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[Detail] The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865


Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865 documents daily life in Washington, D.C., through the diary of an examiner for the U.S. Patent Office, Horatio Nelson Taft. The diary is in three volumes with daily entries from January 1, 1860, through April 11, 1861, and irregular entries from January 1, 1863, through May 30, 1865. The diary provides details about Taft's family and work life and various events in Washington, including the family's friendship with the Lincolns and other prominent political and military figures. Many of the entries refer to his sons' play dates with the Lincoln boys and family visits to the Executive Mansion. The diary entry for February 20, 1862, reports the death of Willie Lincoln, the President's son, from typhoid fever.

Taft included war news as reported in the press and through rumors circulated throughout the capital; the "news" sometimes proved to be inaccurate, such as the report of the alleged death of Jefferson Davis in September 1861. Entries written throughout the war reflect fear of the capital falling into Confederate hands. Taft also reported on visits to wounded soldiers in Washington and field hospitals near the capital.

A short entry on April 14, 1865, reports that the president had been shot. A detailed description of the assassination entered on April 30 is based on accounts from Taft's friends and his son, who was one of the president's attending physicians at Ford's Theatre.

Diary entries on secession, political and economic issues, military campaigns, and the presidential campaign of 1864 offer a unique picture of a crucial period in American history from one individual's perspective. The diary provides a personal reflection on many of the pivotal events of the era and how they affected the morale of average citizens faced with the crisis of war. In addition, the diary serves as a window into family and social life of the period, especially as experienced by a federal employee in Washington, D.C.

The diaries have been transcribed, and the transcriptions can be searched by keyword. The entries can also be browsed by date.