Item #2786 “A View from the Ranks”: The Civil War Diaries and Manuscripts of Charles E. Smith, 32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. CIVIL WAR, CIVIL WAR DIARY.
“A View from the Ranks”: The Civil War Diaries and Manuscripts of Charles E. Smith, 32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Item Video

“A View from the Ranks”: The Civil War Diaries and Manuscripts of Charles E. Smith, 32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Smith’s “observations are remarkable in their focused attention to detail, yet rarely has the point of view of the man in the ranks been expressed with such literate understanding of the overall picture. [The diaries] form a day to day account of the war as seen by an ordinary soldier who marched through it... The Diaries seem to have been written with an eye to history, particularly from 1863 on. They paint a picture of dedication to God and Country which sustained Smith and his comrades through the hardships and privations which have been the lot of the combat infantryman in all wars.

“They constitute a moving testament to the valor of the individual rifleman, and to his unwavering optimism and gut-wrenching courage in facing the extreme demands of service –– ever present fear, exhaustion, hunger, sickness, injury and death.” –Stanley R. Miller, “A View from the Ranks: The Civil War Diaries 1861 - 1865”




Charles E. Smith (1836-1905) was born in Berlin Township, Ohio. He worked as a farmer and country schoolteacher in Alum Creek, Delaware County, Ohio. He enlisted in the 32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the age of 25 on September 3, 1861 and mustered in September 7, 1861. He was promoted to the rank of corporal in Company I of the regiment on January 30, 1864. He was slightly wounded on July 29, 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign. He mustered out of the service on July 20, 1865 at Louisville, Kentucky.

The 32nd Ohio Infantry was organized at Mansfield, Ohio, on August 20-September 7, 1861, and mustered in for three years' service under the command of Colonel Thomas H. Ford. The regiment was involved in several important engagements and operations during the Civil War, including the Battle of Greenbrier River, the Battle of McDowell, the Battle of Harpers Ferry, the Battle of Champion Hill, the Siege of Vicksburg, the Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Jonesborough, Sherman's March to the Sea, the Carolinas Campaign, and the Battle of Bentonville. The 32nd Ohio Infantry mustered out of service at Louisville, Kentucky, on July 20, 1865.

The Collection:

The collection consists of 26 dairies, dating from 1859 to 1866. Except for four volumes, covering a period from 1856 to April 1861 and one covering the period September 18, 1865 to December 5, 1866, the remaining dairies (21 volumes) span his entire Civil War career in the 32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, covering the period September 3, 1861, the date of his enlistment, to the date of his mustering out of the service, on July 20, 1865. The diaries, of various sizes, average approximately 100+ pages, with few blank pages.

His daily entries in his Civil War diaries, many of which are detailed, consist of descriptions of the weather, diet, geographical locations, his devotion to the Union, camp activities, military news, and description of engagements. He also included several drawings in the diaries, some in color. He described his day of enlistment of September 3:

"Enlisted at Lewis Center between 8 and 9 oclock in Captain Dyre's company of 3 years volunteers. I bid good bye to all my folks and started having resolved to assist in sustaining the Government. But the feelings which came over me, when I left home, friends and all that seemed dear to me I cannot describe.”

The new enlistees moved to Camp Dennison and Smith records the daily activities in camp as his company prepared for their first movement. From Camp Dennison, the 32nd Ohio was ordered to western Virginia (present-day West Virginia) to assist in driving Confederate forces out of the region. On October 3, 1861, the 32nd Ohio participated in the inconclusive Battle of Greenbrier River. Smith records in his diary, beginning on September 29 through October 3:

"In the evening we received orders, to march to make an attack on Greenbrier about 12 miles distant… Our company numbered 86 men. Our regiment probably numbered 900 men present and able to perform duty. The 32nd… Went in advance and cleared out the road and took one prisoner… Our regiment stopped at the cross roads within four miles of Greenbrier, and stopped. We expected there that the battle commenced… but they [Confederate troops] did not come, and we… crept into the thick laurel bushes to lay till morning… When I awoke it was daylight, and other regiments were passing. The artillery was hurrying along as fast as possible, each gun was drawn by six horses, and about nine oclock the canons began to roar. It was kept up till two oclock, on both sides, when our communication failed, and our men withdrew from the field without losing any guns. The canons roared very loud and the sound rolled over the Mountains and valleys, and made everything ring once more. Our loss was, including those that were killed on the field and those that died of wounds after the battle, about 12 men… We took 13 prisoners.”

Smith describes an engagement with Confederate forces around Beverly, Virginia, on December 18, 1861:

"The rebels came out and met our forces, and a bloody fight ensued. The 32nd fought bravely and drove the enemy back. The 25th were in the advance, and were cut up dreadfully. They fell back and the 32nd stood their ground and fought them like tigers… Our men made two or three gallant charges and drove them out of their entrenchments and were forced out themselves. Our boys could not drive them out again, and after a desperate and bloody struggle our troops retreated., having lost about one hundred men.”

After spending the winter in Beverly, Virginia, the 32nd Ohio participated in the Shenandoah Campaign of 1862, where they engaged Stonewall Jackson's Confederate force at the Battle of McDowell, Virginia, on May 8, and were defeated. On that day, Smith recorded the following:

"We formed into line and gave three cheers to the cavalry and were waiting to welcome the infantry, when a dispatch came for us to report immediately at headquarters, armed and equipped. We went forthwith and formed into line of battle on an open field. The rebels came down on the hills & tried to pick a spot to plant a gun and our boys threw shell amongst and drove them out. The rebels gathered on a mountain at the right of town, about 4,000 men. Our boys did not find out what they were at or where they were till late in the afternoon. Two regiments went up the mountain and the ball was opened… The battle lasted till after 8 oclock at night when our boys withdrew bringing the wounded and mostly all the dead from the field. The fight lasted about 4 hours.”

The 32nd Ohio retreated to Franklin, Virginia, where they joined General John C. Fremont's command. Fremont followed the Confederates into the valley, and engaged a Confederate force at Cross Keys, Virginia on June 8, 1862, but Smith's company did not participate in the action. The 32nd Ohio move on to Winchester, Virginia, where they performed garrison duty for the remainder of the summer.

In September 1862, the 32nd Ohio was dispatched to Harper's Ferry. The regiment again faced Stonewall Jackson, participating in the Battle of Harper's Ferry (September 12-15, 1862). In this engagement, Jackson captured the town and nearly twelve thousand Union soldiers, including the 32nd Ohio, subsequently paroling them after confiscating their supplies. In his entry for September 15, Smith describes the last day of the battle:

"At sunrise the ball opened with a heavy cannonade from both sides. Our men were nearly out of ammunition for artillery, and the enemy was mowing down our ranks. The shells and shot came down like hail all around and amongst us, and many of our officers and soldiers were mortally wounded… Our artillerists run out of ammunition and there was no other way for us to do than surrender, or be slaughtered on the field. At about 8 oclock the stripes and stars were hauled down and the white flag waved as a signal for surrender… The rebel cavalry and officers were soon riding through our camp… They hoisted the bars and stars where an hour before our glorious old star spangled banner floated proudly in the breeze. O how my heart beat and my bosom heaved to see that corrupt flag raised in defiance over us.”

The surrender of the 32nd Ohio resulted in a revolt in the ranks of the enlisted men against the regiment's officers, which Smith later discusses in a January 15, 1863 entry in his diary, stating: ”we were obliged to surrender 11,500 men to the Rebels General A.P. Hill. It was the opinion of nearly all of our men that Colonel Miles of Baltimore betrayed us into the hands of the Rebels. It was said that he got 15 cents per head for us. Our Col Thomas H. Ford was examined by a committee and dismissed from the service for blame that was unjustly laid against him for the evacuation of the Maryland Heights. Since we were paroled a hard feeling was created between the officers of the regiment.” Smith and his regiment eventually rejoined General Ulysses Grant's Army of the Tennessee in Memphis on January 25, 1863. The regiment was involved in Grant's Siege of Vicksburg, beginning in April 1863.

A pivotal engagement in Grant's Vicksburg Campaign was the Battle of Champion Hill, which occurred on May 16 resulting in a Union victory. Smith's entry for that day records the fighting:

”A battle had begun on the left, the firing seemed to be from large guns, and the line seemed to be several miles long. We halted to await orders. Soon they came & we went forward & laid behind a ridge where we could see the fighting. The scene was grand but terrible. The heavy fighting was on the left & center at first… Our brigade charged on a rebel battery and took it & hauled it off. The 32nd did a noble part charging on the hills & ravines and out the battery driving the enemy before them killing a large number.”

The siege of Vicksburg ended on July 4, 1863 when the Confederate forces surrendered and the Union troops under Grant, including the 32nd Ohio entered the city. Smith recorded the events of July 3 and 4 in his diary. On July 3 he wrote: ”This is the 46th day of the Siege. The rebels have sustained at this place and nobly and bravely have they defended it, but General Grant has been too much for them.” The next day's entry detailed the surrender. "At nine oclock it was announced that Vicksburg was surrendered. What a thrill of joy ran through every heart. The boys all seem lively and jubilant over the success which has crowned our arms… At half past ten oclock the rebels march out of their forts and rifle pits… and form in line outside their works and stuck arms.”

After Vicksburg, the 32nd Ohio joined an expedition to Monroe, Louisiana and then participated in General James McPherson's expedition to Brownsville, Mississippi. In addition to his daily entries, Smith also drew a number of pencil and ink sketches that reflected what he described in on a particular day, such as sketching images that depicted the sleeping arrangements in the soldiers' tents, maps of terrains, and a two-page spread showing the capture of a Confederate battery in Mississippi. He also wrote down poems, whether written by him or others. For example, on January 31, 1864, he added a six-stanza poem, possibly written by him, entitled "Evening Thoughts” to that day's entry. A partial transcription reads: "I'm weary and I'm lonely//As I'm sitting in my tent//And I'll take my leaden pencil//And give you my feelings sent// O would this war be over//And these bloody strivings cease//And our country now distracted//Return with lasting peace.”

In February 3 to March 6, 1864, the 32nd Ohio was involved in General William T. Sherman's Meridian Expedition, which resulted in the capture of Meridian, Mississippi. On March 3, Smith recorded a diary entry that detailed the destruction rendered by the campaign:

"I cannot fully give the amount of damage done to the Southern Confederacy while on this Expedition, but the result foots up about as follows. About 200 miles of railroad running east & west was destroyed. About 60 miles of the Mobile and Ohio railroad was destroyed, and about 40 miles of the Central Mississippi road destroyed. There were about 25 Locomotives, and a considerable number of cars, together with Confederate railroad houses machine shops and foundries manufacturing establishments of arms ammunition… A large amount of cotton was burned.”

On June 10, 1864, the 32nd Ohio joined Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. In the campaign, the 32nd fought in the Battles of Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, Ezra Church, and Jonesborough. The campaign ended on September 2, 1864, when Union forces occupied Atlanta. Smith's diary entry for June 27 mentions the engagement at Kennesaw Mountain:

"We were aroused at early dawn… and then ordered to pile our knapsacks and be ready to move. A battery had been brought up, and was shelling the Rebels lively for a while. Our division having formed a line of battle, came to a right shoulder shift arms and then we advanced in line through the woods toward the enemy. The skirmishers engaged the enemy who replied by volleys of musketry which whizzed overhead and sounded hideous… The rebels brought several batteries down and opened upon us… Moved up a little higher and laid down again and the rebels opened with shot and shell which came whizzing overhead. Some of them sung like an old spinning wheel under the control of a northern farmer's wife… Our loss in this engagement was considerable… [We] fell back, learning that the rebels were massing their force to right and formed a new line of battle in front of our new breastworks and behind the skirmishers. Skirmishing was kept up lively along the lines and many had hair breadth escapes… We made our demonstration to draw as much rebel force away from the right as possible.”

His diary entry for September 3, 1864 reported the good news concerning the fall of Atlanta:

”Atlanta was evacuated yesterday morning at daylight, the rebels having blown up large magazines of ammunition, destroyed government stores, and eighty carloads of ammunition. The Twentieth Corps under General Slocum marched into and took possession of the city of Atlanta an eleven oclock… We have last caused the rebels to evacuate what they called the 'Gate City' or 'Key' to the southern Confederacy, and that without a very general battle. The rebels have made many boasting speeches and declared that they would fight for Atlanta till the last man, woman and child was sacrificed, before they would give it up. Where is their vain boasting, where are their prophesies?”

The capture of Atlanta had a major impact on the presidential election of 1864 and helped President Lincoln's chances for reelection enormously. On election day, November 8, the 32nd Ohio voted in the field. Smith's diary entry for the day reads, "This being election day, the polls were opened and we voted for President. Abe Lincoln carried the day.”

In mid-November 1864, the 32nd Ohio participated in General Sherman's "March to the Sea." The command engaged in no noteworthy battles or skirmishes until reaching Savannah, Georgia. On December 10, 1864, the regiment was among the lead Northern units that drove the Confederate garrison into the confines of city. Upon the Union Army's capture of Savannah on December 21, 1864, the 32nd entered and encamped in the city.

Within a week of the fall of Richmond, the capital city of the Confederacy, the news of President Lincoln's assassination and death on April 15 spread slowly to the soldiers in the south, including the 32nd Ohio. On Monday, April 17, Smith recorded in his diary:

"An order said to have come from Secretary Stanton to General Howard was announced to the soldiers… That President Lincoln, Secretary Seward and son were assassinated, and that the President was killed… Whether this be true or not, it caused sadness in many hearts and was believed to be reliable.”

The next day's entry was in response to the confirmation that Lincoln was dead:

"News of the death of our President, Abraham Lincoln causes a gloom over our minds. We feel that in losing him, we have lost one of the best men our nation ever produced. In losing him, we lose a wise and intelligent statesman, a great and good counsellor, a lover of freedom and humanity, and the deliverer of our nation from the curse of slavery.”

In addition to the dairies, there are several documents and papers relating to Smith and his family, including the following:

1) An autograph manuscript, entitled "The Vicksburg Campaign from Millikens Bend Louisiana. From March to July 4th 1863," 81 pages (one side only) in a bound copy book (cover missing), 8.5" x 11.5", n.p.; n.d.

2) An autograph manuscript entitled "The Siege of Vicksburg Continued," 34 pages (one side only) in a bound copybook, 6.75" x 8.25, n.p.; n.d.

3) Autograph manuscript signed, entitled, "Diary of Events Transpiring between the United States and Spain over Cuban affairs...", 117 pages in bound copy book, 5.75" x 9", n.p.; [circa 1901].

4) Autograph manuscript signed, entitled "Closing Scenes of the Rebellion. An Original Poem," Six pages (one side only) in bound copybook, 8" x 10", n.p.; May 30, 1895. Poem was recited on Decoration Day at Cheshire, Ohio, on May 30, 1895.

5) An autograph manuscript, entitled "The Great Three Days Battle of Gettysburg Fought July 1, 2d & 3d 1863. The Greatest and Most Decisive Conflict of the Great Struggle for American Independence," 28 pages (one side only) in bound copy book (missing front cover), 8" x 10", n.p.' n.d.

6) Autograph manuscript, [part 2 of number 4 above], 27 pages (one side only) in bound copy book , 8" x 10", n.p.; n.d.

7) Autograph manuscript, entitled "Original Poem Written for the 49th anniversary of the birth of Mrs. Louisa Rolson Smith," Five pages (one side only), 8" x 10", n.p.; June 22, 1895.

8) Autograph manuscript signed, entitled "Incidents in the war of the rebellion from 1861 to 1865. Poetical Effusions from the pen of Charles E. Smith, late of Co. F. 32d Ohio veteran volunteer Infantry," 68 pages (one side only) in bound copybook (missing front and back cover), 8.5" x 11.75", n.p.; n.d.

9) Photograph of Charles E. Smith, 3.5" x 4.75 (oval), albumin print mounted on board, n.p; [circa 1894].

10) CDV of George Smith (brother of Charles E. Smith), 2.5' x 4", T.Beach, photographer, Delaware, Ohio; [circa 1860s].

11) Medal with badge for 32nd National Encampment GAR Cincinnati, 1898.

12) Photograph of residence of Charles E. Smith, West Berlin, Ohio, an 9.25" x 7.5 albumen print on a 10.25" x 8.5" mount, Acme View Company, McAlisterville, Pennsylvania; 1894.

13) A Confederate envelope "captured on the battle field of Raymond, Miss. May 12, 1863 by C. E. Smith.

14) Discharge of Charles E. Smith from the service, one page, 6" x 8.5", Columbus, Ohio; July 28, 1865.

15) Two pencil sketches by Smith of "A residence near camp of 20th Ohio sketched by C. E. Smith Dec 3d 1863" (on front) and "A scene in co. D. 20th O.V.I. Thursday evening Nov 26th 1863. A Thanksgiving oyster supper. Sketch by C. E. Smith Nov 27th 1863."

16) A pencil sketch of the "View of The Court House at Vicksburg. Drawn by C.E. Smith Nov 4th 1863.”

17) Pencil sketch of the Rock House inside the Confederate fortifications at Vicksburg, "Sketched by C.E. Smith Nov 2d 1863." On verso is sketch by Smith of the city vault in Vicksburg, November 2, 1863.

18) Photocopy of will of Charles E. Smith, Two pages, West Berlin, Ohio; December 18, 1901.

Condition: The 26 diaries all have leather covers over boards, which in most cases are worn, but intact. The front cover of volume #9 has separated. Most have flaps. Overall the dairies are in good condition. The other items in the collection are overall good; numbers #1 and #7 manuscripts are brittle and fragile. Foxing and toning to letters, along with creasing and light tearing at edges. Wear and staining to the exterior of diaries.

Note: The text of the collection has been published as “A View From the Ranks: The Civil War Diaries of Corporal Charles Smith” in a very limited printing by the Delaware County Historical Society (1999). A copy of the book is included with the collection.


Price: $95,000 .