By Mr. Eric Durr, New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs April 4, 2012
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY --The diary of a 25-year old New York Civil War Soldier who was wounded and captured at the siege of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, made famous in the movie "Glory" is now part of the collection of the New York State Military Museum.
The 85-page diary of Corporal William B. Howard, a member of Company F 48th New York Volunteer Infantry, was donated to the museum by Braintree, Mass couple Jim Livingston and Sherry Penny, a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and retired Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts respectively.
Penny, a former history professor, obtained the diary 30 or 40 years ago, her husband said. The couple is now downsizing their possessions as they move from a large house to a smaller one and are beginning to eliminate items they no longer need, Livingston explained.
Neither he nor his wife remember where she got the small notebook or the history behind it, he said. But since the diary was written by a New York Soldier, it made since to donate it to the New York State Military Museum, Livingston said.
The diary begins the day after Howard's enlistment in the 48th New York Infantry in Schenectady on Sept. 16, 1861. It ends on July 6, 1863, 12 days before he was wounded and captured in the failed Union attack on Fort Wagner, a fort protecting Charleston, S.C.
The diary is a significant acquisition for the New York State Military Museum, which holds one of the largest collections of Civil War items in the United States, said Museum Manager Michael Aikey.
"The diary is an excellent enlisted man's account of a New York regiment during its campaigns and operations in North and South Carolina from 1861 until the middle of 1863," Aikey said.
"Howard's descriptions of camp life and naval engagements, his comments after battles, and travels in the South are lengthier and richer than the typical Civil War diaries," he added.
One eventful entry was written on May 12, 1862 recording the decision by Union General David Hunter to emancipate slaves in the area of operations he was responsible for in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
"The emancipation proclamation of Genl. [David] Hunter's read to the troops declaring all the slaves free now in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Major Kane and Col. Moore of the 47th NYSV refuse to send the proclamation to the regiment. Placed under arrest by Genl. Hunter," the diary reads.
Although President Abraham Lincoln would issue his Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the rebellious states on January 1, 1863; he countermanded Hunter's order, fearing it would hurt Union sentiment in the Border States which were still in the Union.
Another entry on June 17, 1862 describes an issue of less historic impact, but of great interest to the Soldiers.
"A terrible storm raging. The schooner lies on her side on the bar off the west end of Cockspur Island. The crew is signalizenig (sic) from the wreck. A boat put off in the storm and rescued them from a watery grave. It proved to be a sutlers schooner loaded with stores. Claret wine, Champagn (sic), and lager bier (sic) floated a shore in abundance. Such a time cannot be described. Guard house and dungeon full."
The following day he wrote on a sadder note, "Perhaps the events of yesterday had something to do with the death of our Col[onel]). James H. Perry died suddenly in his quarters, 3 P.M. of disease of the heart. Sick only a few minuits (sic)."
Colonel James Perry, the man who recruited the 48th New York, was a tea-totalling Methodist minister from Brooklyn who discouraged the consumption of alcohol among the Soldiers. The unit was known as "Perry's Saints" or the "Methodist Regiment" because of the commander's reputation.
Corporal Howard's military service came to an abrupt end on July 18, 1863 when he was wounded and captured in the Fort Wagner battle.
In that battle the 48th New York took more casualties than any other unit-54 killed, 76 missing (including Howard) and 112 wounded. This includes the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a regiment of African-American Soldiers whose story is told in the movie "Glory".
By the end of the Civil War the 48th New York would rank 17th in the total number of unit members killed in battle.
According to Civil War-era records Howard was paroled-released with the promise that he not fight against the Confederacy again-after he was wounded and captured. He was discharged from the Army on April 15, 1864 due to disability. Then the historic trail dries up.
With the addition of the Corporal William B. Howard diary, the New York State Military Museum's nationally important Civil War collection continues to grow, and the museum can preserve and make available more of our state's rich military history, Aikey said.
More information on the 48th New York Volunteer Infantry and the Civil War can be found here: http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/48thInf/48thInfMain.htm