Friday, March 6, 2009

Family. History.

I have been busy lately, working on a project that should, if I complete it in time, make Christmas presents for my brothers and sisters this year. What am I doing, you ask? I am typing the diary of a man who fought in the Civil War. His name is William Fennelly and he was in the same company from Maine, the 16th, as my great-great grandmother's brother, Winsor Smith.
I think it was Winsor who copied the diary, as there is not one of his own in the papers we have, only letters home to his wife. His sister, Adrianna, married my great-great grandfather, Daniel Smith Kimball.
What lies in these pages are the tales of a group of men, banded together by war, trying to make sense of what they were doing, being courageous in captivity and noting those who did not survive. I cannot imagine what it was like to see a fellow soldier, a friend and brother, perish.

On August 18, 1864, the company was taken prisoner after an unsuccessful attempt at battle on the Weldon Road in Petersburg. There, they were taken into Petersburg, then moved to an "island in the Appomattox land". from there to the railroad station to board a train to Richmond. They were placed in the Libby Office, where a complaint was waged, and ignored. From Richmond, they were transferred to Belle Isle, "about 1100 men, no tents, sun very hot, dew very heavy. Received about 1000 prisoners at night."

Most of the diary is simply devoted to what they ate, where they slept, where they marched and dug trenches, as though detailing these things would make it a bit more homelike.
August 28, Sunday
"Not a sound of as church bell is heard in the doomed city. Heard the Assembly beat over the stream and that was all. Nothing extraordinary occurred. Two pieces of artillery planted on the hill. A few more Yanks went into Rich."
September 16.
Another day of dull monotony. Gen. John Morgan buried in the cemetery opposite the island. Weather warm and pleasant. Report that all the R.R. leading into Richmond are cut. "

From Belle Isle, the men were taken South to Danville, Westboro, Greensboro and, finally, Salisbury Prison, SC.

October 16, Sunday

Eleven men perished last night. Cap't Davis of the 155 N.H. shot dead by the guard, for no provocation whatever. Sun set hazy with the appearance of a storm."

December 25, 1864

A dull Christmas. No signs yet of getting out of here. The mortality continues about the same. About 3500 men have died since Oct. frequent rumors of Union success. There has been a rumor also of the death of Jeff Davis.

Dec, 31-

The Year has closed and I am a prisoner still. Year closed stormy. News scarce, mortality on the increase. Rations very poor, no meat and but little bread.

The last entry of the diary is from Feb. 23, 1865. It reads:

Rained during the night, marched at 8 A.M., passed through Lexington, crossed several streams, very slow and hard marching. Halted at night after making ten miles.

As the last entry of a mortality in the 16th Infantry is on Feb. 19, I assume that William and Winsor had been released. In all 37 of the men died and 8 deserted.

I cannot read this diary, and that of my great-great-grandfather, without felling swells of emotion within me, mostly sadness and anger.

This diary and others like it, are treasures. Links to the past from which we can learn from and, in some cases, relate to. I always tease my dad about the things that he keeps squirreled away in his office. Some of them are really not that interesting, but the things that are need to be kept, shared with the family, so that we will know who our ancestors are and what they did to help form the nation in which we live.

Family. History. Inseparable, needful and ours.


Betty said...

This is amazing! He had beautiful handwriting, and under such deplorable conditions. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your family history!

Utah Grammie said...

Wowzer - that is truly a great piece of your history! And I agree -t he penmanship is lovely - wow - I can't imagine reading that- actually holding it in your hands - yu are very fortunate! See why we need to WRITE things out for our own prosperity??

Snake River Stories said...

Wow! what a treasure. You need to scan the pages and create a book from them...I can help you!

Check out my blog at and

This needs to be a book that each of your family members can cherish - with the images of that beautiful penmanship!

Jennifer Paganelli said...

Karin what an unbelievable find but even a more unbelievable gift..Jennifer

Don said...

Hi, I'm writing a biography of William Fennelly who was born in Boston and from 1860 onwards lived here in Bar Harbor and Somesville, Maine. He was a prisoner in Salisbury Prison, NC. The diary you have appears to belong to him. Please send me an email at dplenah@gmail com. I believe we have lots of information to share.