There were approximately 2,000 Effingham County residents who were veterans of the American Civil War.
Some of them left behind diaries, letters or books which tell about their individual experiences. They provide great insight into what soldiering was like during the terrible war which divided this country. They often wrote about the events surrounding the end of the conflict. One such person who left behind his thoughts was Henry H. Wright, a resident of Ewington in his early life and later a resident of the town of Effingham.
The following is an unedited selection from his diary. Spelling and punctuation is as he wrote the document:
“We went through Washington where there had been hard fighting about Peters Burg and all along south of Richmond. Grant had railroad built to supply the army. We could see Rebels a going South by the hundreds. They was not dressed in Butternut. They all had the gray suits. England had recognized them as a nation and supplied them but I think they got left in the pay. We marched through Richmond and examined the rebel prisons. It surely was a disgrace to the human race and Wirtz (the commandant at the notorious prisoner-of-war camp, Andersonville, Georgia) got his dues.
On the way there word come to us that Lee had surrendered. There was some doubted it but when John A Logan come up with his hat in hand he waved it in the air and shouted Lee has surrendered. You had ought to hear the yells and saw the hats fly up in the air and some threw their knapsacks. Well Johnsons army was on our track and we was held there for some time but things settled down and our army was ordered to go in to a grand revue and General Howard reviewed us and we was started for Washington. Our officers put us on double quick to see who would get there first. We had about as hard a march as we had in the army. When we got to Mount Vernon where George Washington and wife is buried we marched by so we could look into their tombs. On reue and from there to Alexandra. We stayed there several days. I was at the house where General Ellsworth was shot (Colonel E. Elmer Ellsworth was the first martyr for the Union, May 24, 1861).
The 26th Illinois Regiment is credited with being in 62 battles and marched Six thousand 931 miles in four years which I was a member and was off duty only when sick and that war of short duration. Three months after enlistment the Colonel Lomis offered to recomend me for Captain of Co A. I said to him when we organized we agreed to elect all officers by the vote of the Company and we had ordered an election. We had. all agreed to it. Newcomb and Murfey (David Murphy was from Watson. Sidney Newcomb was from Effingham) was the Leutenants. I was certain I had them beat and they was too and the night before the election they got out. Frank Helim and I had gone to bed. When I got up in the morning I went in to one of their tents and they had a bucket of whiskey and tin cups and all helping their selves. We held the election but the candidates and whiskey won by a small majority. After that the Colonel and Captain at Savannah Georgia recommended me for Captain. . . . It was ordered by the government the war was near a close.
Then we was ordered to get ready for a grand revue. We crossed the long wooden bridge a crost the Potomac River. There was a good many Divisions ahead of ours all in new uniforms and new flags a flying with lots of pomp. When Logan come in line with his corps you ought to of heard the cheers. We had our old flags and old uniform but we got the credit of putting down the war. We had a good time there for we had free access about two weeks to go thru all parts of the Capitol. Then we went on railroad to Pittsburg and to the Ohio River and we got on steam boats past Cincinnati and from there to Louisville Kentucky. We got lots of black berries there and had a good time. I found lots of good union men there. We was held there on account of some fighting up Red River. We was discharged 20 day of July 1865 at Louisville. Final discharge at Springfield on the 27 day of July 1865 and got home on the 28.”
Another wonderful source which provides great insight into soldiering during the Civil War was Mary Newcomb’s “Four Years of Personal Experience in the War.” Mary became a resident of Effingham after the war was over and lived in the community until she died in 1893. She wrote the following regarding the close of the Civil War.
“I have told you of the great numbers of dilapidated condition of the colored people who swarmed after the army. Many of them were not fit to appear in public. I had in my possession several boxes of goods that had been sent for distribution among them, and so I took the boxes to Paw Paw Island where there were some two thousand, as nearly naked as Arabs. I got a tent and with the help of the teachers we soon had them in a presentable condition. They always called a dress a “coat.” One pretty girl, not half black, begged me to take her home with me. She was very sweet and cute, and I really would have liked to keep her.
All the goods were soon disposed of and I was about to go to Helena, when the news arrived that General Johnson had surrendered to Sherman, in North Carolina, and the old flag floated over Fort Sumter again. Then we heard that Lee had surrendered to Grant, and we knew that the war was over.
It is impossible to describe the joy that took possession of the boys. All the well ones went to Washington and had a grand review before the President and then were mustered out and went home. Many of them cared nothing for Andrew Johnson, for they doubted his loyalty. But the war was over and they were glad to go home. Yet how sad was the homecoming. How many hearts bled afresh as the wives and mothers saw others welcoming back friends while their own loved ones lay in Southern graves, many of them unmarked and unknown. As the Grand Army of the Republic annually decorates the soldiers’ graves, let they not forget to lay a flower for the unknown dead.”
It is through sources such as that above that Effingham County residents today can learn about that rich heritage which yesteryear’s citizens left for today’s people to celebrate.