Posted By Jake Wynn on July 3, 2013
While much in the way of the daily record in the area covered by this blog is lost, we are very lucky to have one great record of nearly the entire war. Henry Keiser, of Lykens, PA, served in the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment throughout the Civil War. He and the regiment saw some of the worst of the action in places across the eastern theater. He stands out from most of the other men in his regiment for one huge reason. He kept a daily diary that records much about his experiences in the Civil War.
Here are Henry Keiser’s diary entries for the days of June 30, and July 1-3, 1863:
“Tuesday, June 30, 1863. It rained a little last night. Left camp at 7 o’clock this morning and passé through Gainesville at eight o’clock p.m. and through Westminster, the county seat of Carwell (Carroll) County, Maryland, at one o’clock p.m. Westminster is a beautiful town. We marched until six o’clock when we went into camp for the night near Manchester, having marched eighteen miles. It was cloudy all day and rained occasionally. The citizens all along our line of march seem very pleasant. Received a letter from mother containing stamps and stating that father and Brother George had enlisted for six months in the Pennsylvania State Militia. Also a letter from Lucy.
Wednesday, July 1, 1863. It is still cloudy this morning. Were pleased to hear that we could rest today. Were mustered for pay. At ten a.m. we had Company Inspection. Wrote a letter to mother, one to Miss Polly Kessler, and one to Cousin Lucy. At eight o’clock this evening we left camp and marched back some distance on the road we had come in on yesterday, then turned to the right, arriving at the Gettysburg Pike at midnight, turning left, down the pike.
Thursday, July 2, 1863.. Instead of turning to the left last night we should have turned to the right, and by the time we were fairly started on the right road it was daylight. At 8:30 this morning we crossed the line into Pennsylvania, at ten a.m. we passed through Littlestown. The citizens along the line of march could not do enough for us. Most every house hold standing reading with water buckets, dealing out water to the boys as we marched along and the stars and stripes hanging out in all directions. It made us feel as if we were home once more, and the citizens of Southern Pennsylvania, through their kindness to the soldiers have put new life into us. Can hear heavy cannonading ahead all day. At five o’clock this evening we arrived at what is called Round Top, a short distance from Gettysburg. Very heavy fighting to our left, at five o’clock. At six this evening we filed left, marched some distance, when we formed a line of battle on a knoll and in some underbrush.; Our troops gave way and the Rebs drove our men. The Pennsylvania Reserve forming in our front, counter charged the Rebs, our line following up sharp. The enemy was driven back and we regained the ground lost a short time before. We battled in a hollow behind a stone fence, having marched since last evening thirty two miles at the time we formed a battle line. I threw my knapsack portfolio, being too tired to carry it in the charge, but after advancing a short distance, the Regiment was halted and the men unslung knapsacks and had guards placed over them. As we were going in, Gen. Sickles was carried past on a stretcher. 1st Sgt. Frank Douden, W. D. Ferree, John Glass, and John Romberger are back this evening.
Friday, July 3, 1863. Last evening while the enemy was being driven back, the troops on Little Round Top cheered lustily, but the Rebs cut instant by giving the, a dose of artillery gravel, which made the boys take to their holes in the rocks in “Double Quick.” This morning Col. Fessig informed our Captain that there were some spare knapsacks left on the knoll where they had been left, guarded by the pioneers, which those of the boys having lost. Knapsacks — could get the Captain reformed us —- it and —– I might get there went up and the first one the pile was my own knapsack — the colonel having mistressed [?] the princess to gather up all knapsacks —being among which they did mine being among the number I was well pleased as I had 25 letters in it which I destroyed at once. The first is covered with dead and wounded there must be fateful fighting in the right siedging from the very heavy firing sometimes coming down the line pretty near to us. We were shelled unnecessary driving the day, but never of our country was hurt. At five o’clock this evening the — in our front charged the [enemy] and drove them over a mile taking.
This gives amazing insight into the daily life of a soldier before, during, and after the largest battle this nation had ever seen. Chaotic battle scenes dot his recollections of the battlefield those days. No doubt, the confusion of battle and the furious smoke rising from the thousands of muskets and cannons being fired obscured his view. Still, this narrative gives a great opportunity to see what the local men of the 96th Pennsylvania witnessed during the fight at Gettysburg.
Check out tomorrow’s post for the story of the 96th Pennsylvania’s role in the battle at Gettysburg.