Troops demanding to be sent home.
Thursday July 2nd – The same Kind of Moist hot weather continues to-day with occasional sunshine – Reports from Vicksburg are variant and we cannot yet ascertain to a certainty the position of matters there, or at Port Hudson; but the Rebs are holding out stoutly even should they have not succeeded as yet in repelling the Feds. The Reports from the Two great Armies so near to us in Md. and Penna are also conflicting, but a serious and extensive battle is believed to be in progress in the vicinity of Hagerstown or Gettysburg –
Note: The map shows how right Ellicott was about the nearness of the major armies to the cities of Baltimore and Washington DC. The map comes from the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Gettysburg. Click on the map to get a better view.
Under the Martial Law a search for Arms has been instituted within this City. All the Houses occupied by “Sympathizers” are being searched to-day by Policemen, accompanied by Soldiers – and the Guns, Pistols, and Swords carried off in a wagon attached to each squad. The dwellings of Unionists have all escaped visit or search – [He does not say whether he lived in a “Unionist” dwelling.] Amongst other regulations under the Martial Law – No one (except Negroes) is allowed to leave the city without a Permit or Pass from the Provost Marshall, which can be obtained by men only by satisfying the interrogatories as to age, destination, and the fact of having taken the Oath of Allegiance previously, and, if not, taking the Oath then & there The premium on Gold has fluctuated between 45 & 48 pr ct. for several days
Friday July 3rd 1863 . Although the clouds have broken away it is very warm to day and must be exceedingly hard upon the combatants engaged in the fight that has been in progress between the great Armies on the borders of Penna The reports therefrom, that are made public, are evidently exaggerated for certain purposes. but although the Feds. captured some hundreds of Prisoners at other points, they have suffered severe losses in Killed, wounded, and Prisoners, in the fight or fights at Gettysburg – reliable accounts of these action must be given to us, soon, for which it will be better to wait than to snatch at the vague reports of such an important crisis – The Reports from Vicksburg are equally variant and not reliable at all. The accounts from Tennessee indicate that Bragg has fallen back from his position at Shelbyville to his line of defense at Tullahoma most probably, because his army has been weakened by detachments therefrom sent towards Vicksburg at Richmond, it has been reported. The siege of the former place, according to the latest advices was being pushed forward by the Feds as vigorously as possible.
Saturday July 4th 1863 – The day opened brightly but clouds have veiled the Sun sufficiently to render the pleasant breeze that prevails more effectual for comfort under this heated term – and, if the intense and anxious excitement consequent upon the momentous contest now going on so near to us, could be set aside, it might be deemed a pleasant day for the usual observance of this National Event – As it is now in this City in spite of the great and momentous crisis now pending – many citizens are crowding the Railway Cars, and other conveyances, proceeding to Drend[?] Hill Park under the Permission granted by Maj. Genl Schenck’s order allowing them free egress to that place alone without the City limits, during this day – The order or recommendation of the same Officer, published yesterday, that the National Flags should be displayed from every House in this City that did not wish to show that “a loyal heart did not beat under that roof” – being promulgated under the “Martial Law” – has been obeyed universally by all classes of Citizens, and such a display of Flags was never witnessed here or elsewhere – It appears to have been limited only by the ability to procure the article – the supply being insufficient for this sudden demand –
The accounts of the great Battle, or series of Battles, in progress, for the past three days, in the neighbourhood of Gettysburg, are all favorable to the success of the Feds. up to this time. The loss on both sides is admitted to be large, an unusual percentage of Fed. Officers having suffered. We cannot get the true details from any reliable source, as yet, and may not have them until Monday next, or after, the Steamers for Europe shall have left New York to-day- Reports of the most exaggerated and exciting Kind are in circulation, and Telegraphic Despatches are posted announcing what may be denied by the next one put out. The tenor of all, however, up to this time, state that the Rebs. have been worsted and driven back, whereto or how far, they do not specify – with sufficient accuracy to be credible. The forces now under Genl Meade must be very large, for, besides the Army of the Potomac, he has been reinforced by Troops collected from every quarter in considerable number – viz – from the North, from Genl Foster’s Department of N. Carolina and the Troops scattered throughout Maryland – altogether outnumbering Lee’s army considerably –
Monday July 6th 1863 – The sky was overcast, and threatening rain, with a warm Temperature during yesterday, and after a heavy rain last night this morning opens with heavy clouds and raining occasionally –
From the accounts thus far received it appears that the battles fought near to Gettysburg on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week have been the most desperately contested and sanguinary that have taken place during this war. Many Thousands of Soldiers on both sides being Killed and wounded – On Wednesday last Genl Reynolds advanced against the Rebs posted about 3 Miles beyond Gettysburg with the 1st 5th Corp and the 11th Corp in reserve as he supposed against an inferior force, but the attack made upon him was so severe he soon found out that he was outnumbered and he was compelled to fall back with a very large loss of his men and his own life. We have but few particulars of this fight excepting that it was well contested, around [?] and in the Town of Gettysburg and that the number of his Officers, Killed, and wounded was unusually large — On Thursday the main forces of both Armies had come up, and every one expected that the battle would commence with the day, but the Fed Army appear to have awaited the movements of the Rebs. in anxious suspense until between two or three O’clk. when Genl Sickles to advance with the whole Third Corps – This advance brought on the general engagement and was made under cover of the artillery five with Corps Division and brigade colors all in the air. Then the enemy’s artillery so long silent began to play on our left. In turn our pieces, on cemetery Hill opened on those of the enemy other batteries opened and so it went round until the valley in which Gettysburg lies was one immense network of fire with the trace of shells from battery to battery. Such a concentration of fire on the Fed. position soon compelled some movement of ammunition wagons, ambulances &c and in Ten minutes after this duel began, the Balto. Turnpike was lined with vehicles in motion towards safer places and a stampede was imminent when a line was established and every fellow disposed to retire was sent to the front. Very soon after this shelling began the Cemetery Hill was cleaned of all its numerous occupants except the Generals Howard and Steinwher [sic, Steinwehr] who had their Headquarters there and the men necessary to hold the place
The Third Corps had been driven from the ground but were rallied by Sickles and held its place with desperate tenacity against a very heavy force. Hard pressed pressed [sic] on the whole front the Third Corps called for support and at 5 P.M the Fifth Corps was marched from its position on the Balto. Turnpike to a little Hill just North of Sugar Loaf Hill on the left of the Third Corps. No sooner had it done so than the five [?] front open which then came in rear of the eight brigade and threw it into some confusion, but it was rallied and went on again and the line of these two Divisions drove the Rebs before it until it had taken the position previously occupied by one of the Reb [word missing]
Here a fire was concentrated on these two Divisions from batteries farther to the rear, and at the same time the enemy was reported on our left. At once the line was ordered to retire and went back stealthily to the crest of the Hill. It was half hour before sunset and now came the final great attempt. Two Divisions under McLaw and Anderson came forward in their usual magnificent style – They had difficult ground to come over but on they came over rocks and through the low woods, until within a fair distance when they made a rush with all possible yells roared into one – They did not keep their line very even but they were scarcely less impetuous as a mass than they would have been in line – They Killed men on the crest of the hill, over the crest, and then were even driven well down on the other side, but these rallied on those that held their places and bullets were poured into the Reb. mass by volleys – By one gigantic effort of the Fifth Corps the attacking column was scattered down the hill and the battle was over on the left – and the fight was only continued further by an attack on the right which was soon repulsed after nightfall –
On Friday shortly after noon the Confeds opened with artillery on the centre and left of the Fed. lines and after three hours of incessant firing made two general assaults but were repulsed with severe loss each time, leaving 3000 prisoners including many Officers in the hands of the Feds. On Saturday the Rebs. withdrew from their position occupied at the close of the day previous, but it was not known whether it was a retreat or a maneuver for another purpose. Genl Lee’s Headquarters were at Cush Town 12 miles west of Gettysburg – It is estimated that the losses in Killed and wounded of both armies in this series of battles will not fall short of 50 Thousand – 20,000 Feds and 30,000 Rebs. An official dispatch from Frederick states that an expedition sent thence by Genl French had destroyed the Pontoon bridge laid across the Potomac by the Rebs at Williamsport. Many of the General Officers of both sides have been Killed and wounded – and about 4000 Reb Prisoners have passed through this City to Fort McHenry up to this morning.
Besides a variety of rumors current in the City today we learn that Genl Meade has removed the Headquarters Army of the Potomac to Frederick City and that every Soldier has been ordered from this City to that point and but a few stragglers besides the sick or wounded are left behind – A recruiting office under the charge of a Col. Birney has been open’d near to Camden Station, for the enlistment of Two Negro Regiments by order of the War Department – Of the actual and relative condition of the Two great Armies now so near to us, we are permitted to know so little that the public mind is not assured of any of the results of the late series of battles as reported – All other matters are absorbed in the operations of these Armies as all business is paralyzed thereby, or by the action of the Martial Law in operation and the lines of Barricades throughout the streets of this City. Martial Law was declared over Washington City and the District of Columbia to-day and it is said that all of the Militia of the District has been called out into service – wherefore the Public cannot reconcile these extreme movements for defense with the broken and disorganized condition of the Reb Army depicted by the reports permitted to be published by the Government Censors – A report, said to be official from Admiral Porter states that Vicksburg surrendered on the 4th Inst; but no report is published of a fight between Genl Lee and Genl Meade, yesterday at CreagersTown – wherein the latter was seriously worsted.
Thursday July 9th 1863 – Much rain has fallen during the past 3 days refreshing all vegetation & swelling the streams in this region – The effect of this upon the result of the contest between the Two great Armies, which seems not to be concluded by the great Battle or Series of Battles fought at and near to Gettysburg on the 1st 2nd & 3rd Inst. and which has entailed such heavy losses to both Armies – from the various and very conflicting Reports it would appear that the slaughter of Rebs was [worse?] even than that of the Feds. and the latter have captured the largest number of prisoners – 12000 being the number now said to have been taken – altho’ but about 6000 have passed through this City to Fort McHenry enroute for Fortress Monroe and many of these are wounded men & Officers who were taken into Hospitals near the Battlefield or in a Train of wounded captured on Sunday 5th Inst. –
The Reports are so conflicting that it is difficult to find the whereabouts of Genl Lee or his forces. It appears most probable, however, that they are massed west of the South Mountain in the vicinity of Greencastle or HagersTown. The swollen condition of the Potomac rendering the crossing of the large Trains of his wagons a tedious task if not an impossibility for some days to come, and a great Battle will be fought near there most probably. in the meanwhile – The Fall of Vicksburg seems to be confirmed by subsequent details of operations there, after a siege of 45 days and after a portion of the works had been mined and blown up by the Feds on the 28th Ulto doing great damage thereto – Still there are strong doubts in my own mind as to the truth of the Report of the Surrender of that Stronghold on the 4th of July altho’ vouched for by the highest Authorities at Washington –
Several Hundreds of Negroes are said to be already recruited for the Two Regiments to be raised in this City, companies of them are marched thro’ the Streets daily armed with Muskets but not fully equipped or uniformed with the well ventilated dress which has been decided upon as most appropriate for them by the Commission or Negro Bureau which had that most important matter in charge – The Reports current about Town to-day mystify the condition of affairs both with reference to Vicksburg & Port Hudson as well as operations at New Orleans and Richmond and the movements of the Armies now in Maryland forming altogether quite a muddle –
Volume 4, p. 157
“Continuation of B. H. E.’s Diary which was commenced Feb’y 17th 1862”
July 10th 1863 Friday The weather has been warmer for some days past but the nights are pleasant. The Sun rose clear this morning; wind Easterly and Northerly but quite warm
The intelligence from Vicksburg comes by way of N. York and seems to confirm the surrender – but Richmond Papers of the 6th in mentioning the affairs at V. up to the 4th say nothing about surrender, but mention only that the Feds. fired a National Salute on the 4th The exact whereabouts of Lee has not been developed by any statements yet published. It is most probably, however, that he is at or near to Williamsport with the bulk his Army, in good condition for a fight, which is imminent. A requisition has been made for 300,000 conscripts to be mustered into service without any delay. The Troops already mustered in the recent calls will be allowed to the Districts where they have come, and the order from the Reb. Authorities is peremptory for its immediate execution –
We have accounts from N. Orleans with the particulars of the surprise of the Fed Garrison of Brashear [?] City by the Rebs under Gen’l Dick Taylor on the [blank] Where an immense quantity of Stores and munitions[?] besides Tents, Guns, Muskets, Baggage, Munitions and Prisoners were captured, also 3000 Contrabands were seized upon. –
Saturday July 11th 1863 It is very warm but without rain today – Assisted Ellicott Fisher in conveying Harry Fisher, his brother, from Eliza G. Early’s to the Cars on his way to his home at Wakefield – Harry is a Lieutenant in the Federal Army and being disabled by sickness he succeeded in reaching the City within a few days past & has been staying at Eliza’s since to recruit his strength sufficiently to bear the fatigue of this further journey. I left him with his Brother comfortably quartered in the cars and provided with a sufficient supply of provider[?] and appliances for a much longer journey, which he will accomplish safely I trust.
Public interest is divided between the reported surrender of Vicksburg on the 4th day of July, and the movement of the Two great Armies now in Maryland. We are still further mystified respecting the former by the extracts from the Richmond Despatch of the 8th Inst. Amongst these is the statement that a Telegraphic from Jackson Miss. forwards a Telegram from Billings Station of the 5th Inst. stating the fact of several movements made both by the Feds. and Rebs along the line of the Big Black on the 4th Inst. but says nothing of the surrender of Vicksburg although so near to this Station – and the Washington Star of last evening announcing that the delay in receiving Genl Grant’s Despatch giving the particulars of the Surrender was caused by the fact of the Guerrillas having possession of the Telegraph between Memphis & Cairo, has still further mystified this matter, and many are doubting the truth of the whole matter — Although heavy skirmishing is said to be be [sic] going on between the forces of Lee & Meade the report of a general engagement between the armies is not confirmed as yet –
Sunday July 12th – Today opens cloudy, damp, and oppressively warm behind the indication of the Thermometer, going to the absence of any breeze excepting an occasional puff from the S. East. As distant Thunder is now heard (12 M.) we may expect either a gust or a change of the air
Although the possession of the Telegraphic line between Memphis and Cairo is given as the reason for the absence of Genl Grant’s official Despatch respecting the greatest event of his life we have particulars by way of New York, of the capture of Vicksburg rec’d there yesterday the 11th Inst. – stating that “we have taken 27000 Prisoners, besides 4000 more combatants, 102 field Pieces, 30 siege Guns, 50,000 stand of Arms, and 57 stand of Colors. There were 550 Rebels in Hospital, one half of whom are wounded. Only 150 of the garrison are reported fit for duty.”
Besides this another “Official Despatch” received at the Navy Department same day from Rear Admiral D. D. Porter dated “Flagship Black Hawk – Vicksburg July 4th 1863” – details the operations of the Naval forces under him during the siege, and reiterating, without alluding however, to his former Dispatch, that “Vicksburg has surrendered at last to the United States forces, after a desperate but vain resistance – “The mortar boats have been at work for 42 days, without intermission, throwing[?] shells into all parts of the City “.. The Gunboats have been constantly employed below Vicksburg in shelling the works” – “Three heavy guns placed[?] on Scows, a 9 in – 10 in and a 100 pound rifle, were placed in position a mile from town and commanded all the important water batteries”[?] Five 8 in –two 9 in – Two 42 founders rifles – Four 32 pounder shell Guns have been landed, at the request of the Generals commanding corps, from the Gunboats and mounted in the rear of Vicksburg “There has been a large expenditure of Ammunition during the siege – The Mortars have fired 7000 Mortar shells, and the Gunboats 4,500 – 4500 have been fired from the naval Guns on shore, and we have supplied over 6000 to the different Army Corps”
In addition to these particulars we have graphic descriptions of the conference between Pemberton and Grant, prior to, and the terms of the surrender – as also of the general condition of the Town and of the destitute and suffering condition the inhabitants.
All the information we have from the Armies of Lee and Meade is that no general engagement between them took place yet to-day – although they were said to be in very close proximity and heavy skirmishing has been going on for a day or two in the fronts. Many affairs between the Cavalry of the two sides are reported in which the Feds claim to have had the advantage, and to have captured many wagons and Prisoners from the Rebs. amongst whom are Genl Jenkins, and other officers – also that the Rebs captured a large number of Prisoners during the Gettysburg Battles over 12000 of whom were sent across the Potomac and nearly 3000 were paroled, and sent to Harrisburg during the past week. – Genl Prentiss claims to have defeated the Rebs under Price, Marmaduke &c at Helena[?] Arkansas on the 4th Inst. with considerable loss in Killed wounded & Prisoners – Gold is 33 % Premium
Historians of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular will understand all the implications of Ellicott’s reports. Most of us know Gettysburg only from the speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln memorializing the battle. However, this speech was not given until November 19, 1863, which was two months after the death of Benjamin Ellicott. Thus we will never know what he might have thought of it.
Next week, part two of July 1863, for the aftermath of Gettysburg, and the draft riots in New York City.
- The month of July begins on page 149 of the third volume of Ellicott’s diary. For previous articles on the Civil War Diary of Benjamin H. Ellicott, click on the tag in the right column for “Civil War.” These entries come from the four volumes of diaries, held by the Hunterdon County Historical Society in Collection 110, Box 2. Note that I have tried to preserve both Ellicott’s spelling and his somewhat haphazard punctuation. There are several illegible words in this volume. ↩