Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 6, 2014

Research project takes retired editor to the South

Editor’s note: Last week, retired Record-Eagle associate editor Loraine Anderson embarked on a research project into the southern United States, an effort to trace an ancestor’s march with the Union Army during the Civil War. She wrote this dispatch on the eve of her departure.

TRAVERSE CITY — My feet ache, even though I’m driving. My mind wraps around a question and does not let go.

How many pairs of boots did my great-great grandfather Charles Dickerson wear out during his four-year stint with the Michigan 23rd Volunteer Infantry? And how many miles did he walk? These seem like such miniscule questions in the massive panorama of Civil War history, but it leads me to places and treasures I may never have found.

Like this trip.

Like the pocket diaries of Civil War infantry soldiers Thomas McCumsey and Henry Oberlin that shed light today on the daily life of Union Army soldiers 150 years ago.

Both men served in the same 23rd regiment as my great-great-granddad. Both kept diaries in 1864 during Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s March on Atlanta and the siege there. The diaries are now preserved in the Civil War collections at the Bentley Historical Library, a historical research library at the University of Michigan.

I read them there last fall while doing research on my grandfather and the 23rd Infantry. I have four letters written by him in 1863, 1864 and 1865. I hoped the diaries and letters of other soldiers would tell me more about daily life in their regiment. The 23rd Infantry’s main job was guarding and protecting the trains and railways so crucial to Sherman’s strategy and battle plans in Tennessee and Georgia.

“This day finds me well after a hard march of two days,” Charles, then 31, wrote his wife Cordelia and four young children on June 2, 1863 in Glasgow, Ky. “It rained hard on the first day we marched. The water and mud was six inches deep in the road … I thought I should drop in the road, but the boys feel pretty well today. We are some lame, but we will soon get over that.”

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