Apr 13, 2023 - Sale 2633

Sale 2633 - Lot 46

Price Realized: $ 9,375
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 2,500 - $ 3,500
(CIVIL WAR--CONFEDERATE.) William T. Dillard. Diary of a Virginia Military Institute cadet pressed into active service. [19] manuscript diary pages, plus [88] pages of memoranda. 16mo, original cloth wrappers, worn; a few leaves torn or excised, though apparently no diary pages. Various places, 19 October to 8 November 1864, with memoranda through March 1866

Additional Details

William Terisha Dillard (1846-1898) of Amherst County, VA was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute toward the end of the war. The cadets, aged 15 and up, were called up for emergency service at the Battle of New Market--the only time in American history a school's student body was pressed into combat as a distinct unit. Dillard served as a private in the provisional regiment and was one of the many wounded. The campus was burned by Union troops in June 1864. This diary dates from a few months later, when the Institute was on more or less active duty, moving from camp to camp while seeking a new temporary home in Richmond.

On 20 October, Dillard wrote "Great excitement in camp, caused by the report that the Institute is to be broken up, unless Gen. Smith can get the Almshouse at R[ichmond.]" On 27 and 28 October he describes his unit's "very disagreeable" march "down the Williamsburg Road." A published school history places the cadets in camp at Poe's Farm during this period. One entry near the end of Dillard's book is headed "Camp on Poe's Farm, 3rd Division, Dillard W., Chief of Division," listing 12 cadets by their last names. On 4 November, his diary reports that "it was fully decided today that we could get the alms house. Hurrah! for that. So far, so good."

On 20 October, Dillard "put my name on the paper among the applicants for officers in the Bat[talion] of Yank deserters." He often managed to get out on leave: "I was very much pleased with the performance at the theatre last night. Oliver Twist & Betsy Baker were played. I have come to the conclusion that going to the theatre such times as these is demoralizing" (2 November). On 8 November, he wrote about the Lincoln-McClellan election up north: "I feel very restless about the election (Yankee) but feel that God in his mercy will work everything for his glory and the good of the southern Confederacy."

Dillard was interested in a disturbing trend among the army's "detailed men" who had played support roles but were now being pressed into combat reserve units. On 19 October he wrote "Last night 3 detailed men cut their throats." The next day, "One more detailed man has cut his throat." Dillard was part of a company of cadets which brought 234 of these unfortunate detailed men to General Pickett's headquarters at the front on 21 October.

Dillard was a strong believer in the institution of slavery. The year before, his father Terisha W. Dillard, a militia colonel, had been killed in an uprising by some of the family's enslaved people. Dillard does not discuss this killing in his diary, but on 25 October 1864, he "finished reading Nellie Norton on Southern Slavery and the Bible. It is an excellent work, being a vindication of slavery from the Old & New Testaments. It deserves the perusal of everyone who is at all doubtful whether slavery was ordained by God." After his last dated diary entry, Dillard added one sardonic epilogue in 1865: "The war has closed and instead of recording the dry details of a soldier's life, I can now note the more important affairs which will unavoidably take place between me and Mose Freedman I employ to cultivate the farm." Dillard used this volume as a memorandum book in the months following the war, through about March 1866. Near the rear of the volume, apparently written after the war, he records a short list of "References to the Bible for a pro-slavery argument." 22 pages are devoted to daily work accounts with his new farm employees: "James Christian, free negro," "Preston Holloway, free negro," and others.