When New Englander Augustus Ayling responded to President Lincoln's first call for volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War, he began a diary that he would keep until the end of the conflict. That recently discovered manuscript now provides us with an unusual panorama of the Civil War as seen by one man who fought in three different theaters.
A company-grade officer in the Union Army for most of the war, Ayling was a highly literate, keen-eyed observer who described major events of the war in elaborate detail. Early in his service, he witnessed firsthand the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack, the peninsular campaign of McClellan, the battle of Fredericksburg, and the retreat of Burnside. When his regiment was sent to Kentucky, he fell in love with a girl there, but they were parted by his unit's transfer to Mississippi in support of Grant's Vicksburg campaign. He was present at the fall of Vicksburg, one of the Union's most important victories. His brief wartime romance ended when he went back to Kentucky, suffering from malaria. After his return home on sick leave, he eventually rejoined his regiment outside of Knoxville, where it helped to repel Longstreet's troops.
Following the war, Ayling was recalled to a regiment occupying Richmond and was made a judge advocate. From this vantage point he witnessed the beginnings of Reconstruction and of reconciliation between members of Northern and Southern white elites. And, as Charles Herberger notes in an epilogue, Ayling's military career did not end there: he remained in the army and was, for twenty-seven years, adjutant general in charge of the National Guard for the state of New Hampshire.
Throughout his diary, Aylingeloquently described the difficult conditions under which soldiers served, revealing both the pleasures and problems of an officer's life. As lively and dramatic in its reportage of key events as it is meticulous in detail, Ayling's diary provides valuable perspectives on both the battlefield and the homefront.