A Soldier’s Diary — David Lane

Fort Baker. D. C, Aug. 31st, 1862.

I have already learned that—finding much leisure time upon his hands, after all soldierly duties have been performed—the private soldier naturally craves something to divert his mind, or, as he puts it, something to pass away the time. To many men, so situated, a game of cards is peculiarly fascinating. Others spend all their leisure time in fun and mischief; telling outlandish stories, singing vile songs, or playing practical jokes upon their fellows.

Having neither taste or talent in either of these directions, I have deliberately resolved to keep a diary or memorandum of current events, and will transcribe, from day to day, the facts that interest me and the thoughts they may engender. I enlisted August 12th, 1862, was mustered into the service of the United States on the 18th, and was assigned to Company G, of the Seventeenth regiment of Michigan Volunteer Infantry, then in barracks at Detroit, Michigan. Of the ninety-three enlisted men enrolled in Company G, sixty-five were farmers, ten laborers, five carpenters, six shoemakers, three clerks, one baker, one miller, one tinner, and one professional soldier. They range in age from the smooth-faced boy of sixteen years to the fully-developed man of thirty-eight. I judge about the same ratio will apply to the other companies of the regiment, with the exception of Company E, which is composed largely of students from the State Normal School at Ypsilanti. The regiment is largely made up of men verging on middle life, who have left business, wife, and children, dearer to them than life, sternly resolved to meet death on the field of battle, rather than suffer rebellion to triumph and the Nation be torn asunder. We left the barracks at ten o’clock in the forenoon of August 27th, marched three miles to the wharf, where we left our baggage; then escorted General Wilcox around the city until five o’clock p. m., when we marched on board the steamer Cleveland, bound for the City of Cleveland.

The weather was fine, and we reached Cleveland at five o’clock the next morning, and immediately took cars for Washington, D. C, by way of Pittsburg and Baltimore. We arrived at Pittsburg at 7 p. m. of August 28th, and were most enthusiastically received, the whole population, seemingly, escorting us, with shouts, flags, and banners of various devices, to the City Hall, where a bountiful supper was spread for us. The hall was finely decorated. Among other mottoes was: “Pittsburg Welcomes Her Country’s Defenders.”

We left Pittsburg at nine o’clock in the evening and reached Harrisburg the next day at 10 a. m., where we took breakfast; then, “All aboard for Baltimore.” We crossed the Alleghenies in the night, but when morning dawned I went out on the platform and could still see them in the distance, rearing their blue heads in solemn grandeur, forming a most charming background to the beautiful picture spread out before us. We were then running with lightning speed down the beautiful Juniata Valley, about sixty miles above Harrisburg, and a more picturesque spot I never beheld.

Hemmed in by long ranges of high hills, some running at right angles to the stream, others parallel with it, now rising in perpendicular bluffs with hardly room for the cars to pass, then receding, formed lovely valleys, dotted here and there with pleasant villages. We reached Baltimore about seven o’clock Friday evening, and were warmly greeted by the loyal citizens. After partaking of a hearty supper, we took cars for Washington at ten o’clock.

We had expected a row in Baltimore, and were prepared for it, but nothing transpired of a more serious nature than a few personal encounters. One hot-headed fellow jumped on board the officers’ car and demanded to see their colors, cursing Unionists and swearing vengeance. Lieutenant Somers, stirred by righteous indignation, struck him a heavy blow in the face and knocked him headlong from the car. A crowd gathered, swords and pistols flashed in the gaslight, epithets were exchanged, and there the matter ended.

We reached Washington Saturday morning, and were assigned to Fort Baker, six miles south of the city.

Fort Baker is pleasantly situated on a high hill that overlooks the surrounding country for many miles. Fifty thousand troops are encamped in sight of us.


A Soldier’s Diary, The Story of a Volunteer, David Lane, (17th Mich. Vol. Infantry)

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