In many ways, John Beatty typified the common soldier of the Union army, and his journal details army life in the Western Theater throughout the early years of the war. Beatty was born on 16 December 1828 near Sandusky in the western region of Ohio, a region known for its strong anti-slavery sentiments. At the outbreak of war, he raised a company of local volunteers, which joined the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
When the unit was mustered into service, Beatty, recently promoted to lieutenant-colonel, became the regiment's commander. In November 1861, however, his regiment was transferred to General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio in Kentucky. Throughout 1862 and 1863, he campaigned across the Bluegrass state, Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and northern Alabama, participating in many of the battles. At
33 years of age, Beatty was older than the typical soldier who mustered into the army in 1861, and at 5 feet 11 inches, he was taller than most mid-nineteenth-century Americans. He was thin, possessed dark hair, and wore a mustache, characteristic of Civil War soldiers.
Like most soldiers, Beatty typically began his journal entries with comments about the climate. The weather has been delightful, warm as spring time. The nights are beautiful' is representative of the remarks he frequently made. The landscape was also a source of interest. 'This is peculiar country,' he remarked while in Louisville, 'there are innumerable caverns, and every few rods places are found where the crust of the earth
appears to have broken and sunk down hundreds of feet.'
Beatty was also struck by the obvious and routine role that slavery played in the lives of the Southern people. Upon arriving in Louisville, Beatty came across a sign that read 'Negroes Bought and Sold,' and this struck a cord with the Ohioan. 'We have known to be sure, that negroes were bought and sold, like cattle and tobacco, but it nevertheless, awakened new, and not by any means agreeable, sensations to see the humiliating fact announced on the broad side of a commercial house.' To this he added, These signs must come down.'
Beatty found camp life both rewarding and a nuisance. It was rewarding to enjoy the weather of the South and to hear the pleasantries of music under moonlit nights. 'The boys are in a happier mood, and a round, full voice comes to us from the tents with the words of an old Scotch song.' Still, it was difficult to keep the men out of trouble. 'The boys, out of pure devilment, set fire to the leaves, and to-night the forest was illuminated.' In August 1862, he wrote: 'I am weak, discouraged, and worn out with idleness.' Excessive drinking often brought retribution and insubordination from the soldiers. When Beatty arrested a half-drunk soldier and strapped him to a tree for being insolent, the soldiers reacted scornfully. 'It was a high-handed outrage upon the person of a volunteer soldier,' Beatty observed, and the common soldiers never let their commanders forget they were volunteers.
There were also casualties beyond the battlefield for the soldiers of Beatty's regiment. When a soldier got a letter from home that his girlfriend had married someone else, Beatty remarked that the news made this soldier 'crazy as a loon.' The poor
When Confederate General Braxton Bragg marched into Kentucky in tne summer of 1862, Union General Don Cartes Buell was forced to pursue him and to build bridges across the rivers in this picture. Buell's troops are crossing the Big Barren River. Here the 19th Michigan Engineers had to reconstruct the bridge by using pontoons located in the middle of the river. (Review of Reviews Company)
soul 'imagined that he was in hell, thought Dr Seyes the devil, and so violent did he become that they had to bind him.' Worse yet was the disease of the soldiers, particularly during the winter months. 'There is a great deal of sickness among the troops; many cases of colds, rheumatism, and fever, resulting from exposure,' Beam-observed. 'Passing through the company quarters of our regiment at midnight, I was alarmed by the constant and heavy coughing of the men. I fear the winter will send many more to the grave than the bullets of the enemy, for a year to come.' It surely did.
Beatty also noted that the Union army had become a haven for runaway slaves. 'We have much trouble with the escaped negroes ... the colored folks get into our regimental lines, and in some mysterious way are so disposed of that their masters never hear of them again.' Near Murfreeshoro, Tennessee. he remarked: 'We have in our camp a superabundance of negroes.'
During spells of boredom, Beatty usually turned his thoughts 'to the cottage home, to wife and children, to a time still further away when we had no children, when we were making the preliminary arrangements for starting the world together, when her cheeks were ruddier than now, when wealth and fame and happiness seemed lying just before me, ready to be gathered in, and farther away still, to a gentle, blue-eyed mother - now long gone - teaching her child to lisp his first prayer.' Religion often found expression in music and was a way for the men to escape the boredom of camp life. 'Surely nothing has the power to make us forget earth and its round of troubles as these sweet old church songs, familiar from earliest childhood,' commented Beatty.
Beatty read the newspapers and was particularly interested in the politics of the war. In July 1862, the Ohioan commented on the Confiscation Act passed by the Congress. 'I trust the new policy indicated by the confiscation act, just passed by Congress, will have a good effect.' 'It will, at least, enable us to weaken the enemy,' he argued, 'and strengthen ourselves, as we have hitherto not been able to do.' 'Slavery is the enemy's weak point, the key to his position. If we can tear down this institution, the rebels will lose all interest in the Confederacy, and be too glad to escape with their lives ... '
He clearly viewed the institution of slavery as the cause of the war and the root of the evils of Southern society. By the end of 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation had clearly changed the war. In February 1863, Beatty remarked that the 'army is turning its attention to politics somewhat.' particularly when it came to Lincoln's Proclamation. 'Generals and colonels are ventilating their opinions through the press. I think their letters may have a good effect upon the people at home, and prevent them from discouraging the army and crippling the Administration.'
Beatty also wrote about commanders. For the most part he liked his division commander. General Ormsby Mitchel. Mitchel was a professional and proper gentleman who 'never drinks and never swears,' and in Beatty's estimation was 'indefatigable.' But Beatty came to detest Don Carlos Buell for his slowness in campaigning and for his apparent sympathy with the Southern people during the summer of 1862. Buell 'is inaugurating the dancing-master policy,' which was Beatty's sarcastic expression for Buell's lethargy, which he declared was the policy of an 'idiot.'
Campaigning gave Beatty plenty of things to react to, not the least of which was the unexpected cheering of citizens for the Union soldiers. 'We passed many fine houses, and extensive, well improved farms,' he penned in 1862, 'but few white people were seen. The negroes appeared to have entire possession.' The sight of a pretty woman warmed his heart. While marching in Tennessee, Beatty came upon a scene where a young and very pretty girl stood in the doorway of a handsome farm-house and waved the Union flag. Cheer after cheer arose along the line; officers saluted, soldiers waved their hats, and the bands played "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie." ' 'That loyal girl.' he wrote, 'captured a thousand hearts.' Seeing his first cotton field was given space in his dairy.
Murfreesboro. Tennessee, was quite a place for Beatty. He remarked:
Murfreesboro is an aristocratic town, many of the citizens haw as fine carriages as are to be seen in Cincinnati or Washington. On pleasant week-day evenings they sometimes come out to witness tlie parades. The ladies, so far as I can judge by a glimpse through a carriage window, are richly and elegantly dressed. The poor whites are as poor as rot, and the rich are very rich. There is no substantial well-to-do middle class. The slaves are, in fact, the middle class here.
By April 1863, however, Murfreesboro had undergone a transformation. The fine houses and trees of the city had been 'cut or trampled down and destroyed.' 'Many frame houses, and very good ones, too,' he remarked, 'have been torn down, and the lumber and timber used in the construction of hospitals.' Even the air had changed: 'There is a fearful stench in many places near here, arising from decaying horses and mules.'
Perhaps nothing caught Beatty's attention more than the ordeal of the battle. In February 1862, he wrote that although it was bitterly cold, 'the conviction that a battle was imminent kept the men steady and prevented straggling.' The evening before the Battle of Stone's River (Murfreesboro) in December 1862, Beatty wrote: 'To-morrow, doubtless, the grand battle will be fought, when I trust the good Lord will grant us a glorious victory, and one that will make glad hearts of all loyal people on New-Year's Day.' At one point during the battle, he glanced up to see a soldier who was heading to the back of the line struck in the back between the shoulders, killing him instantly.
After the battle he walked the battlefield and found the dead and wounded scattered for miles. As he walked across the terrain, he commented: 'we find men with their legs shot off; one with his brains scooped out with a cannon ball: another with half a face
The Rutherford County courthouse in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The courthouse reflects the aristocratic facade of the Tennessee town that so impressed soldiers like Ohio's John Beatty. The Battle of Stone's River was fought near the courthouse, which was converted into a hospital for Braxton Bragg's forces. (Review of Reviews Company)
gone; another with entrails protruding ... another boy lies with his hands clasped above his head, indicating that his last words were a prayer.' 'How many poor men moaned through the cold nights in the thick woods, where the first day's battle occurred,' he penned, 'calling in vain to man for help, and finally making their last solemn petition to God!'
The fact that Beatty survived the Civil War was a testament to his fitness as an officer and to a significant degree the result of simple luck. When he resigned his commission in January 1864 and returned to Sandusky, the Civil War became central to his life. An everyday banker from Ohio who had witnessed the drama of the Civil War, Beatty was no longer an ordinary citizen.
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