Abington student transcribes overlooked Civil War diary

April 15, 2015

ABINGTON, Pa. -- Jennifer Rogers "met" Private Joseph Lehman Eisenbrey while interning at a Bucks County museum, and she quickly came to consider the local soldier a friend after spending nearly a year learning about his life -- as a Union cavalryman in the Civil War.

Rogers, a Penn State Abington student, stumbled across the soldier's journal in the library at the Mercer Museum in history-rich Doylestown. She was elated when archivist Sara Good allowed her to record the entries, which date from Eisenbrey's enlistment to the end of the war six months later.

"Transcribing the journal deepened my appreciation for local history and allowed me to develop a friendship with the man behind the diary," Rogers said. 

The journal, which the American studies major spent 10 months deciphering, includes vivid descriptions of “soldiers that had been made to bite the dust,” scarce food, and camping on cold, wet ground.

In one entry, Eisenbrey wrote about the war's last major battle at Appomattox Court House, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant:

April 9th, 1865. Sunday.
Soon the Bugle sounded, “Charge” then with a yell we started on the gallop. The Rebels could not resist long but broke and run. Soon after the bugle sounded “halt” but we paid no attention. An “orderly” had just been brought a dispatch that Lee had surrendered his whole army to Grant. If they had not we would have annihilated every one of them. We encamped on the Battle field for the night, only the field between us and the Rebels, some of our boys went across and talked to them.

One week later, victory turned to sorrow with Lincoln's death:

Sunday Ap. 16th.
News came today that “Our President” had been shot by a cowardly assassin. The men are all gathered around the camp fires talking it over in subdued tones, some believe it and others not. If it is so it is the “Greatest loss the Country could have received at the present time.”

Wednesday April 19th
The assassination of President Lincoln is a sad affair indeed to think that as soon as the fruits of his administration was beginning to show themselves ... that He should be cut down; ... [he was] released from the cares and troubles of this world.

Finally, Eisenbrey of Company C, 8th Regiment, Pennsylvania Cavalry, 89th Volunteers reflected on the war and his future:

Saturday August 19th
I think rather more of myself since I came back to think that I did lend a helping hand and done my duty unflinchingly. I hope to become a useful citizen and help build up our nearly ruined country so that Peace, Prosperity, and Harmony may exist throughout the land from Maine to the shelf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Jennifer Rogers Mercer Museum discharge2

Private Eisenbrey's original discharge papers discovered in the Mercer Museum archives by Abington student Jennifer Rogers.

IMAGE: Regina Broscius

Eisenbrey's writings made such an impression on Rogers that she felt compelled to find out about his life before and after the war.

So she dug through census records and journals, tracking down his story beginning with his birth in the Bucks County river town of Lumberville, Pennsylvania. He married and raised a family in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia while building his dental practice. Aside from his service in the Civil War, he never resided more than an hour from the Mercer Museum where his diary lives.

Rogers said the impact of "meeting" Private Eisenbrey lingers.

"I would have considered myself very lucky to have called him my friend," she said.

Ellen Knodt, professor of English at Abington, encouraged Rogers to present her findings through the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities (ACURA). Subsequently, the Pennsylvania Historical Association selected Rogers' research to be presented at its conference.

Learn more about undergraduate research at Abington: http://www.abington.psu.edu/ACURA

 

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Last Updated July 28, 2017