Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Diary of US patent clerk Horatio Nelson Taft.

Sunday Decr 27th 1863

Congress has adjourned over until the 5th of Jan’y and many of the Members have gone home to spend the Holydays. Christmas has passed off pleasantly. It was a beautiful bright day on Friday and appeared to be enjoyed by all Classes. I walked up to the Capitol in the forenoon to take a look at the East front. The North Wing East Portico is approaching completion and when finished will be a splendid sight. I should perhaps say when the whole East front is completed, as the South wing is to be finished in the same style, and then it is proposed to remove the old East Portico of the Main building and replace it with one projecting forward on a line with the Wings and in the same Style of Architecture. When that is done the East Front will be truly Magnificent. The Dome is nearly finished (outside). The workmen are now removing the scaffolding around the figure of Freedom which surmounts it. The head and shoulders as I can see from my window now project above the scaffold. This week it will all be removed. The great Bronze Door betwen the old chamber and the new “House” Chamber attracts much attention as a work of Art, it is unsurpassed of its kind.

I made several “calls” on Christmas day but felt rather lonely withall. Julia is at Fort Simmons still staying with Mis Col Welling & Daughter. I spent the evening at my son Chas playing Chess with him. Mr Woodward was in their room part of the evening. “Egg Nog” and cake was plenty. We had a fine Christmas dinner at my boarding house, Dr Munsons. I ought to say my dining house as I only take my dinner there. I breakfast where I room. One of my old friends of the Patent office, Mr Strother, called upon me yesterday at the office. He has just returned from Idaho where he has been mining the past year in the mountains, spending most of his time at “Virginia City.” He gives glowing accounts of the gold resources of that region. Were I a few years younger I should be disposed to go back with him in the spring. This is a rainy sunday and I have not been out to church this morning. This afternoon I must visit the Stanton Hospital. I am sorry I did not do so on Christmas, as Mr Stanton (the Secy of War) was there and I would have brot John Peters to his notice and got an order from him to allow of his being mustered as an officer.

Yesterday Julia and Miss Jamie Welling came down to the City from the Fort in the Fort Ambulance and poped into my room in the Pat office about noon. Julia had picked up a pet on the way in the shape of a large Newfoundland dog who she said “put his paws on the steps of the Carriage and asked to ride looking very tired.” They took him in and he was quietly sitting in the Ambulance when I waited on them on their departure. When Julia sat down the dog laid his head on her lap as though she had been his best friend looking up into her face and probably wishing to say, “I am truly grateful for your kindness and wish to be your attendent and defender as long as I live.” He was a noble looking fellow but belonged in Georgetown and had strayed from his master who has probably recovered him before this as the girls intended to leave him in G. on their return. Julia only staid in Washington a few minutes, only long enough to call upon me and thank me for her Christmas present which I sent her on that day, a little tortoise shell box to put her breast pin and earrings in.

Tuesday Decr 22nd 1863

I sent the Books to the Boys yesterday, one to Each costing about $2.50, and also a head dress for wife which was the handywork of Julia, all by Adams Express, .50cts to NY. I called and spent an hour with Mr Vanmaster at Mrs Wakeleys. Mr James Bashford is still there. Today I have been the same round of official duty. After three O’clock I visited the Stanton Hospital and saw my old friends there. All doing very well. I frequently visit other Hospitals. There is not much that one can do for them now. The Hospitals are so well managed that the soldiers get everything they want. I write letters sometimes for those who cannot write in consequence of their wounds, and sometimes I take their money and “express” it for them to their friends. Sometimes I read to them and always try to cheer them up and make them contented and they are always glad to see me. There is no war news of any importance today. Congress has not got fairly at work yet and will not until after the Holydays. There are crowds of people on the Avenue now afternoons, and at the Hotels all the time.

Sunday Dec. 20th 1863.

Went to the Capitol this morning at 11 o’ck and heard Rev John Lord (the Lecturer) preach, subject the “Sorrows of Knowledge,” took his text from Solomon, or Ecclesiastes, 1 chapter last verse, “For in much wisdom is much grief and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” He dwelt upon the imperfections of men dissecting every Class, laying bare their motives of action, their pride, Selfishness, dishonesty, ingratitude, hypocracy, &c, remarking that he who pandered to popular sentiment without reference to principle would be most popular. That the meanest and most dishonest men made the most money. And showing that the more knowledge a man got of the world the more he became disgusted with it. What we call science was but unsettled opinions, and the deeper we got the more we saw our own ignorance and discovered how unsatisfactory were our deepest studies. Knowing all this of the world and its pursuits, knowing its sorrows, its bereavements, its disappointments, the inference was that nothing but a higher life, a higher aim, could satisfy the mind. A knowledge of the world led to sorrow of the heart. A knowledge of God only led to happiness. I do not quote his language. The discourse was the most powerful I ever heard.

Genl John Buford US Cavalry was buried today, he died of Typhoid fever in this City. His funeral was largely attended and was a great Military display reaching at least 1/2 mile on the Avenue with 12 men in abreast. Six Major Genls were pall bearers, Genls Casey, Sickels, Augur, Hancock, Heintzelman, and Genl Schofield. The coffin was bourne to the Hearse by Six cavalry men. His Horse with boots in the Stirrups was let behind the Hearse by two Soldiers. His mullato waiter or bodyservant walked directly behind his dead master and seemed to grieve very much. Genl Buford was considered the best Cavalry Genl we had. He was a Kentuckyan, thirty eight years of age and graduated at West Point in 1848. We have Tea sundays at Doctor Munsons at six o’clock. I called at Chas and staid an hour, then came to my room, wrote a letter to my wife. Tomorrow I must send some books to the Boys for Christmas presents. Julia went yesterday up to Col Wellings Camp, 9th Artillery, Fort Sumner. Mrs W. sent for her, she will stay a week or so.

Saturday Dec. 19th 1863

I am still rooming at Mr Bartles 379 11th St where I take my breakfast at 8 o’clock a.m. I dine at Doct Munsons 442 9th st at 5 o’clock. My room, board, & fuel costs me about $1.00 pr day. I furnish my own fuel and burn wood which is now $12.00 pr cord ready for the stove, hard coal is $14.00 pr ton, and would be the cheapest if I wanted a constant fire. But I rarely make a fire in the morning prefering the cold air. Sleep with my window open and bathe in cold water about every other morning. I never sleep in anything which I have worn during the day, but change my flannel as well as my linnen. I have great faith in fresh air and well aired clothing, cold water and the flesh brush, but I use the Turkish Bathing Towel now which is about the same thing for the skin. I usualy come to my room early in the evening (unless I have some engagement) and read or write, or perhaps draw some Draft till about eleven o’clock. Get up betwen six and seven in the morning. Sleep well, Eat well, and am quite healthy.

Wednesday Dec 16th 1863

The “Army of the potomac” is virtualy in Winter quarters. The roads are so bad in Virginia now that heavy Artillery cannot move. Genl Mead is still in comnd of the Army and it is generaly conceded that He was not to blame in falling back under the circumstances. Longstreets army were compelled to retreat from before Knoxville Tenn. From what we can learn from rebel papers, there is a general despondency throughout the Rebel states. But they have still powerful armies in the field and still seem determined to fight it out. Their leaders are desperate. They know that there is but three things for them, succeed, run, or hang. No amnesty will be granted them. Everything looks well in Tennessee and our army in Western Texas has been successful so far. Matters at Charleston remain without much change. Genl Gilmore keeps up the bombardment of the Forts and treats the inhabitants of the City to a few shells each day. Fort Sumpter is about demolished but is not yet in our possession. It is thought that Louisiana, Arkansaw & Tennessee will be represented in this congress this winter.
Today I have been in the Genl Land office as usual preparing the Agricultural Land Scrip for Issue. Some of the States have got their Scrip already. I am now at work on Maine. That state gets Two hundred and eighty thousand acres. It is distributed according congressional representation. New York gets near a million acres. It is issued to the States in Scrip each for 160 acres and which are much like a Land Warrant. Julia and Miss Hartley called at the office at half past two today and I went out with them and walked on the Avenue awhile and then we went up to the Stanton Hospital and went through the Wards. The soldiers expect to see me there as often as once a week and are pleased to see the ladies. Some there have lain six months on their beds and their wounds are not healed yet. Such a one is John Peters of the 115th P.a. Regt. There are a number of rebels in the Hospital who receive the same attention as our own soldiers. Some of them are grievously wounded, some have died there. All the Hospitals have more or less of them but they are sent to the Lincoln Hospital as soon as they become convalesent.

Dec 3rd 1863

Today we learn that Mead has fallen back (this way) to this side of the “Rapidan.” This creates much disappointment here and the general opinion is that Genl Mead is incompetant. But the whole policy of the forward movement is not publicly understood. Congressmen are now flocking to the City and stowing themselves away the best they can. High prices are paid by them for convenient rooms. $100 pr month is not unusual. There is no news today from Tennessee of importance. Burnside at last accounts from him was at Knoxville besieged by a rebel Army under Genl Longstreet, but in no great danger of being Captured. The Rebels hold about 13000 of our soldiers prisoner in Richmond and from all accounts are litteraly starving them to death. The Rebel Authorities have recently consented that our Govt may send them food and clothing. Exchanges have ceased. They refuse to give up negro prisoners which they have taken, and our Govt insist that they shall. We have now about forty thousand rebel prisoners on hand. The general opinion is that they have sold the negroes, or hung them. They have probably done both.

Wednesday Dec 2nd 1863

Since my last date Genl Grant has defeated the rebel Army under Bragg at Chattanooga taking Six or seven thousand prisoners and about Sixty cannon. Genl Mead moved South from the Rapahannock last week. He has cut himself loose from all supply trains or Depots from this direction. He has ordered off all Reporters and we know but little about where he is at this date. He has a well appointed Army of Eighty thousand men and took along about twenty days rations for his Army. The object is Richmond. I expect He will fetch up on the James River. Congress meets next Monday and people are flocking to the City in droves. Julia is still at Mr Hartleys and is quite well. She comes into the office nearly every day to see me. I am now suffering from a severe cold owing I presume to the change in temperature. It has been quite cold for a day or two but no Snow as yet and I have seen no ice here until yesterday. The Head of the Statue of Freedom was put on today. The figure now stands complete upon the top of the Dome of the Capitol

Wednesday November 18th 1863

Since my last date I have been Home and Staid eight days, left here the 31st Oct & returned the 10th Inst, brought Julia back with me. She is staying at Mr Hartleys on NY Avenue. Neither Genl Meade or Admiral Dahlgreen have been removed as was reported at that date, they are both still in command. Our Army is now again South of the Rappahannock. There was a Sharp battle at and near “Kellys Ford” in crossing which was a great success for us, our Army took some 2500 prisoners &c. Not much more fighting has taken place at or near Chattanooga but a great Battle is expected soon. We have just heard that Genl Banks has landed and took Fort Brown & Brownsville on the Rio Grande in Texas. It is very pleasant for me to have Julia with me. I call for her and we take long walks visiting the Hospitals or calling on our friends. This evening we called on Mr & Mrs Reynolds and spent an hour. Yesterday we attended the Review of the Invalid Corps at the Presidents. They numbered about 3000. A number of the officers had but one arm and many were lame and the men as a general thing looked rather pale and not able to stand much fatigue.

Friday Oct 23rd 1863

Events are passing of perhaps much importance to the Country, but no Battles of any note have been fought. Lee has retreated back across the Rappahanock. Genl Meade thought he could not follow immediately and has been relieved of the Command of the Army of the Potomac and Genl Sedgwick is now in command. Something was wrong with Genl Rosecrans at Chattanooga (we do not now know exactly why). He has been relieved of the command and Genl Thomas now takes his place. It is said today that Admiral Dahlgreen has been relieved of the command of the fleet before Charleston, so we go. Rcd Letter today from Brother C.R. He went to the family gathering at Lyons which took place on the 9th & 10th Insts. Seven were there and three absent, Bro Lyman, Sister Betsey, and myself. The meeting was noticed in the Lyons Republican which was sent to me. Spent an hour or two at Mr Hartleys last Eve’g. Went to the War Department yesterday for a Soldier in Stanton Hospital (John Peters), great crowd there waiting. I do not like to wait, so I pushed ahead, did my business and came away.

Monday October 19th 1863

Not much of public interest has occured for a week past in the field. There has been almost constant skirmishing over the River within from 30 to 60 miles of here. Our army is now near the old Bull Run Battle ground and another general Battle is expected there or near soon. The Election in the States of Penna, Ohio & Iowa came off on Tuesday last the 13th Inst and resulted in great Union triumphs. The contest was betwen those who were in favor of putting down the Rebellion at all hazzards, for supporting the Administration and carrying on the war, and those who were in open sympathy with the Rebels or in favor of compromising with them and making peace at any rate. The opposition embraced a large share of the old Democratic party who were avowedly in favor of the War, but were willing to embarrass the Administration at a very critical time and whose leaders were too ready to misrepresent the acts of the Govt, and give encouragement to the rebels. The Election in those States has effectualy squelched that party for the present.

We hear nothing from Charleston lately. Genl Gilmore I suppose is getting a good ready. The Armies at Chattanooga Tenn seem to be lying idle after their great fight at Chickamauga. The events of this War have draged along much in the same track for the past year, but we have been making constant progress and the present limits of the “C.S.A.” are greatly circumscribed, but the Rebels are still powerful in the field and even now or during the past week the cannonade has been frequently heard in and near the City being not more than thirty or forty miles distant. The “Guerrillas” have made their “raids” to within three miles of Alexandria the past week, capturing horses, Sutlers stores &c. It is not expected that this state of things is to last long. Gold is up again to 150, has been recently 155, in the summer it was down to 125. The President has just called for 300,000 Volunteers for three years or the War. The recent Draft for 600,000 has proved I think rather a failure. Not more than 100,000 I believe have been obtained by it or will be for it has not yet been put in force in all the States, but it has done one good thing. It has shown that the Govt is Strong enough to enforce it anywhere.