Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
William Boston Diary (Typescript), 1862-1865

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, March 1994

Summary Information
Title: William Boston diary (typescript)
Creator: Boston, Orlan W.
Inclusive dates: 1862-1865
Extent: 96 pages
The William Boston diary is a bound typescript, which documents Mr. Boston's service in the 20th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. This volume, compiled by William's son, Orlan W. Boston, contains supplemental information and facsimiles of original documents related to William's service.
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:

Donated, 1938. M-374.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.


The typescript of William Boston's diary was donated to the Clements Library by his son, Orlan W. Boston of Ann Arbor, on January 15th, 1938.

Preferred Citation:

William Boston Diary (Typescript), James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Boston, William, 1837-1915

Rank : Cpl.

Regiment : 20th Michigan Infantry Regiment. Co. H (1862-1865)

Service : 1862 August 19-1865 May 13

William Boston of Ann Arbor enlisted in Company H of the 20th Michigan Infantry, a company recruited mainly in Ann Arbor and Lodi and officered by graduates of the University of Michigan. The regiment was rushed to Maryland shortly after the Battle of Antietam, and was assigned to Willcox's Division, 2nd Brigade, IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Seeing minor action during the Blue Ridge Campaign of October and early November, 1862, Boston received a baptism of fire at Fredericksburg, when his regiment crossing joined in on the disastrous assault on Marye's Heights. In the battle, Boston lost a half-brother, John A. Sutton, who was serving in the 1st Michigan and his regiment sustained several casualties, but no deaths.

After suffering through the cold and disillusionment of the winter of 1862-63 at Falmouth and the frustration of Burnside's mud march, the 20th Infantry were transferred to Kentucky to face John Morgan. They participated in mop up operations after several engagements, including at Jamestown (April 30) and Monticello (May 2), and were engaged in a minor battle at Horseshoe Bend on May 10th, where they were one of 10 regiments pitted against three regiments led by Morgan. They lost 20 men, five of whom were killed in action. On June 7th, Boston's regiment was again reassigned to join in the post-Vicksburg campaign against Johnston's forces in Mississippi. Boston, however, was incapacitated with illness during most of the months of June and July, and was not completely better until after his regiment had been returned to Kentucky in August. From January through March, 1864, Boston was confined to the hospital a second time, this time suffering from erysipelas.

Once again transferred to the eastern theatre, the 20th Michigan served as support to an artillery battery during the Battle of the Wilderness. Boston was shot in the heel and wounded in the face with shrapnel and was left on the field. According to a family legend, Boston and several other wounded soldiers were overtaken by a Confederate cavalry unit, but when Boston flashed a Masonic sign to the Captain leading the unit, he turned away and ordered his men to follow. He was then able to crawl back to his lines and was sent to a hospital in Fredericksburg to recover. Boston's wounds were light enough that by May 16th he was serving as a nurse, and was able to leave hospital, though without rejoining his regiment, by the 22nd. While Boston lay at City Point, the 20th Michigan took part in the Siege of Petersburg and the Battle of the Crater. In mid-August, he finally rejoined his comrades at Petersburg and was present for the Battle of Weldon Railroad and the heavy fighting on the Petersburg front during the final two weeks of that month.

The 20th remained stationed near Petersburg over the winter, frequently exposed to Confederate shelling and sharpshooters. On March 25th, the regiment's positions at Fort Stedman came under assault by Confederate forces, but the 20th, in Boston's eyes, provided their best acquittal in battle to date, repelling the assault and capturing 300 prisoners of war, and nine days later, they entered the city when the Confederate defenses finally collapsed. The regiment remained in Petersburg until the middle of May, and was among the regiments that paraded in the Grand Review in Washington on May 23rd. Their last act as soldiers, on May 31st, was to intervene to break up a "fuss" among some of Sherman's soldiers.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The William Boston diary is a bound typescript, which documents Mr. Boston's service in the 20th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. This volume, compiled by William's son, Orlan W. Boston, contains supplemental information and facsimiles of original documents related to William's service.

The diary consists of brief entries written almost daily during Boston's service. Early on in the war, Boston looked favorably upon the regiment's colonel, but was not as enamored of other officers, writing that "[t]he boys were glad to see him [Col. Williams] and cheered him lustily. Most of the officers looked sober" (1863 April 26). His comments on routine daily life tend to be very brief.

During his western service, Boston's diary is fairly thin, with perhaps longest and best description relating to a trip taken to some caverns in southern Kentucky (1863 May 27). The writing improves, however, following Boston's second tour in Virginia, and includes a good account of battles in the Petersburg Campaign from late August through November, 1864, as well as descriptions of life during the siege in the late fall 1864 through Spring, 1865. Boston's best description of an engagement is that for the desperate Confederate assault on Fort Stedman. His entries from the Appomattox Campaign are lengthier than average and provide a very good account of the regiment's activities.

Subject Terms

    • Boydton Plank Road, Battle of, Va. 1864.
    • Erysipelas.
    • Fort Stedman, Battle of, Petersburg, Va., 1865.
    • Fredericksburg, Battle of, Fredericksburg, Va., 1862.
    • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Assassination.
    • Marches--Maryland.
    • Newport News (Va.)
    • Petersburg (Va.)--History--Siege, 1864-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Wilderness, Battle of the, Va., 1864.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Typescripts.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   11.1, Schoff Civil War Diaries and Journals  
    William Boston diary (typescript),  1862 August 19-1865 July 04 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Berry, Chester D. Loss of the Sultana and reminiscences of survivors... (Lansing, Mich.: D.D. Thorp, 1892)

    Partial Subject Index
    • 1865 March 1
    Boydton Plank Road, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 October 27-28
    Burnside, Ambrose Everett, 1824-1881
    • 1864 April 9
    • 1863 May 27
    • 1863 March 29
    • 1864 January 22-March 24
    Fort Stedman (Va.), Battle of, 1865
    • 1865 March 25
    Fredericksburg Campaign, 1862
    • 1862 November 17-1863 February 5
    Fredericksburg, Battle of, 1862
    • 1862 December 11-15
    • 1864 May 8
    Funeral rites and ceremonies
    • 1865 January 16
    Grand Review (Washington, D.C.), 1865
    • 1865 May 23
    • 1863 June 13
    Harper's Ferry (W.Va.)
    • 1863 March 23
    Horseshoe Bend (Ky.), Battle of, 1863
    • 1863 May 10
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Assassination
    • 1865 April 19-27
    • 1862 September 14-23
    Newport News (Va.)
    • 1863 February 17-21
    Petersburg (Va.)--Capture, 1865
    • 1865 April 2-3
    Petersburg Campaign, 1864-1865
    • 1864 May 22-1865 April 2
    Poplar Springs Church, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 September 30-October 1
    Ream's Station, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 August 25
    Sherman ties
    • 1863 March 23
    • 1864 October 26
    Weldon Railroad, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 August 18-21
    Wilderness Campaign, 1864
    • 1864 May 5-8
    Wilderness, Battle of, 1864
    • 1864 May 5-6
    • 1864 April 9