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Diaries of Calvin Morgan Smith 1847 - 1864

Edited by Leland L. Smith

Published by the Hawkins County Genealogical & Historical Society

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Calvin Morgan Smith, 1st Lieut, Co D, 39th Tenn Mtd Inf, Confederate States Army Jun 10, 1822 - Nov 3, 1864

Introduction by Leland L. Smith

Calvin Morgan Smith, possibly named after the prominent Calvin Morgan of Knoxville, TN, was born in Hawkins County, TN on June 10,1822, a son of farmer and Justice of the Peace and school teacher of Hawkins County, TN is obscure, and the first record of his life and adventures exists in dairy which he kept during the U. S. army service in the Mexican War of 1847 - 1848.

This earliest diary and five later ones describe the mid-nineteenth century life of a simple American man devoted to his family and friends, military unit, and state in ways not always understood in our country today. Although Calvin Morgan Smith was neither historian nor creative diarist, he described in detail those events he witnessed and which disclose his indomitable spirit in the face of distressing hunger, deprivation, fatigue, filth, danger, and death.

The diaries were written by Calvin Morgan Smith in a beautiful hand under trying circumstances in the field, with an apparent desire to record events and thoughts for future delivery to his family. He provides comments of an educated farmer and observer of events at the level of the individual participant, remarks that disclose a naive, optimistic spirit even in the darkest days. We see Calvin Morgan Smith as an observer of the people and countryside he encountered, the buildings in towns, the crops on the farms, what he had to eat. He noted times regularly so must have had a pocket watch. He was also much interested in learning the news about other nearby happenings and military events.

Calvin Morgan Smith married Nancy Ruth Spears on January 16, 1849 after his return from Mexico. He fathered four sons and three daughters; the youngest son Calvin Morgan Smith Jr. [the editor's grandfather] mentioned in the last of the Civil War diaries was born during his father's absence in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. Calvin Morgan Smith's life as a farmer and sometime trader is evinced in many entries in the several diaries, and he emerges as an example of a mid-nineteenth century American whose simple concepts of duty and honor still are needed in this country a century and a half later.

His military service commenced in 1847 with his volunteering at the age of twenty-five as a private in the Mexican War. The Mexican War account contains little of the personal and national tragedy to be unfolded in the later Civil War diaries, but rather is an account of the uninvolved military observer in a foreign land, away from home.

In the second diary a trip down the Holston River from Hawkins County, TN to Knoxville and Chattanooga made by Calvin Morgan Smith and his younger brother Sevier Smith inter alia with their local produce for sale is described. The river trip of 1853 is a fine example of trade practices of the time required of a farmer to maximize the return on his produce. The account relates adventure and trouble but not danger. We do no know whether they made a satisfactory profit from the venture.

Calvin Morgan Smith appears to have had financial failure as a farmer, as he had to mortgage his lands, stock, wagons, and blacksmith and farming tools to pay his indebtedness for $827.40 in 1853, and later in 1858, with ultimate sale of his property in 1860. His family appears to have moved onto property of his father-in-law Jesse Spears.

The personality of Calvin Morgan Smith emerges from the four Civil War diaries as that of a simple Southern man of high, traditional ideals, devoted to his family, friends, military unit, and country, responsible to his men, his state and country. These accounts are not those of a dashing Confederate officer leading men to victory over the invading enemy. Not one victory graces these pages. Rather, the service described from the initial march into Kentucky in late 1862 through the siege and surrender of Vicksburg to the dismal series of defeats, retreats, and disorder in the Shenandoah River valley in late 1864 and to the final pointless and personally fatal Action at Morristown, TN is one uninterrupted sequence of persistent defeat. However, with almost no exception no harsh or defeatist remarks adorn the pages of these diaries, despite what must have been overwhelmingly disappointing circumstances. A naive spirit of right and strength pervade this minor chapter of American history.

Although many of his remarks disclose a naive, idealistic viewpoint about the War the diary accounts agree in detail with what other accounts have provided, so little new history is her accorded. The Mexican War and early Civil War accounts are less revealing of the hardships of mid-nineteenth century war, but the final dairy account of the failed Shenandoah River valley campaign of 1864 discloses in detail the thoughts and actions of a soldier in the field fighting against greatly unfavorable odds. Accounts of the fighting and continual maneuvering back and forth, of what was available to eat, and of the hardships of the long saddle rides, cold and wet conditions leave a vivid picture of the circumstances faced in the field. Yet we have the written record.

The diaries pose the interesting evolution from a naive younger man in the Mexican War to a company commander in the Civil War fifteen years later. The idealism of the earlier war was maintained throughout the later war despite the harrowing experiences of deprivation, hunger, being under continuous fire of cannon and sharpshooters, defeat at Vicksburg, Piedmont, and the Shenandoah River valley, including a wound at the Battle of Piedmont and the fatal wound in the Action at Morristown, TN.

The diaries are presented in their entirety, with appropriate notes added for clarity at certain points. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been adjusted in some instances to a standard of consistency, and modern spelling has been supplied in some cases for easier reading. Spelling has not changed in many quaint usages where meaning is clear, e.g. brexfast for breakfast, merricule for miracle, morter for mortar, thus providing insight into the circumstances of the events recorded. Calvin Morgan Smith regularly spelled untill, carrs, Aprile, waggons, ankered, and a few other words a bit differently from modern spelling. The final diary contains the same word spelled differently within a few words of one another, clearly denoting the stress of trying to write accounts in the field under difficult circumstances. Vedettes [videttes] is spelled three ways: videttes, videts, and videbts.

Likewise, paragraph indentation and some punctuation have been added, as the original texts in many places lack indication of start and finish. However, grammar and syntax have not been altered. Some dates in obvious error have been noted. A few emendations have been added with brackets [].

One must recall that these war diaries were written in the field, regularly under the stress of movement and battle, after duty was fulfilled, perhaps in the dark of night. The texts have not been revised to remove compositional imperfections, as the mood of the Civil War is more certainly conveyed by the unmodified passages. Just what a simple Confederate soldier in action observed and felt.

At a time of domestic ideological conflict, prominent criticism of our traditional way of life, and uncertainty of resolve in world leadership it is reassuring to those who retain respect for the duty and service that has made and preserved us a Nation to relive some of the episodes of so personal account. It is for such purpose that these diaries have been prepared for publication.


Copyright © 2000-2001 by Sheila Weems Johnston