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Artifacts Recall Civil War History

Artifacts Recall Civil War History
Pages from the diary of Confederate soldier Samuel J. Smith can be viewed at Doheny Memorial Library.

Although exact figures are unknown, it’s estimated that nearly 4 million soldiers fought in the American Civil War, with more than 618,000 killed during the four-year conflict.

One soldier was Samuel J. Smith.

On April 5, 1861 – one week before the Battle of Fort Sumter, the opening conflict of the War Between the States – 31-year-old Smith enlisted in the Confederate militia near Moseley, Va. By mid-July, Smith was a member of the 5th Virginia Cavalry Regiment.

A farmer by trade, Smith recorded what he saw and experienced in battle. The diary that the army private kept with him between Aug. 10, 1863 and July 30, 1864 is preserved at the USC Libraries’ Special Collections on the second floor of Doheny Memorial Library.

As the nation looks back upon the Civil War during this 150th anniversary year, artifacts such as the diary humanize the conflict and give personal insight into the atrocities of war.

Smith’s diary details the death of his brother near Brandy Station, Va., on Sept. 13, 1863 and offers a firsthand account of the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864 when more than 3,700 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed.

The diary also recounts Smith’s wounds sustained in battle and his subsequent recovery in a Virginia hospital.

26 Saturday [1863]
The ganggreen [sic]
took me.

Other entries note the weather conditions experienced by troops on the front line.

1864 Tuesday Apl 12
Cloudy but
not mutch [sic]
rain.

Smith kept records of soldiers who either left the unit or died. One sobering diary entry that reflects the harsh realities of war reads simply,

1864 Friday Apl 15
John Rainy was
shot by accident
by James Drury.

Smith’s diary is not the only artifact relating to the Civil War in Special Collections. Other items include the June and Gilbert Krueger Collection of Civil War Letters, which document the experiences of Union Army soldiers in Georgia, carte-de-visite photographs and an original 10-volume set of Francis Trevelyan Miller’s The Photographic History of the Civil War (1911).

To view Civil War-related materials – including Smith’s diary – contact Special Collections at (213) 740-5900 or specol@usc.edu.

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