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William R. Townsend Civil War Diary: Civilians

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


        During the war, the civilian population on both sides suffered and sacrificed, but in the South, where resources were scarce and supply lines often cut, the people struggled to survive.  While Union troops had to remain on guard against possible sabotage or violence from those whose homeland they invaded, many civilians were too poor or had lost everything, and were certainly in no shape to pose a threat.  In those instances, contact sometimes brought about mutual benefit: food for protection . . . supplies in exchange for information.  Sometimes, if only briefly, war was put on hold as human beings in need helped one another during awful circumstances:


July 17, 1863 “. . . The folks are very hard up around here  they want to trade any thing they have for coffee or salt   I traded about ¼ xx coffee today for 12 qts Blackberies  the sutler of the 27th came up  today and sold most everything out already especially Tobacca  I could get nothing but a little smoking Tobacca & Tea”


July 18, 1863 “. . .  we had some of the natives here today   they came into camp to sell some corn bread and Steve Reynolds [Second Lieut.] asked them to eat dinner with us and they all did so   one of the Girls was not bad looking  Our sutler came up this afternoon  brought pleanty of paper and tobacca but sold most of it out before . . .”


July 21, 1863 “Went down in the Valley today  it is a very pretty place down there  took diner at Squire Henleys   they are very nice people. . .”


              Later in the year, after battles at Lookout Mountain, TN, and on into Knoxville:


December 8, 1863  “. . .Did not move to day  McC & myself went out a mile to the Widow Bakers and spent the afternoon and took tea  She has three daughters very pretty girls had a very pleasant time. . .” 


December 11, 1863  “. . . Mack & I got our dinner and went out on the Cumberland seep road   Good many citizens coming in   bought some butter


    Foraging resulted in discoveries of local wheat and corn, but nothing in the way of farming equipment.  We can only imagine how local farmers must have felt watching their much-needed stores of grain being carted off by Union soldiers. 


December 30, 1863  “Went out to Nances  to day Jeffersons [presumably local farmers], and got 62 Bu [bushels] wheat  took two loads of flour to Div head Qrt about 4500 hun lbs  in the afternoon got a load of corn and 33 Bu wheat up  Nances found out to day where there is some more wheat  will go and see tomorrow. . .”


December 31, 1863  “Went in the morning after wheat over to Nances  got some apples . . . very nice folks  got some milk”


January 13, 1864  “Went to Hawkins ferry and got thirty Bushels wheat . . . then went over to Nances to look for thrashing machine but could not find one  they are all worn out around here. . .”


          Despite the harsh winter conditions and meager rations, Townsend (like many soldiers) always appreciated the company of pretty girls:


January 26, 1864  “Went out foraging with 27 teams & our men  got corn & oats . . . there is a family three miles from here  the most lady like girls I have seen in Tenn  their name as Andersons”


January 29, 1864  “. . . I did not get to camp until 1 Oclock in the night   got acquainted with some young ladies from Philadelphia, Ark . . .”