Martin Webster's journal offers an insightful venture into the thoughts and experiences of a working class man drawn into the back waters of the Civil War. The two volumes record his service with Battery I, 3rd New York Light Artillery, from September, 1863, through the beginning of March, 1865, during which the regiment was stationed in northeastern North Carolina, primarily at New Bern. The volume contains fine descriptions of two expeditions undertaken by the regiment from December, 1864 through March, 1865, and a fair, but myopic view of the Confederate assaults on New Bern in February and May, 1864. With these exceptions, however, the diary is more a chronicle of the doldrums of camp life and the effects of ill discipline, abysmal sanitation, and alcohol, than it is a record of martial achievement.
Of particular note are an excellent, long and detailed account of the mass execution of a group of deserters at New Bern (1864 August 14), and a memorable account of Webster and his friends stealing Thanksgiving dinner from local Black families (1864 November 23). The constant refrains of Webster's world are drill, drink, and (particularly in the fall of 1864) disease, and through these emerges a vivid picture of the seamy side of the war that many soldiers preferred to deemphasize. He is, for instance, one of the few soldiers in the Schoff Collection who admits to having taken a body part as a souvenir, the scalp blown off the head of a man hit by a 100 pound shell (May 9, 1864), and he is a soldier who plans openly to get even with his colonel for what he perceives as a slight.
The longest and perhaps most significant part of the journal spans the period from December, 1864, through March, 1865, when Webster was engaged in expeditions to Rainbow Bluff, N.C., and in the vicinity of Plymouth and Colerain, N.C., the latter a half-hearted offensive led by Col. (later Brig. Gen.) Jones Frankle, and conducted as a northern extension of Sherman's Carolinas Campaign. The journal ends shortly before the engagement at Wise's Fork, and thus includes little information on the role that the 3rd N.Y. Artillery played in this decisive stage of the war.
Laid in the front of the first volume of Webster's journal are several loose manuscripts, including an 1876 deposition relating to Webster's work in the machine shop at Auburn Prison, and a series of documents relating to his application for an invalid's pension in 1890. The journal also includes a newspaper clipping dating from 1896, pertaining to the attempted murder of Isabelle Webster, probably a relative of Martin's.