Civil War Diary Added to the Virginiana Collection

James Wallace McGinly visited the Central Rappahannock region several times. Nothing unusual about that -- except that McGinly visited in 1862, 1863 and 1864; he was wearing a blue uniform at the time; and he recorded the details of his visits in a diary.

CRRL has been given a photocopy of that diary, thanks to Edward G. Nix of Illinois. It will be cataloged, and placed in CRRL’s Virginiana Collection.

McGinly was twenty years old on July 24, 1861, when he was mustered in as a corporal in the newly formed 40th Pennsylvania Volunteers, 11th Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps.

He was first here in the Spring of 1862, and noted that the “bridges across the river at Fredericksburg were all destroyed by the rebels before leaving the place…” Pontoon and railroad bridges were built, swept away by floods in early June, and were being rebuilt when the regiment was ordered to join McClellan on the Peninsula. (The steamboat ran aground on the way…!)

He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Gaines Mill, and spent time in Libby Prison and on Belle Isle before being exchanged: “Aug 6th [1862]: Went on board the Knickerbocker. Plenty of provisions, which we made scarce in a short while….”

Having survived the Second Battle of Manassas and Antietam, McGinly fell ill and was in hospital when his regiment fought in the Battle of Fredericksburg. That illness likely saved his life -- of the 394 of his comrades who started the battle, 112 became casualties. He also survived the Battle of Gettysburg.

Then it was back to the Rappahannock for the long winter of 1863-64, and here the diary is replete with delightful details. “Sat November 28 [1863]: Regiment deployed at daybreak as skirmishers advance our line. Some went into a thicket of pines and low bush. Rained all morning hard, wet to the skin and very cold. Laying on the ground dasent move for fear of a Johnny playing tricks on us. Our troops were all withdrawn from here in the morning…. Put up our tents. Rain continued all day. Some cannonading and picket firing on the front line.” “Tues December 8 [1863]: Commenced building a [winter quarters] shanty…. Day pleasant.” “Fri March 4th [1864]: All quiet. Sutler got in a new lot of whisky.”

The diary’s last entry is dated May 1, 1864, as the regiment readied itself for the Battle of the Wilderness. Was it lost? Or captured along with its author, as family tradition holds? That is not clear. In either case, McGinty survived his three years’ honorable service, and was mustered out on June 13, 1864.

A Yankee soldier from West Virginia, Joseph H. Gilmore, acquired the diary by capturing a Confederate officer in the Shenandoah Valley in September 1864. He preserved it, and twenty six years later finally tracked McGinty down in Fort Collins, Colorado, and returned the diary to him.