The Diary: James Eberhart in Salisbury

Eberhards journalAt the start of the new year in 1865, the health of Jens and James is failing.  The winter is cold and wet; food is lacking in quantity and quality.  Those who are sick have a harder time getting what food there is or even holding onto a blanket. Holes in the ground constitute shelter.  Wood is traded for food. 1

I have been quoting James Eberhart’s diary from Florence McLaughlin’s article published in The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine.2  About a month ago I was noodling around WorldCat and found the original diary at Carnegie Mellon.

So, I put in a request for the diary.  I had no expectations.  Often original documents of this age do not circulate. And, I was right.  What arrived instead was a copy of the whole diary, which I have been told I can keep.  (Thanks, Amber!)

My discoveries:

  • The diary is small, about 3.5″ x 6″.
  • Ms. McLauglin did a good job of transcription of the original portions that she quoted.
  • James started shortening his entries in January of 1865.  This was, it appears, for two reasons: his own health was failing (Ms. McLaughlin’s explanation) and he was running out of paper and didn’t know how long he would be in prison! I can also imagine that writing in the diary was a source of comfort and relief from excruciating boredom.
  • At the end of diary, he devoted pages to additional information
    • numbers of deaths per day starting on 7 November until 22 February for a total of 3,262.  Six died on the day of parole.
    • a short description of the days following parole
    • officers of the Co. G., 8th Pennsylvania Volunteer Corps
    • list of the men of the unit who were captured (50) and whether they were mustered out, discharged, killed, wounded, transferred, died (with date), or deserted.  23 of his unit died in Salisbury.
    • list of the musicians.
    • list of those who were escaped from Salisbury (7) and their rank.  They were recaptured and “kept in R. ” (I assume Richmond?) He also noted those who “went to enemy” (3)
    • list of those not captured from his unit (25)
    • list of battles in which his unit fought
  • In November, he wrote that he got a package of clothes (I didn’t know that happened.) but the Confederates took most of the items in the package.

For those of you “on the clock,” here is the lesson….we should make sure that we are using the best source possible.  I should have sought out the diary  while I was writing the original paper, rather than rely Ms. McLaughlin’s interpretation (and quotes) from the diary.  From here on out, I will be quoting the diary and not Ms. McLaughlin’s article.

For those not “on the clock,” it is a much richer experience to read the original and work through the handwriting of the author.  A journal article (or a KDP) cannot convey the handwriting degradation the way the original or photocopy of the original can.  You, as the reader, are much more “in the moment” with the original.

Another lesson is that as we spend so much time on the computer, tap, tap, tapping away, we should not forget the value of a handwritten journal.  James left a lasting legacy with a pen, some ink and a small book. For your descendants, I suspect they would rather have something rather than nothing; but, they would rather see your handwriting than have a type written online journal.

Mary, I will get you a copy.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:

1 James V. Eberhart, Diary, 1864-1865. Diary is held by the Heinz Research Center, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Author was given a black and white copy of the diary.  Each page is numbered; the diary is lined.  Provider noted that pages not copied were pages that did not have an entry. Only one page appears to not have been copied, pages 137 and 139.

2 Florence C. McLaughlin, editor, “Diary of Salisbury Prison by James Eberhart,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, July 1973.


2 comments on “The Diary: James Eberhart in Salisbury

  1. Mary Swenson says:

    Thank you! I wait in eager anticipation!

  2. a gray says:

    Sometimes being “in the moment” with diaries, you can find your soul captured.

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