September 19th marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga that took place in 1863. This battle, one of the hundreds during the great Civil War was a determining factor in which side would win. The Archive & Special Collections in the Rice Library has a diary, but not the type of diary a thirteen year old girl might write her secrets in, but instead the dangerously detailed daily life of James Greuzard, who in fact participated in the infamous Battle of Chickamagua. The life of James Greuzard is a rather curious one. This private was swept up in his patriotic duty to serve his country, but he quickly learned that being a soldier is not all guts and glory.
Civil War diaries are incredibly important to historians today. For one, they are a first person account of what the Civil War was truly like. Secondly, the knowledge we gain from these diaries helps us learn more about the behind the scenes actions other than fighting. Greuzard gives us an in depth portrayal of his day to day duties.
Greuzard was part of the 38th Illinois Infantry and began his service right here in Evansville, Indiana. For four years he traveled from Indiana down to Georgia and back following and fighting the rebels. Most of the time Greuzard was not in actual combat; he lived with the monotonous duties of keeping his camp clean and supplied. Most of his days consisted of going on guard, cooking for his fellow soldiers, and gathering supplies. When it came time to fight the Confederates, the 38th either arrived too late or just before the battle ended. Most of the time they would begin a battle and the rebels would run off before any real fighting could be done. For example, when fighting in the Tennessee countryside, while fixing a railroad, rebels began firing from beyond a hill. The rebel fire was too far away to reach any of the Union soldiers so the rebels fumed off into the forest. Greuzard did find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. While in the act of trying to shoot a deer, a soldier shot Greuzard in the head, but don’t worry, amazingly he would live to tell that tale. Greuzard himself was able to fight, but throughout his service he became ill quite a lot. Camp life was not a walk in the park; in fact it was grueling work. He would often have to stand guard in the heavy rain and even in snowy blizzards. Even when he was sick as a dog he still remained at his post. During the winter camp life deteriorated, when food became scare, soldiers had no shelter and had to sleep out in the cold, and supplies dwindled. Even when a shipment of clothes came, all that was available was a few shirts. Luckily, Greuzard would not have much longer to deal with these issues. James Greuzard actually mustered out of service before the Civil War ended. He was discharged from Louisville, Kentucky, in 1864, but then soon headed up to Indianapolis, and then eventually settled down here in Evansville.
James Greuzard’s personal life may seem to be just as compelling as his years in the Civil War. From research in the Archive we have uncovered a few inconsistencies in this soldier’s life. After arriving in Evansville he soon became a painter and settled down with his wife Mariah and had a family. Now, by 1901, in the Evansville City Directories, Mariah is listed as a widow. While researching we found conflicting evidence of this. A pension was filed in 1925, by that of an Agnes Dunn who claimed to have been the wife of James Greuzard. We also found that Agnes and James were married in 1908. Now, how could that be if Mariah was a widow by 1901? By researching further we were able to find out that James Greuzard was indeed married again only seven years later. What happened to James and Mariah around 1900? He certainly could not have died. Could he have been so heartless as to cut ties with his wife and five children and fled with another woman? There are many possibilities, but what is certain is that we do not know.
Now, you have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Private James Greuzard. His diary is on display in the Archive & Special Collections in the Rice Library as a part of the Kenneth McCutchan Collection. You will be reading day to day activities and events he experienced firsthand during the Civil War. You will read about the horrible acts of violence which occurred and the close encounters that Greuzard himself faced. You will be experiencing what he experienced, but on a safer side of course. You have the chance to read about the day to day life of a Civil War soldier. While reading this diary, do not forget that you are actually holding a piece of history.
Written by Lacey Stepro.