The John Harville Diaries, 1861-1864 (Ms2010-053)


The John Harville Diaries, 1861-1864 (Ms2010-053)


Civil War


John McBride Harville (also spelled Harvill) was born in Illinois on January 29, 1839. His family seems to have moved to Beetown, Wisconsin, around 1843, though other records indicate this may have occurred later. Before the early death of his mother when he was five, his parents appeared to have had three other children: Caroline (later Young), who Harville refers to as "Carrie" or "Cary" in his diaries; William; and Elizabeth (later Nickerson), who Harville calls "Lib." For several years, he lived with a foster family (the Sargents). His father, William, remarried and had five more children. By the start of the Civil War, Harville was living with the Batie family in Tafton, Wisconsin.

Although Tafton did not have enough men to raise its own company, volunteers from the area, including Harville, joined others to form Company F, 7th Regiment Wisconsin Infantry in Lancaster during the summer of 1861. Harville served primarily in and around Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland. Chronic health problems resulted in his spending most of September 1862-August 1864 in hospitals in Baltimore, Maryland, though he continues to report on his personal experiences, as well as war news. In January of 1864, he transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps until he mustered out in August 1864.

In October 1864, he married Harriet E. Trine (1846-1916), who he had known since before the war. As early as his first diary in 1861, he records having received letters from Hattie and Lizzie (presumably her sister) Trine. They settled in Wyalusing and had five children: William A. (1865-1894), Annie Laure (b. 1867), Frank D. (1869-1883), Edgar R.(b. 1872), and John M., Jr. (b. 1879). Following the war, Harville was both a farmer and a newspaperman. He died from pneumonia in Wisconsin at age 74 in June 1913.

The 7th Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers, along with the 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, and 19th Indiana, formed the "Iron Brigade" in the autumn of 1861. In October 1862, the 24th Michigan joined the brigade. The Iron Brigade was under the immediate command of Brig. Gen. Rufus King and made up a part of the 3rd Brigade of the Army of Potomac, under Major General McDowell. Near the front of the battle at Gettysburg, Antietam, The Wilderness, Second Bull Run, and several other major campaigns, over the course of the war, the Iron Brigade suffered the greatest losses in proportion to its numbers.

Additional biographical information is available in the collection. More information on Wisconsin Regiments can be found on the Wisconsin Historical Society website:

The collection contains eight original diaries, as well as transcripts and additional biographical information. Harville's diaries chronicle his experiences with the 7th Wisconsin Regiment during 1861 and 1862. He spent much of 1863 and 1864 in Newton University Hospital, and later Jarvis Hospital, in Baltimore, MD, facing chronic illness.

Clearly intended for an audience, the diaries contain short addresses to the "Reader" at the beginning and end, often including an apology for his poor grammar and spelling. Largely self-educated, Harville's diaries are surprisingly legible and his phonetic spellings are easy to decipher. Most of the diaries also include a list of letters received and written, as well as Harville's cash and barter accounts with friends. Several diaries are indexed and/or paginated.

Harville's early entries detail the formation of Company F in Lancaster, Wisconsin, travel to Washington, DC, and life in camp outside Alexandria, Virginia. Like many farmers in the war, he keeps consistent notes on the weather. He recounts stories of his own adventures which more than once landed him in trouble, as well as the exploits of others. He also writes of picket and guard house duty, the occasional scouting mission, frequent drills and dress parades, and war news. He remains relatively well-informed about the war, at least in as much as it related to his experiences and his regiment.

While spending time in Jarvis and Newton University Hospitals, the content of his entries begins to change some. He continues to records war news of note during this period, but the emphasis is on the work he does and the social life he develops. His illness is intermittent and so he also does chores around the hospital, including cleaning inside and outside the buildings, cooking and serving, and running errands. Harville spends a good deal of time helping the local women who volunteer at the hospitals, too, which he appears to thoroughly enjoy. At least two diaries contain a list of women and young ladies with whom he is acquainted.


Harville, John McBride, 1839-1913




Permission to publish material from the John Harville Diaries must be obtained from the donors. Please contact Special Collections for more information.



Bibliographic Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: John Harville Diaries, Ms2010-053, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

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