Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Martin S. Webster Journals, 1856-1896

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, February 1997

Summary Information
Title: Martin S. Webster journals
Creator: Webster, Martin S., b. ca. 1840
Inclusive dates: 1856, 1863-1865, 1870-1896
Bulk dates: 1863-1865
Extent: 2 volumes
Martin Webster's journals record his service with Battery I, 3rd New York Light Artillery, from 1863 to 1865, during which the regiment was stationed in northeastern North Carolina, primarily at New Bern.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1993. M-2965.1.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Martin S. Webster Journals, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Webster, Martin S., b. ca. 1840

Rank : Corporal; Sergeant (1863 June 10), 2nd Lieutenant (1865 March 30, with rank from February 18)

Regiment : 3rd New York Light Artillery. Battery I and C (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 May 9-1865 July 14

A 20 year-old machinist from Auburn, N.Y., Martin S. Webster was among the first to respond to Lincoln's call for troops in April 1861, to crush the southern rebellion. Five feet eight and a half inches tall with dark eyes and auburn hair, Wesbter mustered into the service on May 17 as Corporal of Co. I, 19th New York Infantry, a three months regiment whose enlistment was extended by the state to two years. Little more than a month after arriving in the Shenandoah Valley, however, Webster was taken prisoner on July 11, while on a scout between Martinsburg and Winchester. Confined in a series of Confederate prisons, including those at Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Salisbury, N.C., Webster was held for almost a year before receiving parole.

Upon is release, still suffering from the effects of dysentery and emaciation, Webster returned to his regiment (now re-designated as the 3rd New York Light Artillery) and fulfilled his two year obligation. Undaunted by his experiences in southern prisons, on June 4, 1863, he reenlisted for the duration of the war, accepting a promotion to sergeant of Battery I.

The various companies and detachments of the 3rd Artillery served virtually independently of one another during the war, and were often distributed in entirely different theaters. Battery I, more than most of the others, was comparatively sedentary. Having entered New Bern, N.C., during Burnside's expedition against the Carolina coast in March, 1862, Webster's battery rarely strayed far. As part of the artillery brigade of 18th Corps, the regiment formed part of the garrison force in New Bern, and with the exception of four months in 1863 when they were sent to South Carolina and the last few months of the war, the regiment remained near New Bern for its entire service.

Soldiers in the garrison at New Bern had a very different experience than their comrades in northern Virginia or the west. Although it was a federal base in hostile territory, New Bern was something of a backwater, with the most dramatic scenes of action taking place to the north, south, and west. For most of his service, Webster's life there was one of long periods of boredom punctuated by a few, intense episodes of extreme violence. Webster was present during the two most important of these -- the Goldsboro expedition of December, 1863, and the Confederate effort to retake New Bern on February 1 and 2, 1864 -- but was otherwise occupied with keeping his men as sober as possible, as well drilled as possible, and as healthy as possible. A tough soldier, Webster was often critical of the performance of his superiors and the enlisted men alike, accusing them of cowardice and laxness, writing, for example, that his "detchment gits all the Dead Beats of the Battrey" (1864 January 4).

In 1864, the daily round of drill and drink was broken mainly by drunken violence, petty larceny from civilians, and the punishment of deserters and thieves. After a Confederate assault was repulsed in May, the greatest danger facing the camp was a devastating yellow fever epidemic in the fall that took several dozens of lives. From July through September, Webster was hospitalized due to illness, and during October, he suffered what was almost certainly a malarial infection, though recovering sufficiently to continue duty. Boredom and protracted ill health, however, seem to have contributed to a creeping sense of frustration over his lot. After being denied by Col. C.H. Stewart in his effort to obtain a furlough to attend to unspecified personal business at home, Webster exploded : "Col. Stwart had no right to say who gos on Fourlougs but this was not Col S___t true reson that I know , I am sure of that . he dont want to let me go Home, and he knows why no true man would stop me, but this is but one mark that scores on my a count for Col. Stwart, and as God is a just Judg for all I will not let him go unpunished for this time and when wee air both out of the Servis and Soldiers no more then Mr. C.H.S. and me will squair the Yards..." (1864 December 2).

In December, 1864, Battery I was sent to Plymouth, N.C., to take part in an expedition to Rainbow Bluff, and in January, 1865, in several half-hearted forays toward Colerain. Led by Jones Frankel, these expeditions accomplished little, but Webster's battery did participate in the more significant engagements at Wise's Fork (March 7-10) and Bennett House (April 26), during the closing stages of the Carolina's Campaign.

After mustering out of the service in July, 1865, Webster appears to have returned to Auburn and resumed work as a machinist. He was employed for some time as a supervisor of the machine shop at Auburn Prison, but was removed in 1876 for what he claimed were reasons of politics and personal animosity. In 1882, he was rejected in his application for an invalid's pension due to "exposure and effects of said disease" while a prisoner of war, from the privations of life as a soldier, and from the bout of malaria he suffered at New Bern. In 1890, he renewed his efforts, this time meeting with success.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • Drill and minor tactics.
    • Military camps--North Carolina.
    • New Bern (N.C.)--Description and travel.
    • New Bern (N.C.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Plymouth (N.C.)
    • Soldiers--Alcohol use.
    • Stealing.
    • United States. Army--New York Light Artillery Regiment, 3rd.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volumes   1-2  
    Martin S. Webster journals [series]
     1863 September 29-1864 June 30 (192 pp.)
     1864 July 1-1865 March 9 (193 pp.)
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The following two items were laid into the Webster journals (mounted to opposite sides of a single sheet of heavy paper). They do not appear to be directly tied to the Webster journals; a suggestion has been made that the Douglass item may have been obtained and/or kept as a souvenir. Both items are housed in the African American History Collection:

    Douglass, Frederick ALS to J.C. Hathaway; Rochester, [New York], 1856 July 29 and

    Redpath, James ALS to A. Leffingwell; Boston, [Massachusetts], 1863 August 19.

    Partial Subject Index
    African American women.
    • 1864 June 2
    African Americans--North Carolina.
    • 1863 December 16, 27
    • 1864 March 21
    • 1864 November 23
    Ambushes and surprises.
    • 1864 May 9
    • 1864 January 3
    • 1864 March 21
    Auburn Correctional Facility.
    • 1876 February 1 (laid in first volume)
    • 1863 November 20
    Churches--North Carolina.
    • 1863 November 22
    Civilians--North Carolina--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1863 November 22
    • 1865 January 20-22
    Colerain (N.C.), Expedition to, 1865.
    • 1865 January 12-February 10
    • 1864 February 1
    • 1864 December 24
    • 1864 February 21
    Drill and minor tactics.
    • Throughout, but see esp.
    • 1864 August 26
    • 1864 February 3
    Executions and executioners.
    • 1864 August 12, 14
    Fires--North Carolina--New Bern.
    • 1864 November 20
    Foraging--North Carolina.
    • 1864 November 23
    • 1864 December 29-30
    • 1865 January 27-February 10
    Fort Branch (N.C.), Expedition to, 1864.
    • 1864 December 22-24
    Fortification, Field.
    • 1864 March 1
    • 1864 December 24
    Frankle, Jones, 1829-1909.
    • 1865 January 12-February 10
    Funeral rites and ceremonies--African American.
    • 1863 December 16
    Garrison duty--North Carolina.
    • passim
    Guerrillas--North Carolina.
    • 1863 December 24
    • 1863 November 27-28
    • 1864 December 4
    • 1864 February 19
    • 1863 November 5
    • 1864 February 17
    Jamestown (N.C.), Expedition to, 1864.
    • 1864 December 29-31
    Machinists--New York (State)
    • 1876 February 1 (laid in first volume)
    Marches--North Carolina.
    • 1864 December 31
    • 1865 January 20-February 12
    Mentally ill.
    • 1864 December 5
    Military camps--North Carolina.
    • passim
    Military deserters.
    • 1864 August 12, 14
    Military pensions--United States--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Laid as loose sheets in first volume
    Muster rolls.
    • 1864 April 22 (after date)
    New Bern (N.C.) Battlefield.
    • 1864 February 13
    New Bern (N.C.), Skirmish at, 1864.
    • 1864 February 1-3
    • 1864 May 4-7
    • 1864 December 10
    New Bern (N.C.)--Description and travel.
    • passim
    New Bern (N.C.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • passim
    • 1864 February 21
    Plymouth (N.C.), Battle of, 1864.
    • 1864 April 21-23
    Plymouth (N.C.)--Description and travel.
    • 1864 December 20-24
    Prisoners--New York (State)
    • 1876 February 1 (laid in first volume)
    • 1864 September 2
    • 1864 November 8
    Rainbow Bluff (N.C.), Expedition to, 1864.
    • 1864 December 11-14
    • 1863 November 22
    • 1863 November 3
    Scouts and scouting--North Carolina.
    • 1865 January 12-February 10
    • 1863 November 13
    • 1864 January 12
    Soldiers--Alcohol use.
    • 1863 November 5, 26
    • 1863 December 3, 10, 13, 30
    • 1864 January 24, 25
    • 1864 February 17
    • 1864 June 25, 27
    • 1864 August 21
    • 1864 October 4
    • 1864 December 25
    • 1865 January 2-3
    • 1864 May 9
    Soldiers--North Carolina.
    • 1864 May 8-9
    Souvenirs (Keepsakes)
    • 1864 May 9
    • 1863 November 22, 27-28
    • 1864 October 8
    • 1864 November 23
    • 1865 January 27-February 10
    • 1864 October 31
    Thanksgiving day.
    • 1864 November 23, 24
    • 1864 December 22-23
    Underwriter (Vessel)
    • 1864 February 2
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • 1863 November 25
    • 1863 December 10, 13
    • 1864 May 2
    • 1864 June 2
    • 1864 September 8
    • 1864 October 31
    • 1864 December 31
    • 1865 January 12-February 10
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Artillery operations.
    • 1865 January 24-25
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Blockades.
    • 1864 April 4
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects.
    • 1864 September 14-October 10
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • 1864 July 27-August 16
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    • 1864 February 4, 18, 21
    • 1864 April 20
    • 1864 September 2
    • 1864 October 16
    • 1864 November 9
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Women.
    • 1864 December 30
    • 1865 January 4
    United States. Army--Barracks and quarters.
    • 1864 September 8-10, 17
    United States. Army--Leaves and furloughs.
    • 1864 December 2
    United States. Army--Officers.
    • 1864 December 2, 12
    • 1865 January 3, 13
    United States. Army--Officers--Alcohol use.
    • 1863 October 30
    United States. Army--Reenlistment.
    • 1864 January 4
    Widows--North Carolina.
    • 1864 December 30
    Yellow fever.
    • 1864 September 14-October 10