This typescript (646 pages) contains John Henry Otto's detailed recollections about his service in the 21st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company D, during the Civil War. The narrative is divided into an introduction and 52 chapters, with outlines provided at the beginning of each chapter. Otto made two longhand copies of his reminiscences around 1902 and presented them to his sons August and George; Vincent R. R. Carboneau, Otto's grandson, created another longhand copy in early 1943. This typescript, completed by Carboneau's daughter, Phyllis McGrath, in 1977, is a typed version of Carboneau's manuscript, with original spelling, grammar, and punctuation intact.
The typescript, based on Otto's original war diaries, concerns the entirety of his Civil War service, from his initial enlistment in August 1862 to his final discharge in June 1865. An early chapter contains brief notes about his previous military experiences in the Prussian army, with which he served in wars against Denmark (1848) and Austria (1850-1851), and he occasionally referred to his wife and children in Wisconsin. He discussed Wisconsin residents' response to the war and the renewed call to arms in late 1862 and shared stories of his interactions with civilians and military personnel throughout his time in the South, including other German-American soldiers and both Union and Confederate sympathizers. Otto encountered runaway slaves and freedmen and occasionally referred to the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1864, he expressed his negative opinion of George McClellan and McClellan's nomination for the presidency.
Most of Otto's reminiscences concern his daily experiences, and some parts of the narrative are structured like a diary. Otto described camp life, winter quarters, drilling, equipment, and the areas he passed through and visited in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In September and October 1864, he visited Wisconsin on furlough. The typescript includes his detailed recollections of the Tullahoma Campaign, the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman's March to the Sea, and the Carolinas Campaign; numerous skirmishes; and major engagements such as the Battle of Perryville, Battle of Stones River, Battle of Hoover's Gap, Battle of Chickamauga, Battle of Resaca, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Battle of Peachtree Creek, Siege of Atlanta, and the Battle of Averasboro. He recounted in-battle movements, the experience of coming under fire, and deaths. Otto witnessed a few executions, including that of at least one deserter, and wrote about the capture of Confederate prisoners and equipment. While in the Carolinas near the end of the war, he befriended a young mulatto boy, "Joe Hooker," who returned with him to Wisconsin in 1865. After the 21st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment participated in the Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865, Otto remained in Washington, D.C., where he did some sightseeing. The final pages of the typescript include a copy of Sherman's farewell address to the army.