John N. Dickie diaries  1863-1865
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Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection holds two volumes of a series of diaries kept by John N. Dickie, a young traveling lecturer and a soldier who served in the Ohio 25th Infantry, Co. G, in 1863, and in the United States Navy in 1865.

During most of the first diary (July 1863-January 1864), Dickie was home on sick leave, though the illness or wound was not described. He was active socially, finding that the role of recovering soldier attracted girls. In September, he was recalled, and rejoined his unit. On November 2, they were billeted in the Soldiers Home in Washington, after which he then went to an exchange camp in Alexandria and was sent by train to New York City on the 9th. There, he explored the city, including a visit to Barnum’s Museum. His company boarded ship on November 20, 1863, and arrived first at Hilton Head and then at Folly Island, South Carolina, where he camped on a sandy beach and stood guard. The soldiers had a "Buckeye Society," which held a debate on the topic "Was the South justified?" Thirteen of the company signed up for re-enlistment, but he refused, “unless they offer me five thousand dollars in bounty.” He noted that Christmas dinner, in 1863, was salt beef and very good. He did not describe any battles, but he mentioned being in Strasburg, Virginia, and at the Stafford Courthouse in 1863.

The missing sixth diary, covering the first eight months of 1864, likely described his last months in the army and his return to civilian life. The seventh diary opens on August 8, 1865, when Dickie was in Granville, Ohio, where he had been since the beginning of August. He wrote about painting a house in Sunbury, visiting his parents, courting girls, playing a melodeon, and taking courses in logic and rhetoric, for which he paid six dollars a month in tuition.

In November, Dickie prepared a lecture and set out to Utica to start his career. Though bills advertising his appearance were posted and a hall was secured, only three people attended the talk because of bad weather. He then proceeded to tour Cincinnati, Fredericktown, Granville, London, South Charleston, Cedarville, and Xenia. He was required to heat and light the halls, but since no one attended his talks, these expenses eroded his small savings. Discouraged, he wrote on December 15, "I know I have the genius but no one will appreciate me."

On January 1, 1865, Dickie had to pawn his watch in Milford and to return to Columbus for two weeks. With only 40 cents to his name, he loaded up with books and set out to sell them door to door, following his previous route toward Cincinnati. Arriving there penniless, he was ashamed to tell his parents of his failure. After calling on all the government recruiting offices there, he was accepted for a two-year appointment in the Navy and assigned to the U.S.S. Grampus . By March 28, he had arrived at Vicksburg. Because of his talents in writing and music, he received assignments to copy log books and to play the fife at military ceremonies. On April 6, he recorded that the crew fired 21 guns to honor the taking of Richmond. In the last entry, April 9, 1865, he wrote that he was headed to Natchez, Mississippi.

Dickie followed the practice of recording the weather at the beginning of each entry. Each account is short (4-5 lines) and most describe his main daily activity and with whom he had spent time at night. He often commented on the handsomeness of the girls he met. Portions of the seventh diary from September to October 30, 1864, and March 1865 have faded and are illegible.

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