05 October 2012

Follow Friday: The Civil War Diary of Charles F. Nelson

Charles F. Nelson
12th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment
ca. 1862

OK, so I've been away from genealogy research and this blog for a few weeks due to other time-wasting  activities (Darn you,  Netflix, and your Battlestar Galactica reruns!) but I'm going to attempt to resume regular genealogy blogging with today's entry. Follow Friday is another Daily Blogging Prompt from GeneaBloggers.

It's curious sometimes how my interests come together and intersect. I'm Catholic, and when I'm not doing genealogy research or geeking out on fantasy or science fiction, I frequently visit Catholic websites and listen to Catholic podcasts trying to learn more about my faith. Steve Nelson is the director of the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN), a network of Catholic blogs, websites, and podcasts dedicated to encouraging Catholics to live their faith more fully and reaching out to non-Catholics by talking about things that both Catholics and non-Catholics enjoy: movies, TV shows, music, comics, food, and health and fitness, among other topics. Recently, through a Facebook post and through one of the SQPN podcasts on which he's a frequent guest, Steve announced that he'd created a new blog that reproduces the Civil War diary of his great-great grandfather, Charles F. Nelson. Charles F. Nelson was a soldier in the 12th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment and a fifer in the regimental color guard.The diary describes his movements and activities throughout his wartime service. According to Steve:

Although he doesn’t write in great detail, Charles was witness to some of the most important events of the war, including the Siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea, and even the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, DC.

The diary was privately printed almost 100 years after the war by Franklin Vance Nelson, Charles F. Nelson's grandson. Steve received his copy from his grandfather, Franklin Jesse Nelson, a first cousin of Franklin Vance Nelson.

As Steve points out, the entries themselves are often terse and lacking in detail, but they do hint at some of the hardships and privations Charles F. Nelson and his comrades had to endure while in service, and the religious faith that helped Charles endure those hardships. This isn't really a surprise. As I noticed while asking my own father about his World War II experiences, veterans of war are often extremely reluctant to talk in great detail about their service. Perhaps there are extremely painful memories they would rather not recall; perhaps they have endured things that only a fellow veteran, someone who had been through similar experiences, could fully understand; perhaps they felt they were only doing their duty and didn't do anything really interesting or exciting; or perhaps they feel that experiences long past are best left in the past and forgotten.

Whatever the reasons for Charles F. Nelson's reticence, the diary does yield interesting details to the careful reader. Students of Civil War history, Indiana history, or Indiana genealogy may find useful information here. If nothing else it is an intriguing glimpse into a long vanished era and the daily life of an average soldier. It's obvious that Steve has lavished a great deal of time and effort on this project, using a very attractive website design and illustrating it with rare period artwork, including an absolutely priceless photograph of  Charles F. Nelson holding his fife and surrounded by his comrades in the color guard. I would love to have a similar photograph of my own great-great grandfather, James E. Leslie, who was a blacksmith in a Mississippi cavalry regiment. This is a priceless piece of Steve's family history that he has graciously shared with the whole internet. Please visit it soon.