The following post is part of an ongoing series entitled Civil War Voices from Florida. Each day in October 2014, Florida Memory will post a document from the collections of the State Archives of Florida written exactly 150 years before that date, in October 1864.
Today’s post takes us down to the Union-occupied Dry Tortugas for a diary entry from Union soldier William Stebbins. Stebbins was a member of the 110th New York Volunteers, who had been stationed at Fort Jefferson in the Tortugas since February 1864. The diary transcript is part of a collection of research materials donated to the Archives by Civil War historian Lewis G. Schmidt (Collection M91-10, State Archives of Florida).
The Nightingale a government Steamer from [Key West] arrived here about 6 o’clock this morning bringing our Col. some other Officers & men & a lot of beef cattle & the mail & some vegetables etc. I rec. the Tribune of Oct. 1st. The news is encouraging from all parts of the service. The peace commissioners Gen. Grant, Sherman, Butler, Sheridan & a host of others are negotiating with the Rebs. in a way that I judge will secure the peace we all desire on a good & substantial basis. The Rebs. say & have for a long time the only terms of peace they will accept is recognition or extermination. If things progress a little longer as they have for the last year I think they will be recognized as being exterminated. Let the ball keep rolling I say to their hearts content. I hear Jeff Davis has ordered all non combattants [sic] out of Richmond. I think Grant will secure those of all classes that remain.
We had our Lyceum as usual last night & had a good natured discussion of the Freemont & Lincoln platforms. After the Lyceum closed we organized a [page 2] school and chose the teachers. Arithmetic, grammar, Geography, reading & spelling & writing are to be taught. We are also organizing a singing school. We intend to improve the long winter evenings approaching to some advantage if we are soldiers.
I am rejoiced something besides backgammon, cards & checkers are to be the order of the day. Self-culture is our duty & we ought to esteem it a privilege to do something for our advancement in knowledge even on this desolate [island?] If God shall spare our lifes [sic] to return to our friends once more how pleasing will be the thought we tried by all means in our power to secure some lasting benefits in our efferts [sic] here away from all the world beside.
The inspecting officer came over here to inspect us this morning. The inspectors came around to inspect our quarters about [2 o’clock] this P.M.
Stebbins’ diary entry points to a couple of interesting items worth noting. He deals first in this passage with the news coming from the broader conflict about peace negotiations. The Hampton Roads peace conference between Union and Confederate leaders would not come until February of the following year, but President Abraham Lincoln was under considerable pressure from his political opponents to seek a peaceful resolution to the war. General George B. McClellan, Lincoln’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, was running on a platform promising to end the war by negotiated peace. The issue was divisive, as we saw with the Albert Peck letter from October 3rd. In this entry, Stebbins follows Peck’s line of thinking, that the Confederates would lose soon enough and that Lincoln should follow through with the war.
Stebbins also gives us a look at life in Fort Jefferson for Union soldiers not dealing with much opposition. Because his regiment was stationed at a base on an island far away from most of the action, Stebbins and his comrades often had plenty of time on their hands when routine tasks were finished for the day. As Stebbins explains, games and relaxation were prevalent, but in some cases soldiers used the time to improve themselves. The Lyceum program and makeshift school he describes are examples of this.
For more information about Florida in the Civil War, check out the resources below. Also, come back tomorrow for another edition of Civil War Voices. We’ll have a letter from Florida Governor John Milton to North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance.
Related Resources on Florida Memory:
- Images of Fort Jefferson on Florida Memory
- Florida Memory Learning Unit: Florida in the Civil War
- Florida Memory Exhibit: Distant Storm: Florida’s Role in the Civil War
Related Resources at the State Archives of Florida:
Related Resources in Print:
- Biographical Rosters of Florida’s Confederate and Union Soldiers, 1861-1865 (find in a library near you!)
- Florida in the Civil War, by Nicholas Wynne and Robert Taylor (find in a library near you!)