A Hancock County, Illinois Citizen Soldier's Experiences in the Civil War: The Diaries of Elisha Bentley Hamilton

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Ryan, Daniel Richard
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Western Illinois University
Elisha Hamilton was an ordinary man who became involved in an extraordinary war. He served three years in the Union Army as a quartermaster sergeant, and a first lieutenant in the 118th Illinois Infantry. The regiment saw service with Sherman at Chickasaw Bluffs in early 1863, with McClernand at Arkansas Post, with Grant at Vicksburg, and concluded its enlistment as part of General Nathaniel Banks' Department of the Gulf. Just like thousands of other Civil War soldiers, Hamilton, a resident of Carthage and later Quincy, Illinois, kept a diary of the day by day occurrences of his enlistment. Elisha Bentley Hamilton, son of the subject of this paper, presented six volumes of his father's war diaries to the Quincy Historical Society. These volumes dealt with the period of January 1, 1864 to December 31, 1865, with a break from November 1, 1864 to May 3, 1865. Five additional volumes had been distributed among the grandchildren of Elisha Hamilton. Mr. E. B. Hamilton, of Durango, Colorado, was very helpful in acquiring access to these volumes. Two diaries dealt with full years--1861 and 1866--and three others covered short periods of time--July 4 to September 8, 1863, November 1 to May 2, 1864, and a few days in December, 1864. The latter volume fills some of the unrecorded dates in the November 1, 1864 to May 2, 1865 volume. A small portion of these diaries form the basis of this study. Elisha Hamilton served as the 118th Illinois Infantry's quartermaster sergeant from the mustering of the regiment in late 1862 until January of 1864. This thesis is an editing of Hamilton's diaries from the fall of Vicksburg, on July 4, 1863, to his promotion as first lieutenant in Company B, on January 20, 1864. Much had been written regarding the military and political aspects of the Civil War, but little had been printed regarding the problem of supply at the regimental level. This is the major thrust of this paper. The editing of Hamilton's diaries vividly portray the problems and frustrations of the man who was the bottom rung in the quartermaster corps. Secondly, the volumes recount the minor events of a major war that swirled around the young man from Carthage. The editor's task has been twofold; to expand the readers' knowledge of the duties and importance of a regimental quartermaster sergeant, and to corroborate all of the historical events Hamilton mentioned. Quartermaster-sergeant Hamilton expressed joy and relief when Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863. Within the week, the 118th Illinois was on the march as part of Sherman's expedition against Jackson, Mississippi. Hamilton's diary traces the movement to Jackson, activities during the siege, and the return to Vicksburg. The 118th Illinois remained at Vicksburg until August 8, at which time it was transferred to the Department of the Gulf with the Thirteenth Corps. After a week at Port Hudson, it was transported to Carrollton, Louisiana, to await the start of the Bayou Teche expedition. This attempt to gain a foothold in Texas failed and the 118th Illinois, now part of the Nineteenth Corps, marched to Donaldsonville, Louisiana. During the first week of January, 1864, the regiment was transferred to Port Hudson. The 118th Illinois remained in the District of Port Hudson and Baton Rouge until it was mustered out of service in November, 1865.