University of Notre Dame

 

Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

Guide to the H. H. Wiseman Diary

MSN/CW 8022

 

Collection Summary

Title: H. H. Wiseman Diary
Dates: 1864-1865
Collection No.: MSN/CW 8022
Creator: Wiseman, H. H., ca. 1834-1865
Extent: 1 volume in 1 folder
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A manuscript diary maintained by Confederate States Pvt. H. H. Wiseman, Co. B, 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery, recounting Wiseman's experiences in Union prison camps at Governors Island and Elmira, New York in 1864-1865.

Selected Search Terms

Prisoners of war -- Confederate States of America -- Diaries.
Prisoners of war -- New York (State) -- Elmira -- History -- 19th century.
American Civil War, letters and diaries.
Soldiers -- Confederate States of America.

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: H. H. Wiseman Diary, MSN/CW 8022-1, Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Wiseman diary was purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in September 2012, from Raynor's Historical Collectible Auctions of Burlington, North Carolina (lot 219). It was previously owned by William F. Howard of Delmar, New York, who stated that it was found beneath the floorboards of the Long Island home of Mrs. John J. Gavin. Arranged and described 2017, by Yang Wu. Finding aid 2017, by Yang Wu.

Biographical Note

H. (likely Hamilton) H. Wiseman was born around 1834 in North Carolina and ultimately settled in west Tennessee, in Covington, Tipton County. The 1860 Federal census identifies him as a merchant, with a personal estate of $9000. Wiseman enlisted in the Confederate army in 1862 and served as a private in batteries A, L and B of the 1st Regiment Tennessee Heavy Artillery. He and his battery were captured at the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863, exchanged, and captured again at Mobile, Alabama, when the Confederate garrison of Fort Morgan surrendered (23 August 1864). As a prisoner of war, Wiseman was first sent to Union occupied New Orleans and subsequently north to New York state (September 1864). Initially held at Fort Columbus on Governors Island, he was transferred to Elmira Prison on 5 December 1864. Wiseman was paroled on 9 February 1865 and sent for exchange on the thirteenth, but was detoured to U. S. General Hospital, West's Buildings, in Baltimore because of poor health. He arrived there on 15 February and died the next day, of "chronic diarrhea."

Scope and Content Note

In sixty entries running to perhaps 3000 words, 23 August 1864 to 12 February 1865, Wiseman describes his experiences in several Federal prison camps as he struggles with the tedium of captivity and ever worsening living conditions. The entries touch on many aspects of prison life, including the author's longing for home, his access to information, escape attempts, relationships with guards, subjection of prisoners to northern propaganda, general living conditions, and the quality of food.

The first two entries, dated 23 August and 18 September, are retrospective; Wiseman describes his capture at Mobile and his trips to New Orleans and New York. On 9 November he begins writing on an almost daily basis. Entries 3 to 25, dated 9 November to 3 December 1864, describe Wiseman's time on Governors Island. Wiseman mentions the accessibility of newspapers and his consequent ability to follow events in the war and also the price of gold (a concern for southerners due to rampant inflation in the Confederacy). He describes the trading of personal items between prisoners and guards, being given a "very nice dinner" for Thanksgiving, and mentions that he is generally in good health.

Entries 26 to 58, dated 4 December 1864 to 5 January 1865, detail Wiseman's relocation to Elmira and the poor conditions at the prison, where nearly a quarter of the 12,100 prisoners died during the last 12 months of the war. Wiseman describes overcrowding and the barracks' inadequate heating, abusive behavior by guards (such as forcing prisoners to stand at muster in frigid weather), constant deaths among prisoners and his own deteriorating health. Many entries mention rumors of exhange and parole. The diary lacks entries from 5 January to 9 February 1865, probably reflecting Wiseman's poor health. The last entries, dated 10 and 12 February 1865, were written from the hospital at Elmira, which Wiseman describes favorably. He denies taking an oath of loyalty to facilitate his parole (which he received on the ninth). The diary appears to have been used by a Union soldier following Wiseman's death, with notations regarding letters written in April and May 1865. The new owner also wrote down the names of several individuals on the back pastedown of the diary. Research by William F. Howard, the previous owner, suggests that one of these individuals, Sgt. C. D. Allaire of the 162nd New York Infantry, was stationed at U. S. General Hospital, West's Buildings around the time of Wiseman's death and may have been the new owner.

Arrangement Note

The collection consists of one item in one folder.

Container List

  • Diary: H. H. Wiseman, 1864 August to 1865 February. Folder 1 (MSN/CW 8022-1).
    1 vol., 13 cm., 43 leaves, with 36 pages of content.
    With annotations in a second hand dating from April and May 1865.