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William R. Townsend Civil War Diary: Leisure, Furlough & Women

EXCERPTS from the Civil War diary of William R. Townsend, 42nd Illinois Infantry, Co. E -- plus contextual narrative.

Leisure, Furlough & Women

          After his parole, mentioned at the beginning of his diary, William Townsend was processed back into “normal” military life in what seems to be a relatively agreeable manner.  He had time to acquire new clothing, obtain his pay, and surprisingly (considering there was a war going on), pursue pleasant leisure activities:


April 14, 1863We reached Annapolis about 11 OClock a.m.  today and stopped at the City Hotel  found the Boys that left Libby a week ago still there but they have their orders to leave and I suppose they will go as soon as they are paid  Maj JD. Hall  Capt Whiting  Capt Campbal   Cpt Wood   Lt Hall E.H. and myself are boarding at this House  the rest of the Boys are stopping at the American  We reported to the Col commanding the post  also went up to the Barracks and drew some clothing and bought some so that we are clean once more”


April 16, 1863  “We went out according to orders to the Paroled camp   were mustered and Paid by Maj Rxxx  to the 28th Day Feb 1863 inclusive of six hundred and forty one dollars and ninety cents ($641.94) . . . we have to wait for Orders   I am having my teeth fixed”


April 17, 1863  “. . . we were out sailing this afternoon and all of us caught some oysters  had a very pleasent time . . .”


April 18, 1863  “Went out Horse back riding in the morning   boat riding in the afternoon   had an oyster Bake  caught and went ashore and roasted them   were very nice   the wind went down   had to row back   wrote a letter to Sister Mollie”


           By late April, two weeks after his release from Libby Prison, William Townsend was allowed furlough and took a brief trip home to Niles, Michigan before joining up with his active duty regiment again full time.  Girls and parties were much on his mind.  It is interesting to note that during his short visit home Captain Townsend became engaged:


April 28, 1863 “Arrived in Chicago at 8 ½ Oclock this morning   could get no train for Niles  will go down to Niles this Eve   got to Niles at 11 Oclock pm   Hired team   went down home   got there at 1 Oclock   found all well”


April 29, 1863 “Sister Mollie was up at Niles . . . saw good many folks   were all glad to see me”


April 30, 1863 “ . . . went to a party at Mattie Barons my old flame  she was very glad to see me . . .”


May 1, 1863 “Went home this morning and to a party at xxx   expect to meet Sarah Fitch . . .”


May 2, 1863 “Had a good time at the party   there was about fifty couples at the party   Sarah was there   rode home with Eva & her and going up to see her this Eve”


May 3, 1863 “Went up to see Sarah last Eve   had a good time   came up to Niles today and stopped for Sarah and brought her up with us.  Father  Hattie[sister]  & Mother came up also   Hattie is going to Cincinnati with me   I went up and went to church with Sarah   will leave in train tomorrow”


May 4, 1863 “. . . Sarah went up to cars with me & I am engaged to Sarah”


            Then Captain Townsend was back on the path to rejoin his regiment.  Soon, however, thoughts of his fiancé Sarah were not enough to quell a roving eye.  Even as he kept track in his diary of how many letters he wrote to Sarah, he couldn’t resist a few flirtations before returning to his regiment: 


May 7, 1863 “Find several ladies on Boat [to Nashville, TN]  one young and who is very pretty.  Dr. Bidwell & myself played cards with them & Mrs. Johnson   today got to Bxxx and took a walk with ladies round the town”


May 8, 1863 “Wrote to Sarah No 2 and mailed it at Evansville   having a very pleasant time with the ladies arrived at Smithland about dark”


May 9, 1863 “Left Smithland  arrived at Fort Donaldson about 5 Oclock  went out walking with the ladies  did not get back until after dark”


May 11, 1863 “Left F.D. this morning   arrived at Clarksville about 6 Oclock   went out walking with Miss Lizzie Weakly   it is a very pretty town   did not get in until after dark”


May 12, 1863 “ Left Clarksville this morning and arrived at Nashville this Eve  but it is so late that I will not go on shore to night  wrote to Sarah No 3  also to Sister Mollie”


May 13, 1863 “Went into town with the ladies and took them all over the City   Miss Weakly is going to Board at Mrs. Cowpers on Cherry Street  I am stopping at Commercial Hotel   am not well at all   will not go out to the Reg [Regiment] until get better  spent the Eve with Lizzie Weakly  played cards  Received a letter from Sarah”


May 14, 1863 “Spent most of the day in my room   in the Eve went to see Miss Weakly  had a very pleasant Eve  wrote Sarah No 4”


            A little more than a month after his engagement, Captain Townsend’s relationship with Sarah Fitch comes to an end with no apparent dismay conveyed in his diary:


June 15, 1863 “. . . Received a letter from Sarah   very Civil [formal tone] written June 8th


June 16, 1863 “. . . I am not going to write Sarah for a week or so and see if she will write me”


June 21, 1863 “. . . Received letters from Sister Hattie, Father and also from Sarah but I have written her and released her from all her engagements   also sent her ring and picture back   Wrote to Sister Hattie    wrote to Miss Lizzie Weakley”


         By the end of July, William Townsend and his buddies had hit upon a way to enjoy the company of “young ladies” . . . albeit long distance (note their use of fake names).


July 24, 1863 “. . . Ed & I sent advertisement to Chicago Tribune for Lady correspondents   my name as Eugene Julian  his Alfred Kingsbury  also sent to NY Tribune also Steve R.   Ed and my names the same  Steve was Dick Thornton.  Expect lots of letters soon . . .”


July 26, 1863 “. . .  wrote Miss Madge Wildes   Flora Clay Co. Ills   Received letter & my pictures from Miss Fitch [ex-fiance back in Niles, MI]  and my ring Box that is the one I gave her the ring in   she said she sent the ring but she could not have done so or else it has been stolen  I wrote her acknowledging receipt of the pictures   wrote Miss Wildes as Eugene Rathbone”


August 7, 1863 “. . . received eight letters, seven in answer to our advertisements . . .”


August 26, 1863 “. . .  received two letters  one answer from Sturgis Mich  . . .  I went down and had photograph [taken]   he has the negative for it today  get them in three days . . .”


August 27, 1863 “No letters to day  everything very quiet  I wrote to May Coryell but am not going to send it until I get my photographs so I can send one”