Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Marshall Hilliard Diary, 1864

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, March 2011

Summary Information
Title: Marshall Hilliard diary
Creator: Hilliard, Marshall, 1830-1914
Inclusive dates: 1864
Extent: 1 volume
The Marshall Hilliard diary contains Hilliard's account of his experiences as a non-military prisoner of war of the Confederacy in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as his escape back to Ohio in 1864.
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:

1994. M-2987.1 .

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Marshall Hilliard Diary, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Marshall Hilliard was born in Danby, Vermont, on August 27, 1830, one of the eleven children of harness-maker Isaac Hilliard (1797-1870) and his wife, Sarah Hunt (1797-1859). In 1836, the Hilliard family moved to Ashtabula County, Ohio, and settled in the village of Orwell. Isaac learned the trade of harness-making from his father, but in 1852 moved to California, where he worked as a miner, performed tunnel and hydraulic work, and speculated and lent money for profit. In 1863, he returned to Orwell, where he and his brother Frank started a business, for which they went south to buy cotton in December 1863.

Early in 1864, Hilliard was captured and imprisoned by Confederates in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and was eventually transferred to Demopolis, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama; and Meridian, Mississippi. He escaped on July 24, 1864, and returned to Ohio in the fall of that year. From 1867 to 1874, he and his brother-in-law ran a merchandise business, after which Hilliard went into the circus business, for which he acquired a tiger, a lion, an elephant, and 120 horses. In 1867, he married Julia M. Baker, with whom he had one daughter, Zella. Hilliard eventually bought and managed two local hotels, the Orwell House and the Hotel Beechen. He died March 3, 1914.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Marshall Hilliard diary contains brief, near-daily entries covering January 11 to December 31, 1864, with the exception of January 26-March 3, 1864, for which the pages are missing. The bulk of the pocket-sized, 350-page diary documents Hilliard's experiences as a non-military prisoner of the Confederacy in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as his escape from prison at Meridian, Mississippi, and return home to Ohio. The diary opens with brief accounts of Hilliard's activities in the South prior to his capture, including letter writing, several financial transactions, and the arrival of his brother Frank's wife from Yazoo City, Mississippi (January 21, 1864). On January 23, l864, he wrote that he had been arrested near "the Fortifycations," but had eventually received permission to leave. At some point in the spring, likely during the late-winter period not covered by the diary, Confederates again arrested Hilliard and imprisoned him first at Yazoo City, where he was held until he could be transferred west by a steamship (March 17, 1864). He then spent time held in unnamed, likely makeshift prisons in Demopolis and Mobile, Alabama, and Meridian, Mississippi.

During his imprisonment in various locations in the Deep South, Hilliard frequently commented on the food he received and the general conditions in which he and his fellow prisoners lived. He and his friends frequently suffered from food poisoning due to the rottenness of the provisions they received. On May 27, 1864, in a typical entry, he wrote "We drew sour molasses for breakfast and they made me sick all day." On June 8, 1864, he noted that the prisoners had received "very bad beef for breakfast," but he had eaten a small enough amount of it that he avoided becoming sick. On many other days, Hilliard was not so lucky, as his frequent complaints of diarrhea and other digestive ailments bear out. Hilliard described the poor conditions in which he stayed, often noting that the rooms were dirty and cold. On March 15, 1864, he gave an account of staying in a large room with no fire: "Most all of the boys could not sleep at all and had to walk and dance to keep warm." He also remarked about traveling through the rough terrain, which he called worse than the pine woods of California (March 12, 1864).

Hilliard frequently expressed his belief that he would be exchanged soon, and the need became more urgent as he suffered increasing health problems in the spring of 1864. Eventually, he became too impatient to wait longer, and escaped on July 24, 1864, writing in his diary, "I broke out of Prison at Meridian Miss last night at 9 oclock…. We got out under the Posts." He then began a journey to the North that included such adventures as stealing chickens for sustenance (July 26, 1864) and escaping a pack of hounds (July 28, 1864). After more than a week as a fugitive, he encountered Union soldiers and took an oath of loyalty (August 5, 1864), eventually making his way north along water routes, which he described in several entries in August. The volume closes with Hilliard's return to ordinary civilian life, including social visits and church attendance.

Subject Terms

    • Demopolis (Ala.)
    • Food poisoning.
    • Freemasonry--United States.
    • Meridian (Miss.)
    • Mobile (Ala.)
    • Prisoners of war--United States--History--19th century.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Marshall Hilliard diary,  January 11-December 31, 1864 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Biographical History of Northeastern Ohio: Embracing the Counties of Ashtabula, Trumball and Mahoning. Containing Portraits of All the Presidents of the United States, with a Biography of Each, Together with Portraits and Biographies of Joshua R. Giddings, Benjamin F. Wade, and a Large Number of the Early Settlers and Representative Families of To-Day. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co, 1893.