In February of 2011, the Society for the Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops received the gift of a unique artifact carried by an original member of the regiment. This item, a leather-bound soldier’s pocket diary belonging to an early enlistee of Company A, was generously sent to Col. Skip Smith by Mr. Paul Butler of Wichita, KS. Also included with the diary was a small gem cameo bearing the photograph likeness of a young woman named Lotta.
Mr. Butler relates his acquisition of the diary as follows: “The diary was originally found by Larry Kaufman of Derby, Kansas. He said that he found the diary with the gem tintype cameo tucked inside it about 5 years ago at an estate sale here in Wichita. It was in the bottom of a box of other papers. There were no other documents with this whatsoever. He purchased it for less than five dollars. Over the last 5 years he tried to transcribe it to the best of his ability. About 3 or 4 months ago he gave it to me. I had a lot of fun transcribing it as I am a history buff, with the Civil War being a point of particular interest for me. As soon as I realized what regiment it was from I really got excited, because of the huge part that I knew the 26th figured in during the war. At that point I went to your website and you all know the rest.”
While there is no soldier’s name inscribed inside the diary, the “Jeff Davis Mountaineer Riflemen” are mentioned several times in various entries. Mr. Butler was keen enough to research and identify that organization as Company A of the 26th NCT. The diary measures approximately 3 by 4 and ¾ inches and is in excellent condition. Unfortunately, the owner’s entries are limited and end in early 1862. Annotations are made in both pencil and ink, often with a draft pencil entry followed later with a final inked version.
At Col. Smith’s request I made an effort to decipher the various entries. For ease of readability I have eliminated redundant passages and restructured them, where reasonable, into some sort of date sequence. I have also taken the liberty of minor spelling editing. In other words, the flow of the diary has been considerably changed but the basic content has not. I also added the full text of the Biblical verses cited by the writer herein since they provide an interesting context on sermons of that period.
May the 18th 1861 I volunteer for 12 months.
June the 24th 1861 I enrolled my name. Mustered into service of the State of North Carolina as 12 months volunteers.
June the 29th 1861 Received a bounty of ten dollars.
June the 30th I hear a sermon [illegible] from 2 Corinthians 4 chapter no. 17 verse. [“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”]
June the 15th 1861 the Jeff Davis Mountaineers Riflemen leave Jefferson for Raleigh. Arrive at Statesville the 17th in the morning. Leave Statesville in the evening at 4 o’clock. Arrive at Salisbury in the evening took up camp for the night. Leave Salisbury at 8 o’clock the morning the 18th. Arrive at Raleigh in the evening at 11 o’clock. Sunday the 29th a sermon from Revelations the 19th Chapter and 11th verse [“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.”].
Took up camp on north side of Raleigh and remained there until July the 6th 1861 and then remained two miles north of Raleigh to Camp Carolina.
September the 2nd 1861 the J.D.M.R. left Raleigh. Moved to Morehead City the same day. Took up camp the [illegible]. Friday the 6th moved over the sound to Bogue Island. Wednesday the 12th moved back across the sound to Carolina City. Took up camp the same day in the evening.
October the 10th the Jeff Davis Mountain Rifles moved back to Bogue Island from Carolina City. Took up camp remained there until the present day.
Leave Camp Wilkes November the 29th 1861 arrive at banks [?] the same day took up camp.
Leave Camp Vance January the 27th took camp at Camp Branch the same day.
END OF ENTRIES
In an effort to possibly identify our “forgotten soldier” based upon key dates or other diary entries, fellow Society members Clint Johnson and Greg Mast helpfully reviewed 26th muster roles, Ashe County census records, and probed other sources. Thus far, it has proved impossible to pin point with any degree of certainty one particular soldier. Clint even sought the help of local Ashe County genealogical researcher Sandy Lassen who went to yeoman lengths in this “serendipitous journey” (as she called it) to identify Lotta in the gem cameo. While a couple of “Charlottes” emerge as possibilities for the woman in the picture, no substantive links to a 26th NCT member emerge.
Did the writer of this pocket diary die early in his service leaving his war story unfinished? Or, was it a souvenir pilfered by some Federal soldier following the 26th’s loss of all its baggage, knapsacks, and haversacks in the March 1862 Battle of New Bern? What was the relationship of Lotta to the young man? For the time being, these questions remain unanswered. One thing is certain, however. Thanks to the unqualified kindnesses of both Messrs. Kaufmann and Butler of Kansas this treasured memento of the regiment now appropriately resides among other valued artifacts in the Society’s permanent 26th North Carolina Troops collection.
by Bob Williams