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Feature on Harry Williams. Topic: CIVIL WAR & PEOPLE
Written by Barbara Adams & Jim Sayre in April, 1998

SIDNEY, OHIO'S LOST CIVIL WAR DIARY COMES HOME

A red leather diary, written in 1864 and recovered in 1996 from a Texas public school lost and found department, links a prominent 19th century Miami County attorney with Sidney, Ohio.

Henry Harrison Williams, who referred to himself as "Harry" in his personal, yearlong diary, faithfully recorded his law studies in Sidney, the "unfortunate" weather, his longing for his new wife who lived in New Carlisle, the price of gold, and the breaking news of the Civil War he had been forced to leave because of wounds at the Battle of Shiloh.   His successful practice of law assured a place for him in written Miami Valley history (Genealogical and Biographical Record--GBR, Miami County, Ohio, Lewis Publ. Co., 1900). The unresolved mystery is how his diary ended up lost in a Texas school over 130 years after it was written.

Found in Texas.
Thanks to Ken and Lois Carlson of The Woodlands, Texas, the diary has come back to Sidney. Mrs. Carlson, a schoolteacher, brought the lost diary home. When no one inquired about it for over a year, Mr. Carlson, noting the diary’s reference to "Sidney, Ohio," called the Amos Memorial Public Library and was directed to Barbara Adams of Shelby County’s Genealogical Society.

Subsequent discussion between Adams and Carlson brought the faded, barely legible diary to Shelby County for Adams to laboriously transcribe. "Copying it was difficult, with a few words illegible," Adams reports. "While Harry did well in spelling, his punctuation marks were scarce. The only changes I made to the original were the addition of more capital letters which clarify his meaning."  Entries began January 1, 1864, and concluded December 31, 1864. The diary features a rich combination of everyday concerns and a more far-reaching concern with the war and other national issues.

Born a native of Clark County in 1840, Williams had taught school for a couple years before embarking on the study of law with J. S. Conklin in Sidney. He soon left his studies to join the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, serving under General McClellan in the West Virginia campaign. "…in December, 1861, he again enlisted in the 71st O.V. I. and served as a private until discharged in 1863; was engaged in the Battle of Philippi, in the McClellan campaign of 1861; also the battles of Columbus, Miss., and Shiloh, in which last engagement he was wounded in the right hip and disabled for life; he was taken prisoner by the rebels, but after a four months’ confinement paroled and exchanged, receiving his discharge on account of disability in 1863" (The History of Miami County, Ohio, W.H. Beers & Co., 1880).

Williams began his diary as a law student who solidly condemned Sidney’s climate. "Friday, January 1, 1864: Intensly cold Colder than I have felt for years Snow 3 inches deep Too cold for study or pleasure Done but little to day It has not been so cold for 7 years 15 (degrees) below zero Spent the day most unpleasantly Am thinking of leaving here and remaining at home a month or two."

No Escape from Weather.
He left the next day for home in New Carlisle where conditions proved just as bad if not worse. "Climate is too variable" and he ran into 8 inches of snow. That week, he recorded a "Terrible accident on the C.H. & Dayton Railroad" By mid-January, Williams reported the "Snow 15 inches deeper…God help the Poor now Fuel will be an essential of life."

He resumed his Sidney law studies with Conklin on March 1, a "Cold pleasant day Conklin has taken a partner – a Mr. Finley from Jefferson County I am glad of it" he said. His approval of new blood in the office may have stemmed from his own disapproval of Conklin himself: March 14—"Conklin went to Wapakonneta" March 15—"Conklin away" March 16—"Conklin not back" March 19—"Conklin came back on train Drunk – shame" Commenting on a Sidney murder case, Williams claimed that "Conklin is not the pleader I supposed he was" (April 6).

Williams’ dreams of love overshadowed his coverage of Conklin’s drinking habits. Diary readers are jolted by this February 10 entry during Willliams’ sojourn in New Carlisle: "Spent the evening with L.A. Propose to marry her soon Let Fate do her worst" We can only assume L.A. (really Miss Eloise J. Anderson who would brighten the Williams home with Maggie, Minnie, Gracie, and Harry Loyd) never peeped at his diary.

He "Spent the evening with L.A….and settled the question of marriage" on February 14 and "This is my last night of single blessedness" on February 24. "Unpleasant in the afternoon" reported the weather-conscious Williams on the 25th. "Started to Springfield at 9 for the purpose of being married to Eloise J. Anderson the woman of my choice" On the 26th, he wrote "Feel that a change becomes necessary on apprising the relationship of a husband Had some fun to night."

harrywilliams.gif (33312 bytes)
Harry" Williams
(1840-1906)
Photo by Richard Adams

Homesick and Lonesome.
Back in Sidney in March after his marriage but without his wife, the newlywed pined for his wife and lamented his situation. "I feel very lonesome Would love to be with my wife Am not perfectly satisfied the way some things are done Will mind my P’s and Q’s" "Conklin went to Wapak" Williams reported once again in April. "Came back sober for a wonder."

"Letter from Lulu (Eloise) She is very anxious to have me home" he wrote in May, just a few months before they would join in one household in Troy. "Purchased some chairs – it takes money to go to House keeping" he reported in August.

Returning from war, studying for the bar, marrying, and setting up housekeeping: these were busy days of accomplishment for young Williams. For all this success, however, his diary seems overloaded by introspection and concern for his war-compromised health. "Am not very well" on January 15, "Feeling very unwell" on February 8, but "feeling well" by March 2, Williams also tracked the health of his wife ("Lulu quite unwell this evening" – June 26). Did Sidney contribute to his unrest? "Great vice and immorality exist here" he noted on August 7, not making clear if his reference was to Sidney or the larger national community. "Am not at all satisfied to remain here" he said of Sidney (May 19).

Getting Ready for the Bar Exam.
He often reassured himself of success as an attorney, as if he feared failure. "I am fully determined to labor for success as a lawyer" (March 2). "My future will require all my attention" (March 30). "Am satisfied that I will make a business lawyer if I have good opportunity" (April 21). "The Ohio Code must become a part of my mind" (May 10). "Hope to be successful as a lawyer" (July 20). "Studying It will require hard work to pass (July 23). "Am trying to be prepared for the ordeal of examination" (August 6).

Law books claimed only part of his reading. "Finished The Scarlet Letter to day It is a strange and wild tale Beautiful in its moral" (May 31). Williams was likely spurred to read Hawthorne’s book because of the famous author’s death just 12 days before. "Reading Life of Stonewall Jackson He was truly a remarkable man An honor to the profession of Arms" (May 21).

Then, success at last. "Committees appointed to examine me We passed triumphantly Had a high time to night Am well," he reported happily on August 11. The next day, "Sworn in this morning as an Atty at Law The hope of my youth is gratified." Still, he worried. "Will sink or swim at this place" (Aug. 24), he said of Troy where he hoped to establish a practice. "Hope to succeed in life" (Sept. 5) and "Am anxious in regard to my prospects" (Sept. 10). Worst of all, he closed the year with this: "no flattering prospect before me."

Almost every entry in the yearlong diary treated the national political scene and the latest war news. He hoped for victory, but grew tired of the war: "The Party in Power appear determined to prosecute the war until every slave is free" was his sarcastic political assessment on January 9. "Am hopeful but fearful of the future" he said in May. "Our Armies are making slow progress" read a June entry. "Public feeling is increasing for peace" was his conclusion in August. "Lincoln has swept every thing 4 years more of war and blood" he despaired in November.

Voted With Democrats.
Williams complained that "Lincoln will not give up his abolition policy" (July 22). "Met a secret organization of Democrats to night" he confided on July 25. "Voted for Geo. B. McClellan for President" he wrote on November 8, confirming many earlier entries that he had lost faith with Lincoln and the Republican Party. "I shall oppose Abolitionism" he declared on January 7 and "Lincoln will be the candidate of the Abolitionists" on January 14. He was all despair on April 15: "There are breakers ahead on which we will probably wreck the Ship of State" He reported on April 26 that "People are rapidly losing confidence in Lincoln"

Williams began to record the price of gold in early April. The often-volatile gold prices seemed to him a barometer of the national economy and the effectiveness of the Union armies. "Gold 265 and everything else in proportion Terrible times ahead for the American people I have no faith in the Party in power" (July 1). Indeed, a false report of an impending draft of 400,000 men in May 1864 was called the "Gold Hoax" (The Civil War, Shelby Foote). Perpetrators of the hoax were accused of attempting to manipulate the price of gold.

His faithfully recorded expenses, possibly inflated by rising gold prices, make Williams’ diary especially interesting to 20th century consumers who really know inflation. He paid 35 cents to the dentist in January, gave the minister 3 dollars to get married in February, doled out 45 cents for postage in March, and bought a $1.00 hoop skirt, surely for Lulu, in April. His largest expenditures were $28 for a stove in June and $20 for furniture in September.

Whiskey for Medicinal Purposes.
How can we judge the 35 cents for a pint of whiskey in August? An early entry in the diary very clearly stated that "I hereby pledge myself not to smoke tobacco or use intoxicating drinks after this date unless the same be for medical purposes" Ah, the loophole very ably inserted by an attorney!

Judge Williams, 67, who died in 1906 at his temporary home in Florida, enjoyed a distinguished, if delayed, career in law. His worried entries about health and prospects proved well founded after he established a practice in Troy. With failing health, he soon discontinued practice until 1870. In 1871 he was elected prosecuting attorney and in 1877 was appointed by Gov. Young as Common Pleas Judge of the Second Judicial District of Ohio. He was "held in high regard by the legal fraternity for his high sense of duty, his splendid social requirements and his sterling integrity," noted Beers’ history.

A Republican Later in Life.
Sometime along the way, he must have reconciled his political beliefs. "Judge Williams is a staunch Republican," Beers reported in 1880. Despite growing disability from his war wounds, Williams remained in active practice until 1904. He had several years before traveled around the world with his wife and son, crossing the Atlantic, across Europe to the Mediterranean, through the Red Sea, across the Orient and the Pacific, returning home via Honolulu and San Francisco… "without missing a single train" (GBR). Life fulfilled Williams as he had hoped in his diary more than 40 years before in Sidney. "Am hopeful of the future and I trust 1865 will brighten my prospects" (December 31, 1864).

 

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