Litchard.pngCivil War soldiers produced a plethora of diaries and letters that reveal their religion, motivation, discipline, patriotism, and soldiering life.  Some diarists wrote to escape the monotonous routine of camp life; others vented their frustrations, conveyed opinions they could not voice aloud, described battles in order to process the horrors they had seen, or simply wrote because they could not communicate with their loved ones directly.[1]  Because nineteenth-century technology produced cheaper books and periodicals, the three million Americans who fought the Civil War were the most literate soldiers prior to the twentieth century.  Over eighty percent kept diaries or wrote letters to their loved ones.[2]  Historians have transcribed hundreds of diaries, many of which have been included in online databases.  Through use of these Civil War diaries, historians examine questions that official records alone cannot answer.

Historians have used diaries and letters to analyze the lives of common soldiers.[3]   Nevertheless, other Civil War diaries remain virtually unexamined.  One of these is the diary of Almanzo Litchard (1841-1906) of Rushford, New York.

Litchard enlisted in the Eighty-sixth Regiment of New York Volunteers and faithfully recorded in a pocket journal his experience during the first year of the war.   His lack of emotional expressions and simple writing style imply that the diary was simply for personal use, to help remember his experiences.  Litchard’s regiment left for Washington, D.C. on November 23, 1861 and defended the city throughout the winter, while attached to the Second Brigade, Casey’s Division, Army of the Potomac.[4]  In August 1862 the regiment left Washington to join Pope’s campaign in Northern Virginia.  Under the command of Colonel Benajah Bailey, Litchard fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run.  His regiment suffered twenty-three casualties and had thirty-eight men missing.  In September, the regiment returned to Washington, and on November 13, 1862, Almanzo was discharged because of illness and returned to Almond, New York.[5]

On September 1, 1864, he enlisted in Company E, Ninth New York Heavy Artillery, Third Division, Sixth Corps.[6]  While serving in the armies of McClellan, Pope, Sheridan, and Grant, Litchard fought in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, at the Siege of Petersburg, and in the Appomattox Campaign.  He was present at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant.[7]  He became ill in Danville, Virginia, and on June 20, 1865, he was discharged.

Following the war Litchard became a farmer in Rushford, New York.  In 1897, he was elected as a Republican to the New York Legislative Assembly, where he represented farmers’ interests.[8]  The following year he was reelected by the largest majority ever given to a candidate in that district.  He served on the Committee on Internal Affairs, Excise, and Agriculture.  Litchard was also president of the Allegany County Farmers’ Club, the Allegany County Farmers’ Co-operative Fire Insurance Company, and the New York State Farmers’ Congress. [9]

In the 1960s Litchard’s descendants discovered his diary behind a wall in a house that had been previously owned by the family, and the diary was transcribed in 2011.  The diary illustrates both typical concerns of a soldier and the more unusual experiences of a Union soldier stationed in Washington, D.C. from 1861 to 1862.

James McPherson analyzed hundreds of Civil War diaries in the process of writing For Cause and Comrades,and his work provides a standard against which to compare Litchard.  McPherson postulated that soldiers did not enlist because they believed their lives were cheap or commonplace or because their culture was more violent, nor did they enlist for pay or because they wished to be professional soldiers.  They enlisted because of patriotism, sense of duty, desire to fight, family support, and ideological beliefs.  Unionists called this patriotic impulse “the war to preserve the union” while Confederates believed it to be a fight for independence from tyranny.[10]

Many enlisted because the contemporary ethical code emphasized duty and honor.[11]  Soldiers filled their diaries with phrases such as “‘I went from a sense of duty’” and “‘I performed … a duty to my country and myself.’”  Northern soldiers seemed to stress defense of the nation while southern soldiers spoke more of honor and personal reputation.

The soldiers’ morale would have crumbled without family support.  During the first year of the war, many soldiers viewed themselves as civilians fighting briefly before returning to their homes and former way of life, and homesickness dominated diary entries.  Diarists often mentioned the contents of letters from home and conveyed their feelings about family struggles.

Some soldiers enlisted because they were encouraged to do so by their families, but a majority of those who enlisted during the first year of the war chose to do so on their own initiative.[12]  Some also wanted to prove their manhood by fighting, an emotion that dissolved once they discovered the horrors of war.

Some soldiers enlisted because of strong ideological beliefs.  Earl Hess has argued that ideology and culture must be “major—if not key—motivations for any society engaged in a war that is large enough to demand the support of a majority of its citizens.”[13]  The high ideological commitment of Civil War soldiers included a belief in freedom or states’ rights, rather than a desire for glory, adventure, or economic gain.[14]    Nevertheless, these ideological commitments typically weakened as the war continued.

Litchard’s motives for joining the army remain a mystery because he did not explicitly record either his reason for enlisting or his feelings about the war.  Only one hint remains, a single line following some pages that have been torn out: “… oppressed of all nations is now engaging in civil war, is this not sad to contemplate?”[15]  The line suggests that Litchard enlisted because he believed in the same sort of duty and honor that motivated many of his fellow Union soldiers.  Encouragement from his family might also have prompted him to enlist because his twin brother joined on the same day.

Civil War diarists typically discussed religion, military campaigns, daily hardships, the home front, and personal health.  According to McPherson, wars usually strengthened religious convictions, and he argued that the Civil War armies were the most religious in history.  Religion permeated the diaries; northerners were apt to debate religious topics, while Southerners viewed religion as a way of life.[16]  As a devout Methodist, Litchard commented on his faith over thirty-five times in his diary.  He faithfully attended church in his barracks every Sunday, even noting the text preached on.[17]  After the war, Litchard became the Sunday School superintendent of a Methodist church.[18]

Many soldiers included notes on their officers, discipline, and troop movements.  Officers normally came from the same county as their men but were usually older, had more education, and were of a higher social status.  Unfortunately, few officers were acquainted with drilling or tactics, so their attempts at training were of necessity limited and often dangerous when men attempted to use explosives or bayonets.[19]  Litchard recorded that one of his officers was badly injured after falling from his horse in a sham fight.[20]  Soldiers also criticized their superiors for drunkenness because they were supposed to present a higher standard of behavior.  Litchard recorded that one non-commissioned officer lost his stripes for getting drunk.[21]

Officers also created conflict because of their higher social status.  Although America claimed to represent social equality, the army experience by its nature had to enforce inequality.  Randall Jimerson argued that “many soldiers resented infringements on their rights and … the army hierarchy reinforced the influence of educated and wealthy social leaders and dramatically revealed inequalities in social status.”[22]  Such inequalities are not apparent in Litchard’s regiment, at least among the junior officers.  Instead, Litchard recorded how his officers befriended enlisted men, sharing meals and hunting with them during free afternoons.

Because in civilian life Americans tended to think themselves as good as their neighbors, insubordination, disobedience, and desertion were common in both armies.  Punishment varied from regiment to regiment, and even though desertion was a capital offense, military courts rarely enforced the extreme penalty.[23]  Litchard’s company seems to have been stricter by comparison.  He wrote multiple entries about men being put in the guardhouse for stealing, fighting, drunkenness, and failure to make roll call.

Because diaries and letters were uncensored, many soldiers discussed drills and troop movements.  Litchard mentioned daily drills and inspections over two hundred times and noted that drilling lasted several hours each day regardless of weather.  On one occasion during the winter, Litchard’s regiment received orders to move out, and after hours of marching, the order was countermanded.  He penned, “Got back to our camp and the tents were all torn down and we pitched our tents down under the hill and there we stopped all night.  The boys were all mad.”[24]  Litchard often named the exact place he camped, and his diary entries confirm the regimental history.

Civil War diarists often discussed daily hardships including late pay, bad weather, old clothing, and too little food.  Woolen uniforms were too hot in the summer and too cold in rainy weather.  Tents leaked and maggots crawled over their food.  Marching was torture because the roads were dusty in the summer and muddy in the winter.[25]  Litchard noted that his shoes wore out within the first year from the hours of daily drilling.[26]  Pay was late, if it arrived at all.

Good food was as scarce as money.  Litchard’s daily ration consisted of beans and coffee, though sometimes even these rations did not come for days.  Litchard hunted to supplement his diet and sold the extra meat to his comrades.  One of Litchard’s enterprising friends shot a possum and sold it for a dollar.[27]  Poor food led to poor health, and many soldiers died.[28]

By the early nineteenth-century the United States had an efficient mail service, and soldiers looked forward to mail call.[29]  Litchard mentioned family letters over forty times in his diary.  On several occasions before his regiment left for Washington, D.C., he received permission to go home on leave, where he rested and spent time with a best friend who served in a different regiment.[30]

Litchard frequently discussed his personal health and the widespread sicknesses that killed many of his friends.  During the Civil War, more soldiers died from dysentery than combat, and some regiments often had two-thirds of their men on sick list.[31]  Unsanitary conditions of camp life created a perfect breeding ground for disease, and soldiers contracted smallpox, measles, typhoid, malaria, and dysentery.[32]  Litchard buried thirteen of his friends who died of typhoid, food poisoning, and mental illness.[33]  He personally suffered the flu on two occasions and was later discharged from his regiment on account of illness.[34]

As did other soldiers Litchard wrote about pastimes and special events.  On one occasion, Litchard’s regiment and another competed in a series of informal sports like races, climbing poles, playing football, and catching greased pigs.[35]  Because his regiment was stationed outside Washington during the summer months, the men enjoyed other recreational opportunities such as swimming, sailing, and fishing.  Soldiers engaged in activities such as cricket, bowling, and baseball to relieve stress and maintain physical fitness.[36]  Because of his recorded experiences, Litchard typifies the life of a Union soldier during the first year of the Civil War.

– Hannah S. Bowers

Author’s Note

This submission is part of my graduate thesis.  This paper compares Litchard’s diary to other diaries by using McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades as a standard for analysis.  Another part of my thesis will discuss the uniqueness of Litchard’s diary because of his visits to Congressional debates and other prominent events in Washington, D.C. during the first year of the Civil War.  My thesis is that although Litchard is typical of Civil War diarists his diary offers an unusual glimpse into life in Washington D.C. during the first year of the war.


[1] Bell Wiley, “Trials of Soul,” in The Civil War Soldier:  A Historical Reader, edited by Michael Barton and Larry Logue (New York:  New York University Press, 2001), 13.

[2] James McPherson, For Cause and Comrades:  Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998), 11.

[3] The most common books include Michael Barton Goodmen, Henry Commager The Blue and the Gray, Randall Jimerson The Private Civil War, James McPherson For Cause and Comrades, James Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray, and Bell Wiley two-volume Billy Yank and Johnny Reb.

[4] Civil War in the East, “86th New York Infantry Regiment ‘Steuben Rangers,’” http://www.civilwarintheeast.com/USA/NY/NY086.php (accessed September 18, 2012).  Almanzo W. Litchard’s name has also been spelled as Alamanzo or Allamanzo.

[5] “Eighty-Sixth Infantry,” http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/djw/86thRoster.pdf (accessed September 18, 2012).

[6] Alfred Roe, The Ninth New York Heavy Artillery, (Worcester, MA: F. S. Blanchard & Co., 1899), 427.

[7] The Civil War Archive, “Union Regimental Histories:  New York,” http://www.civilwararchive.com/Unreghst/unnyart1.htm (accessed September 18, 2012).  The Shenandoah Valley Campaign (August 7 – November 28) included the battles at Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek.  The Appomattox Campaign included the battles at Amelia Springs, Sayler’s Creek, and Appomattox Court House.

[8] Roe, 427.

[9] Edgar Murlin, The New York Red Book (Albany, NY:  James B. Lyon Publisher, 1898), 229.

[10] McPherson, 5, 104-105.

[11] Earl Hess, Liberty, Virtue, and Progress: Northerners and their War for the North (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 3.

[12] McPherson, 22, 133, 46, 16.

[13] Hess, 1.

[14] Pete Maslowski, “A Study of Morale in Civil War Soldiers,” In The Civil War Soldier: A Historical Reader, edited by Michael Barton and Larry Logue (New York: New York University Press, 2001) 315-316.

[15] Litchard, 6 April 1862:  “…oppressed of all nations is now engaging in civil war, is this not sad to contemplate?  But as the drum is beating for drill and the storm has cleared away I must quit writing for this time and tend to other duties.”

[16] Robert Miller, Both Prayed to the Same God: Religion and Faith in the American Civil War, (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2007), 4, 52.

[17] Litchard, 27 October 1861.  “October 27, 1861:  Went on dress parade at half past 8.  Preaching in the dining room by Joseph Beaches.  Text Philippians 6 and 10.”

[18] Helen Gilbert, ed, Rushford and Rushford People, (Chautauqua, New York: Chautauqua Print Shop, 1910), 213-214.

[19] McPherson, 46.

[20] Litchard, 7 January 1862.  “January 7, 1861:  There is some snow this morning.  The Colonel took the company out about a mile from camp and there we has a sham fight.  Colonel took the union bay and Crary the sable.  Crary got badly wounded and his coat burnt rather bad.”

[21] Ibid, 24 April 1862.  “April 24, 1862:  Came off from guard tonight.  The river is going down fast.  Rathbone has been promoted to sergeant.  Arwin has been reduced to the ranks for getting drunk.”

[22] Randall Jimerson, The Private Civil War: Popular Thought during the Sectional Conflict, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1988) 198.

[23] Henry Steele Commanger ed, The Blue and the Gray: The Story of the Civil War as told by Participants, (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1950), 2:482.

[24] Litchard, 24 February 1862.  “February 24, 1862:  Pitched our tents and at 7 o’clock we were ready to move.  We loaded our knapsacks and fell in line and started for Good Hope.  We marched down the ___ bridge when another horse came all sweaty and the order was countermanded and we went back.  Got back to our camp and the tents were all torn down and we pitched our tents down under the hill and there we stopped all night.  The boys were all mad.  I stopped with Sprague and Girod.”

[25] Commager, 289.

[26] Litchard, 3 May 1862.  “May 3, 1862:  The weather is fine this morning.  Was to go on guard but got refused.  Gideon Allen is not expected to live but a short time.  Telegraphed to his folks.  Bought me a pair of shoes.  Gave $2 for them.”

[27] Ibid, 15 January 1862.  “January 15, 1862:  Went on guard today.  Was released in the afternoon on account of the severe rain.  Nathan Vincent went out a hunting and got a possum and sold it to S.W. for $1.”

[28] Bell Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank, the Common Soldier of the Union, (Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1952), 124.

[29] McPherson, 132.

[30] Litchard, 14-18 November 1861.  “November 14, 1861:  Went home at 4 o’clock a.m.  Got home at 11.  Stayed to upstairs.  November 15:  Went down in the valley.  From there went up on the hill.  At night went down to John’s to have a good time.  November 16:  Today went to Burns.  Came back in.  Stopped towards.  November 17:  Went to church today.  Stayed to Luke’s tonight.  November 18:  Went down on the mail train to Elmira.”

[31] Bell Wiley, 124.

[32] Larry Logue, To Appomattox and Beyond: The Civil War Soldier in War and Peace, (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1996), 34.

[33] Litchard, 31 March – 3 April 1862.  “March 31, 1862:  Henry Perry went to the hospital today.  He is quite sick.  April 1:  Drilled as usual.  Varnished some guns.  Henry is worse today.  [He is] deranged.  April 2:  Henry is worse today.  [He] is not expected to live.  Sam telegraphed to his folks.  April 3:  Henry died today.  Ed Stewart is very sick.  ____ Meeks is out of his head.”

[34] “Eighty-Sixth Infantry.”

[35] Litchard, 22 February 1862.  “February 22, 1862:  The regiment went out back of cam and formed in hollow square and the Adjutant read the farewell address of George Washington when he resigned his service from the service of the United States.  Went out and run the 5th NY Volunteers.  Have races and play with a football.  The Major beat them.  Saw them try to climb a greased pole.  Then saw them catch a greased pig.  Elick is some better tonight.”

[36] Civil War Trust, “Past Times of the 1860’s,” http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/on-the-homefront/culture/pasttimes.html.  “More athletic activities included wrestling, boxing, leapfrog, racing on foot or horseback, cricket, and—in at least one instance—bowling using cannon balls to knock down rough wooden pins.  Baseball, played differently than it is today, was another popular sport.”

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