The Civil War Diary 1862-1865 of Charles H. Lynch, 18th Connecticut Volunteers, by Charles H. Lynch
One of the more notable aspects of the Civil War is the way that it is viewed by ordinary soldiers. Charles H. Lynch, during the course of the Civil War, was a young man who signed up for service for three years or until the end of the Civil War, and by the time that the war ended he served as a corporal and had been in several battles, although more on this will be noted later, and yet was still not able to vote, something he complained about in his diary. In fact, the author spends a lot of this book complaining, and it can be either entertaining or irritating depending on how you feel about that sort of thing. I happened to be entertained and amused by it myself, as the author has a lot of details that he can provide about the way it is that the common soldier saw their fighting. If the fog of war was something that could affect even higher officers at times, as was the case for Milroy, one of the generals that the author served under who sought to give praise to the regiment for its courage and bravery despite his own lack of competence as a general, which had costly results, then the fog of war is something that affects the author strongly, as this book savors of picket duty and other less than enjoyable tasks, long weeks spent barefoot and footsore while marching long distances, and very little understanding of what is going on in the war.
This book is a bit more than 150 pages long and it consists of the wartime diary of an enlisted Connecticut soldier from the time of his enlistment in 1862 to the period when he was de-mobilized in 1865. As we are seeing the Civil War from the perspective of a young enlisted soldier generally in less than glamorous duties, there is a lot of complaining as the author finds himself guarding prisoners in Baltimore, dealing with his hostility towards secessionist Marylanders, seeking to escape capture after a disastrous decision by Milroy at Winchester, serving as a picket frequently, guarding railroad bridges, marching throughout the Shenandoah Valley as well as through West Virginia in 1864, and back to picket duty again, missing the glory of Sheridan’s march. Later on there is more picketing and considerable anger at the assassination of Lincoln. By and large, the author is relatable in his lack of knowledge of what is going on around him.
Indeed, among the most notable aspects of this book is the less than complete understanding that the soldier had about his duties, even as he performed bravely and generally well. Despite his youth, he ended up moving up to acting 1st Sergeant, which he modestly claimed to have been the result of the attrition suffered by the regiment as a whole. Tellingly, this particular regiment is one that fought strictly in peripheral fronts and battles, serving in the disastrous Second Battle of Winchester in 1863, which was part of the Gettysburg campaign and a disastrous defeat for Milroy, leading to a painful court-martial. And it is not as if the rest of the experience of the regiment was all that more positive, as the only victory the regiment participated in was the Battle of Piedmont, where the author was apparently one of those whose picketing position was near the body of the unsuccessful General “Grumble” Jones. Otherwise, the military record of the 18th Connecticut was filled with one defeat (New Market) after another (Lynchburg) where the author comments, correctly, that some mismanagement was involved. As the author struggles to understand what his commanders were doing, he seems to recognize a good leader when he sees one in the inspirational General Sheridan.