University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department


Duty Bound - War Diaries

... have a strong idea of going to war
- [James E. Smith?] 1864

Significant historical events, such as war, easily become the focus of journals kept during these times. Experiences as varying as the individuals who record them document all aspects of war, and war diaries provide useful information for future generations who want to understand something of the conflict and what it meant to those who were involved with it. The survival story of a prisoner-of-war, the personal hardships of soldiers on the front line, the homefront's popular support or resistance for a cause, or the humanitarian efforts to provide war relief are some of the personal experiences encountered here.

Charles Herbert diary Charles Herbert, 1757-1808.
Diary, January 15, 1777 - August 23, 1780.
1 volume (196 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

American Charles Herbert sailed on the Brig Dolton from Newburyport, Massachusetts, on November 15, 1776, and on the 24th of December was taken by the British Reasonable, a man-of-war of sixty-four guns. On January 15, 1777, he began the dated entries of this captivity narrative. Herbert was kept prisoner on four different ships before being incarcerated by the British at Plymouth, England. His diary logs the hardships of prison with punishments meted out by both guards and the prisoners themselves. When the Americans' laughing and singing offended their guards, a sailor was singled out for forty days' confinement in the black hole with half rations. When one prisoner stole another's bread and cheese, the transgressor was forced by his fellow captives to "run the Gantlet up one side of the prison and down the other which is upwards of 130 foot through a double file of men with each man A Nettle." Herbert kept charts identifying names and origins of fellow prisoners, sailors taken from other American ships and charged with treason. News of war progress slipped in with the latest captives and from occasional clandestine newspapers. Some of Herbert's diary was kept in code; his numerical cipher is laid into the volume. By February of 1780, the King of Denmark paid expenses for the prisoners and their release was arranged by an agent in Flanders. After traveling to Dr. Franklin's house outside of Paris, Herbert sailed for America on the Alliance, reaching his home in Newbury Port on August 23, 1780.

In 1847, Charles H. Peirce (Boston) published A Relic of the Revolution, containing a Full and Particular Account of the Sufferings and Privations of All the American Prisoners Captured on the High Seas, and Carried into Plymouth, England, during the Revolution of 1776... , drawn from Herbert's diary, and expressed his hopes that "...liberal sales will enable the publisher to render to the widow of Charles Herbert a liberal donation." A second printing appeared in 1854.

[James E. Smith?]
Pocket Diary for 1864; January 1 - May 5, 1864.
1 volume (41 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

Apparently the diary of James E. Smith, whose photograph is enclosed, these brief entries follow a Civil War soldier of the 56th Massachusetts Infantry from his enlistment to a march in Virginia near the Rapadan River. Union patriotism is reflected in the days after Smith enlists, when he and other Provincetown recruits are paraded through town, "bunting flying," "cheer upon cheer" greeting the ranks. A photographer and musician in civilian life, Smith was detailed as a bugler and orderly. By April, the regiment was posted at Camp Holmes in Annapolis, from whence they marched to Alexandria. Camp life was cold, wet, and transient, "broke camp again such is the soldiers life ... had no rations for two days almost starved." In early April, Smith expressed low spirits at not hearing from home, and he gravely noted that the 56th passed a soldiers' graveyard and battlefields still littered with guns and shells as they moved into Virginia. The daily diary ends abruptly on May 5, "washed and bivouacked last night after marching some 30 miles I guess hardest march I ever known."

Samuel Tupper.
Diary of the Reverend Samuel Tupper, May 4 - June 30, 1865.
1 volume (110 pp.)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

Delegates of the U.S. Christian Commission, a Union relief organization, were charged with "visiting hospitals, camps, and battle-fields, for the instruction, supply, encouragement, and relief of the men of our army, according to their various circumstances; distributing stores, where needed, in hospitals and camps; circulating good publications amongst our soldiers and sailors; aiding Chaplains in the ministrations and influence for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the men under their care; encouraging special and stated meetings for prayer amongst men in the field and in the hospital; encouraging soldiers and sailors to communicate freely and frequently with their friends, aiding them to do it, ..." Issued by the Commission, this log book provided delegates with regulations for discharging their duties, blank space to record their daily work, and memoranda to detail names of soldiers assisted. Rev. Tupper left Worcester, Massachusetts, and headed south through Philadelphia and Washington to Alexandria, where he began his ministry to the bodies and souls of Union soldiers. June 19th presents a typical variety of Tupper's calls: he visited the hospital and reflected upon the inevitable death of many patients, he attended a meeting of the Y.M.C.A., and folded paper. In the evening, he hunted for a missing man in the Surgeon's office, visited a condemned man in the county jail, and heard another delegate's tale of assisting a battered wife who came to him after thinking better of her biblical instinct to "grin and bear it."

Osborn diary Stanley H. (Stanley Hart) Osborn.
A Diary of the American Red Cross Sanitary Commission to Serbia, May 10, 1915 - January 13, 1916.
1 volume (264 pp.). Inscribed "Presented to Professor W. T. Sedgwick for the Library of the Department of Biology and Public Health as a remembrance of the many profitable hours spent under his guidance. Stanley H. Osborn, November 10, 1917."
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

In response to a 1915 report from the Rockefeller Foundation War Relief Commission, the Red Cross sent a team of sanitary engineers, sanitary inspectors, bacteriologists, biologists, and physicians to fight epidemics of typhus fever, typhoid fever, smallpox, scarlet fever, and cholera in Serbia. Dr. Osborn's diary, complete with photographs and a map, documents his journey to Serbia and the relief work performed there. Upon return to his home in Boston, he had a typescript made of his diary, but declared "no attempt has been made to elaborate the original text of the diary as the original in places serves better than if rewritten." At Commission headquarters in Skoplje, vaccine was made and administered to the population who came for treatments. Units were sent out into Serbia for clean-up work in barracks, hotels, hospitals, prisons, and houses. Such work involved fumigation, burning straw mattresses, disinfection and boiling of covers and clothing, and bathing. Wells were driven, sewers laid, ditches cleaned and dug. The Commission units were also engaged in military activities during the October 1915 Austrian attack of Serbia and the Bulgarian invasion, also in October. Dr. Osborn's diary documents his official duties, but also reflects the tourist's interest in all that was new and foreign to his previous experience.

David M. Nelson, 1920-1991.
Aviators Flight Log Book, October - December 1942, 1944-1945.
Diary, April 15, 1943 - October 22, 1945.
2 volumes
from David Nelson papers

Legendary football rules authority and former University of Delaware coach David M. Nelson served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War II, providing photograph intelligence in the Aleutian Islands and later aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown. While on the Yorktown, he participated in bombing raids over Tokyo and provided air support for ground troops at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Nelson earned three battle stars for his service, as well as the nickname "The Admiral," which stuck throughout his distinguished coaching career. Nelson's brief diary entries incorporate the slang of his day, and vary from rambling thoughts while waiting aboard ship to terse battle summaries of bombing raids.

Considering self works Creating self works Living & learning Domestic diaries
Business & adventure War diaries Keepsakes Word & deed
Inner journeys Travel diaries Professional writers Avocational efforts

Return to introductory page of this exhibition.

Return to List of Exhibitions at the University of Delaware Library.


Back to the UD Special Collections Home Page

Backgrounds for Special Collections' web pages are adapted from paper samples
from our extensive holdings related to printing and the books arts.
This is Gasen.

This page is maintained by Special Collections

Last modified: 12/21/10
  • UD Library Special Collections  •   181 South College Avenue  •   Newark, DE 19717-5267  •   USA
    Phone: USA +1 302-831-2229  •   ©2014