Write Again . . . The diary of a soldier

Published 4:42 pm Monday, September 28, 2015


“It was the last full year of the war and First Sgt. William H. Fitzgerald, F Company, First North Carolina Cavalry, had obtained an 1863 pocket diary printed in the enemy city of New York.

“Though the diary was a year out of date, William started recording his observations about his life as a soldier of the Confederacy. He continued jotting down comments in pencil and pen through most of the year, writing his last entry December 16.”

So began the feature story that appeared in the Monroe (NC) “Enquirer-Journal” by Henry Welles, Staff Writer.

When did this feature appear? I don’t know. Ascertaining the exact date is possible, of course, but my best guess is that it was written sometime in the ‘70s.

Give or take a few years.

The diary was discovered after Ken and Sandra Nemer bought the Houston-Fairley House at 505 Washington St. (Monroe).

Nemer, then an account executive with the North Carolina National Bank, decided to explore the house’s attic. A dormer in front of the house was lifted out and an attic revealed. “It was like opening King Tut’s Tomb,” Nemer said. “Two completely furnished rooms.” Lying on the floor in a corner of one of the rooms was a “leather-bound, coverless diary.” (The attic had been sealed off years prior.)

A Mrs. George S. Lee, a local historian in Monroe at the time, thought the diary was probably left over from the days when Dr. Walter Bartow Houston and his wife, Mollie, lived there. Mrs. Houston was a niece of the Fitzgeralds. (The Houstons were my grandparents.)

Let me share with you just a few of William Fitzgerald’s diary entries: Jan. 19 — snowed about 10 inches; Feb. 2 — Went . . . had a fight with some of the enemy; Feb. 17 — A man in Company B, 1st North Carolina Cavalry kissed a surly ass of an old horse for $10; March 3 — Captured 100 men and 300 horses.

May 2 — Yankee Cavalry . . . in a raid. Have captured Louisa Court House . . . and . . . the Virginia Central Railroad above Beaver Dam. Fighting at Chancellorsville. Yankee Cavalry captured the ambulance train at Ashland . . .

May 6 — All the Yankees have been driven over the River. Another glorious victory — 10,000 prisoners, 53 pieces of artillery, 50,000 small arms. June 7 — Was in the engagement today from 5 am. to 7 pm. The severest and longest cavalry fight that has occurred during the war. T. A. Lefler killed. June 21 — Fought the enemy desperately all day. W. M. Polls and A. J. Vickers killed in a charge.

In all, Fitzgerald recounted things momentous and mundane. Often he wrote of the weather, especially of rain and snow. He wrote of wishing he was home.

He survived the war, and although not a native, lived in Monroe, where he assisted in the building of the Old Union County Courthouse. He died in 1899, and is buried in Monroe Cemetery, as are my grandparents and numerous other relations, almost all of whom I never knew.

The Civil War was anything but. It was the bloodiest war in our country’s history, with the most casualties. Weather-related deaths were twice those caused by actual fighting.

The Union was preserved, but at a terrible cost in lives and property. The evil institution of slavery was abolished, the silver lining that came out of the dark and stormy clouds, those long years ago.

In time, the arc of the universe bends toward justice.