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A Civil War Diary By Sirene Bunten- "...we will know what war is..."


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Neil Albaugh

On January 4th, 1863, Sirene Bunten, a 15 year old girl from French Creek, WV began writing her diary. She was my great Aunt. Her diary offers a glimpse into rural life during the Civil War, with news of the War and of local happenings, as well as her thoughts about herself.

 

Sirene's brother Birney, died of disease and Walter perished in the Hellhole of the Andersonville prison camp. Another brother, Watson Morgan Bunten, was seriously wounded at the Battle of Shiloh (aka Pittsburgh Landing) and later wounded again at Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, but he survived to be reunited with his family in French Creek.

 

West Virginia had just joined the Union. The western mountain counties breaking away from the state of Virginia after it had seceded from the USA (Union) and joined the CSA (Confederacy).

 

Here are only few of Sirene's representative diary entries:

 

January 4, 1863. One year ago today what sorrow fell on us; my dear brother Birney (her brother) died at the hospital in Buckhannon. He belonged to Co E 3d Regt Va Vols. He was one of the many that gave his life to his country. Great excitement here now in the consequence of there being no soldiers on the Creek. Rumor says there is to be some sent up through here this week. I had a letter from James & Lorenzo this week, they are at Winchester now. Did not have any from Watson or Walter. (Her other two brothers).

 

January 26, 1863. Walter was at home last night, he could not stay but one night. He started for camp this morning, and we may not see him again for some time. William Curry has the smallpox, I think if it spreads we will have something besides war to think of. The war is still raging. It seems that we will know what war is after while, everything is swallowed up in the all absorbing topic war. I do hope we will hear that General McClellan has command of the army again. I think that the President ought to know better than to keep changing the commanders so often. I guess he thinks he is right but I do not. I would like to see him and tell him about it.

 

July 14, 1863. Good news to day, our army has been victorious in Penn. (Gettysburg) The war will soon be over. Lee's army is badly cut up and good news comes in from every side, enough to make one rejoice I think. The Stars and Stripes are floating over Vicksburg as I hope it soon will be over the whole of the U. S. A. The glorious star spangled banner. Letters from Aunt Elsey, James, and Lorenzo. Some rain last night.

 

July 6, 1864. Oh who would have believed one week ago that Walter would be a prisoner. He was captured at Green Springs with twelve others of that Co. Oh it is too much to be true. To think my brother will have to suffer in a southern jail, perhaps never see the outside of it. Dreadful thought but we will hope for the best.

 

December 14, 1864. Oh my dear journal, once again I am called upon to mourn the loss of a beloved brother. We heard to-day that Walter is dead, starved to death by a set of fiends. There may be some mistake, oh if I only knew, this agonizing suspense is worse than certainty. My brother my brother how can I give you up. Our father help us.

 

April 15, 1865. One short week ago and we were rejoicing over the fall of Richmond, now everything is changed. The nation is shrouded in mourning, for our president was this morning killed, shot dead. O what dreadful news it is to write, words fail me to express the deep sorrow that has fallen on our nation. To think that Abraham Lincoln our President, who has for four years governed us well and wisely, was deliberately shot this morning. Also, Sec. Seward died of sickness this morning. I can hardly realize this great loss it was so sudden.

 

Sirene Bunten ended her diary in 1866 but made one last entry in 1901:

"The smell of apple blossoms seems to come to me when I have this book. I think it is because I used to write in a window near the apple trees and every spring the sweet perfume came into the rooms. The old home is inhabited by another family and scattered are the friends of youth."

 

I wonder how many 15 year olds these days could write as well or even be as aware of important happenings as this girl in 1863?

 

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M24 Chaffee

Thanks for posting these excerpts. Very interesting, sad, poignant, and hopeful thoughts. I’m sure there were many confused thoughts as Lincoln struggled to find a general to lead properly. She made the comment about Secretary Seward passing of sickness the day President Lincoln was assassinated but he didn’t die until 1872. Seward was fortunate to survive his attempted assassination on that day. Probably a great deal of confusing news being spread. At least one of her brothers survived.

 

Frank

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Neil Albaugh
2 hours ago, M24 Chaffee said:

Thanks for posting these excerpts. Very interesting, sad, poignant, and hopeful thoughts. I’m sure there were many confused thoughts as Lincoln struggled to find a general to lead properly. She made the comment about Secretary Seward passing of sickness the day President Lincoln was assassinated but he didn’t die until 1872. Seward was fortunate to survive his attempted assassination on that day. Probably a great deal of confusing news being spread. At least one of her brothers survived.

 

Frank

 

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Neil Albaugh

Thanks, Frank. I suppose at that time there was nothing but rumors about Seward. It seems pretty cheeky that a 15 year old girl would think Lincoln was changing commanders too often "and would tell him about it."

 

The whole diary was published by the university of WV by Stephen Cresswell; you may find it on-line. My grandmother left Sirene's original diary to me and I donated it on indefinite loan to the WV Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

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Neil Albaugh

This is a letter from Sirene's brother Watson to Sarah Moore, another sister.

 

Letter to Sarah November 24, 1862

 

Dear Sister Sarah I received your kind letter a few days since and will scratch a few lines to you tonight as we will leave here soon. I was glad to hear your health was good also to hear the boys stood soldiering so well. I will write to James the first opportunity. O how I wish I could see them again. I am glad that Loomis is their Capt for I think him one of the best young men in the service. I wish I had him for my Capt. I have not been paid since last December and consequently am out of money and stamps so I shall mail this franked and send it as I believe you should rather pay three cents than not get a letter from your soldier brother. This is the second letter that I have had franked since I came out but I may have to get more if we are not paid soon. It will be bad on us to march without any money but I suppose we will be provided for in some way. Write soon and direct as you have been doing and they will follow up. Give my respects to all the friends and tell Uncle A I have not forgotten him. I must close this is the third letter that I have written tonight.

 

From your brother

 W M Bunten

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Neil Albaugh

Another letter to his sister, Sarah Moore:

 

Fort Pickering Memphis Tenn Oct 14th 1862

 

Dear Sister

 

Your ever welcome letter came to hand a few days since and I improve the present opportunity to answer it. You've found me in poor health as I have been for some time. I do not have any disease but have a part of many which creates general debility. I have done but little duty since I returned to the army and fear I shall not be able to perform much soon. My wound at times is quite painful but there is no indications of its breaking out again ------ I think it will. I am glad to hear that the great panic caused by Jenkins has in some measure subsided and sincerely hope the cause may not happen again be found among you but should it prove yourself to be not only the Mother of a Soldier and stick to your home. I am glad the boys have shown that they are willing to fight for our gallant old flag yet they are quite young to be thrown up on the world and exposed to camp life. No one who has never been a soldier really knows the amount of fortitude necessary to resist all the evil influences brought to bear against the soldier.

 

Written on the vertical edge of the letter: Please send the enclosed to Margaret M.

 

Page 2:

 

Many thanks dear sister for the little bunch of flowers sent in your letter. O how I have sat and gazed at them trying to imagine who planted, cultivated and picked them. Was it you my sister or had one of those little pratlens that I imagine grown to be good sized girls since I saw them. Or were they cultivated by the hand of a stranger. These and many other thoughts have filled my mind as I looked on the --- lifeless flowers before me. We are hearing good news from the Western Army now Gen Rosecrans has utterly annihilated the combined forces of Price, Sevill and Van Dorn. One boat load of the prisoners were at the wharf here yesterday. I did not see them but the boys who did represent them in a deplorable condition. Many of them without other clothing than a shirt and pants, both of which were in tatters. None of theirs had shoes and many were bareheaded & they represent this as the condition of the entire army. We are expecting to hear of another great battle in Va. I was glad to hear from Walter as I felt very uneasy about him. You will excuse this short letter as I do not feel in a writing humor today. Give my respects to all inquiring friends. Write soon and believe me as ever your brother.

 

Sarah Moore Watson M Bunten

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Neil Albaugh

A little background on "Watson Morgan Bunten". He was my great-grandfather who lived in French Creek, WV- a place claimed by the Confederates to be "among the most disloyal to be found anywhere." Of course they were referring to their being disloyal to the state of Virginia, which had seceded and joined the Confederacy.

 

Watson was seriously wounded at Shiloh when a Mine' ball penetrated his coat and struck a leather purse containing a few half-dollars. These coins deflected the ball away from his femoral artery and femur but it was a serious wound. I donated that purse on indefinite loan together with a couple of silver half-dollars bent into the shape of a taco to WV Wesleyan College.Later he was wounded in his arm at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, TN.

Bunten continued on, serving under Sherman until he was mustered out due to vision problems.

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