The Civil War Diary of Jacob Haas
The Civil War Diary of Jacob Haas
Edited by David Mitros
Presented by the Northampton County Historical
and Genealogical Society, Easton, PA
Part I: The Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas)
Part II: The Battle of Antietam
Part III: The Battle of the Wilderness
Part IV: The Overland Campaign
Part V: The Siege of Petersburg Begins
Part VI: The Election of 1864
Part VII: All Quiet Along the Lines
Part VIII: Remembering the Dead
Part IX: The Battle of Fort Steadman
Part X: The Fall of Petersburg and the End of the War
The Civil War is one of the most compelling topics in American history. When Ken Burns’ documentary “The Civil War” first appeared on Public Television in 1992, viewers responded with overwhelming enthusiasm. This fine series featured archival photographs and a narrative that included readings of letters and diaries of those who lived through the conflict. The show’s popularity demonstrated that people welcome an opportunity to learn history through firsthand accounts based on archival sources. Twenty-two years later, as we commemorate the Civil War Sequicentennial, this edited version of The Civil War Diary of Jacob Haas is one of many efforts by scholars nationwide to uncover and make available archival documents associated with the war. The Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society is pleased to offer this online version of the diary as part of its own contribution to that effort. It exemplifies the Society’s commitment to the preservation of the County’s archival records and its mission to make these records widely known to the general public.
Jacob Haas was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, January 8, 1833. We know little of his early childhood. As a young man he became interested in ventriloquism and at age nineteen began pursuing a professional career. He eventually achieved success in the show business world as a magician and ventriloquist, providing entertainment at circuses and fairs. He traveled throughout the United States and Canada with his dummy “Little Master Bobby,” which he himself had fashioned out of wood at age 13. At the turn of the 20th century, children still delighted in watching the duo perform for only a nickel.
Despite his success as an entertainer, Haas is perhaps best remembered for his role as a private in the Union army during the Civil War. He believed passionately in the Union cause. As a Republican and strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln, he also favored the abolition of slavery. Haas volunteered to serve, first in the 129th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment and later in the 51st Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. He chronicled his wartime experiences in his Civil War diary. Comprised of three books totaling over five hundred pages, Hass’s diary includes references to military engagements, camp life, and places he had visited during his tour of duty. His vivid firsthand accounts powerfully capture the horror of war as well as the jubilation of victory.
The diary entries that follow comprise a sampling of some of some of Haas’s most compelling writing. In editing the diaries care was taken to preserve the writer’s intent. Spelling was corrected when necessary, and punctuation was sometimes added or altered to improve readability. In a few instances words were added. These appear in brackets.
Part I: The Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas)
Jacob Haas began his account in August, 1862, shortly after he entered the recently formed 129th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. The regiment was sent first to Washington, then to Federal-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. At the time, Union prospects for a quick victory seemed dim following the collapse of Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign during the Seven Days battles in June. Haas focuses on events surrounding the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30) and its aftermath, describing such scenes as the gathering of escaped slaves waiting for a train to Alexandria—and the return of wounded and dying Union soldiers, arriving in wagons and ambulances. During this period Haas’s regiment was held in reserve until, on August 30th, it was deployed to Centreville, Virginia, to guard an ammunition train at Manassas Junction. The battle did not go well for the North. Maj. Gen. John Pope, commander of the Army of Virginia, did not fully trust his subordinates, and he made poor judgements. Some of the generals would not cooperate with teach other. The army did not effectively coordinate its actions. When the Second Battle of Bull Run resulted in another Confederate victory, it became clear to President Abraham Lincoln that the war would be a prolonged struggle requiring much additional manpower and resources.
Aug. 29 & 30, 1862: . . . . There was some [Rebel] guerrillas that were taken prisoners by some guard. . . . [T]he whole regiment went on . . . shouting and hooting at them as they passed by our camp in the morning. At 2 o’clock, the 30th, orders came for two companies to get ready to leave . . . to guard the railroad and bridge at Manasses . . . . Was very great to see the contrabands [i.e., escaped slaves] [at] the railroad lined up as far as could be seen from morning until night, coming in from where the fighting was going on about Culpepper Courthouse. It was a very hard sight to see the little children and women with bundles upon their heads and backs on their way for Alexandria. Close by our camp there was about 30 men, women, and children, a horrid noise with the children crying. Our boys gives them hardies [i.e., hardtack] to eat and clothing to wear. . . .
Aug. 31: Moved off at 5 o’clock. It began to rain. We marched until we came to Clouds Mills, when we halted and eat our breakfast and fill our canteens. Then raining very hard. The mill filled with contrabands. Remained for some time. From the mills as far as we marched, the road lined with ambulances and wagons loaded with the wounded coming from the battlefield. Hundreds walking, wounded in the arms, hands, legs, and head. A very hard sight to look upon, to see so many wounded, those in the wagons mortally wounded, some dying, some dead. The nearer we could get to the battlefield the greater the excitement was, and to see the skedaddlers [i.e., Union troops running from battle] coming across the fields and in the road. . . . [H]ad orders to halt to let [illegible] rebels pass that were taken prisoners at the late battles at and about Culpepper. The first Rebs I seen; they were a horrid set of people. . . . The Col. gave orders that no man would say anything to them as they passed our regiment. As they passed by, a great many of the Rebs insulted our boys . . . . Some said as they passed, they are glad they are in better hands. Some begging for hardies from our boys. After they passed we were again to fall in ranks while the rain was pouring down upon us. . . . Every now and then we would come to a horse that had died or been killed about one week or ten days. The smell was not pleasant . . . . At last we arrived at Fairfax Courthouse. The buildings were all destroyed, knocked to pieces, and some had been burned. The town so full with wagons and soldiers, it was a hard thing to get through. I kept up with my regiment until outside of the above named town, where there I was taken with the pleurisy and fatigue and dropped down in the street. . . . I had to lay upon the ground over two hours in the rain. At last . . . the . . . ambulance came and took me in. I was among the doctors. We then lost sight of the regiment. . . . As we came near Centerville the Rebels began to send in their shells . . . over our heads. . . .
Sept. 2: I was placed in the hospital . . . until the Tuesday evening the 2nd when our regiment returns and struck tents and moved at 6 1/2 o’clock in the evening for Camp Tyler . . . . I remained with my company until the hospital tent came. I had a cup of strong tea made by one of my comrades and then took my quarters in the hospital [tent], very sick until the 3rd, when I felt somewhat better. . . . The camp ground is on a fine hill with a splendid view of the Potomac River . . . . Here we can see the vessels and steamers going back and forward from Washington to Alexandria and a number of forts about the hills. Orders come to strike tents for another march.
Part II: The Battle of Antietam
The Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run emboldened Gen. Robert E. Lee to take the war into the Union state of Maryland. Here Northern and Southern armies confronted each other at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history that resulted in a total of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing on both sides combined. The 129th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment was sent to participate in the battle, but by the time they arrived the enemy had left the field. Though militarily the battle was a draw, it appeared as a Northern victory, since, for the first time, the Northern army demonstrated its ability and power by halting Lee’s invasion of Maryland. In the following account Jacob Haas vividly describes the sights and sounds associated with the battle and its aftermath.
Sept. 17, 1862: . . . . The cannonading was going on very heavy at Antietam . . . . At last we received marching orders from headquarters to strike tents and get ready for a forced march to join in the Battle of Antietam, to march night and day . . . . We were on the move for our long march with nothing to eat. When we marched 3 miles we came in Frederick City . . . . to see the handsome Stars and Stripes floating from every house and window along the street. Cheer after cheer going up . . . and the small children with their flags in their little hands and hollering for the Union. This is a very handsome city with some large buildings erected. . . . At last we came to Middletown . . . . We passed through this town at 2 o’clock on Thursday morning as we came to a large church used as a hospital for our wounded. . . . This was a large and handsome building with a steeple built about the same plan as the new courthouse at Easton. . . . We got through the night. Very cold again. Moved on. . . .
Sept. 18: . . . . This was the hardest suffering we had experienced. While we were out, the road lined with soldiers, and artillery, and wagons of all kinds all filled with wounded. . . . We came to a large corn field, so we went to work to eat our dinner. So we made fine cooked coffee and corn, filled our canteens, and pushed onward. Every town we came to [had] streets all crowded, the houses filled with the wounded. Some horrid sights to see and to hear the groans of the poor wounded soldiers. . . . The nearer the battleground the worse it got. . . . We arrived at a small town called Beatysville, about one half mile from the battlefield. It looked something like war here to see so many wounded soldiers and the doctors busily taking off arms and legs in the yards along the street; the mourns and groans of the soldier was heart rending. Seen a many leg and arm that could [have] been saved if the doctors were men instead of brutes. I seen more than one that was but a flesh wound that might have been saved. . . .
Sept. 19: Friday morning came . . . all called out to fall in battle line before daylight. Remained in line of battle until it became daylight . . . . The picket began to fight some distance from us. . . . Everything made ready for an engagement. The battling commenced not far off. The cannonading was very heavy. Between 9 and 10 o’clock the Rebs retreat. They cross the river, those that did not cross the night before. Our brigade received marching orders to move on for battle . . . . We marched 2 miles, then came to a halt in a field. Formed line of battle . . . . We seen some hard sights, with dead horses laying very thick all along the road from 2 to 5 and 6 laying side by side, and the dead Rebs and our men laying in corn field and the road. They lay very thick. These were killed in the battle on the 17th. . . . No end to be seen of the army; a great excitement all along the road. The brigade ordered to halt when our gallant little [Maj. Gen.] McClellan came riding along in a carriage drawn by two splendid horses. Our colonel proposed three hearty cheers for him. . . . While not far from this field lay between 3 and 4 thousands of dead Rebels that the Rebs couldn’t bury. They left them laying upon the ground. The fields were all very well filled with ammunition, guns, shells, balls, bullets, swords, and many other things too numerous to mention. Orders came to move on. We left the field at 1 1/2 o’clock. We marched through Sharpsburg where the battle was very strong the 17th. By the looks of the buildings some houses were more or less damaged by the balls and shells. One church where the enemy tried to conceal themselves in got the worst of it. The chimneys, roofs, windows, doors all suffered from the balls that our men fired. A large number of the Rebels [were] killed [in] one house burned by a shell bursting. . . . [W]e arrived at . . . one place where the wounded and sick Rebs were laying behind a straw stack and in a barn when a shell went in among the straw and bursted and the Rebs burnt up with it, a horrible sight to be seen. . . .
Sept. 20: . . . . We marched onward, the fighting going on at a terrible rate a short distance from us. We were marched through corn fields, through the woods, and over all kinds of roads. The . . . 118th [Pennsylvania] Regiment . . . crossed the river about 9 o’clock. We were to follow, but they were cut so badly by the Rebs that we dare not attempt to cross, for it looked [more] like a slaughter house than a battle field. As they were returning to come back they were fired into. The water was red . . . with the blood from the men that were wounded in the water, the dead floating down the [Potomac] river. Our 129th was put on double quick so as to get in the engagement but were too late. Our regiment was brought to a halt, and the best marksman was picked out of each company to do picket duty. . . . There was one cannon planted on the hill. The cannoneer took sight with his gun at one of the Rebel officers on a white horse on the other side of the river. As he came out of the woods he left drive and knocked the horse and man over. The regiment was marched from this place through the woods, when we came to a place where the enemy had encamped the night before the 19th. . . .
Part III: The Battle of the Wilderness
After having served for nine months in the 129th Pennsylvania Regiment, Jacob Haas was mustered out of the service with the rest of the regiment on May 18th, 1863. On February 22, 1864, he reenlisted in the Army, this time joining the 51st Pennsylvania Regiment. Here he was assigned to a wagon supply train in the 9th Corps under the command of Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. Working as a saddler he did not directly participate in the fighting. He nonetheless was in a position where he could observe and chronicle wartime events. Haas recorded the following diary entry during and immediately following the Battle of the Wilderness, which was part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign aimed at destroying the Confederate army in Virginia. He includes in the account a description of his discovery of some grim artifacts from the Battle of Chancellorsville fought in the same area one year prior. He also describes the endless stream of wounded returning from the Wilderness. Here Union soldiers, unfamiliar with the heavily wooded terrain, blundered about in confusion, often firing on their own men, while exploding shells ignited the underbrush, burning alive many of the wounded. During the battle the North sustained 17,000 casualties, while the South suffered 10,000 casualties, making it one of the deadliest conflicts of the war.
May 6 & 7, 1864: Camp near Chancellorsville on the retreat back to Chancellorsville. . . . Called up to move. We then retreat back to where we had come from, the trains going the whole night long, the fighting awful about dusk last night.
May 7: Morning somewhat cloudy. We halt in the woods for a long time; there is so many trains ahead. It becomes daylight long before we leave the woods. A great many skedaddlers passed by from the battlefield. By the time we get off it becomes very hot. I do not get far when myself and the cook go . . . and prepare breakfast. Before leaving I set fire to a house not occupied, as the disunion devils had left. I move onwards over the worst kind of roads. The teams sink into the hubs in the mud. The roads are as such for over one mile. . . . I come upon one part of the Chancellorsville battle grounds. There some great sites come before my eyes, to see our men, some only half buried while others are on the top of the ground. While looking around I see a number of skulls, hands, feet, and bones laying about, one hand with the skin dried to the bone with the fingers to it. While moving on further I come to the hospital of the army very full of wounded.
[W]hile some were dying . . . others were burying the dead that just fell the 7th of May. Here I meet with the thickest of trains and get in the dust, as we can scarcely see 50 yards ahead; also the wounded coming from the battlefield by the thousands. By the looks of the crowd all [were] wounded in the hands, legs, and heads; the scene [is] horrible. It becomes night, the train still moving onward. I notice as I come to Chancellorsville also a great many more graves of the brave who fell the third and fourth of May, 1863. Not one home to be seen, only the ruins such as walls and chimneys standing. We move on until midnight when the train goes into park for the night. I take my blanket; lay down to rest.
May 8: Morning I get up at sunrise to wait for orders to move, while upon this ground, troops are passing by Corps; also prisoners by the thousands, the tallest set I ever seen for so many, some dressed in our uniform. . . . I met a few boys from from Co. B, when I am informed of some few out of the Company are wounded and Corporal E. Bullman killed in the fight on the 6th of May. We loose a good-hearted comrade from the ranks. The whole day the wounded passing by. [Gen. Ambrose E.] Burnside passes along about noon looking rustily like us privates. . . . In the afternoon the 9th Army Corps comes; the boys all look well worn out, my comrades among the rest. . . .
May 9: Morning; wait for orders to move. . . . No more wounded passing . . . but cavalry passing by thousands going by way of Fredericksburg; the woods full of stragglers. . . . Gen. Burnside passes along in the afternoon toward the front. We hear cannonading all day long at a good distance off to our right. Nothing of importance transpires at night.
Part IV: The Overland Campaign
Throughout the spring of 1864 the 51st Pennsylvania Regiment continued to play a supporting role in Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign, participating in conflicts that included the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Cold Harbor. During this period Jacob Haas continued to serve as a saddler assigned to the wagon supply trains. Haas’s vivid account of this period includes descriptions of Northern troops foraging for food and other supplies, which often resulted in the robbing of civilians and the damaging of their property. Haas expresses some sympathy for the victims but also blames them for supporting disunion.
May 24, 1864: Morning . . . .We remove on the hill about one hundred yards to get out of the swamps . . . [to] where we have a fine view of the surrounding country about 25 or 30 miles from Fredericksburg this morning. [I] . . . see the men coming in from the farm houses with forage that they take from the disunion people. They stole all they could get hold of such as chickens and turkeys, hogs, sheep, hams, butter, cows, horses, carriages, and everything imaginable. It has brought them people down with nothing to eat. It was hard but fair. I blame themselves for all this . . . .
May 28: . . . . We leave camp at 10 o’clock A.M. for the 2nd days march after going the whole night before this day. We make more time on the road than we made in a long time as the way was clear for the train. . . . I make it my business to see what is going on. I visit one building used a few days before our arrival as a store room, and as I thought I might get a prize . . . I stepped in, when to my surprise I found everything strewn about on the floor and destroyed, one soldier up stairs throwing books and papers and things out of the window. I soon get tired in this place. I go to another building that had been occupied by a family. I see the cavalry making a grand rush for the doors and windows. I conclude to do the same. As I enter the lower basement I see a table in the centre of the room. It looked as if the people had left in short notice, as the table was set with everything upon it but edibles, so there was nothing to be made here. I left and went onward . . . . It was astonishing to see the destruction of all kinds of carriages and wagons, broken to pieces . . . ; also [they take] the horses out of their barns and drive off with them to ride; also . . . the farmers’ cattle and sheep . . . . Most of all . . . the boys were hard hearted enough to go into the houses and take the last [food] the women and children would have to eat, leaving them to weep. As for myself, I am not guilty of anything of the kind. The people of Virginia is the only sufferers of this cruel war. . . . I see at one place where one soldier sees an old farmer in the field plowing. He, the soldier, takes the horse from the plow and mounts him and leaves the man standing by his plow cursing the Yankees and weeping at the same time. As I have given the most particulars of the thieving of this part of the country, I now close as we arrive in camp late at night after traveling in the hot sun all day . . . .
June 18: I am out of my tent in time to get my coffee. . . . I leave . . . towards City Point. . . . I come to a brick church in a small grove. As I look about the outside of the building I see . . . the building was erected in the year of our Lord 1657. Thinking to myself “that is a very old church,” I concluded to enter and view the inside. The first I take particular notice is the floor. It is all stone slabs, each one measuring 24 inches square. The next I notice is the pews and walls and other things all torn and destroyed by our troops. The walls are marked with names and pictures of all description drawn with burnt wood, the place reminding me of a museum. I leave this place and move onward, and to see the destroyed property it is astonishing that the owners of the plantations all leave before our army comes through and take all they can carry and all their slaves and live stock . . . .
Part V: The Siege of Petersburg Begins
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign was aimed at destroying the Confederate army in Virginia, but it did not generate the success he had expected. The Wilderness Campaign and the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, both major conflicts in the Campaign, were inconclusive. The next major conflagration, the Battle of Cold Harbor, fought on May 31, 1864, was a crushing defeat for the North, resulting in much loss of life. On June 15, when the Union army under Gen. George G. Meade launched a major assault on Petersburg, his force of 40,000 soldiers failed to break through a Confederate line of only 2,500 men commanded by Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard. The Union soldiers fought so halfheartedly that Meade had to call off the attack. Their war-weariness is understandable. Since May 4, 63,000 Union men had been killed, wounded, or missing. The assault of Petersburg would continue as a long drawn out siege lasting through the summer and beyond. In the following accounts recorded during the siege, Jacob Haas describes the aftermath of a deadly explosion of an ammunition boat, and he comments upon the execution of two Union soldiers for raping a women. He also notes the behavior of some of his comrades; their rowdiness resulting from excess drinking, as well as their joy upon hearing of Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan’s victory over Confederate Gen. Jubal Early during Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Aug. 9, 1864: . . . . About 10 o’clock A.M. this forenoon we had a terrible explosion at City Point Landing by a boat loaded with ammunition, throwing everything in great excitement as the shock were so great, reminding me of an earthquake, . . . the same time the detraction of life and property beyond all telling, as the fragments of the boat and houses, balls, shells, legs, arms, feet, heads, and mangled bodies of those who had been blown to pieces [fell about]. The different parts of the bodies were gathered up by pieces in a bag then buried. The number of killed and wounded [was] not heard from up to the present writing, neither the cause of the horrible disaster of the explosion. The cannonading [continued] all afternoon very steady, and now, sun down, it is still going on in front of Petersburg. . . .
Aug. 22: . . . . I am now at present writing about 4 miles nearer to the front and to Petersburg. Here we are placed in a large field surrounded by thick woods on all sides of us, a few buildings to be seen about. Before I arrive in this camp I walk over as far as the gallows, which had been on my way. I take particular notice of the trap door. Upon it is the following lines written by some soldier in pencil mark: “July the 15th, 1864, 2 soldiers has been hung for committing a rape upon a secesh woman, and damn the man who hung them; and the men who make such laws are worse than those who have done the crime.” And in this, my history, I say, “It was right the rascals got all they deserved. . . .”
Sept. 1: . . . . A few boys become somewhat noisy in camp last night but were soon settled when they retired for the night. The cause of the noise was caused by General Whisky. The names of the party I shall not insert. All this day there is a few who remain drunk, . . . the two very noisy men in the party. . . .
Sept. 21: . . . . About 5 o’clock this morning a terrible fire with artillery lasting an hour . . . . The shot and shell fly thick and fast on both sides, telling a great tale of the Johnnys and bidding them “good morning General Lee.” The troops are all rejoicing over the great victory Sheridan has gained in the valley. The terrible cannonading at an early hour this morning was the serenade from Grant’s band in front of Petersburg, from six pounders up to 65 pounders. They all played “Yankee Doodle,” and Petersburg became a hot place for a hour for the Johnnys. All last night the picket engaged at firing; also a few shots fired by our artillery; the balls could plainly be heard in the air. . . .
Sept. 24: . . . . I were again aroused by Grant’s band . . . throwing shot and shell over the Johnny’s lines and sounding the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” telling them the news of Sheridan’s great victory and the destruction of Early’s army at Strasburg, completely using them up by capturing 15 pieces of artillery; and a large number of his men have fallen into our hands.
Sept. 30: It is said Richmond and Petersburg is being evacuated . . . . Was very quiet on the right of Petersburg last evening and yesterday. But at noon this day the battle opens but not so sharp until about 4 o’clock when it makes a good beginning on the right, left, and centre, with a terrible roar of canon and rattling of musketry. The noise along the lines becomes terrific, and considerable charging done, and the enemy lose some of their grounds and men as there were several bold attempts made by the Johnnys to retake what they had lost and were soon handsomely repulsed and driven back. . . . We are not yet on the move; the fighting still going on; the musketry increasing near the centre. It now becomes a fine scenery, with shell flying in the air and bursting in all quarters. It is terrible for some time. Shaken the very heavens and earth with the thunder of the heavy guns from both sides, the news of this day has told of victories around Petersburg and Richmond. The trains arriving from City Point all day, loaded with reinforcements for the left wing. In about 24 hours there had arrived at the point 22 full regiments and some numbered 13 companies, the boys all in good cheer for a close of the war soon as things are in our favor.
Part VI: The Election of 1864
During the Civil War, Union soldiers remained sharply divided over politics. Those who were Republicans believed not only in the Union cause but also in the abolition of slavery. Those who were Democrats generally supported the Union and the continuation of the war, but they did not believe in linking the Union cause with abolitionism. The Democratic Party itself was split between Unionists and those seeking a quick end to the war through a negotiated settlement. Both Democratic factions were willing to compromise on the slavery issue. Except for a minority of Democrats who supported Abraham Lincoln, most Democrats believed their party could end the war quicker than the Republicans, and during the presidential election of 1864, Democratic soldiers looked forward to the possibility of having a Democratic administration that would accomplish this. They supported their party candidate, the former general of the Army of the Potomac, George B. McClellan. Democratic Party unity was weakened when McClellan repudiated the party’s peace platform in favor of continuing the war and restoring the Union, though he remained opposed to the abolition of slavery. Jacob Haas, a staunch Republican, supported Lincoln and opposed slavery. He expressed his disdain for McClellan in the following diary entries, written around the time of the election.
Nov. 8, 1864: This being election day throughout the United States—both at home and in the field—it has been as most elections. . . . I set out for the Regiment. I pass over the grounds that I had passed several times heretofore. I arrive upon the campground and meet my old comrades in Co. B. I find all lively on the ground talking old Abe and Little Mac. I conclude to go my full length. I soon kill one of their little mac votes by watching my chance. When one is put in for the Democracy then I pitch with Republican. As long as I had remained on the ground the election was getting very tight as we call who and who. I also notice in the woods a large number of soldiers being punished, some hard at work grabbing big stumps, and by my looking about I see several more fellows tied to the trees nearby where a few more [were] carrying a large log on their shoulders, walking back and fourth upon the breastworks. These punishments were for different things, some for showing cowardice at the fight the 27th of October [for control of Boydton Plank Road, a major Confederate supply route], while others for fighting among themselves.
Nov. 9: . . . . The day passes off quietly as there has been no cannonading on either side. The election returns are slowly coming in from the army vote; the little Mac boys [have] nothing to say . . . . Old Abe to keep hotel 4 years longer. The supporters of McClellan turn this tune by saying, “Another 4 years to fight the Johnnys.” The tune of the Old Abe supporters plays different. We will stand by the old flag to the end before the enemy shall gain their independence. No compromise is to be given them. No armistice as the Democracy would wish them to have. The country is again saved, slavery gone. We breathe the freedom of a Republican form of government. This we intend to live and die. By these are the soldiers motto of true noblemen now in the field.
Nov. 10: . . . . No news afloat. The excitement of the election over. Old Abe elected. Little Mac thrown under the table. The practice with new troops a firing has been kept up all day long. This evening lively again. The first time in several nights with music and cheering; also plenty of picket firing in front of the 2nd Corps. This night an attack expected by the light of the moon.
Nov. 11: Fine and pleasant all day; plenty of noise along the lines, with the roar of cannon and bursting of shells in the air as they come down from the enemy. No accidents happen. By then the news is arriving daily with election returns giving large majority to Old Abe.
Part VII: All Quiet along the Lines
The reelection of President Abraham Lincoln dashed Southern hopes for a negotiated settlement to the war. From late autumn of 1864 and into the winter of 1865, Union forces would retain their offensive position but cease major action and thus make little progress against Confederate forces defending Petersburg. During this period of relative quiet, Jacob Haas continued writing in his diary about his experiences in the military. His observations and impressions relate mostly to minor events associated with camp life ranging from the celebration of Thanksgiving and Christmas to the surprising discovery of a woman in the ranks wearing a soldier’s uniform. He also makes reference to incidences of fraternizing with the enemy during the informal truces that sometimes occurred. Typically, Union soldiers left camp to meet with their Confederate counterparts, trading coffee and sugar for tobacco and exchanging newspapers.
Despite the lull in the fighting, Petersburg remained in a state of siege. As a result, Confederate supplies, including food, had dwindled. Many Southern soldiers deserted to the Northern lines, several incidences of which Haas describes. Throughout this period there was much talk of peace being at hand, based largely on false rumors. Soldiers on both sides were tired of the war.
Nov. 24, 1865: Thanksgiving throughout the United States, it has been thought of in the army but not observed as a day set apart for prayer. The day has been pleasant, but a bold morning has been experienced. I witness the review of the 2nd Brigade this afternoon. It was a pleasing affair. No news from the front. All quiet. . . .
Dec. 25: Christmas day among the troops. . . . Whiskey has been the program of Christmas Eve, and all this day some have their roasted turkey, while some have hard tac and coffee. I take my big dinner the day before. The troops are on a spree. The day has been quite lively with cannonading and music by the bands at headquarters. It remains so this evening. No news in camp this day. . . . .
Jan. 13: . . . . I have been informed about a female dressed in male attire has given herself up after being closely examined, and giving her excuse why she enlisted in this infantry and came in the Army of the Potomac was to get her revenge of a colonel who killed her father. This appears to be the excuse of the young woman at head quarters.
Jan. 15: . . . . There has been scarcely a shot fired this day as troops have five times along the picket lines put up a piece of paper as a flag of truce upon their pits. When no firing was done this day. I visit the signal tower 50 feet high. I take a birds eye view of the beautiful surroundings of Petersburg and the enemy’s works through the valley. . . .
Jan. 16: . . . . Clear and pleasant all day; it is all peace rumors the last few days in the camps; more flags of truce around the town of Petersburg. No firing is heard from either side, the troops rejoicing along the lines. They do as they please, running back and forth across the lines. No fighting is spoken of. All remains quiet and prosperous. . . .
Jan. 18: . . . . Clear and pleasant. Everything have remained quiet along the lines; this day the conversation among the troops are all about the fall of Fort Fisher [in Wilmington, North Carolina] and the different opinions of peace commissioners. The desertions from the enemy’s lines as bad as ever, coming over every night and cursing Jeff Davis’ Confederacy. This evening not musket nor cannon is heard.
Jan. 21: All day rainy at a late hour. Last night a rain sets in, and this morning it has become quite icy upon the ground. It has continued on raining very hard up to this evening, The different tents in camp are overflowed with water, making it disagreeable under foot. No firing has been heard at the front this day. All have been quiet . . . .
Jan. 22: . . . . Between the pickets last night, quite a large party of Johnny Rebs made their escape from the Confederacy and landed safe into our lines. They were taken to division headquarters last evening.
Jan. 26: . . . . Everything remains favorable for the Union cause. The talk of peace has become the general conversation in both armies. The cry is, “The Union must and shall be preserved by our brave soldiers at the front!”
Jan. 29: . . . News—it has been rumored all day—of vice president [Alexander H.] Stevens from the Rebel capital would arrive into our lines this day in front of Petersburg by flag of truce on his way for Washington to treat for peace. All this needs confirmation. Nothing but peace rumors afloat among the troops. On both sides the white flag up all day.
Part VIII: Remembering the Dead
George Washington’s Birthday in the year 1864 was a time of personal reflection for Jacob Haas, since it marked one year since he had reenlisted. The holiday came around the time when Union forces had resumed their offensive against the Confederates defending Petersburg. In his diary entry for that day, Haas includes a special tribute to his fallen comrades in what probably is the most poignant passage appearing in his Civil War diary.
Feb. 22, 1865: This being Washington’s Birthday, it has been celebrated by a great deal of cannonading along the lines. A salute of one hundred guns were fired on the left. The enemy opened fire upon our forts at one time this day with shot and shell, . . . killing and wounding a large number of the 2nd Michigan Regulars; our Battery at this time not replying as the ammunition was not plenty.[ This day at 2 o’clock P. M. was one year that I reenlisted in the army for the turn of 3 years, and when I left my home last spring little did I think I would behold such scenes in Southern lands. Many who have come here with me have grown earthward and have laid down to sleep their dreamless slumber. Many with whom I messed with in the glad morning of their life when we lay encamped at Annapolis and who have commenced their earth race with me have here grown weary before me, and eyes that were once brighter than the Southern stars are now dimmed forever. Dust cleaves to their smooth brow and mingles with their golden locks. Their silver voices are now hushed in death, and their bones are mouldering in the silent tomb. Some of my most devoted messmates, alas, where are they gone? With their golden curls and their laughing sparkling eyes—ah they have given a sacrifice to their flag of our country. Here beneath the Southern sky their light went out. My readers may wonder if there was anyone here that would kiss them for their loved ones at home when their lips were parched in pallid fever and would ask for a little water. Oh yes, in that dark hour there were but few to perform that kind of office. They sleep now in a soldier’s grave in a beautiful spot just outside of Petersburg, over which the tall pines wave, and the winds, they whisper hymns. Often I wander back and forth from my quarters to the Regiment [to] where they sleep amid Southern flowers. It is a beautiful place. Imagination could not picture a more lovely scene. Here a board tells who reposes beneath. A brave young soldier. Oh the bloodstained battlefields of Virginia. No one can realize but the soldier. For more than nine month[s] they have been fighting terrible battles—from the banks of the Rapidan, [the] Wilderness, . . . Spottsylvania, Cemetery Hill, and . . . Petersburg. When this cruel war is over, then we will return to those we love . . . [and return to] that freedom which our forefathers won, and we will then remain in peace forever. I have now been a soldier one year and have not been in the first engagement up to this time, as I have been one of the lucky number, [serving] as a detail saddler in the division train.
Part IX: The Battle of Fort Steadman
Following a fifteen day furlough in March of 1865, Jacob Haas returned to the 51st Pennsylvania Regiment, arriving during the final stages of the siege of Petersburg. In his diary he describes the aftermath of the Battle of Fort Steadman, a courageous and nearly successful effort by Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon to capture the Union fort in what was the last major attempt to break the Union siege. Gordon’s men temporality captured the fort, but Union forces under the command of Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, retook it, in large part thanks to decisive action taken by Brig. Gen. John F. Hartranft, who led his reserve division in a heroic charge against Confederate forces. Fort Steadman was retaken by a squad of the 208th Pennsylvania Regiment. The Confederate failure was partially due to the disarray among hungry Rebel troops who diverted their energies to the plundering of Union food supplies. The defeat was a terrible blow to the Confederacy. Now it was only a matter of time before Petersburg would fall.
March 24, 1865: We land safe at Fortress Monroe, Virginia . . . . On coming to shore the conversations are very great of an engagement that had been this morning at Fort Steadman, in front of Petersburg, as the enemy had made an attack upon this part of the line and succeeded breaking through and losing a few thousand men on their side . . . killed and wounded and [taken] prisoner . . . . This news, I thought, was too good to be true. . . .
March 25: I concluded to wait until I had arrived at Meade Station where I could be informed of more particulars and see the fruits of this affair. . . . Before getting into camp I notice at the 3rd Division hospital, the ground all covered with Johnny Rebs wounded in all shapes and manners, the most on the head. Here the surgeons are hard at work taking off fractured limbs and finding the balls in different parts of the body. The groans of the wounded and dying was awful. I soon leave this place. This proved what I was informed of before arriving. This attack was made in front of the 1st Division, 9th Corps, and slaughtered by the support of the 3rd Division, which had been commanded by General Hartranft, giving the enemy more than they had bargained for. The ambulances are now seen in every direction going to the battlefield to bring off the wounded. By the looks of things about here, the fight was terrible and a death blow to the enemy, their loss expected to be very large. . . . It is expected another victory will be added to our cause.
March 26: And a heavy blow given to the Confederacy. . . . I conclude to visit the battle grounds this morning. By passing over these grounds, the dead all removed and nothing more to be seen remaining but piles of muskets and spots of thick blood, the tents in bad condition by the ball and shell which were thrown into them to drive the enemy out as they entered the [Union] tents to plunder and steal our soldier’s meat and hard tac. Some of the Johnny’s seen laying upon the ground with the mouth full of the boy’s grub. Some laying dead with stolen things wrapped around them . . . . The day has been very quiet. Scarcely a shot have been fired along the lines, but this evening the picket firing is very strong . . . .
Part X: The Fall of Petersburg and the End of the War
The Union victory at the Battle of Fort Steadman signaled the beginning of the end of the Confederate hold on Petersburg, which finally came at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1. Here Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan defeated Confederate forces defending the strategic Five Forks intersection to prevent the Union from attacking the Confederate supply line along the South Side Railroad. The battle, known as the “Waterloo of the Confederacy,” was an embarrassment for the Confederate general in command, George E. Pickett, who did not arrive on the scene to join his men until it was too late, since he had been attending a shad bake with two of his officers two miles to the rear and did not hear the sound of battle. Following Sheridan’s victory Gen. Ulysses S. Grant launched an all out assault on the thinly manned Confederate entrenchments at Petersburg on April 2. Union forces broke through the Rebel lines at Boydton Plank Road south of the city. Petersburg surrendered April 3, followed by the surrender of Richmond that evening. Gen. Robert E. Lee retreated his army with the intent of joining forces with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina. Instead he surrendered only one week later at Appomattox Courthouse, ninety-two miles west of Petersburg. In Jacob Haas’s following account of Petersburg following its surrender, he describes scenes of celebration and joy among the Union soldiers and the city’s black population. He also conveys the sense of sadness, anxiety, fear, and foreboding among the town’s white citizenry.
April 3, 1865: Clear and pleasant, the news this morning better than ever. The town of Petersburg now occupied by our forces; Gen. [Cadmus M.] Wilcox and staff, with part of the 1st division of the 9th Corps first to enter the town with the Stars and Stripes; the 2nd and 20th Mich. Reg. first to plant the flag. It now floats upon the courthouse steeple high in the air, presenting a fine scene from all parts of the town. The first thing [that] arouses me before daylight this morning is a terrible shock of the earth. While laying asleep in my tent I am soon out when I understand our troops are in the town of Petersburg, and by the thousands of voices all cheering in that direction, and the band playing “Yankee Doodle” and national airs, I soon become convinced the day is ours. Every one along the road was singing “Petersburg![ ” Every soldier with a smile upon his face. All delighted with the success now gained. The Enemy have blown up the powder magazines, this causing the rumbling noise at an early hour this morning; at this time the victorious army of U. S. Grant and Sheridan upon their heels driving them in all quarters. The booming of cannon now silent about Petersburg. I am now close by Meade Station viewing the Rebs as they pass by those that were taken. The N[egros] . . . rejoicing in every corner and place. Prisoners in front of Petersburg during the afternoon of Sunday and Sunday night. The number now passing is seven thousand five hundred, at this time looking like the whole Confederacy on the move. They were a horrid set of men, with the appearance of the wild men of the woods. Not two dressed alike. They were under guard and going to the city point. The wagon trains are now seen winding their way for Petersburg following after the troops. By the time I return to camp, orders to pack up is given for the 1st division train to leave. The things are soon placed upon the wagons. When we are off for the town . . . I notice while entering at the outskirts many sights. . . . I take notice of the enemy works there. . . . I also notice a few dead Rebels laying outside not yet buried. . . . [A]long the road, both young and old, some very black while others not very black. . . . were enjoying hearty laughs, singing and dancing, and some praying. The roads were completely covered with this sort of people, making tracks for the different camp fields for hard tac and meat. I seen large groups with baskets and the great excitement in town. . . . Now 3 o’clock P. M. I enter the streets of Petersburg. Here comes the exciting times, the town a lively place, the troops having a good time. Some loaded with whisky, having sport of all kinds. Every other soldier with tobacco, some carrying boxes upon the head. Plenty of tobacco is now seen. Some would have from 20 to 200 pounds. The next I notice is the Blacks along the side walks seated upon the curb. While a larger number was selling Confederate money for green backs, they sold one hundred dollars for 10 cents. The green backs were in demand among the inhabitants in town. The corners filled with citizens fearing to say their lives are their own. The patrol busily engaged at picking up loose Rebels that were straggling about the different streets; a guard placed at almost every house and store; the officers overrun with the male citizens taking the oath of allegiance. They seem very down hearted. They are a starved out set of people. They pick the crumbs from the streets where our troops have thrown away. The town is destroyed considerable. In some parts a few houses have been completely knocked to pieces by the ball and shell. We get [our wagons] into park . Many of their work shops a total wreck. The buildings in the center of town, which had escaped from the Ball [i.e., the war], are handsome. The Railroad is now nearly completed from City point to Petersburg. The trains expected to run upon the road [in] 24 hours. Near the town is a fine bridge of the best of manufacture, this being all iron about 75 feet long; also one of brick. The train parks for the night in a large field at a building used at one time as a brewery along the R.R. Also within a hundred yards of the Appomattox. This river is a horrible place, with dead horses floating about the Eddys; also a number of destroyed boats of different kinds. Here I prepare for the night’s stay by pitching up the tent, and after eating my grub I soon retire for the night for the first time in Petersburg.
April 4: Another beautiful spring morning. . . . I make tracks up the road as far as the depot. On arriving I see plenty of destruction at this building, the papers flying in all direction through the streets. I then enter a large depot building to gain a prize. A blank book is the first [that] attracts my attention, the book I am now using as a diary of 1865 and as a relic of Petersburg. I also notice a place yet smoking where the car house had been, and the enemy had destroyed it before leaving. . . .
April 10: Cloudy and Rainy all day and very uncomfortable . . . . Rejoicing along the line with cheering in the different camps and the bands playing. . . . The telegraph dispatch have been received by General Wilcox stating the glorious news of Lee surrendering the Confederacy . . . .
April 11: . . . . A large party of Johnny Rebs passes on their way for Petersburg. They numbered from 6 to 9 thousand in all; also a large number of officers among them, R. E. Lee on with them . . . .
April 13: . . . . News arrived at an early hour of the surrender of 13 thousand Rebel cavalry to Grant. . . . .While writing, a large train of cars passes by toward Petersburg loaded with troops. Also about 15 Rebel flags have been given up. Clear and very pleasant the whole day. This morning 4 trains of cars passes over the road for Petersburg with Rebel troops, mostly cavalry . . . . They are on their way home. Among them were a very large number of officers; also a great many wounded, both black and white. . . . The roads now being somewhat dried off, the orders is given this forenoon to change camp. The baggage is placed upon the wagons, and about 10 o’clock A.M. the train is on the move to another station along the R.R. As I march along slow and easy I take notice of a few beautiful plantations, the buildings well finished with handsome and well arranged yards in front . . . and at present the trees being in full blossom, giving the natural picture of beauty itself.
The 51st Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment stayed in the vicinity of Petersburg until April 23, at which time it departed, traveling first to Alexandria, Virginia, then onto Washington, D.C., arriving on April 26. Haas remained with the regiment until July 27. On that day he and his comrades were mustered out of the service. They began their trip home the following day, traveling by train from Baltimore, Maryland, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Along the way many greeted them. Everywhere flags were flying. Upon returning to Easton they were received by a group of local firemen and paraded through the streets, accompanied by fife and drum. They then attended a reception prepared for them at the Delaware Hotel. For Haas the day ended “Happy with friends.
The joy of those soldiers returning home was surely tempered by the memory of their comrades who never returned. By the end of the war the 51st Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment had lost twelve officers and 165 men killed or mortally wounded. Another 137 had died by disease.
Haas’s diary did not end here. He continued writing, providing an account of his transition into civilian life and his entry into the world of entertainment. Haas married and had three children (Howard, Charles, and Carrie) by his wife Mary. He died March 23, 1922, and is buried at the Easton Heights Cemetery in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Those wishing to learn more about Jacob Haas and the Civil War should visit the archives of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society at the Sigal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania, where they can read the full text of Haas’s Civil War diary.
David Mitros, who edited The Civil War Diary of Jacob Haas, is Archivist Emeritus, Morris County Heritage Commission, Morristown, New Jersey. Currently living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he continues his writing and research as a part-time local history project consultant. He received the Roger McDonough Librarianship Award from New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance in 2009. He is the author of four books, including one on the Civil War, Gone to Wear the Victor’s Crown: Morris County, New Jersey and the Civil War, A Documentary Account (1998).
Editor’s Note: Portions of the preface, as well as sections of text in the introductory paragraphs of Parts III and V, appeared previously in Gone to Wear the Victor’s Crown: Morris County, New Jersey and the Civil War, A Documentary Account. They were used here with the permission of the Morris County Heritage Commission.
Artwork in parts II, III, and V courtesy of ClipArt ETC. website: etc.usf.edu/clipart/
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