"The James Black diary brings the war down to a personal level, as
he tells of the day-to-day experiences of common people caught up in
this huge conflict," said Illinois State Historian Dr. Thomas
Schwartz. "It is a direct link to our past, allowing us to better
understand this critical period in our history as we approach the
150th anniversary of the Civil War."
The handwritten diary
transcribed during the Civil War by Black from his field notes has
entries for every day from Jan. 1, 1862, through Dec. 31, 1865. It
includes Black's observations of daily life as a Union soldier and
his unvarnished opinions about generals, army life and the horrors
of war. The diary was obtained by Benita and David Moore of
Galesburg from one of Black's descendants. Benita is a native of
Salem and David is a native of Jacksonville.
James A. Black was born in Salem in 1835. Although he had prior
medical experience, Black wanted to be a soldier for the Union cause
rather than a doctor, so he entered the Union Army on Jan. 1, 1862,
as an infantry private. He was mustered into the 49th Illinois
Infantry at Camp Butler near Springfield along with other men in the
unit who hailed mainly from southwest and south-central Illinois.
His unit fought in the battles at Fort Donelson and Shiloh.
A month after Shiloh, Black was sent to a field hospital after
becoming ill. There, observing the hospital conditions, Black
volunteered to use his prior medical experience to help doctors care
for other sick and injured patients, and he so impressed the medical
staff that they encouraged him to take the required military test to
become a doctor.
Black realized his medical skills could be more useful to the
Union cause than his service as an infantryman, so he passed the
test on Dec. 25, 1862, and was made assistant surgeon for the 49th
Illinois. The assistant surgeon was the person who provided what is
now known as triage care on the battlefield for the men of the unit.
Black continued to see action with his unit in western Tennessee,
Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri, fighting under Gens.
Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, among others. He
participated in the Meridian and Red River campaigns, fought in the
Battle of Nashville, and was part of a group that pursued
Confederate troops across Missouri when it was feared they would
invade southern Illinois.
Selected entries from Black's diary follow.
(Text copied from transcription.)
February 4, 1862,
Cairo, Illinois: We arrived here at 8 a.m. today unloaded our
baggage and stores and put it aboard a boat and crossed the Ohio to
Fort Holt Ky. at 4 p.m. unloaded again, and went into log barracks
left by some other Reg't. The Situation is low, and the river almost
full bank at this place. Many men of the regiment very drunk today.
February 13, 1862,
Fort Donelson, Tennessee: Up at daylight, and formed at Sunup in
¼ mile of the rebel works. In the front line at 8 a.m., maneuvered
until noon. At 1 p.m. we were moved up under cover of brush, very
close to the rebel works, then charged to within 30 yards of the
Rebel works, and held the position one hour and ten minutes. Capt.
J.W. Brokaw was killed, Jake Moore, O'Neill, Bishop, Smith Taylor
Weldon Barton and Sawyer were severely wounded, of Co. "D" Col.
Morrison was wounded & taken off the field. The Reg't lost 14 men
killed, 37 wounded, and ___ missing.
February 16, 1862,
Fort Donelson, Tennessee: The Fort was Surrendered at an early
hour this morning with 15,000 prisoners. The troops that were
engaged in the fight marched into the works and viewed the
fortification and their contents. The Rebels standing by way side
our band playing "Dixie." We stacked arms & I eat dinner with some
Rebels in their camp today.
April 7, 1862,
Shiloh, Tennessee: Ordered to "move steadily forward and retake
the ground we lost yesterday," by Gen'l John A. McClernand. Joined
on the left of Gen'l Smith's command. Supported artillery awhile,
then crossed an open field under the enemy's fire of grape &
canister almost to their guns, then ordered to recross the field.
Then we moved to the left obliquely and attacked and drove the enemy
beyond our camp. Fresh troops pressed them farther. We halted at our
camp. The Reg't lost 17 killed and 99 wounded.
[to top of second column]
May 29, 1862, Camp near Corinth,
Mississippi: Col. L.F. Ross fired artillery over us at a rebel
Picket post, there was heavy firing in the direction of Corinth, and
Picket firing on the lines during the day…the Pickets got too
friendly along the line, and would meet, and trade knives and play
poker. Ross broke it up.
October 31, 1862,
Salem, Illinois: There was many a tearful eye to-day, at the
final parting. To soldier at home is romantic; -- but
to take up the line of march, for an enemy's
country; -- for the tented field, with its hardships,
exposures, and privations, perhaps for the battlefield,
is of very serious import, - comparing this scene, with that of
the departure of other Regiments; that went to the scene of action,
one short year ago; with equal numbers, vigor, and strength, and can
now muster but half those numbers, tell but too plainly, that this
parting, may well be serious. They left about noon. I
returned to town, and spent a lonely evening, as most every person
with whom, I met, was melancholy.
December 31, 1862,
Bethel, Tennessee: I have now been in the capacity of a Soldier
one year today, and many and varied have been the scenes,
circumstances, and vicissitudes of that short period of my life,
perhaps there has been more of human nature learned in that year
than the balance of my life.
September 30, 1863,
Little Rock, Arkansas: During the past month we have had some
hard service. Marching during very hot Weather, over very dusty
roads, finding water very scarce and also very bad, and yet making
very long and hard marches, without any necessity Existing for it.
And it has told seriously on the health of the Command. When we
reached Clarendan on White River, the health of our regiment was
Excellent, and by the time we reached Brownsville, we had very many
sick men in camp and several deaths in consequence of the
unnecessary hard campaigning under circumstances.
April 30, 1864,
Alexandria, Louisiana: I bought a pair of boots yesterday for
$12.00. Soldiers have to pay exorbitant prices for every thing
bought of sutlers here – a month ago we were at Catile Landing on
our way up the river, thinking there was sufficient rebel force west
of the Mississippi river to seriously impede our progress. But it
seems we failed to accomplish the objects of the Expedition, but it
is generally conceded to be more from the stupidity and incompetency
of our General (N.P. Banks) than from the Numerical strength of the
rebel force, or the Extraordinary generalship of the opposing
Commanders. The Campaign has Cost heavily in Men & Means. In Men by
casualties of battle but, worse, in the impaired health of the
troops – to say nothing of the vast expense, to the Government – in
supplying the fleet – and Army for so long a time.
June 30, 1864,
Salem, Illinois: One month ago we were at Vicksburg anxiously
awaiting orders to come up the river to Memphis and two months ago
we were at Alexandria La. with but little knowledge of when we would
get out of that disastrous Campaign. It requires a good share of
equanimity to patiently endure all the vicissitudes of war, and by
the way the active campaigning and fighting even, is not always the
hardest part of the service, but laying at some out of the way,
place, where mails, and news, are not obtainable, and no known
object for remaining at the place, with its attendant inconveniences
and embarrassments, sometimes puts a Soldier's powers of Endurance
to a severe test.
Following the war, Black was assigned to a medical post in
Kentucky and soon thereafter set up a private medical practice in
Fillmore, Ill. (Montgomery County). He moved his practice to Bond
County, where he served residents as a country doctor until his
death in 1902.
The printed version of the diary, "A Civil War Diary -- January
1, 1862-December 31, 1865: Written by Dr. James A. Black, First
Assistant Surgeon, 49th Illinois Infantry," transcribed and edited
by Benita K. Moore, may be purchased from the gift shop at the
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
The Black diary joins 122 Civil War diaries and 400 collections
with a Civil War component in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum's collection. The library is the nation's chief
historical and genealogical research facility for all aspects of
Illinois history and is one of the top institutions for researching
the Civil War era. For more information, visit
[Text from file received from
the Illinois Historic