Saturday, October 03, 2015

A haunting final entry in 16th Connecticut soldier's diary

In 1864, 16th Connecticut Private Henry Adams recorded entries in this small pocket diary. 
(Connecticut Historical Society collection)
The battles in which the 16th Connecticut participated are noted in the diary. The regiment
 played only a small role at Fredericksburg. At Antietam, its first battle of the war, 
the 16th Connecticut was routed.
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In early September, I found a memorial stone for a 16th Connecticut soldier among the gravestones at a small, out-of-the-way cemetery in rural Eastford, Conn. An old, cast-iron Grand Army of the Republic marker and a fresh U.S. flag were next to the marker that honored 20-year-old Henry H. Adams, who died of disease in a Rebel prison camp in Florence, S.C., on Oct. 20, 1864. "Thy memory will be cherished," read the words at the bottom of the slate-gray memorial.

Like the remains of thousands of other soldiers during the Civil War, including these Connecticut men from AvonBristol and West Suffield, Henry's body was not recovered and returned to his family for burial on his native soil. His remains were likely buried with other unknown Union POWs in a trench in Florence (S.C.) National Cemetery.

A memorial honors  16th Connecticut Private Henry H. Adams
 in General Lyon Cemetery in Eastford, Conn.
Adams joined the Union army in the summer of 1862, mustering in at Camp Williams in Hartford as a private in Company G on Aug. 24, 1862. Less than a month later, on Sept. 17, he was among the 204 casualties in the 16th Connecticut, which was routed at Antietam, a battle that haunted the regiment for the rest of the war. (For more on the 16th Connecticut, read Lesley Gordon's excellent book, A Broken Regiment.) Henry recovered from his wound, but was captured with most of the rest of the 16th Connecticut at Plymouth, N.C. on April 20, 1864. "Taken prisoner in the morning," Adams wrote matter-of-factly in his diary that day.

Like others in his regiment, including this soldier, Henry also recorded his experiences as a POW. In short entries in a 4 1/2 x 3 1/2-inch, leather-covered pocket diary, the young soldier noted his arrival at the notorious Andersonville prison camp in southwestern Georgia in early May  ("15,000 prisoners inside"), deaths among his comrades ("two men died in Co. K") and his own health, which gradually deteriorated while in captivity. In many entries, he also noted the weather.

In mid-September 1864 at Andersonville, Adams reported that he was "getting very weak," and nearly two weeks later, he was so incapacitated that he couldn't walk. As Sherman's army marched through Georgia, the Rebels transferred Andersonville prisoners to other camps throughout the South. On Oct. 8, Adams was sent to Florence, S.C., where initially he did well. But he soon was overcome by disease, which crippled or killed thousands of Union prisoners of war at Andersonville, Florence and elsewhere.

At the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford this morning, I had the privilege of reading Henry's diary. Nearly 151 years since Adams penciled in his final words, most of the entries remain legible. Opposite the title page of the journal, someone -- probably Henry himself -- recorded the battles in which the 16th Connecticut participated. But the most compelling, and haunting, entry in the fragile diary are the 10 words written in someone else's hand on Oct. 20, 1864.

Here are selections from Henry Adams' 1864 pocket diary:


April 18, 1864: Battle of Plymouth

"Fort Wessels captured. Heavy fireing in the morning between fort Gray and Reb batteries. Tuscany & Gunboat Bombshell sank. The Rebs charged on the works but were repulsed.


April 19, 1864

"Heavy fireing in the morning. The Rebel ram came down and sank the gunboat Smithfield. Pleasant. 


April 20, 1864: Captured

"Taken prisoner in the morning. Lines out on the Washington Road all night." 




May 4, 1864: Arrives at Andersonville

"Went inside of the stockade. Our company in the 44th Mass, 30th (?) Mass. Drawed 1 days rations. There is 15,000 prisoners inside. Pleasant." 




August 16, 1864: Deaths

"Drew (?) cooked beans and beef.  Cool and pleasant. Had a small shower just at night. Another man died from our company."


August 17, 1864

"Had our roll call. Cool and pleasant. Had to help draw rations from our team. Two men died from Co. K." 



October 13, 1864: Florence, S.C.

"We are in a very pleasant place but have no shelter. The women are very kind and bring in some nice things but the sickest get more."


October 16, 1864: Florence, S.C.

"Another cool and pleasant day. We are getting along very well only we do not get enough to eat.



October 19, 1864: Exchange?

"Cool and pleasant. We heard a sermon preached in our ward. There is talk of an exchange of the sick but can't tell."


October 20, 1864: The end

"The writer of the foregoing died at 9 o'clock pm."

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:10 AM

    Wow, that was an unexpected entry in the diary. I wish the person who made the final entry had given the specifics of Private Henry Adams's death.

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  2. I am struck, not by the final 10 words on Oct. 20, but by the first 3 on the day before he died -- "Cool and pleasant." Words like this are identical to ones I write in my dairy every day.

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  3. Interesting. Kind of like the story of Ira Pettit . I read the book Diary of a Dead Man. Thanks for all the interesting, histotical and educational blogs and FB posts!! - Nick Gruse

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  4. This was really interesting! Did he write the last entry himself or did someone write it for him?

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    1. I presume you meant the last to next one- looks to be his writing from previous entries, Debra.

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