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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By happenstance in early September 2015, I discovered a memorial stone for 16th Connecticut Private Henry H. Adams among 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 adorned Adams' marker. "Thy memory will be cherished," read the words at the bottom of the slate-gray memorial.

Like thousands of other Civil War dead, Henry's body was not recovered for burial on his native soil. He probably was haphazardly buried with other 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 enlisted in the Union army in the summer of 1862, mustering in at Camp Williams in Hartford as a private in Company G on Aug. 24. Less than a month later, on Sept. 17, he was among the 204 casualties in the 16th Connecticut, which was routed at Antietam. (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 in his diary that day.

Like others in his regiment, including this soldier, Henry recorded his experiences as a POW. In short entries in a 4 1/2 x 3 1/2-inch, leather-covered pocket diary, he 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, Adams recorded that he was "getting very weak." Nearly two weeks later, he couldn't walk. As Sherman's army marched through Georgia, Confederates transferred Andersonville prisoners to other camps throughout the South. On Oct. 8, Adams was sent to Florence, S.C., where initially he did well. 

At the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, I read Henry's diary, which somehow survived the war. Opposite the title page of the journal, someone — probably Henry himself — recorded 16th Connecticut battles. 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 Mess, 30th mess 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."

Hundreds of Union prisoners of war from the Florence, S.C.,  stockade are buried in trenches 
at the national cemetery nearby. The body of Henry Adams probably is among them.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


  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.

  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.

  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

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

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  5. Do you know more about when and where the Andersonville prisoners were moved to other camps? or where I could read more about it? Thanks for this post, sad but interesting.

    1. Sherry, all Hendersonville prisoners were moved to the Florence Prison Pen, Florence SC. When Sherman left Atlanta they thought he might try to free the Hendersonville prisoners so they went on trains first to Savannah. With no place to contain them they were sent to Charleston and held at the old fairgrounds. Meanwhile Col. Worley who was on convalescent leave was sent to Florence to build the prison with labor from local farmers slaves. The pen was 23 & 1/2 acres about same size as Anderdonville without the towers down the walls but 4 gun replacements on the corners. They came on trains before it was completed and were held in a field no far from the camp till it was completed...hope this helps you

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    3. The prisoners were moved from Andersonville during September & the first part of Oct 1864 in three separate groups. The first group went to Savannah, GA. The second went to Charleston and the third group of prisoners went to Florence, SC. Those that went to Savannah were moved from there to Blackshear, GA then Thomasville, GA and then back to Andersonville in Dec 1864. The group that went to Charleston were only there a short while before being sent to Florence. The stockade was still being built at Florence when the first prisoners arrived and only had three walls, with guards across the open span.

  6. Charles8:53 AM

    Is this Diary available as a .pdf scan or transcription? I am studying some prisoners time through Andersonville and eventual parole at Charleston, SC in 1864.

    1. Do not believe it is. Check with Connecticut Historical Society. Best, JB

  7. I spent almost10 years in that camp after gaining permission from the owner and farmer who.leased part of it. Many mornings when it was hazy and I heard the train whistle blow on the same track that brought those prisoners do felt their presence knowing that they could that train whistle which represented freedom and they were dieing.
    When they broke through the SE wall where the cannon implacement was and plowed that corner of the camp you could still see the ashes where the fire pits were..interesting site that finally got some preservation

  8. So this is a different person than the Henry M. Adams wounded through the leg at Antietam and discharged for disability, right? I guess Henry Adams is a good New England name.

    1. Correct, Randy. At least two Henry Adams in the 16th Connecticut.

  9. Thank you for researching and sharing. All the best. Bruce Bisbey

  10. Fascinating. I have an ancestor Jeremiah Moon 8th Iowa Cavelry buried in a mass grave at Salisbury NC having been moved from Andersonville. Only 19 years old. So very sad.

  11. Anonymous12:47 PM

    PLEASE continue to find and speak the TRUTH! Don't anyone try to rewrite our history, painful or not! AMEN.