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America's History in the Making

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Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Harrison's Landing, James River, July 3/62 - We left Malvern Hill last night and in the midst of a pouring rain marched to this place where we arrived early this morning. O how tired and sleepy I am. We have had no rest since June 24th, and we are nearly dead. The first thing I noticed in the river was the steamer Canonicus of Providence. It made me think of home. We stacked arms and the men laid down in the rain and went to sleep. Lieutenant-Colonel Viall threw a piece of canvas over a bush and putting some straw upon the ground invited me to share it with him. We had just gone to sleep when a Rebel Battery opened and sent their shells over our heads. We turned out in a hurry and just left in time, too, for a shot or shell struck in the straw that we had just left. This shot covered Colonel Viall's horse with mud. We were ordered to leave out knapsacks and go after this Rebel Battery. But our men could hardly, move, and after going a short distance we halted and other troops went on in pursuit. Battery "E" 1st R.I. Artillery sent out some guns and I hear that one of the Rebel guns was captured. We returned to our knapsacks and the men are trying to sleep.

July 4th 1862 - This morning all the troops were put to work upon the line of forts that have been laid out. As I was going to the spring I met General McClellan who said good morning pleasantly and told our party that as soon as the forts were finished we should have rest. He took a drink of water from a canteen and lighted a cigar from one of the men's pipes. At Malvern Hill he rode in front of our Regiment and was loudly cheered. I have been down to the river. I rode the Adjutant's horse and enjoyed the sight of the vessels. Gun boats and transports are anchored in the stream. Rest is what we want now, and I hope we shall get it. I could sleep for a week. The weather is very hot, but we have moved our camp to a wood where we get the shade. This is a queer 4th of July, but we have not forgotten that it is our national birthday, and a salute has been fired. We expect to have something to eat before long. Soldiering is not fun, but duty keeps us in the ranks. Well, the war must end some time, and the Union will be restored. I wonder what our next move will be. I hope it will be more successful than our last.

Harrison's Landing, Va., July 9/62 - The weather is extremely hot, and as the men are at work on the forts they suffer much. The Army is full of sick men, but so far our Regiment seems to have escaped. The swamp in which we lived for a while in front of Richmond caused chills and fever. I have been very well, in fact not sick at all. Lt. Col. Nelson Viall of our Regiment is now in command of the 10th Mass. Vols., their field officers being all sick or wounded. Fred Arnold is in the hospital in Washington. Last night President Lincoln made a visit to the Army. As he passed along the lines salutes were fired, and the men turned out and cheered. We see General McClellan nearly every day, and he often speaks to the men. How I should like to see my home. In God's own time we shall meet on earth or in Heaven. I have been busy all day preparing muster and pay rolls. We hope to get some money some day.

Robert Hunt Rhodes, All For The Union, (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Vintage Books, 1992) 65-6.

Creator Elisha Hunt Rhodes
Context Rhodes served in the Union army.
Audience Posterity
Purpose To chronicle his experience during the war

Historical Significance

Elisha Hunt Rhodes was the son of a Rhode Island sea captain who had died in the Caribbean. He left school at age sixteen and worked as a clerk to support his family before enlisting three years later as a private in the Second Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. By the war's end he was a colonel.

Rhodes was well educated and frequently wrote in his diary. He also wrote descriptive and detailed letters to friends and family. This excerpt was recorded in Northern Virginia, after McClellan had retreated from the vicinity of Richmond. Like other diarists, Rhodes wrote immediately after the events he described. Many other soldiers recorded their memories decades later, in autobiographies (histories of their lives) or memoirs (less comprehensive recollections).


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