A day in the life of a Union soldier, Part I

A rare piece of history fell into The Courier-Herald’s lap in November 1969 — a Civil War diary.

The diary belonged to Corporal Theodore Hill Jr., and spans between June 1862 to August 1864; during this time, he was a member of Company “C,” Sixth Maine Infantry, and spent four birthdays fighting in the war, one of which was when he was captured by the South at Centerville, Virginia, in 1862.

The diary was found by Enumclaw local Margaret Terou, Hill’s granddaughter, while she was going through the belongings of Buckley resident Abbie Hill, Terou’s aunt.

If you don’t recognize the Terou name, Fren Terou — Theodore Hill’s great-great-grandson — and his wife Sandy are highly involved with Enumclaw’s Danish Sisterhood.

According to Margaret Terou, the diary was found along with some personal affects and a letter from 1818, signed by President John Adams; experts believed it was likely lost by a fellow Civil War soldier and picked up by Hill, according to the 1969 article.

The diary, which Sandy Terou said was stolen from her family, was written in faded pencil, and carried the stains of battle.

As a tribute for all veterans, the dairy is partially transcribed below, pieced together from multiple Courier-Herald issues, with some commentary and historical context. To keep with the authenticity of the diary, misspellings have been kept in place, as well as words and phrases that would normally not be printed.

June 2, 1862: Pleasant and warm. We had orders to arrange our tents in line this forenoon as they were pitched hurriedly and were put in every shape. It is reported the rebels are leaving here. We also got the news of the evacuation of Corinth and the occupation.

(It is speculated he is referring to Corinth, Mississippi. A siege of the city by Union forces lasted from April 29, 1862, to May 30. )

June 3: Morning pleasant and very hot. It is still reported that the rebels are leaving Richmond. But I don’t think it is true. Gen. Caldwell visited us last night. He brought the particulars of, or a few of them, of the battle on the left. He reported, Lt. West of Co. “C” 11th killed. He also brought news of the surrounding of Johnston and Elwell’s forces by our men. It is reported today that the Yanks attacked and defeated them.

Had a dress parade tonight. Got caught in a shower. Then got orders to strike tents and pack knapsacks and be ready to march at a moment’s notice. Later we had orders to put the tents up again.

June 5: At 3 a.m., this morning the Capt. called us to be ready to march at 4. At the hour we were on the sod. Marching going back a mile and going to the left. Arriving at the Chickahominy River. Due to the heavy rains, we had to wait until the bridge was fixed it having been washed away. Our regiment crossed about sunset. We reached our present camp around 8 p.m. We are now about one and a half miles from the camp we left this morning and a bit to the left, having travelled 10 miles to get a little more than one. We are near the battlefield of Seven Pines and word is that up until the night before last our troops had buried 1,900 rebels.

June 6: The night was quiet, but it is an unpleasant day. Some went down to the battlefield and report the field a bloody one. Most of the dead are now buried and the field and woods are one common graveyard for rebel and Federal soldier alike. It is reported that the dead now number 2,900. Many of the citizens and their ladies came out today to see the Yankees driven from the Peninsula.

June 11: Fell in line as usual at three, stood one hour, broke ranks, turned in. And were routed again in less than an hour. Stood another half hour. Some of the boys said it was because the rebels were advancing. But we didn’t see them. Most of the regiment is now on the picket with more firing than common on the line this forenoon. The regiment moved back into the woods this afternoon. Quite a brisk cannonading was kept up for a short time. The rebels threw over a few shots, one of them passing through a cavalry man killing him instantly. Col. Burnhen was sent over to the rebel lines with a flag of truce. Don’t know what it was for.

(A picket is basically smaller group of soldiers that forms a line in advance of the main army’s camp, but close enough to receive support if necessary.)

June 27: At ten, the rebels were reported advancing. An attack was expected. Our regiment fell back under cover of the woods, soon the rebels began to shell the works and a terrific cannonading was kept up for an hour. Two of the regiment were hurt by shells. The rebel battery was silenced and all was quiet on our line till five when the rebels opened with their batteries. Again and again they were silenced. This time more men were hurt. All thought some shells burst rather near us, but is hard to say in the heat of battle, you never know until you are hit yourself.

(A “battery” refers to an artillery battery, which back then consisted of four to six cannons and up to 100 men to operate, plus a team of horses to move it.)

The infantry came out on the attack. A brisk fire was kept up with many in my regiment wounded, some quite badly. There has been hard fighting on the right and skirmishing all along our lines. At eleven we were ordered back to camp to clean our rifles and get a new supply of cartridges.

It is now one a.m. and I have just finished cleaning my gun and am waiting for cartridges. Fell in at 3 as usual with orders to march at noon. Went a short distance and laid in the woods until night.

July 3: Since the 28th of June, the army has been making a backward movement, but whether a defeat or a premeditated movement I am not able to say. Some think the former, some the latter. Certain it is that the army has fallen back onto the river. Everyday there has been a battle. Every battle our troops have come out victorious.

Great has been the suffering of the soldiers on the retrograde movement. It seems to me like a dream as we’ve hardly had time to eat. Night and day we have been on the move and my time is so taken I’ve not had time to spare to my journal. Many of the men are sick from the weary march. We moved our camp again today and are now encamped where a fort is being built.

July 8: President Lincoln has been with us this afternoon. He passed by our brigade, we fell into line and stood tall to receive him. Salutes were fired from the gun boats and batteries.

July 12: All sign of rain has disappeared, but the air is cool… After the muster I went with several others to the river to bathe. In the midst of all that has happened these past few weeks, there I found a tranquil moment. The scenery from the river bank is beautiful.

July 21, 1862: Today is the anniversary of the battle… this day has been very much the same as July 21st, hot and sultry — yet the battle goes on.

(The battle Hill refers to is the first Battle of Bull Run, which happened in July 21, 1891. The battle was both a strategic victory and a morale boost for the South, whereas it dawned on the North this war wouldn’t be as easy to win as they thought. This battle is when Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson received his nickname.)

Aug. 13, 1862: Watched the punishment of a soldier tonight. The brigade was formed in line and the prisoner marched to the front. His sentence was read and then he was marched to the right of the line. Half his head was shaved and a board with large letters was tied on his back. They marched him the length of the line to the tune of the “Rouge’s March”. His sin was falling out of ranks when an engagement was expected and other acts of cowardice. He is to serve the rest of his term on enlistment on the dry Tortugas.

(Dry Tortugas, now a national park, is an island directly west of Key West off the coast of Florida.)

Aug. 1, 1862: Another month gone and we are on the banks of the James River. Doing what the newspapers call, resting on hard bread and beef and little of that. To wash it down we have to do fatigue duty all the time steady. Last night or rather this morning at about one, the rebels opened a battery from the opposite side of the river. The gun boats soon silenced them.

Aug. 15, 1962: Finally the order to be ready to march at day break has come. But now it is half past six and we are waiting on our same old ground. The teams are getting off as fast as possible and some are beginning to move out. The boys are enjoying themselves hugely by throwing old bottles, cans, rotting covers, and cartridges into the fire. It is now midnight and we are still in the old campground. Those moving out now form a long train and it is a long time in passing. Don’t see any prospect of us going as yet.

Aug. 16, 1862: At 4 p.m. the drum beat the assembly and we fell in at the color line. The major gave us the route step and we marched out of the fort for the last time. Being the last regiment to leave, we marched till eleven and halted for the night.

Aug. 19, 1862: Started at 6 a.m. Marched until ten. We passed through Yorkstown at noon. So many feet of road we have passed over now and only the very strong move easily. I’m not able to march with the regiment tomorrow. I started with them to go to the landing to take the boat when part way up for some reason some were sent back — I am among them.

Aug. 25, 1862: At sunrise got underway for Alexandria. Arrived there at two. Was marched to the regiment and glad I found them once more. Having been absent since the 20th and sick most of the time, I found them rather good to look at. Had quite a number of letters waiting for me. Pope is reported fighting and holding his position.

Aug. 26, 1862: My health is much better today. Felt more like myself. The morning papers contain some news of Pope’s movements. Gen. Segiell has captured 2,000 rebels. Our Captain went to the city this morning and has not yet arrived back with any further word on orders.

Aug. 27, 1862: Considerable heavy firing in the direction of Manassas Junction. Various news, opinions and reports as to its cause have been filtering back. At noon we were ordered to be in readiness to march at a moments warning. A part of guerillas raided Manassas capturing a few pieces of artillery. Many frightened cavalry and negros have passed this way this afternoon. I sense trouble.

(Manassas Junction was the battlefield for the first and second (Aug. 28-30, 1862) Battle of Bull Run.)

Aug. 28 – Sept. 2, 1862: We went to Fairfax station today to fix a bridge burned by the rebels. We’ve had orders to be ready to march and have been issues two day’s rations. Not being able to march, I didn’t get to go with the regiment once again. This morning we began a slow march through Fairfax and at twelve we reached Centerville. Found them fighting beyond. Started to go to the battlefield but were ordered back. The teamsters and loaders or stragglers got frightened and panicked and have commenced a general skedaddle.

They are giving gloomy accounts of the battle declaring that our lines have been broken and the army is in full retreat! Later we began to meet the wounded and they saw the lines are firm. Odd that the wounded are the ones to remain optimistic.

We halted at Centerville at nine for the night. It has been reported now that the left wing was broken, but reinforced quickly leaving three batteries in the operation. It was owing to McDowell’s neglect.

(Irvin McDowell fought at both Battles of Bull Run, and was blamed for the Union’s defeat at the second. Many northern soldiers appear to have believed he was working for the Confederacy, but a military court eventually cleared McDowell of any misconduct during both battles.)

No news today and have been quite unwell for some time. Today it is worse. Troops are on the move, but not feeling well enough I was not able to go so have been excused by the doctor and reported with the rest of the sick. They have not ordered those of us able to walk to find a house to take refuge in.

A Lieutenant in charge of this miserable group has found us a house in Centerville and here we are.

At about 8 p.m. some wounded have been brought into the house from the fight on the Fairfax road. They report General Stephens has been killed. This morning ambulances came for the wounded and advised we get out as the rebels are on their way in.

We started to walk, ran into a squad of rebels, hid and circled back to the house. Soon after the rebels came in and now we have all been taken prisoner and are under guard. Don’t know what will be done with us. At three we fell in and were marched to the rebel camp three miles from Centerville.