Frederic Olmsted’s pocket journal contains brief, almost daily entries of his life in the Union Army from January 1, 1863, to September 5, 1863. During this time, he was assigned the task of overseeing slaves on several Louisiana sugar plantations. Olmsted was taken as a prisoner of war at Brashear, Louisiana, after which he spent several weeks on Ship Island (as a parolee) before returning home to Connecticut in August 1863.
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: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
Frederic S. Olmsted Journal, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
Olmsted, Frederic S., b. 1837
Rank : Corporal
Regiment : 23rd Connecticut Infantry Regiment. Co. K (1862-1863)
Service : 1862 September 10-1863 September 5
Frederic Olmsted of New Fairfield, Connecticut, left his wife and young son to enlist in Company K of the 23rd Connecticut Infantry on September 10, 1862, intending to serve a tour of 9 months in the Union Army. The regiment was assigned to Nathaniel P. Banks' Expedition to Louisiana, and Olmsted spent the majority of his enlistment there, overseeing plantations owned by Tobias Gibson, of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana.
In June 1863, Olmsted and several other members of his regiment were taken prisoner during two days of skirmishing at Brashear, Louisiana. They were soon paroled and sent to Algiers, Louisiana, where they were put up in an old iron foundry under miserable conditions. Afterwards, they were moved to Ship Island, which, during the summer of 1863, was used briefly as a reception center for paroled Union soldiers. Olmsted then returned to Connecticut, by way of Cairo, Illinois, arriving home in August 1863. He obtained his discharge papers and mustered out of the army on September 5, 1863.
Collection Scope and Content Note
Frederic Olmsted's journal contains an account of his service with the Union Army’s 23rd Connecticut Infantry, which was attached to the defenses of New Orleans and the district of Lafourche, Louisiana. The journal is 3"x5" and is made up of brief, almost daily entries.
For January and February, his entries describe the daily life of a Union soldier while not engaged in active combat -- foraging for food, hunting, and endless drilling. Beginning in March 1863, he was involved in overseeing slaves on several sugar plantations near Houma, Louisiana. His responsibilities included shipping hogsheads of sugar and barrels of molasses, retrieving runaway slaves for return to the plantations, and sometimes delivering punishments. If he had any qualms about his duties, they are not recorded in his journal. An entry for March 14, 1863, reads: “this morning I was sent by the captain to take a Negro up to Gibson plantation and see the negro whipt 50 lashes. stayed… and had a butifull dinner.”
On June 22, Olmsted took part in a battle at Brashear City (now Morgan City), Louisiana, where he and other Federals were taken prisoner. After their parole on June 25, 1863, Olmsted described being marched to the point of exhaustion in the sweltering heat, with many parolees dying on the journey. The Union men were held briefly at the Belleville Iron Works before making their way to Ship Island, where Olmsted noted that the rations were scarce and that they lived in tents on the blazing sand. On July 29, Olmsted wrote: “This morning went into the woods 9 miles from camp for wood, had to float it down to camp by wading up to our arms in water. Sun so hot that we burnt our legs to a blister but love of country overpowers all this.” Olmsted departed Ship Island on August 4, traveled upriver to Cairo, Illinois, boarded a train for Indianapolis, and eventually made his way back to Connecticut. He returned home sick and exhausted. “I had not been shaved in over 8 months, my wife did not know me at first, but I am overjoyed to meet her and my little boy. I am ragged and dirty, have an old straw hat with only a part of [the] brim, am entirely worn out with my army service.” (August 25, 1863). On September 5, Olmsted traveled to New Haven to obtain his discharge papers, and ended his service with the Union Army.
The journal also includes several brief entries regarding financial accounts; one notation from July 3, 1889, records a meeting in Bridgeport; and a separate document gives Olmsted permission to “pass the lines at all hours.” On a "Memoranda" page at the end of the diary is a very brief note concerning an A.W.O.L. fling on November 23.
April Fool's Day.
Brashear City (La.)
Courts martial and courts of inquiry.
Draft Riot, New York, N.Y., 1863.
Morgan City (La.)
New Orleans (La.)
Prisoners of War--Confederate States of America.
Terrebonne Parish (La.)
United States. Army. Connecticut Infantry Regiment, 23rd (1862-1863)
United States. Army--Military life--History--19th century.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons.
Container / Location
Frederic S. Olmsted journal, 1863 January 1-September 5; 1889 July 3 [series]
Taking of Brashear City
Court martial for sleeping on picket duty
Black man assaulted
Poor hospital conditions
Description of camp
Springtime in Louisiana
Runaway slave whipped
Arrest of blacks
April Fool's Day
Battle at Bayou
Issuing clothing to slaves
Black funeral and baptisms
Rations for blacks
NY "peace meeting" (riots)
Disease and deaths
New Orleans (there on parole)
Leaving for home via river boat
Fire with guerillas
Trip up Mississippi
Wife does not recognize him
Additional Descriptive Data
Materials related to Louisiana plantation owner Tobias Gibson are located in the Gibson and Humphreys Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.