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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Another Shaky Source, A Maine Diary on Petersburg

Hand written diaries make great sources.  The John F. Sale Diary at the Library of Virginia is an example.  Beware of over-edited diaries.  An example is, Ruth L. Silliker, ed., The Rebel Yell & the Yankee Hurrah:  The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer, Private John W. Haley, 17th Maine Regiment (Camden, Me.:  Down East Books, 1985.  For starters, the writing is too fine:  "Death filled the air like snowflakes in a winter storm," is one line in the entry on page 175 for June 22, 1864.  Someone might have written that while on the front lines, but I doubt it.  In the entry for the same day on the same page it is said that General DeTrobriand called it or would have called it "von grand skedaddle."  I really doubt that.  DeTrobriand did not return to duty with the 17th Maine's brigade until five days afterward.  He came from New York City, where he had served since the spring.  Furthermore, he would not likely have said, "von grand skedaddle."  That imitates a German accent, and DeTrobriand was a native French speaker.  Finally, the writer sees things he would have been unlikely to see, such as General Barlow washing his feet in a little stream.  There is a witness to that, but I doubt this diarist saw it because the diaries was in the second line and Barlow was hundreds of yards to the north with thick woods in between.  Much of what this diarist says must be taken with a grain of salt.