Unpublished: Thomas D. Evans Pocket Diary, 1864

It’s smaller than my hand, delicate, and hard to hold open to read the fading ink and pencil. However, this pocket diary is where Thomas D. Evans wrote about the weather, notes about military actions, and later the daily record to remind himself that he was still alive and hadn’t lost his arm yet. The original diary, along with Evan’s furlough papers and a few other documents, is part of the archive collection at The Huntington Library in San Marino, California. As far as I know, the diary is unpublished, except for a quoted sentence about the New Market Campaign in my book, Call Out The Cadets.

Thomas D. Evans enlisted and served in Company G of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Prior to enlistment he had lived in Buchanan, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Although he had 12 photographs taken on April 1, 1864, I’ve had little luck in locating an identified one thus far. However, thanks to a very detailed furlough paper, there is a record of Evans’s appearance and some personal details.

To all who it may concern

The bear hereof, Thomas D. Evans a Sergeant of Captain John Bird[?] (G) Company of the 14 Regiment of Penna Cav aged 18 years, 5 feet 7 ½ inches high, light complexion, brown eyes, Auburn hair, and by profession a Carpenter; born in the [word] of Wales, and enlisted at Pittsburg in the state of Pennsylvania, on the 13 day of September eighteen hundred and sixty two, to serve for the period of three years, is hereby permitted to go to Birmingham, in the County of Alleghany, State of Pennsylvania, by having received a FURLOUGH from the 13 day of Feby 1864, to the 27 day of Feby 1864 at which period he will rejoin his Company or Regiment at [word] or wherever it then may be, OR BE CONSIDERED A DESERTER.

Evans did not desert. According to his diary, he faithfully returned to camp after his February furlough and continued his military service and his daily records in his little journal. This diary has the dates of 1864 printed at the top of each page, and Evans faithfully wrote on almost every page…even when he might have later been “filling” in the details of each day.

During the winter months of 1864, Evans spent a lot of time retrieving supplies from the quartermaster, taking a furlough and recruiting, and putting in large orders for supplies. From the amount of supply notes, I suspect he may have been doing some type of official or unofficial quartermaster work for his company. As spring weather comes to the western Virginia mountains and the lower (northern) Shenandoah Valley, Evans carefully detailed the scouting and picketing that he and other cavalrymen performed, often with exact details about the roads and distances they covered.

He wrote about the New Market Campaign, Franz Sigel’s failure, and David Hunter’s arrival as the new Union general. In June 1864, Evans detailed the Lynchburg Campaign and then on the 21st noted his own wounding. The injury to his right arm takes over most of his writing. The penmanship changes, suggesting he was right-handed and now writing with his left. On some days when he recorded severe pain, it is almost reflected in the halting strokes of his writing implements.

Eventually sent to the U.S General Hospital at Gallipolis Ohio, Evans spent from July to October 1864 at this medical facility before receiving a medical furlough to go home. The subject of his recorded medical treatment goes beyond the scope of this summary article. (But I do intend to cover it in a series later this year.) Once he’s back in Pennsylvania, Evans seems to “live it up”, going to parties and staying until three in the morning, attending concerts, and spending a lot of time visiting different churches. He does not explain his motivations for these actions, leaving room for speculation within cultural contexts, but Evans certainly had a busy medical furlough with a questionable amount of rest.

When he came to the end of the pages in his 1864 pocket diary, Evans noted that on December 31 he went to the U.S.A. General Hospital at Pittsburg where he “was mustered today.” Then he went home, a friend came to visit…and the diary ends. So far, I’m still trying to find the rest of Evans’s story and war records!

Thomas D. Evan’s pocket diary was the first one that I ever held and worked with. I had only intended to read January through June, but his descriptions of his wounding and medical treatment pulled me into his writing, and I finished reading it. Most of the diary is typically Civil War soldier writings – kind of boring. However, some of his details expose what it was like for cavalry in the New Market and Lynchburg Campaigns, adding some small military value to the unpublished source. The majority of Evans’s diary entries are about the weather; in fact, he almost always started with the weather. “This is a fine day,” became a common phrase in his writings. Partly due to the small pages, partly because he probably wasn’t a wordy writer, Evans’s sentences and recorded details are in short, often incomplete sentences. He could be sparse and pithy with his details to the frustration of a researcher, but likely a reflection of his simple, focused character.

Like many other Civil War soldiers, keeping a record of his days in camp, in the field, on campaign, and in the hospitals likely provided something familiar and anchoring for Evans. He wrote something on every day, even if it was just something about the weather or the fact that he was still in a military hospital. It is the simple yet strong record of a cavalryman’s life for one year of his military experience. Though unpublished and likely to remain so, Thomas D. Evans left a primary source that reminds us that he lived, he served and suffered, and he was living through events that were worth recording, even in a very small way.

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?
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