LeRoy Wiley Gresham’s diary offers remarkable insight to an invalid’s life, the reporting of news on the homefront, culture and literature, and medical practices. The Georgian teenager found himself suffering from a cruel disease that racked his body and worsened as the years passed. While other boys his age hated their school studies, dreamed of enlisting, or got packed off to boarding or military schools, LeRoy saw the war pass “outside my window” and created a written record of his painful days, literary habits, visitors, and opinions on the conflict.
Today is Easter Sunday, and I wondered what LeRoy had to say about the sacred celebration through the years of the Civil War. He and his family were religious and attended the Presbyterian church regularly, and at various points in his journal LeRoy writes about ministers, chaplains, and his own studies of the Bible. What if we could compare all his entries on the four Easter Sundays of his life and the war? What would we learn?
After a little research to find the correct dates since the holy day moves on the calendar each year, here are the correct entries. This is Civil War Easter – according to LeRoy W. Gresham…
Sunday, March 31, 1861
There is no service in our church on account of the absence of Mr. Wills. My leg don’t get any better or any worse; neither does my cough. It is clear and bright and the Mocking birds are singing in the trees…
Sabbath day, April 20, 1862 A.D.
Warm and cloudy. Took an anodyne pill and slept until 10 oclock. My head is better today, though it ached all night. Rained a little. My cough is pretty bad, and I take a gargle for it. Father rubbed my throat last night. Commenced to rain about dark and rained until we went to bed. It is a little cooler. There is no news of importance in the papers.
Sunday, April 5, 1863
Clear and cool. The Daily comes out in a half sheet on account of the destruction of the Path Papermill. Thomas’** boil kept him home. Gen. Benning has taken Toombs’ brigade + Uncle Edge is Q.M. [quartermaster] My back has grown very sore since dinner…
**Thomas was LeRoy’s brother
Sunday March 27, 1864
Clear and splendid spring day. Dr. Stiles preaches today in our church on the “State of the Country.” Johnson** is a hopeless paralytic, so Dr. Fitzgerald says. Thomas has three positions offered him viz: Clerk to [Gen] Gist, Clerk to Maj Gen Walker’s inspector, + a position in the Engineer Corps, and is in a quandary not knowing which to accept. Dr Stiles’ sermon was 2 hours + 40 minutes.
April 16, 1865
Clear and beautiful day. Mr. Markham preached in the A.M. Mr. Adams is to preach tonight. Mr. Bunting, a chaplain in the Texas Rangers, called last night. Mr. Bryson is a Tennessee chaplain and a very nice man. The yankees are marching on Columbus, Georgia.
I find that LeRoy’s Easter Day entries are mixed and varied across the years of war. In three of the five entries, he mentions which ministers preached for the holy day services, even though one of those messages sounds more political than religious. In three of the five selected writings, he writes about his health condition (a typical subject throughout his diary). In all five entries, LeRoy tells us about the weather – another common theme in his observations.
The notes on preaching re-enforces the tradition of religious celebrations of Easter. Bunnies and egg hunting had not become wide-spread features of the holiday. Since LeRoy was an invalid, he did not always have the benefit of attending gatherings or even church, but he noted plenty about what his family members did and he doesn’t record a specific meal or celebratory happenings. Instead, he tends to focus on war news and how the war is affecting his family. Where will his brother serve? How close are the Yankees to his hometown? A clear reflection of the conflict swirling around the holidays.
Against the history of illness, religious services, and the Civil War, LeRoy’s descriptions of spring burst on the page. For me, this is my favorite part of his Easter Sunday writings. Every year he notes something beautiful. This teen could not move easily and suffered severely, but he still managed to see something pretty. Something that gave him joy even in his pain. Perhaps that reflects the Christian beliefs about the holiday. That great joy followed a sorrowful experience. That fears could be erased and replaced by peace.
Today, some of us will attend religious services. Some of us will gather with family for times of laughter, egg-hunting, and games. Some of us may face a more reserved and sober holiday, following difficult circumstances. However we experience or celebrate the day, spring bursts outside our own windows.
We can see a cloudy or “splendid spring day” and hear the singing birds. LeRoy choose to see sparks of joy outside his window, and may this day be a time to peace and happiness for all of us 155 years later!