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 Home    Documentary Heritage of the Civil War    Part 2, 2012: "Gone to be a Soldier"    Lester S. Willson diaries, 1863-1865

Lester S. Willson diaries, 1863-1865

Lester S. Willson

Lester S. Willson

Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections, Montana State University--Bozeman

Officers of the 60th New York Volunteers

Officers of the 60th New York Volunteers, Fauquier Sulphur Springs, Va., 1862

Library of Congress,

Prints and Photographs Division

Montana State University--Bozeman. Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections External Link
Lester Sebastian Willson was born in Canton, N.Y., on June 15, 1839. His parents, Ambrose and Julia Willson had at least two other sons, Davis and George. Lester enlisted as a private in the Company A, 60th New York Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and spent the early months guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Maryland. He rose quickly in rank. At the war's end Willson was breveted a brigadier general and administered the Soldier's Home in Albany, N.Y. In 1867 he moved to Montana Territory to join his brother Davis in the mercantile business at Bozeman. Willson entered into a partnership with Loren W. Tuller and Charles Rich at Bozeman, eventually replacing both men to become a sole proprietor. He also served in the state legislature and with the state militia. Lester S. Wilson continued to operate his business until his death on Jan. 26, 1919.
The first volume of Willson's diaries contains entries made from July 3, 1863 to Sept. 5, 1864, with substantial gaps. Willson's terse entries describe his final days at Canton, N.Y., recuperating from a wound he received at Chancellorsville up to his reunion with the 60th New York Infantry in northern Virginia on July 11, 1863.
The diary resumes on June 26, 1864 as Willson's regiment prepared to move on Confederate positions guarding the approaches to Atlanta through their subsequent capture of the city. These entries cover in some detail the construction of field works and battle actions at Peach Tree Creek. The second diary begins on Nov. 3, 1864 and ends on May 2, 1865, again with substantial gaps. Willson records his experiences on Gen. William T. Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah on the Georgia coast. The actual surrender of Savannah was not recorded by Willson, but the subsequent march from that city to Columbia, S.C., received many entries. The diary concludes with the 60th New York on their campaign into North Carolina and the surrender of the Confederate army of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Willson describes the logistics of marching with Sherman's army, the destruction of property by Union troops, and the liberated slaves who accompanied the army. As a staff officer, Willson also touches on the arguments and in-fighting among officers on matters of promotion and command organization.
Col. Lester S. Willson wrote this diary entry at the beginning stages of the final push to capture Atlanta. The ease at which the Union Army forced their Confederate adversaries to withdraw during these weeks resulted in the removal of Joseph E. Johnston as the Confederate commander and his replacement with John Bell Hood.

"Sunday July 3, 1864

Moved about 6:00. Passed through the enemy's works. They were very formidable. All the troops appear to be moving. A great many Rebs are coming in and being taken. Think our divsn took about 200 after advancing about 2 miles. Rebs was seen in force. Knopps battery was sent forward and carried out work. The 14th Corps coming down the RR and we bring on their flank. They left without a fight. We remained in woods from about 11:00 until 12:00. Moved forward. Came on to a hill and could see Rebs at work fortifying. The 14th Corps passed us here. We moved off to the right. Took a position in a cleared field and rested about 2 hours. Then moved forward about 1 mile and formed line in square, our Brig forming one side of square. Bivouacked and put up flag. The weather has been very warm and this is the first day in a long while that we have not heard the whiz of a musket bullet. Nothing but cannonading heard today."

(See the NUCMC catalog record)

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 Home    Documentary Heritage of the Civil War    Part 2, 2012: "Gone to be a Soldier"    Lester S. Willson diaries, 1863-1865
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