Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Arthur Austin Borthwick Diaries—Life in Freetown NY and during the Civil War By Pat Kinsella Herdeg

We have many veterans in our genealogy to write about, but this Veteran’s Day, we’ll focus on Arthur Austin Borthwick, my great great grand uncle. Arthur was born in 1836 in Broome, NY and died in 1909 in Cortland, NY.

Arthur Borthwick

In 1858, Arthur married Phebe Hammond. They had two children—Edna, born in 1861 and died two years later, and George Borthwick, born after the Civil War, in 1870. George lived until 1947.

Phebe Hammond Borthwick
Just this past spring, we were given copies of Arthur’s ‘Daily Pocket Diaries’ for the years of 1857, 1864, and 1865. In the 1857 diary, Arthur is still at home in Freetown, NY, the area his family moved to after living in Broome. The 1864 and 1865 diaries are daily accounts of his life in the 157th NY Infantry Regiment as they moved about during the Civil War.

At the beginning of the 1857 diary, Arthur writes of the cold, of shoveling out the road so that the school teacher can get out, of chopping wood to burn, and going to Singing School. On Wednesday, January 28th, Arthur writes: “Went to school. Wedding at our house. Nancy slept with a man.” This is how Arthur records for all time the wedding of his older sister Nancy Borthwick to Leonard Baker, our great great grandparents!
In the spring, Arthur worked on creating a wooden chest, hewing and framing a hog pen, and also went ‘a-hunting and shot a rabbit.’ He often worked for relatives.

By December, he was done writing anything at all; he used the pages for writing down accounts of money he paid out, money he got paid, and who he worked for during the years of 1857 and 1858.

On August 30th, 1862, Arthur enlisted for three years in the 157th Infantry Regiment, Company K in Cortlandville. According to his Civil War Muster Rolls Abstract, Arthur was a 26 year old carpenter (makes sense going back to his building projects from the 1857 diary) who stood just shy of six foot and had a dark complexion, black eyes and brown hair. Arthur was promoted to Full Corporal on 15 Mar 1863 and promoted to Full Sergeant on 01 Mar 1864. He mustered out on 10 Jul 1865 at Charleston, SC.
Uncle Jack Kinsella (aka Dad) thoughtfully found the history of the 157th in the NYS Military Museum, so we know what Arthur was doing with the 157th before his 1864 diary.

 Arthur’s regiment left New York State in late September of 1862.  Their first battle was the “disastrous one of Chancellorsville. At Gettysburg, the regiment sustained fearful losses; it was heavily engaged on the first two days of the battle and was highly praised for its gallantry. Combining dead, missing and wounded, the 157th lost 307 men during Gettysburg.

This division was detached in August and ordered to Charleston harbor, where it became a part of the 10th corps. 10th Corps was stationed on Folly and Morris islands, South Carolina. It participated in the siege of Fort Wagner and the various operations of Charlestown harbor, was engaged at Seabrook and John’s Islands in February 1864, and then ordered to Florida where it remained until June, when it returned to Beaufort.

During the remainder of its service it took part in the engagements of Honey Hill, Boyd’s point, Coosawhatchie, Deveaux neck, Tillafinny Station, all in 1864; in 1865, it fought in Manningsville, Dingle’s mill, Singleton’s plantation, Big Rafting creek and Statesburg.

 On July 10th, 1865, the regiment ( and Arthur Borthwick) mustered out at Charleston, South Carolina. For the 157th, total deaths 203 men; total casualties (killed, wounded and missing)  533 men.”*

*This information was taken from “The Union Army: a history of military affairs in the loyal states, 1861-65—records of the regiments in the Union army—cyclopedia of battles—memoirs of commanders and soldiers”. Madison, WI: Federal Pub. Co., 1908, volume II

The 1864 journal begins with Arthur stationed at Folly Island, SC. He had been there since August 12th, 1863. Many of his days were taken up with drills, inspections, and reading and writing letters. His journals make clear that for Arthur, letters from home were his lifeline. He kept an exact tally of who wrote to him and how many times, and also, how many times he wrote back to them. Days he did not get a letter at mail call (which did not arrive every day—it was highly erratic), Arthur wrote of his sadness.

Tuesday, February 9th, Arthur writes: “Crossed stream to Johns Island at daylight. Found some Rebs. Had a skirmish with them. Killed 24 and wounded four and took some prisoners. Lost one killed and two wounded on our side. Drove them 2 or 3 miles , then fell back for the night.”

By April, Arthur is on a steamer and heading south to Florida. On April 28th, he writes: “Marched at 5AM. Was one of the scouts. Went ahead of the column. Captured some horses. Bought some milk. Had a good bath at noon in a small bay. Marched about 15 miles today.”

Two days later, Arthur finds 4 to 500 head of cattle near Haw Creek in Florida  ‘Kills beef’ for supper. Sunday, April 1st was a busy day for Arthur: “Marched at 6AM. Kept up with the cattle till most noon. West about 12 miles today. Went to an orange grove….got all we could carry. Camped at a deserted house. Went back two miles to cut bee tree. Got no honey.” The next day, he notes they did find honey, also bough sugar and molasses. Tuesday the 3rd, Arthur writes they have about 1000 head of cattle and they are buying eggs.

By the 16th of June, Arthur is again on a steamer and headed back to South Carolina. He lands in Hilton Head on the 17th. On Sunday June 19th, Arthur writes: “Went and saw a man shot who belonged to the 41stNY for deserting to the Rebs.”

Wednesday July 6th saw ‘Rebs in morning about ½ mile away. They commenced shelling and throwing canister and grapeshot early in morning. Col. H.W.W. Davis was wounded in hand bad—one of 144 wounded. Our men made no reply. Have bad cold in head and lungs.’

By July 11th, Arthur went to the surgeon and was excused for the ‘first time in 22 months’. He remains quite sick on and off for several months, with sore throat, diarrhea and pains in his stomach and back.
In October, Arthur moves to Fort Pulaski in Georgia. On Cockspur Island, it is at the mouth of the Savannah River, near Savannah.

Arthur Borthwick
On December 5th, Arthur writes: “In arrest today. Done nothing.” The next day, he reported for duty, as usual. Whatever Arthur did, it must not have been too criminal, because at the end of the month, he writes of two soldiers: “Edward Sissons and E. Johnson in Guard House for stealing bread and butter and applesauce. Edward punished with ball and chain, bucked and gagged.” 

As one website on Civil War discipline explained: “A man could be bucked and gagged, that is be made to sit with a gag in his mouth, his knees raised and arms outstretched. A thin log would be passed under his knees and over his elbows and his hands and ankles would be tied so that he could not move. He might be kept in that position for six to twelve hours. At the end of that time, the prisoner would usually be carried to his quarters, unable to walk, often sobbing uncontrollably. A prisoner might be made to wear a cannon-ball, some six to 32 pounds in weight, shackled to one leg by a two to six foot long chain for a similar period.” (

By the middle of December, Arthur was hearing from Rebel deserters that Sherman was nearing Savannah. On the 21st, they heard that Savannah surrendered.

Much of the beginning of the 1865 diary is blank, but on February 17th, Arthur writes that they finally received orders to pack up for a move, towards Charleston, SC. On the 20th, he writes: “Spent night at plantation owned by Elliott.” (William Elliott III owned 12 plantations in 1860). The next day, Arthur told of his men foraging for chicken and ducks for supper, and then burning the buildings of the plantation. The next few day, Arthur marches to the Lowndes Plantation, taking geese and burning the house and ‘ some cotton’. The next day at the Dwight and Legree Plantations, the men took chickens, honey, preserves and wine. “The slaves were glad to see us.” 

By March, they had moved north towards Georgetown, SC. In early April, Arthur writes: “Seymour shot 3 dogs. Stopped at Boyds. Took 16 mules, 4 wagons. Loaded them with bacon and molasses. Burned about $100,000 worth of cotton and corn. The next day, still marching, Arthur writes of burning ‘lots of cotton along the way.’

Sunday April 10th: “Marched at 6:30. Went 13 miles in AM. Rebs had tried to destroy bridges through swamp. Found the Rebs with 4 gun battery at Dingles Mills at 4PM. Our regiment went through swamp and captured 2 guns. Drove the rebs away. 9 killed and wounded. They were near St. Matthews, SC, so between Charleston and Columbia .

On the 12th, “Found some Rebs. Skirmished with them. George Boyce killed by shot through the head. Drove them about five miles.” In the front of this 1865 diary, Arthur writes in large letters that George Boyce killed on April 12th, so whoever George Boyce was, he was someone Arthur wanted to remember. 

On Monday April 24, “Heard President Lincoln was dead.” From here on in, Arthur was ‘ague chills’ and often has to ride in a wagon, but no fighting just drills.

On June 14th, he writes: “ Steamer came in with 30th Mass to relieve us. 5 Regiments are coming here. It begins to look as though we were going to get home sometime.”

Finally, Friday June 23rd: “Had order to get ready to leave at 6 in morning.”
Saturday, the 24th: “Boys had a drunk last night. Two or three men had to be helped on the boat. Started at 6A.M. from Georgetown. Arrived at Charleston at 3PM.”

“Capt. And Kinney went to work preparing papers for mustering out. Recd letter from Phebe yesterday.”
On July 1st, Arthur was at Fort Sumpter and Johns Island.  On July 4th: “A salute of 36 guns was fired from Fort Sumpter.” He soon took a ship north, mentioning rough seas and being sick. 

Arthur and Phebe's 50th Wedding Anniversary from newspaper
His journal is empty for a few months. By mid September, he is working for ‘L. Baker’ who was Leonard Baker, husband of Arthur’s sister Nancy, my great great grandparents. He worked for Leonard most of the autumn.

I and a number of cousins look forward to reading more closely these journals. I am sure we will discover much more about our ancestor. Arthur, thank you for serving in the Civil War!


Dad/Uncle Jack said...

Pat, wonderful writeup! I had never before heard about any Civil War fighting in S. Carolina, Georgia,Florida and the various islands in those areas. Great that Arthur wrote it up and we were able to get copies of his diaries.
Dad/Uncle Jack

Mom,/CB said...

This is the brother that is mentioned most in the few diaries that I have from his nieces and from Kate Baker. HE was well regarded and if anything like his sister,Nancy, must have been fun! He and Phebe did live on to have a 50th wedding anniversary and family reunion . George, their only son was a frequent visitor to Center Lisle [ from mention in letters ] and always returned for reunions. Lived in Syracuse.
Grand write up covering a difficult subject! So glad youc could arrange to get copies of his diaries, Pat. Never knew any existed.

Susan Kinsella said...

Wow, a lot of research here! Thanks, Pat!

CB/Mom said...

I am still wondering WHAT I was pointing out? Any one who was present remember? CB

Pat Herdeg said...

I am sure that Dad can come up with a suitable reason for your pointing at who knows what?! I WAS there, but cannot remember the truthful answer to your question!