Henry Tisdale, a 25-year-old grocery clerk in West Dedham (now Westwood), Mass., answered President Lincoln’s call to enlist in the service of the United States on July 10, 1862. He mustered in as a sergeant in Company G of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry.
Tisdale, a devout Christian, felt it his religious and political duty to fight. He believed every citizen ought to feel the same. He recorded those thoughts in his diary, which he kept from 1862-65.
Tisdale was shot in the leg on Sept. 14, 1862, at the Battle of South Mountain, the bloody prelude to the Battle of Antietam. He recovered at a series of hospitals, and returned to active duty five months later. He traveled west with his regiment in mid-1863, serving in Kentucky and Tennessee, and then on to the Vicksburg Campaign.
Henry Tisdale Goes West
His diary entry on March 29, 1863, describes his train trip west. He rode 360 miles to Pittsburgh from Baltimore — “as pleasant as could be expected.” Snow lay in the streets, and a drizzly snow fell all day.
Tisdale had found the scenery interesting. The train had passed through a great variety of country, mostly rough and hilly, at times mountainous. “Indeed the view of the mountains along some parts of the route was grand.
Got treated at Miflin, PA to hot coffee. At Altoona the rear car containing the officers became detached and they were left behind, so we arrived in Pittsburgh without them. Had a cold time of it waiting in the cars or about the streets for their arrival. Soon as they came we were marched to a large hall and treated to a fine collation of quite a variety of luxuries, i.e. so to us.
The luxuries didn’t last long. Having arrived at 7:30 a.m., they boarded passenger cars at 1 p.m. and started for Cincinnati.
Amid the turmoil of his journey, Henry Tisdale could barely remember the day — Sunday.
Endeavored to keep in a frame of mind suitable to the day. It was pleasant to see people going to or from church in the various villages through which we passed.
He found the country along the route from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati “pleasing and attractive and less rough and hilly than our route to Pittsburgh,” he wrote. Tisdale noticed fine forests, thriving farms and prosperous villages. The farms and villages presented quite a contrast to “the worn out farms and half-decayed villages of Virginia and parts of Maryland.”
Some sections looked as if but recently settled or cleared, he wrote, because he saw many stumps in the fields. Here and there he saw a deserted log cabin, and often next to it “a fine framed mansion or dwelling surrounded with neat flower garden and shrubbery, showing that prosperity had been the lot of the occupant able to exchange his log cabin for a more commodious dwelling.”
The farmers had started their spring work, he noted.
Whirling Toward Destruction
“One could not help reflecting upon how often seeming opposite ends in life are moving on side by side, one party building up what the other is seeking to destroy,” he wrote. “Thus the farmer is laboring to produce that which will sustain life, while we were whirling by him intent on seeking destruction.”
Tisdale’s regiment reconnected with the Army of the Potomac in April 1864. Soon it joined the Wilderness Campaign. On May 24, Tisdale got separated from his unit and taken prisoner by Confederate troops. He survived Libbey Prison, and won his freedom through an exchange in Wilmington, N.C., on March 3, 1865. Three months later he mustered out of service.
He returned home, married in 1868 and had a house full of children. Around 1870, he moved to Roxbury, Mass., and opened his own grocery store. For more of the Civil War experiences of Henry Tisdale, click here and here.
This story last updated in 2022.