Butler's diary opens -- after some brief notations of the terms by which he hired "John H. Boggs (col'd)" as his servant and of his expenditures at Camp Cadwallader -- on December 11th, 1862, with a lengthy description of the bombardment and occupation of Fredericksburg. Butler was stirred by the "sublime sight" of the city under fire, the crossing of the troops on pontoon bridges lit up by pitch fires, and the officers' occupation of the best houses in the city. From his headquarters in a "small, neat, comfortable house," he watched with disapproval as soldiers plunder the city prior to the battle, and he prays with sympathy for "the poor family whose peaceful house is thus invaded," and on the following morning was greeted with the curious sight of soldiers lounging on mattresses lining the sidewalks and reading London quarterlies, awaited what he assumed (correctly) would be a bloody day.
Butler provides an hour by hour account of events in Fredericksburg on December 12th and 13th. His perspective is an interesting one in that he is not involved in the fighting himself, but is able to move freely about the city during the thick of battle in order to minister to the troops, to bring them coffee or to escort the wounded to the rear. Entries for the days following the battle provide an excellent picture of a chaplain's duties, visiting the wounded -- "what strange and dreadful wounds" -- officiating at the burials of men from his regiment, and making detailed notes on the location of the graves in order that families might later recover the bodies, though later in the week, mass burials became necessary. Detailed entries end on December 23rd, and thereafter there is a brief description and pencil sketch of Fortress Monroe, Va., and some pencil sketches of Newport News and of soldiers in camp. In the back of the notebook containing the diary is a register of wounded soldiers of the 25th New Jersey and a regimental return for the morning of December 15th, 1862.