Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Diary of Albert Underwood, Civil War soldier

 By Michelle Shocklee

Albert Underwood. 

Does that name sound familiar? Ring any historical bells in your mind? If you've read my latest release, Under the Tulip Tree, it might. He made a cameo appearance on pages 236 and 237, just before the Battle of Nashville began. 

But who was Albert Underwood. Was he a famous general? A hero whose name we should remember? 

Albert was, in fact, one of millions of young men who fought in the Civil War. His record and journey is no more remarkable than most other soldiers who did their job during a time when countrymen fought against countrymen. The thing that solidifies Albert's place in our country's history is the simple fact that he recorded his thoughts, his feelings, the weather, and important details regarding his whereabouts and what was happening around him in a diary. 

An old diary like the one Albert kept
Albert S. Underwood was from Annapolis, Parke County, Indiana. A promissory note found tucked in a pocket of the diary, dated December 12, 1864, was given by Hugh Sample to Albert Underwood for $25.00, so the assumption is the diary belonged to Albert. He was a member of the 9th Indiana Light Artillery. It isn't clear when he joined, but during the course of the war, the men of the 9th traveled from Indiana to Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. They were involved in the Battle of Shiloh as well as Grant's Mississippi Campaign.

My interest in Albert's diary came when I was researching the Battle of Nashville for my book. I'd read about the battle in history books and on historical websites, but I wanted more. I wanted to know how the soldiers felt as they waited for the battle to begin. I wanted to know about the weather, about the sounds, about the smells. 

Finding Albert's diary online was like finding gold! Written in pencil, he kept it from January 1, 1864 to January 11, 1865. As you read bits and pieces of his entries, imagine a young man, far from home, fighting a war he, like everyone else, hoped would end soon. 

  • New Year's Day 1864 found him in Huntingdon, Tennessee, 60 miles from Union City. "Clear and cold this morning. The thermometer stood at 10 degrees above zero this morning. It continued cold all day. A quiet New Year's Day."
  • " Fri. Jan 15: The weather still continues very delightful for the time of year." 
  • "Mon. Feb 1: Bockett and I went up town this morning to get our breakfast. Took a 50 cent breakfast at a restaurant. Saw an orange stand and got about a half dozen." 

The year continues, with the 9th traveling from Tennessee down to Mississippi. 

  • "Sat. Jun 18: Beautiful weather. Rather lonesome times now. Orders were received to remain in camp for the paymaster would be out to pay us off, but he has not come. We have been disappointed every day for about 2 weeks now. It has been the talk every day since we have been here that we would get our pay tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes." 
  • "Tues. Jun 21: Considerable stir this morning among the veteran boys getting ready to go home." 
By the fall of 1864, the 9th was on the move through Missouri. This is my favorite entry from that period. 
  • "Sat. Oct 29: I finished reading the Bible the second time."

In December, the 9th was called to Nashville, and that's where we find Albert in my book. This is one of the entries I used to create the scene where Frankie meets up with Albert at Fort Negley:

  • "Sun. Dec 11: Very cold here in camp. I went down to the city and went to the Baptist Church in the morning. I then took a walk out to the forts in the south part of the city."

Old diaries definitely fill in the blanks for me as an author. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Albert's entries and learning interesting details of the life of a Union soldier. Heartbreakingly, his story ends in tragedy. 

New York Times, January 28, 1864

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times, dated January 28, 1865:

CAIRO, Saturday, Jan. 28. 
The steamer Eclipse, which exploded her boiler in the Tennessee River, opposite Johnsonville, on the 26th, had on board the members of the Ninth Indiana Battery, and other troops. In all, over one hundred and forty lives were lost by the accident.

Our Albert Underwood was one of the casualties. He died on January 27 from injuries received while traveling home. 

I hope, in some small way, I've honored his memory by including him in my book. His words definitely influenced many scenes, and for that I'm very grateful. 

Your turn: Do you keep a diary? If so, would you want someone to read it 100+ years from now?

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at


Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena’s banker father has retreated into the bottle, her sister is married to a lazy charlatan and gambler, and Rena is an unemployed newspaper reporter. Eager for any writing job, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena.

As Frankie recounts her life as a slave, Rena is horrified to learn of all the older woman has endured—especially because Rena’s ancestors owned slaves. While Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. But will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?


  1. Awesome post! I love reading first-person accounts like this. How tragic that he survived the war but died in a random accident. I have kept a journal off and on through the years. Most of the time it was Scripture-based depending on what I was reading at the time. Thanks again for digging up this treasure!

    1. Connie, thank you! I'm a fellow on/off journal keeper too!

  2. My author bio usually has the statement, "Pam has been writing things down since given a diary at the age of eight. She still journals daily, but her entries have advanced since that early diary notation, "We made a club today but never got it finished." LOL I have a diary that my paternal grandmother kept while she was courting (dating) my grandfather. I wrote a short story for a creative writing class based on her diary and my overactive imagination. I've always thought I should get it out and write a new story. The time-span was 1899-1900. Yes there was romance although not spelled out in detail and there were other ladies seemingly vying for Jack's (my grandfather) attention. They both died in their early fifties so a lot of my questions have gone unanswered. On another note, I used a first-person accounting of escaping the Great Chicago Fire in my book Safe Refuge. I never would have been able to bring the experience, which was very detailed, into the pages of my story without that account.

    1. Pam, I love the idea of a book based on your grandmother's diary!! Maybe after you finish this series, eh?