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    Sergeant George H. Fisher's Handwritten 1863-1865 Diary. Bound volume, 3" x 4.5", dating from May 28, 1863-March 3, 1865. Although there is not an entry for every day, there are approximately 100 written pages within the diary. Fisher was a sergeant in Company A of the 16th Regiment Maine Volunteers. He was captured twice, first at Gettysburg and then at the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad (or Battle of Globe Tavern). After his second capture, he was moved south and became a prisoner of war at Salisbury Prison Camp, infamous for its overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. In October 1864, nearly 10,000 prisoners arrived at the facility, which was only meant to hold 2,500 men. Prisoners who did not starve to death often died of disease, and the death rate rose from 2% to 28% over the period of four months. Fisher was one of the lucky ones to survive and was finally paroled in February 1865.

    At the front of the diary, Fisher wrote that he purchased the diary on May 28, 1863, "while encamped near White Oak Church, Va." Just over a month later, Fisher fought and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Gettysburg. His diary reads on July 1, 1863, "Just had the order to pack up. Started. Met the enemy at u Gatersville /u . Had a hard fight taken prisoner. Used well." Two days later, on July 3, 1863, Fisher describes his first days as prisoner, writing "Prisoner. Called up in line & told that they wanted clerks to make out our paroles. An officer jumped on a stump & said all u-ins fellers that can read & write step to the front. He was as mad as a hornet because the whole line moved forward. Then he called for clerks. He got as many as he wanted. Could have had any trades he wanted."

    On July 6, 1863, Fisher wrote a lengthy entry about the dividing of rations for those captured and of the disputes that arose within the prisoners. It reads, "We drew fresh beef when our fellows that killed the beef brought in and layed it down and were counting up to see how to divide it. The Dutchmen got tired of waiting and made a raid on it but the Native American was to much for Dutch. He got handled pretty rough and was glad to get any by waiting for it. It seemed that the Rebs did not care whether the rations that they gave us were divided fair or not. They would turn it over to us and we could divide it or scramble for it. The first flour we got was on the mountain near that big hotel in Penn. Some noted summer resort or mineral spring. They rolled the flour out in barrels knocked the heads in. When I got to the scene of action there was a solid jam of men for twenty feet all around but I wanted flour and went down on my hands and knees and crawled under the crowd to the barrel and got my flour but had got badly stepped on."

    The prisoners were moved to Richmond and held at Libby Prison. On August 1, 1863, Fisher recounts his experiences on Belle Island and an interesting event related to the upcoming presidential election. It reads, "Our time was spent in sleeping, talking of home, catching grey backs & fleas, with a very few minutes every day spent in eating. Almost every day some of the Rebs would come in to the prison & ask us who would be the next President. Some would say Little Mac & we noticed they would be sent into our lines right off [paroled]. A good many took advantage of that to get out of that h-l. I did not blame them but I had to say Old Abe every time."

    Fisher was finally paroled on August 25, 1863 and left for City Point. The entries grow rather sparse for a period, but pick up again around late May 1864, when Fisher was involved in numerous skirmishes and troop movements. Fisher wrote small entries that recorded weather and wounded comrades as well as the movement of the Army and encounters with the enemy. On the first day of the Battle of Globe Tavern (the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad), August 18, 1864, Fisher was captured by the Rebel army. His diary entry reads, "Marched down on the left to the Weldon RR held it had a fight. Taken prisoner. Marched to Petersburgh treated well."

    From this point onward, Fisher provides nearly daily entries of his movements and treatment as a POW. He was once again held at Belle Island in Richmond. On August 25, 1864 it reads, "Had a feast of bread had enough to eat so far. One of the Rebs struck by one of our men. Two men shot in trying to escape." The next day, on August 26, he continues, "Had nothing to eat. Shall not have anything until the man is found that struck the Reb." Two weeks later, on September 13, Fisher's spirits were low. He wrote in his diary, "Very cool this morning. Think if I had a blanket it would not be a bad thing aint got it tho. Great talk about parole. All talk though cold night."

    In early October, Fisher and other prisoners were moved south and ultimately arrived at Salisbury on October 7, 1864. Fisher's entries become increasingly grim as they reflect the horrors of Salisbury Prison Camp. On October 24, 1864, he writes, "Got tents 2 for 100 men", and on November 4, "Two Winterport men died here. Everit & Dean of the 9th Maine Regt." Conditions at camp were dire, and the men held there were deprived of food, water, shelter, and any form of sanitation. Fisher's entry for November 21, 1864 reads, "Not so pleasant it rains. Since we came here there has been 1142 deaths" and just two days later he adds, "The ground is frozen hard. The men dying off fast." By November 28, Fisher recorded that 1,748 men had died at Salisbury prison since his arrival, and it is clear that he was worried about his own chances of survival. He had developed a cough and wrote on December 3, 1863, "My cough is getting no better. Hope for the best."

    With the continuous rise in death, many prisoners resorted to extreme measures to ensure their survival. On December 5, 1864, Fisher wrote that 400 prisoners chose to enlist in the Rebel Army in order to escape the conditions of the prison camp. On the 11th, Fisher updated the recorded dead since his arrival to 2,893, a truly staggering number over the period of only nine weeks. December 13th's entry reads, "Cold some snow on the ground. Dreadful suffering in camp. Recruiting for the Reb service goes on briskly."

    Fisher was finally paroled from Salisbury prison camp on February 22, 1865. His previous entry from February 14 records that during his 18-week stay at the camp, 4883 prisoners died. On one of the last pages of his diary, Fisher has recorded the parole oath he took to gain his freedom. It reads, "We the undersigned prisoners of war do give our parole of honors that we will not take up arms against nor serve as military police or constabulary force in any fort garrison field work or as guards at prisons nor to discharge any duty usually performed by soldiers until exchanged under the provisions of cartel entered into July 22nd 1862."

    Thankfully, Fisher survived his imprisonment and the war, and his diary provides an incredible and haunting depiction of life within a Rebel prison camp. Fisher was eventually mustered out on June 5, 1865 at Arlington Heights, Virginia.

    Condition: The diary cover is worn but still intact. A few pages have become detached and there are a few spots of soiling and staining throughout. Else good.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
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