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Diaries and Journals

Maggie Gehrke  RG0849-6 97 98, sf 92202

  Maggie Gehrke with travel journal.
RG0849-6 97 98, sf 92202

The word diary is from the Latin diarium or "daily allowance." In China, as far back as 56 A.D., journals were kept as documents. And in tenth century Japan, "pillowbooks," so named because they were kept in the bedchambers of courtesans, recorded poetry and dreams as well as actual events.

In Europe during the Renaissance, well-to-do young men kept travel journals. Soldiers recorded their experiences during the French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. And in America, explorers and settlers moving west documented their travel, in part to aid those who followed them into the wilderness.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the personal journal or diary emerged, a tool with which their authors tried to make sense and order of their world and for those of a religious mind, record their personal failings and give thanks for blessings received. In secular matters, diaries recorded some of the most important events of the day, oftentimes from the point of view and in the words of the people most directly involved.

As education became common and the materials with which to write became affordable, the number of diaries increased. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, men and women of almost all economic and social classes were recording their daily, or near daily, activities, thoughts, and aspirations. In the twenty-first century, diaries continue to be kept in traditional volumes, and ever-changing electronic formats offer diarists new ways to record their lives.


Diary of J.A. Hill, Civil War Soldier

Hundreds of Civil War diaries expand our understanding of the war from the soldiers' point of view. These diaries are revealing, not just for their accounts of battles and hardships, but for what they tell us about the tedium of life in camp and on the march, the frustration at the delay in getting accurate news about the progress of the war, and the relief of discharge, realizing that you had survived to return to family and friends.

Born in 1845 in Illinois, James Hill came west to Nebraska in 1867 after serving for three years in the 102nd Illinois Volunteers. Hill purchased a small tract of land northwest of Falls City, ultimately increasing his holdings to 640 acres. He married twice, and in 1905 retired to Falls City, where he died in 1925.

James Hill noted on the front cover that he purchased his first diary for 60 cents on February 24, 1864, at Camp Butler in Springfield, Illinois. Even though he did not have the book in his possession until late February, he felt compelled to add entries for January and most of February from memory, and for some dates he notes:
This and several following days are left blank because I did not keep a diary at that time.  James Hill

Hill delayed enlistment because of an unspecified illness. When he did join his unit, he quickly found himself in the hospital.
Feb. 4, 1864
To day I went to what they call the Hospital it is no better than the barracks all of the Hospitals are full we have to sleep on boards.

In addition to his health woes, which continued through the entire time of his service, Hill's diaries include information on camp life, occasional skirmishes, lists of his expenses, and finally his discharge from the army. His entries are notable, not for their dramatic accounts of battle, but rather for his description of the tedium that was daily life in camp.
Wednesday 13
To day staid in camp all day and done nothing
We had inspection by General Ward and some other officers.
I got a gun to day to day is clear and pleasant

Thursday, March 23, 1865
In camp all day. we had a beautiful day. I saw some rebel soldiers this evening on their way home. They say that the rebel cause is gone up

Wednesday 12, 1865
Glorious news this morning Richmond & Petersburg ours and 30 thousand prisoners. I was engaged getting boards to build my tent larger

Raleigh N.C. Apr 29th (1865)
 To day I am staying at our Div Hospital waiting for transportation to Washington. The war is over and we are all going Home. The Div is going to march through. We will most probably leave here to night and then good bye to Dixies Land I will go home and be a citizen once more The city of Raleigh is in mourning to day for the death of President Lincoln they are firing a gun every half hour all day

Hospital Boat  H.S. Spaulding    May 1st 1865
  I am on my journey Home to day We are pursueing our way at sea off the coast of Virginia I begin to think that I will see my home once more. I am troubled with Dropsy in my abdomen One year ago to day our Colonel came to us at Wauhatchie Station Tenn and gave us marching orders for that great campaign against Atlanta since that time I have passed through some rough times but I expect to go home now to stay there

Long after the war had ended and James Hill had moved on to a new life in Nebraska, he reread his diaries and recalled his life as a soldier. Tucked away in the back of his 1865 diary are two entries from 1869 and 1871, in which he reflects on his life as recorded in these volumes:  
Feb 2nd 1869
 To day I inspected these books and find a good many things here which awaken old thoughts and feelings and also I see evidences of past Hopes which are now blasted forever    James A. Hill
March 29th 1874
  Inspected these books again and am resolved to lead a different life in the future.    J.A. Hill



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Diaries and Journals
J.A. Hill, Civil War
  W. Richards, Surveyor
  J.S. Morton, Statesman
  Sara J. Price, Teacher
       & Homesteader
  W. Danley, Businessman
  J. & E. Green, Farmers        & Homesteaders
  S. Buck, Farm Wife

Autograph Albums
  S. & E. Allis, Missionaries
  E. & L. Correll, Suffragists
  W.J. Bryan, Orator
  Lucy Drexel, Student
  Viola Barnes, Student

  D. Canfield, Author
  Willa Cather, Author
  C. Calvert, Educator
  Fenton. B. Fleming,
  Myrtle Soulier, Student
  Verna Cort, Student
  Martha McKelvie,
       Movie Columnist
  Emogine Moor,
       Women's Army Corps
  Scrapbooking Today

Photograph Albums
  W. B. Watson, Porter
  Margaret and Edward
       Gehrke, Adventurers
  Nan Aspinwall,
  Frances M. Creech,

  Edith Withers Meyers,
  Sierra Nevada Bunnell,

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Last updated 8 April 2010  

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