Unpublished: Channing Price’s Pocket Diary, 1861-1862
If you know the historical name “Channing Price,” you probably associate him with the “glory days” of General J.E.B. Stuart and the Confederate cavalry in the East. This young officer served on Stuart’s staff from July 29, 1862, until he was killed at the battle of Chancellorsville on May 1, 1863.
Over the past years, I’ve become rather fond of Price’s writings. He seems to exaggerate less than some of the other cavalrymen, and a lot of his claims and facts can be checked out for accuracy. Even in his lifetime, Price’s peers commented on his uncanny ability to remember minute details which helped make him an ideal staff officer. Quite a few of Price’s writings appear in cavalry books, especially volumes by Robert J. Trout.
However, imagine my delighted surprise when, in the archive collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I found an 1861-1862 diary penned by Channing Price himself. Even better, the fragile volume has been transcribed! As far as I can tell, this source is unpublished…and that’s not really surprising. The diary covers his months before he joined Stuart, and Price doesn’t seem to have a dedicated fan club eager to publish every piece of his writings. (And, no, I am not starting a Channing Price fan club!)
After looking at the exterior of the pocket journal, and photographing with my hand for size reference (something I always try to do with pocket diaries), I tucked the original safely back in its archival envelope and started perusing the typed transcription.
Monday, Oct 14, 1861 at Deep Creek, Warwick Co in the Army of the Peninsula
Oct 14th Was waked up very early to go to cooking & spent all day in this way.
And so the diary begins, of Channing Price’s less glorious days when he was enlisted in the 3rd Virginia Howitzers. The journaling lasts until the beginning of May 1862 with details about life on the Virginia Peninsula in Magruder’s command. Price passed his days trying to learn to cook, drilling, occasionally socializing with other soldiers, writing letters home, standing guard, handing commissary requisitions, looking after horses, and complaining about the weather.
He marked New Year’s Day 1862 by writing:
Jany 1st 1862. The year 1862 comes in very beautifully & we ought to be reminded that our lives are now shortened by one year. After our breakfast I went to see the Review Inspection & Muster of the 5th La [Louisiana] Regt. It turned out quite full & the Review &c were conducted by Col. Hunt. Came back & spent the rest of the day in our Camp. 3 men were detailed from our Section in the morning to go to Young’s Mill & work on a Forage House for our wing of the Regt. They came back however having been dismissed until tomorrow. In this evening Joe Fourqurean came from Yorktown with his brother just from Richmond, by whom I received 2 Pages from home. No news in camp.
As January passed, the diary entries become more interesting with rumors of Union spies and gunboats. In February 1862, he describes voting in camp in Confederate elections and noted his twentieth birthday on 24th. The next month Price went home for the first time in eight months, staying a few days to visit family and friends and possibly try recruiting. As the spring continued, his unit relocated south of the James River, and he spent more time in and around Richmond; at one point, he fell ill for a few days, then later returned to camp in time for his unit’s elections of officers.
The last entry of this diary is May 9, 1962:
We were roused before day & after getting Breakfast, started at 5 o’clock. We marched along pleasantly & at 12 o’clock reached Zuni Depot, having marched 10 miles. The Train from Petersburg passed soon after we got here, being 3 hours behind time. The Papers gave fuller accounts of the Battle of Wmsburg [Williamsburg], in which our loss was heavy, though we won the day. Spent the rest of the day in Camp & at the Depot. We are place here to prevent the enemy from getting possession of the Rail Road, in case they should land near Smithfield, Isle of Wight.
For those looking for very small, but possibly very important details about winter on the Virginia Peninsula in Magruder’s command, Price’s diary might be very helpful. It’s also an interesting, though fairly typical, account of a soldier learning how to live in a camp and how to cook for his mess. Price does mention a few officers of note by name, including Magruder and Armistead. On the whole, the diary is a glimpse into young Price’s life before he “jined the cavalry” and rode with Stuart. Another piece of the puzzle of his short life, another primary source mostly forgotten because it doesn’t have the high drama of his later war service months.
Diary 1861-1862, in the R. Channing Price Papers #2571, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
3 Responses to Unpublished: Channing Price’s Pocket Diary, 1861-1862
I’m ready to join the Channing Price fan club. Been a fan a long time. He died so young and his death in that way so unnecessary. I always put flowers on his grave when I visit General Stuart. Thanks for this story
Thanks for this article.