A soldier’s diary entries, December 1863

William Henry Forbush

Friends of Cedar Mountain board member Brad Forbush has a prized possession: the leather bound Civil War diary of his great great grandfather, William Henry Forbush. William spent several months in Culpeper County as part of the Winter Encampment of 1863-1864. We are grateful to Brad for sharing William’s Christmas week entries, allowing a look at a few days in the life of a soldier as the Union and Confederate armies faced each other on either side of the Rapidan River during the winter encampment.

William Henry Forbush joined the Westboro Rifles (Massachusetts) two months before his 18th birthday. At Fort Independence on July 16, 1861 he mustered into the 13th Massachusetts Infantry  as a private in Company K. He was with his company at the engagements of Bolivar Heights, October, 1861; and Cedar Mountain, Thoroughfare Gap, and 2nd Bull Run, in August 1862; General James B. Ricketts’ Division. A gunshot wound to the left hand received at the latter battle sent him to a hospital in Philadelphia. While recovering at the Broad & Cherry Streets Hospital, he transferred into Battery C, 3rd U.S. Horse Artillery in December 1862.

Forbush was one of the more than 100,000 Union soldiers encamped in Culpeper County during the winter of 1863-1864. His unit under General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick was camped in Stevensburg at the time, Kilpatrick’s headquarters being at Rose Hill, a storied property recently placed on the National Register of Historic places.

As reproduced below, Forbush’s diary entries for the Christmas week document the weather, his daily duties, correspondence, regiment news, and his Christmas gift from the Union Army.  

Wednesday 23.  Horse excersise in the Fore noon.  Pleasant Day – Only have the Horses to Groom once a Day

Thursday 24.  Pleasant Day.  Cleaned up around our Quarters –

Friday 25.  On Guard.  Pleasant Day. Had Whiskey issued for Christmas –

Saturday 26.  Came off Guard.  Pleasant but Cold – Horse excersise in the morning

Sunday 27.  Sent a Letter home with fifteen dollars $15.00  Rainy day –

Monday 28.  Pleasant day.  Horse Excersise in the morning – Sent a letter to Sophia – (Mary Sophia Forbush, his sister).

Tuesday 29.  Pleasant Day. Horse excersise in the morning –

Wednesday 30.  Rainy Day and Night – No Stable Call or Grooming only feeding up.

Thursday 31.  Rainy Day and Night.  Sergent Monger reduced to the Ranks and 1st Sergent Rice Acting Orderly Sergent in his place – (Sgt. Daniel Munger).

Diary entries, December 18-23, 1863
Diary entries, December 24-29, 1863

Forbush completed his 3 year term of enlistment with Battery C in July 1864.  He listed the following artillery engagements on the back of his muster out papers: Chancellorsville, Kelly’s Ford, Aldie, Middleburg, Upperville, Smithburg & Williamsport (pursuit of Lee’s Army following Gettysburg) Culpepper, Raccoon Ford, Robertson River, (also known as Jack’s Shop) and Kilpatrick’s Raid to Richmond, February 28 – March 4, 1864. He mustered out at City Point, Virginia on July 7, 1864.

Forbush returned home to Westboro too sick to continue in his old occupation as a  sleigh-maker. He had suffered from poor health for the rest of his life, which he attributed to a cold he caught while in the service. Eventually he entered into a successful business partnership with his uncle running a dry-goods store. He died of consumption at age 37 in January 1881, leaving a widow and a 7-year-old son.

William Henry Forbush as a civilian

With appreciation to Friends of Cedar Mountain board member Brad Forbush for sharing the diary of his great great grandfather. Brad’s ongoing research to document the history of the 13th Regiment,  Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, William Henry Forbush’s original regiment, has been compiled on 13thmass.org since 2008.