Apr 07, 2022 - Sale 2600

Sale 2600 - Lot 56

Price Realized: $ 3,750
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 500 - $ 750
(CIVIL WAR.) [Jacob Krotzer.] Diary of a carpenter with the United States Military Railroad. 107 manuscript diary pages, plus [16] pages of memoranda. 12mo, 5 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches, original limp calf, moderate wear; hinges split, entries in pencil and sometimes difficult to read with a few pages smudged. Tennessee and elsewhere, 1 January to 7 July 1864

Additional Details

Even if you have seen a few hundred Civil War diaries, you may not have seen one from the United States Military Railroad--the unheralded civilian contractors who restored and maintained the vital army-owned rail lines along the federal front. Our diarist was not a "solger" but he performed vital work for the military effort as a skilled carpenter.

Our diarist began by catching a train from Elmira, NY toward the front via Harper's Ferry, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, and Stevenson, AL. He arrived on 1 February in the recently captured city of Chattanooga on the Georgia border, which would become the supply base for Sherman's Atlanta campaign in May. His crew was dispatched from Chattanooga to work on a nearby rail line. On 7 February he wrote "the boss detaled me to make a washboard. . . . After diner I went to flag trains. I don't feel well yet for work, but can sit down one place as well as eny. I flaged until night." The labor gang was apparently not under tight military discipline; on 12 February he wrote "Some of the boys got an auger to boar a hole in log to put in blast, to have fun. It startled som of the boys. It raysed an excitement. Some fired a revolver and som sed blow out the lites." On 18 February he made a door and 12 axe handles. More typical would be long days in the woods transforming trees into railroad ties. Morale was poor; on 8 March he wrote "The men are a getting tired of this kind of treatment and say that they will not stay eney longer than the first of April, when they mean to start for Pensylvania, where they can enjoy free days and not be under bondage." On Sunday, 13 March, they put in a half day on the Sabbath: "We are in the woods halling ties on a cart, and some of them are a carry out by hand, good fellows to work, we all worked until noon and quit for the day." Two days later: "Stil in the woods as usual, fawling trees, roping and lineing, skoreing and hewing."

The crew was moved north to Nashville on 1 April, where our diarist helped erect a building for the commissary department, which seemed a better fit for his carpentry skills, and which he described in good detail. On 15 April he was "puting top on work bench and dresed up door stuff for pannel doors . . . and dressing stuff for windows sash." On 19 April he returned to Chattanooga to collect his pay, which took a week. On 23 April he wrote "Want to get away from this city. The mules are piled in heaps and stink aful, all threw the town." Back in Nashville, he continued to throw up buildings, noting that "solders came in by the swarms" on 30 May. On 6 June he helped raise a building for a machine shop. On 27 June he reported "Still in the city of Nashville, working with my tools for the goverment." He received his final pay on 7 July, and was nearly home by 9 July, concluding his diary.

The author was Jacob Krotzer (1817-1880) of Dunmore, PA, just east of Scranton. He signs and dates the volume on both flyleaves, and also at the bottom of page 53; he mentions his brother Sidney Krotzer on 17 April and 25 May. The first inscription on the front flyleaf reads "Care of C.L. McAlpine, Enginere US RR'ds." Charles LeGrand McAlpine (1828-1884) was a well-educated career engineer who served as the Engineer of Repairs for the City Point branch of the military railroad from July 1864 onward. McAlpine was very likely not the author of this diary--for one, he would have known how to spell "engineer." McAlpine also was not married in 1864--this diarist corresponds frequently with his wife.