The Civil War Diaries Project at the Augustana Special Collections
The Civil War Diaries project contains digital images of diaries written by two Illinois soldiers who served in the Civil War, Gould D. Molineaux and Basil H. Messler. These diaries are held by Special Collections, Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. The diaries detail not only troop movements and battles, but also the daily life of soldiers.
The diaries of Messler and Molineaux are presented separately. Each has an introduction with a brief biography of the diarist, and links to images from the diaries. Transcriptions are available for some, but not all, of the diary entries. In addition, not all the entries are available in digital format. For information on the complete diary holdings, please see the finding aids for the Basil H. Messler papers and the Gould D. Molineaux papers.
This project began in the mid-1990s, and was reorganized and redesigned in 2011 with new introductory content by Sarah Horowitz and Jamie Nelson and a new design by Brian Gunderson. Images used in the banner were taken from Special Collection's copy of Field, Fort and Fleet (1885). For more information on the diaries, please contact Augustana College Special Collections, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Basil H. Messler was born in 1834 in Dayton, Ohio. In 1852, when he was 18, he moved with his family to Canton, Illinois. He enlisted in the Union Army in 1864, at Fort McClellan in Davenport, Iowa. Messler served in the Mississippi Marine Brigade, which was commanded by Brigadier General Alfred W. Ellet. He saw action at Vicksburg several times. The Brigade was dissolved in August 1864, and Messler was reassigned as Commissary Sergeant of the First Battalion Calvary Regiment. He was later promoted to Corporal. After his discharge from the army, Messler married Mary J. Whitehall in 1866. He attended Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois and became a dentist, practicing in Canton, Illinois. Basil H. Messler died in 1916, at the age of 82.
Messler's diary spans from late February 1864 to late January 1865. It mainly describes the non-combat life of Messler and his fellow soldiers. The Mississippi Marine Brigade patrolled the Mississippi River between Canton, Illinois, and Greenville, Mississippi, protecting local plantations from Confederate raids. Messler describes several raids and a battle. For the most part, however, he focuses on day-to-day events, including patrolling on the scout boat, picking berries, shooting cattle for meat, getting a haircut, visiting other regiments, celebrating President Lincoln's reelection, and acting as a bodyguard for southern female college students.
Gould D. Molineaux (1835?-1883) was a clerk and bookkeeper by trade and served as a corporal, and later sergeant, in Company E of the 8th Illinois volunteer infantry. He fought in the Civil War from early June 1861 until the war's conclusion; his diary entries continue through May 16, 1866. There are conflicting sources in regard to Molineaux's age when he begins his diaries. A Peoria census taken in 1860, one year prior to first diary entry, suggests that he was 24 at the time of his first entry. Molineaux himself claims to be 27 in an entry on his birthday, February 22nd, 1862, leaving a one-year discrepancy in comparison with the census.
Throughout the diaries, Molineaux often refers to loved ones in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois, including his mother, Eveline Keyon; stepfather, Lewis Keyon; sister Phoebe ("Phebe") and her husband George F. Laubach (sometimes referred to as "G.F.L.").
Molineaux participated in a number of important battles including the Vicksburg Campaign; his entries during this battle were used as source material for In Their Own Words, a 2001 book by Rebecca Blackwell Drake about the May 1863 confrontation compiled through various soldiers' first-hand accounts. From 1865 onward he was stationed in Mobile, Alabama. While Molineaux's earlier entries are intense and action oriented, describing moments of combat, the maneuvers of "the rebels," or listing the wounds of friends and fellow soldiers, his later entries are more likely to detail office reports and stock lists as well as the occasional mention of "exploding shells." Though all the diary entries show evidence of struggle, the later entries are more apt to talk of visits to restaurants, the theater, and even church.
Molineaux died in Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1883 at the age of 48 and is buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria.