Who wrote the Cold Harbor diary? | HistoryNet

Who wrote the Cold Harbor diary?

11/1/2012 • Ask Mr. History

In discussing casualties at Cold Harbor, Shelby Foote wrote, “Some went even further in their bloom. A blood-stained diary, salvaged from the pocket of a dead man later picked up on the field, had this grisly final entry: ‘June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed.’ ” (The Civil War: A Narrative, The Red River to Appomattox, Volume 3, p. 290 [First Vintage Books Edition (1986) ©1974])

I have searched Google Books, GenealogyBank, Library of Congress Chronicling America, as well as the Internet, but now where can I learn specifics about the diary referenced. One reference noted that it was widely published in newspapers at the time, but I can not find any such reference with the limited search tools available. Most sources note it was a Massachusetts volunteer , but one says it was New Hampshire or maybe Connecticut. Do you know the origin and location of this diary?


R Lauren “Rick” Verret

? ? ?

Do you know the origin and location of this diary?

I have been through a multitude of sources and aside from some reference to it being the blood-stained diary of a Massachusetts soldier, I have found no name or unit affiliation for the man who is quoted variously as writing: “June 3, 1864.  Cold Harbor.  I was killed.”  “June 3, 1864.  Cold Harbor, Virginia.  I was killed.” “June 3, 1864.  Cold Harbor.  I died.” Given the fact that so many Union soldiers pinned scraps of paper bearing their names in hopes that their bodies would at least be identified, it is ironic that a diary was not enough to give this anonymous unfortunate a name by which to be recorded and remembered. But then, given the inconsistencies in the exact wording, could that “diary entry” have been apocryphal all along, just to unnecessarily belabor the point about the tragedy of Cold Harbor?




Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History



3 Responses to Who wrote the Cold Harbor diary?

  1. Duda Blei says:

    It’s been a while since your question, but I hope my answer will still reach you. This guy has a name!! =)

    The diary belonged to Joseph Hume, who was a 20 year old mill hand. He was born in 1844 in Ashburnham, MA. He enlisted in 1862, and was a private of Co. A, 36th infantry. He was promoted to sergeant major because of his wounds, received at Cold Harbor on the 3rd of June. According to one of his fellow soldiers, he was injured on the 3rd and died on the 4th.

    Those are the only things I know about him. I tried to look for him and his diary on google, and some other sources but never found its content available. I read somehwere, though, that the diary was being analyzed to determine if the stains on it are actual blood stains. But I can’t tell you wether this information is a 100% factual.

  2. Peter Tamas says:

    While this diary is interesting, the entry of Hume’s death is not by Hume. Here is another link to it: http://collectmedicalantiques.com/gallery/civil-war-medicine-and-the-battle-of-cold-harbor

    The incident Shelby Foote mentions but does not attribute implies that the diarist wrote the entry after he was wounded or before the charge in anticipation of his not being able to survive. I have seen other references, to this such as McPherson, but they attribute Foote and he does not footnote his source.

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