Read Sgt. Buckman's complete diary and memoir

  • Article by: SGT. GEORGE R. BUCKMAN
  • Updated: June 29, 2013 - 9:52 PM

Nearly every day during the Civil War, Sgt. George Buckman recorded the experiences he had in the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment.


Civil War veteran Sgt. George Buckman's grave in Woodville Cemetery in Waseca, Minn.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Nearly every day during the Civil War, Sgt. George Buckman faithfully recorded the experiences he had in the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment in two diaries.

In 1897, he used the first diary to write about his experiences at Gettysburg. That diary was subsequently lost, but his handwritten memoir based on it exists in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society. The second diary, purchased in Gettysburg after the battle, continues until he was mustered out in May 1864. It is also in the archive, along with letters he wrote home.

Account of Gettysburg, from 1897 memoir based on Buckman’s first diary:

On the morning of the 29th of June 1863 the 2d Div. of the 2d army Corps left camp on the Monocacy River and took the road leading to Frederick City, Md. Turned to the right after going about three miles, again crossing the Monocacy on a splendid stone bridge and ascended a steep hill, turning to the left and wading a creek, the water being about two feet deep. Orders had been given not to allow any man to halt after crossing the stream. Time was precious. The Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry were being hurried along as rapidly as possible. In crossing the stream the boys of the first Minn. had more or less sand washed into their shoes, and sat down on the opposite bank, pulled off their shoes and stockings and deliberately proceeded to shake out the sand and …ing their stockings. The whole performance did not occupy over five minutes. Col. Coville knew of the orders and knew also that to march his men in that condition would be ruinous as we had a long and hot march before us. He quietly sat on his horse until the men were ready and then moved on. In a few minutes an orderly rode up from Hancock's staff and placed Colville under arrest. He rode that day and the next in the rear of the column but was restored to command on the morning of July 2d. After this little episode a rapid march commenced and continued for six miles over Mt. Pleasant. The column halted there a few minutes after turning the crest of the hill which gave the men an opportunity to arrange their belts and accoutrements.

The march was then resumed in quick time, only one short halt being made before reaching the pleasant village of Liberty. The troops were not permitted to enter the town. The citizens were rejoiced to see the Union Troops. They had been in a state of alarm for some days as the Confederate Army was hovering in that vicinity. Everything they had cooked was freely given to the troops along with their blessing for the success of the Union Army in the impending battle. In an hour we were on the road again passing Johnstown and going into camp a half mile beyond Uniontown, having marched a distance of thirty miles. As for myself I was pretty well used up and for the last mile before reaching camp could walk only with the greatest difficulty. The portion of Maryland passed through is the most fertile of any in the state and strangely in contrast with the desolated country of Virginia. Here there were rich fields of grain, comfortable homes, thrift and prosperity, but the people were in fear and trembling for they knew not what the morrow might bring forth. I said to myself, this is the most beautiful country I have seen since leaving the fair State of Minnesota.

June 30th. Remained in camp. Weather cloudy and misty. The men are not very buoyed in spirit. Mustered out for pay. Cavalry skirmishing in front.

July 1st. Broke camp at 8 am, passing back through Uniontown, turned to right, going in a         N. East direction across Big Pipe Creek and going into camp about noon near Tawneytown. The country in this vicinity presented the same fertile appearance that characterized the portion of Md. through which the Army has passed. Buildings looked neat and tasteful. Everything betokened an air of comfort. As we approached the State line of Pa. we could see clouds of smoke and distinctly hear the roar of artillery. The people along our route were simply terror stricken. Anxious and enquiring looks at the troops as they passed rapidly along seemingly to read, if they could, the kind of stuff they were made of. Some more thoughtful than the rest had placed tubs of water by the road side from which the men snatched a cup full and continued on their way.

Went into camp late in the evening about three miles from Gettysburg and formed line of battle. The roads passed over during the day were bad from late rains and blistered feet added to my discomfort. After the line was formed search was made for water to make coffee. It was found after a tedious tramp and preparations at once made for a royal supper which consisted of hard tack in addition to the coffee. The hard tack was considered to be very choice as it came from a box marked 2,000 B.C. This was interpreted by the boys to mean 2,000 years before Christ. Indeed its appearance confirmed the interpretation. But I digress from my coffee. It is doing nicely but as it commenced to boil the orderly came along with orders to move. The line had to be changed. Over went the coffee & my expectations with it. Well, the line is reformed and a new cup of solace prepared. It is almost ready when that confounded orderly shows up again and I am detailed with twenty men and ordered to report to Surg. Genl. Hammond's Hdqrs. That fixed the coffee business, and if I remember correctly, my temper too. It was now twelve O’clock.

I got my detail together and started out to find the Surgeon Genls. Hdqrs. It was a foggy dismal night and after wandering around for some time at last found Hdqrs and reported. All right said the Genl. lie down and make yourselves comfortable. Comfortable! Gracious me. Wet grass for a bed and a delicious hard tack thrown in. I unslung my knapsack for a pillow, unrolled my blanket and rolled up in it, and slept all unconscious of the impending morrow until the guns at the first streak of daylight awoke the echoes of the morning.

My detail under the guidance of a staff officer led the advance of the 2nd Corps.

Genl. Hancok was at the head of the column which entered the field about half was between the Gettysburg cemetery and Little Round Top. The line of battle was formed there and several hours was spent in preparation.

Immediately after the formation of the line we were ordered to the Hospital which had been located just south of the road in the rear of Little Round Top.

The ground selected was in an orchard which extended on the south to a log house near a fine spring of water. In the north west comer of the enclosure was a barn, and between that and the road a stone wall. We stacked guns and awaited developments.

Heavy skirmishing and cannonading soon commenced and by the middle of the afternoon the battle began in earnest. From the crackling fire of musketry it increased to a roar of thunder augmented by the artillery fire and exploding shell. The earth fairly shook with the concussion, not only for the moment but for two solid hours. The field to the right of the Hospital looked as though a hurricane was passing over it. Solid shot that struck the ground in front of our line ricochet and plowed great furrows in the earth to our right.

Wounded men began to pour into the hospital, hobbling along, using their muskets for walking sticks, while the more seriously hurt were brought in on stretchers, mangled and torn, bleeding, groaning, dying. Everything in our power was done to relieve the suffering. What could we do except to bring them water and receive their last messages to friends and home.

When the attack upon Round Top was made the shell and musket balls poured into our hospital from a new direction. The wounded in the barn were frantic to be removed fearing they would be burned alive if it should take fire from the shelling. I removed them with the assistance of some of the detail. Among the wounded in the barn was the Col. of the 14th Ala, a Confederate. It soon became evident that we must get away from that locality and we pressed every man into the service who had one hand to use and could walk. Holes were knocked in ambulances as they were being filled. Pandemonium reigned. I ran over a stretcher with one leg knocked off which I took and looking about to see who I would take first discovered my comrade L.J. Mosher lying on his back with the hot sun pouring into his face, badly wounded. He greeted me with a welcome I shall never forget. The wounded were all moved back about a mile to Rock Creek during the night. A large number of the wounded died in the orchard.

In July last I again visited the place and it seemed like treading upon sacred ground. [The following phrase was struck out: I felt as if in the presence of some awful influence I could not understand.]

The number of wounded increased materially on the following day. We were short of rations, tents and blankets. Many of the wounded were uncared for for several days and exposed to a drenching rain in the night of the 3d. We were in a deplorable condition without supplies and scant medical attendance. Nearly four thousand men, many entirely helpless lay scattered over the ground, Union and Confederate intermingled.

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