The Field Diary of Union Lieutenant Austin Wiswall

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The Southwest Collection is home to a number of remarkable Civil War collections, including our Confederate veterans’ handwritten accounts and our massive registry of almost every veteran, from both sides of the war, who was buried in Texas. But unique among all of our holdings is the field diary of Lieutenant Austin Wiswall.

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Wiswall was the nephew of the famous abolitionist publisher and martyr Elijah Parish Lovejoy, and of U.S. Senator Owen Lovejoy. He served as a lieutenant in the 9th United States Colored Infantry, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, United States Army during the Civil War.

AshepooExpedition

The 9th remained on duty in Maryland until March 1864, when they began to see more dangerous service in South Carolina. One of their conflicts was the Ashepoo Expedition the following May. The journal entries above document Wiswall’s thoughts during that time.

AndersonvilleRelease

Wiswall was captured by Confederate forces later that year, and was held at Andersonville and Libby prisons. As a result, there are a large number of blank pages in the diary until his August release by prisoner exchange. On August 8th, 1864, he wrote “here we are with the glorious Army of the Potomac once more.” The diary contains no further entries.

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memoranda

The last several dozen pages of the diary contain memoranda like those above. They consist of financial accounts and similar material, but no in-depth descriptions of his service or how these figures related to it. But don’t take this blog’s word for it! Read the whole thing, as well as correspondence and other materials documenting Austin Wiswall’s life, right here.

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Correspondence & the Austin Wiswall Papers

Wiswall Envelope

Correspondence is often one of the most fruitful research materials in a manuscript collection. Communication between the record creator and his or her family, colleagues, and others can provide insight into their lives. It also sheds light onto less personal portions of a collection such as financial materials or legal documents. The SWC’s Austin Wiswall Papers, 1863-1912, recently digitized and made available online, is an example of the potential benefits of correspondence.

Wiswall to mom June 63 pre gettysburg

This correspondence dates from Wiswall’s service in the Army of the Potomac, and describes his activities just prior to marching to Gettysburg later that summer.

Austin Wiswall was born on April 5, 1840, in Princeton, Illinois, to Noah and Elizabeth Lovejoy Wiswall. He was the nephew of the famous abolitionist publisher and martyr Elijah Parish Lovejoy–whose papers the SWC possesses and has also made available digitally–and of U.S. Senator Owen Lovejoy. Wiswall served as a lieutenant in the 9th United States Colored Troops, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, United States Army during the Civil War. Captured by Confederate forces in August 1864, he was held at Andersonville and Libby prisons until released by exchange. After the war, he married Martha Francis Almy on November 15, 1865 with whom he had three children. He served on the Board of Trustees of Morgan Park, Illinois after the Civil War, where he died on September 9, 1905.

Wiswall to mom 8-9-64

This letter describes Austin’s release from Confederate custody and subsequent rejoining of the Army of the Potomac just prior to the end of the war.

The Austin Wiswall Papers consist of correspondence and a diary. The correspondence, often addressed to his mother, primarily concerns personal experiences during and after the Civil War. Of particular interest are letters describing the recruiting, behavior, fighting skills, and movements and activities of the 9th United States Colored Troops participating in the Civil War. When paired with the collected correspondence of his sister, Harriet Wiswall, as well as related collections such as those of Howard Hampton, Austin Wiswall’s correspondence reveals an intensely personal side of mid-19th century life both inside and outside of the U.S.’s most personal war.

Interested researchers can find much of Wiswall’s material, as well as many other digitized collection, here. Our Reference Department is always eager to provide access to our physical holdings as well.