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    "[At Gettysburg] Rebels attacked our part of the line . . . we were compelled to fall back to a new position as Longstreet and Hill were coming down on our flank"

    [18th Massachusetts Regiment]. Sergeant Edmund Churchill Diary recorded on thirty-one bifolium pages (a few are single pages), dated September 1862 through May 1864. These fascinating unbound daily entries are written by a Massachusetts' color bearer for the 18th Massachusetts Regiment, which fought in numerous major engagements, including Gettysburg (excellent content on his experience at Gettysburg is included). Churchill records information regarding battles, picket duty, troop movements, POWs, army life, and more. Churchill's battle content is particularly significant. He labels some of the bifoliums "Memoranda." The leaves bear expected age-toning and minor soiling.

    Hailing from Plympton, Massachusetts, Edmund Churchill (1842-1921) enlisted as a private in the 18th Massachusetts, Co. "E", on August 9, 1862. He served as a color bearer, beginning only four months after he enlisted. He was promoted to sergeant on May 1, 1863, and, since he remained in good health throughout the war, was present at almost every battle that the 18th engaged in, including Bull Run, Antietam, Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. He mustered out on September 2, 1864. He had two brothers who also fought for the Union; one died of disease during the war and the other was killed at the Battle of Second Bull Run.

    From Churchill's first entry on September 4, 1862, he was near the action: "Arrived at halls hill & joined the Reg. at 5 P.M. Rebels drove in our pickets and we were called into line. Rebels retired without bringing on a collision." On September 16, just one day before the Battle of Antietam, Churchill wrote, "Marched today and took position in support of one of our batteries. Some firing in front tonight." On the day of the battle, he records, "Heavy firing with artillery and infantry. Kept things on all day and gun loaded ready to go into fight. Went on picket at upper bridge on Antietam Creek. [September 19] Advanced towards the Potomac River through Sharpsburg Town severly damaged by Wednesdays fight. [September 20] Brigade crossed river at 9AM. Had quite a smart engagement with the enemy and were forced to retire to camp."

    On December 11, 1862, the opening day of the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862), the soldier's entry reads, "marched at 7 ½ AM. Marched toward Fredericksburg laid within about 1 mile all day. At night moved a mile to the rear and camped for the night. A very heavy cannonading kept up all day. Fredrg. burning at night. . . . [December 13] Crossed the river at 1 PM. Got into a fight. Laid on field all night. [December 14] Sunday. On field all day. Relieved at 10 PM. Stopped back of city for the night." The next night, he "Laid on sidewalk on the main street of Fredg." At the end of this entry, he records the sad news that one of his brothers had died: "Theodore was no more. He died Sunday evening."

    On the first day of the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), the color bearer's entry informs us that they "Marched 4 miles and formed line of battle by a small brook while the cavalry reconnoitered in advance. Appointed color sergeant here. advanced 4 miles further and found the enemy intrenched. We went to the right & 24th NY to the left of the road to fell the enemy. Commenced[?] in line half a mile through the woods. Before meeting the enemy we were ordered back. Went back 2 miles & camped for the night." For several more entries, Churchill records fascinating details about the battle, including a close call while heading towards Fredericksburg. He also records that the Rebels often "threw shells among us." Sometimes the shelling was successful, as on May 1 when "One man hit in his head by a shrapnel." The "most desperate fighting" occurred on May 3 when "11 lines of battle" formed. Churchill's regiment lay in an open field as they were receiving artillery fire. "One captain killed." On May 4, after a night at the front digging breastworks, a sharpshooter's bullet "hit the colors and dropped side me."

    Of great significance are Churchill's detailed and fascinating entries about the Battle of Gettysburg. In late June 1863, the Union Army was on the move. By July 1, his regiment was at Hanover, Pennsylvania, and moving "towards Gettysburg. . . . Rumors of fighting at Gettysburg today." They arrived at the small town on the 2nd and were "taken to the front. Rebels attached our part of the line at 20 minutes past four. Fought ½ hours when we were compelled to fall back to a new position as Longstreet and Hill were coming down on our flank with nearly their whole force. . . . I received a ball in my knapsack. . . . The losses in our division this afternoon were very large. Laid on our arms all night." Churchill had a very good view of General Pickett's ill-fated charge on the July 3: "Our position was on a hill covered with huge boulders. . . . Saw a line of rebels move out to charge but our batteries shelled them with such effect as to cause them to seek the cover of a piece of woods. A brigade of the Penn. Reserves charged down the hill, and in the woods driving the enemy out with the loss of many killed and wounded."

    Churchill also recorded detailed information about the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864). On May 5, he records that his regiment charged the enemy, which "forced them back." But on the 18th, they were "flanked & had to fall back to our first position. Hard fighting during the rest of the day." The regiment remained under fire the next day, and on the 8th "made a charge at 11 AM." Heavy fighting continued for Churchill at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864). In his entry for May 8, he records details about his regiment's charge: "We advanced to fence then laid down a few moments. Then charged over it & had got part way to woods when we saw the Enemy charging on us. Halted & had a fair stand up fight a short time but soon found the Enemy coming down on our left flank." Unable to hold off the Rebels, the Union soldiers fell back. But the Corps as a whole was more successful: "Our corps held the positions all day against Longstreet & Hills rebel corps. This engagement takes the name of Laurel Hill." The final page of Churchill's diary contains entries for May 29-31, 1864, with details about the Battle of Cold Harbor (May 31-June 12, 1864). This collection of daily entries is worthy of much further research.


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