1864: Diary of Brig. Gen. Claudius Wistar Sears

I was asked by a friend to transcribe the following diary segment from Brig. Gen. Claudius Wistar Sears’ 1864 diary that describes his daily activities between 27 November and 25 December 1864. As a preamble to the transcript, I post the following biographical sketch of Sears from the Mississippi Encyclopedia:

“Born in Peru, Massachusetts, on 8 November 1817 to Dr. Thomas Sears and Sophia Sears, Claudius Wistar Sears became a noted educator and soldier. Sears graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1841 and was commissioned into the 8th US Infantry, seeing action against the Seminoles in Florida. After only one year of service, however, Sears resigned on 10 October 1842 to take a teaching position at an Episcopal military school in Mississippi. In 1844 Sears became a mathematics instructor at St. Thomas’s Hall in Holly Springs, and the following year he became professor of mathematics and civil engineering at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University). In New Orleans he met and married Susan Alice Gray. In 1859 Sears moved back to St. Thomas’s Hall, ultimately becoming president of the school and commandant of cadets.

“Sears remained at Holly Springs during the sectional crisis that led to the Civil War. A staunch Democrat and secessionist, Sears left the classroom for the battlefield. His training and experience at West Point and in the Regular Army was at a premium in early war Mississippi. He entered Confederate service as a private in the 17th Mississippi Infantry but was elected captain of Company G on 5 June 1861. Sears rose through the ranks, becoming colonel of the 46th Mississippi Infantry. He saw action at Port Gibson and surrendered in Vicksburg. Reentering Confederate service after his exchange, Sears became a brigadier general on 1 March 1864 after his brigade commander fell from his horse and died.

“Despite frequent illnesses, Sears led his Mississippi brigade through the Atlanta and Tennessee Campaigns. While holding the salient point of the line on the first day at Nashville (15 December 1864), Sears’s brigade was overrun in the massive Federal attack. Sears was sitting atop his horse and watching the enemy through his binoculars when a cannonball slammed into his leg, taking it off and killing his horse. Sears recovered and for the remainder of his life wore a wooden leg that squeaked loudly on wooden floors.”


27 November 1864—Sunday. Into position about Columbia. Occupied the line south of the town. At night put a battery in position on a hill south of and commanding the town. Headquarters at a school house.

28th [November]—Enemy evacuated Columbia last night. Started on the march but returned. Rode into town and had tea with old friends of my aid (Lieutenant Hamilton). The enemy crossed the river (Duck) and obstructed its passage.

29th [November]—Crossed Duck River above town and marched to the east of railroad to Spring Hill, flanking the enemy. We was in the rear and reached Spring Hill about 10 o’clock at night and found everything quiet.

30th [November]—Our flanking movement proved an ardent failure. The enemy passed us during the night while we were asleep. Followed the enemy on a good pike to Franklin. The entire army immediately put in line of battle and charged upon the works, with unprecedented slaughter. We were terribly repulsed and our dead and wounded were left upon the ground until daylight. The enemy abandoned the town at night.

December 1 [1864]—Was sent to reconnoiter before daylight. Found the enemy had evacuated. Ground covered with the dead and wounded. Buried our dead, cared for our wounded. Col. [William Wallace] Witherspoon, 36th Miss. Regt. of my command killed. Warm beautiful day. Rain slightly at night. Crossed Big Harpeth [river] above town and camped.

December 2, Friday—Resumed march at sunrise. Turnpike to Nashville. Rain. Position on Granny White Pike 4½ miles from C.H.

[December] 3rd—Cleared off cool. Drove in enemy’s skirmishers and at night fortified on extreme left of our line near the Montgomery House.

4th [December]—Enemy gave us a sharp shelling. Extended our Division to the left on Hillsboro Pike.

5th [December]—At Eve. Orders for Special detached service—marched 12 miles towards Murfreesboro. Slept two hours on Nolensville Pike.

6th December ’64—Crossed to Murfreesboro Pike at Lavergne and up the pike to Sykes 8 miles of Murfreesboro and camped.

7th [December]—Reported to Gen. [Nathan B.] Forrest on Wilson Pike. Joined him with General [William B.] Bates in line of battle. Enemy had marched out and offered battle under the guns of their strong works Fort Rosecrans. We took 5 different positions and declined the invitation to fight. At night retired in pretty good order. Camped on Stewart’s Creek 10 miles from Murfreesboro. Cold. Sprained my back.

8th [December]—Clear and cold. Back lame. Brigade tearing up the railroad. Remained in camp 9th, sleet and hail—sick—went to private quarters at Mr. James’.

10th [December]—Marched from Stewart’s Creek to Rains on Winston Pike. Snow and ice. Many men without shoes.

11th [December]—Resumed position on the left flank by 12 M. and camped in briar patch. Very cold. Ground covered with ice. Dined with Gen. [Samuel Gibbs] French.

12th [December]—Bivouacked in the snow.

13th [December]—Position changed. Assumed command of the Division. Gen. French being sick (he left for the rear).

14th [December]—In bivouac—foggy.

15th [December]—At daylight received report from my skirmish line that the enemy was appearing in force. Immediately took position in [  ] just north of pike. Was shelled during the day hotly with only one man slightly wounded. Just before sunset the enemy made a charge upon our extreme left, just to my left, and broke our line. We immediately fell back—not in good order. Found my horse just to the rear, very uneasy, in charge of an orderly. Mounted and he soon became quiet. Found my command and was marching by the flank quickly to the rear through a corn stubble. It was getting dark. Felt something strike my foot. Looked down [and] saw my leg swinging helpless. The ball (solid) had ricoched, passed through my poor, dear old horse, and crushed my left leg. As they took me from the horse, he rolled over to the right dead. Thus closed Bill’s long and eventful career in the army since Vicksburg. Was taken to Mr. Ewing’s place on the Franklin Pike where Surgeon [P. J.] McCormick [46th Mississippi] amputated my leg just below the knee. Was immediately placed in and ambulance and we started for the rear. In my long military service, [this was] my first wound of any magnitude.

December 16th—Traveled all last night and towards morning slept at Mr. McKissack’s. They were very kind. Have me a pillow and some towels.

17th [December]—We continued traveling all day in the rain and wind and slept at Squire Scott’s.

18th [December] Sunday—Slept 2 miles south of Pulaski.

19th [December] Monday—Reached Burwell Abernathy’s 8 miles below Pulaski. ¹ Abandoned further retreat, Sent baggage to the rear.

20th [December]—Surgeon Stout dressed my wound. A good deal nervous and shaky. Have an excellent man with me (Davis).

21st [December]—Surgeon McCormick arrived at night. our army almost annihilated and all making to the Tennessee River. McCormick dressed my wound.

22nd [December]—Surgeon McCormick, Capt. Hart, Lieut. Hamilton of my staff, and Maj. Nelson, 41st Mississippi, called and at night all Confederates disappeared except my nurse Davis. A good deal worn. Glad to be quiet.

24th [December]—Leg troubled me a good deal. A few Confederate cavalry seen.

25th [December]—Mr. R___ sent me Xmas dinner. Our rear guard under [Gen. Forrest] gave the enemy a severe check to the west of Pulaski [in Battle of Anthony’s Hill].

¹ Burwell Abernathy’s property sat astride the Pulaski to Elkton turnpike 7 and a half miles south of Pulaski in Giles county. He was an extensive cotton planter.


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