SOPO Editor’s Note: The John D. Vautier (88th Pennsylvania) Diary from June-September 1864 is presented here with the express written permission of Todd Leiss, who runs an excellent site on the 88th Pennsylvania:
Descendants of the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Todd was given permission by John Vautier descendants Bob Weaver and Phyllis Weaver Bickley to use the diary as he sees fit, so the diary also appears here with their implicit, if not explicit, permission.
Note that John Vautier was wounded in the hand at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864, which is where this diary starts. When Vautier compiled his diary into postwar notebooks, he utilized Captain Charlie McKnight’s diary from Co. K to keep tabs on what the 88th Pennsylvania was doing.
Also note that Vautier wrote a regimental history of the 88th Pennsylvania, History of the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War for the Union, 1861-1865, after the Civil War.
Civil War Daily Diary of John D. Vautier, Philadelphia, Pa , “a little past 17” when he enlisted in the 88th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company I
After John’s death in 1912, the diary was passed down to daughter Amy Vautier Weaver. Upon her death in 1950, Amy’s daughter Ruth Weaver passed the diary to John’s youngest daughter, Alice Vautier Fairweather. After Alice’s death, Alice’s family donated the diary to the Civil War Library in Carlisle, PA where it is currently located.
Transcribed by Phyllis Weaver Bickley, great grand daughter of John Vautier, from digital images of the original diary taken by Tim Antosy and provided by Todd Leiss, who are also 88th descendants. Comments are enclosed in [brackets] and italicized.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: John D. Vautier was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864. His diary entries take on a dual nature from June 4 through August 13, 1864. The top half of each entry is John’s own, discussing where he was and what he was doing during his convalescence. The bottom half consists of entries taken from Captain Charlie McKnight’s diary, and added later by John to flesh out the regiment’s experience while he was gone. I’ve taken the liberty of clearly separating each entry into its two constituent parts so readers better understand what is going on.]
Monday [August] the 1st 
Came in pretty Hot.
We moved out of our barracks & went into Camp over by Ft. Blenker.
We came over again for our suppers though. This Convalescent camp is for the purpose of receiving soldiers from the hospitals who may be nearly recovered from wound or sickness.
There are several thousand Convalescent soldiers here. Wrote 1 letter
[88th Pennsylvania] Regiment – up at daybreak & stack arms
Nothing to do
Tuesday August 2d 
Very warm & Sultry. Rain in P.M.
Everything very dull. There was some target firing to day from Ft. Blenker.
We amused ourselves by looking at that.
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket
Wednesday 3d August 1864
The Weather is very hot to day. Went over to the Barracks & amused myself general by walking & talking Wrote 1 letter
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. still on picket no firing as the rebs are not visible
Thursday [August] 4th 
Warm enough, but more pleasant than yesterday. Washed & cleaned up
Barnes one of my tent mates bought a watermellon for 85₵ & we had a good feed. Nothing is growing in the Country around here. Everything has been destroyed & Forts are erected on the highest hills Wrote 1 letter
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket – put tents up in a line & shades over them
Friday [August] 5th 
Hot, Warm & Sultry all Combined Went out black Berrying Wrote 1 letter
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket all quiet
Saturday 6 Aug. 1864
Heavy Rain Storms
On Camp Guard
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. Orders to be up at 3 every morning & stack arms
Sunday [August] 7. 
Changeable Cloudy & Hot by turns.
Come off Camp guard in a.m.
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket all quiet
Monday [August] 8 
Very Hot again
Built a bunk in our house
[88th Pennsylvania] On picket Art firing on our right
Tuesday [August] 9th 
Very hot & close
Regiment in service 3 years to day. Saw Jim Richardson, a member of my Co. Recd 3 letters
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. Called up at 12 Midnight but didn’t move
Wednesday Aug 10 1864
There was a man found drownd in the spring to day.
About dusk we received the welcome orders to get ready & pack up, as we were going to be sent to the front. Wrote a letter to Mother
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket – quiet
[SOPO Editor’s Note: It may not be perfectly clear that John Vautier had been at home and then in Washington, D. C. up until this point in the diary. He was recovering from a wound in his hand he had suffered at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864. From this point forward, John will be traveling to, and shortly will reach, the Siege of Petersburg.]
Moonlight on the Bay
Thursday [August] 11 
Hot again enough to roast abody
About mid night we packed up & took up the line of march & came to Alexa
Got on the steam boat Georgia and steamed down the Potomac
Passed Ft. Washington & Mt Vernon & entered the bay at night.
Splendid breeze on the bay. Saw whole schools of porpoises & lots of Crabs
By the time we got in the wide water, the moon arose in all her brilliance – casting lines of quivering silver over the dancing sparkling waters and I really enjoyed myself.
Alas! how many of these light hearted fellows on board are going to their death.
Reached Fts Monroe at 10 P.M.
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket. Paymaster paid the regiment
Going to the Front
Friday [August] 12 
Started from Fts. Monroe, at break of day and reached City Point at 3 O Clock in the afternoon. Got off boat & while we were waiting – a lot of us took a swim in the James River. We soon got on the cars – went out about 4 mile and encamped for the night.
We can hear the distant sound of the cannon & by attentively listening the patter of the small arms can be also heard.
The Country here is cut to pieces. Not a living thing hardly growing – except a few trees. Everything is cast down & trampled in the mud.
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket all quiet
Saturday 13th August 1864
Dusty & Hot.
Something like olden times again to be marching in the clouds of dust & under the beams of a scorching Southern sun.
Got in line this morning & went tramping on. On the road we passed a gibbet – where several of our soldiers had been hanged for desertion and other crimes.
It is well. The only trouble is that there has not been half enough executions of the bounty jumppers, deserters and other desperadoes that infest every Regiment in the service. Discipline should be enforced & the lawless spirits sent where they could do our cause no harm
The further on we went the sharper the firing was heard, until we reached [Fifth] Corps. Hd. Quarters. There wasn’t any cannonading, but merely picket firing on the outposts.
We soon reached our Regiments & I was overjoyed to again meet my old Comrades & companions of many a hard fought field, and weary march.
A big Scare
watching every stump & listening for any thing that might make a noise.
I could hear the whistle & rumbling of the cars away over on the Weldon R.R.
I was walking up & when near the little brush house, it fell with a crash! I was scared. What caused the house to fall? The only conclusion that I could come at, was that some enemy was trying to creep in it – had run against one of the posts – & down it had come about his ears. And what was I to do? I wasn’t 20 feet from it. If I ran the enemy would shoot me in the back – so I brought my gun down to a trail & with my bayonet ready for use I advanced.
Well my scare was all for nothing. The weight of the “rain drops on the roof” had caused it to fall – and I was glad – very glad of it.
Got orders to pack up – but as we haven’t much to pack up – that don’t amt. to much Wrote 1 letter
There isnt many of them left – not more than 200 in the entire Regt.
The boys were on picket on the extreme left of the army
[88th Pennsylvania] Regt. On picket.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: At this point in the narrative, with John Vautier’s return to the regiment, Charlie McKnight’s diary entries are no longer needed because Vautier himself has the full details of what the 88th Pennsylvania was up to on a given day.]
Sunday 14 August .
Cloudy & Heavy Rain at night.
On picket at night.
Was placed on picket in a place that had been a heavy piece of woods.
The timber had been cut down however & lay around in brush heaps. Over a short distance the timber still was standing. On my post there was a little brush house – built by some former sentry to protect him for the sun.
It was a very rude affair – merely four posts – crotches – driven in the ground – with cross pieces – & the top was covered with brush – the sides being open.
About midnight it had been raining very hard – and I was pacing my beat.
Monday 15th August 1864
Heavy Rainy Weather.
Relieved from Picket by the 50th P[ennsylvani]a of the 9th Corps. & then our Brigade march to a position in the rear of the left Centre and encamp in the woods.
Tuesday [August] 16th 
Cloudy & Wet.
Lay in camp & clean up. Wrote 1 letter.
Good things from the [Sanitary] Commission
Wednesday [August] 17th 
Very cloudy At 3 O Clock this a.m. we were roused up – silently folded our tents & after we got everything ready for a night march – when the orders were countermanded & we lay down & went to sleep again.
The Sanitary Commission issued to us, Potatoes, turnip, Cabbages – pickles, Onions, Herring, & beats. How is that for Soldiers Fare
Breaking the Weldon Road
Thursday 18 August 1864.
Rainy & disagreabale.
About 2 OClock in the morning – a heavy cannonading commenced, and was kept up for some time.
We in the meantime got up & marched around to the left of our army – through the woods – and struck the Weldon R.R. at the yellow Tavern.2
There was some fighting – caused by the enemy getting between some of our Divisions – and they captured quite a lot of our troops. We however closed up & advanced & drove them back.
Captain Houder was killed by a ball in the forehead while leading the advance. To day I am in service 35 months. Got one more month to serve yet.
Capt [Jacob] Houder killed on [August] 19 . Error in copying from my diary.
[Sketch: August 21 1864]
A fierce attack
Friday August 19. 1864
I made an error in this – The regiment was in the woods on the 19th and this battle here in described occured on the 21st [of August 1864].
Rainy, wet & muddy.
Built breastworks – somewhat in the form of a horseshoe, with the outerside to the enemy.
After some preliminary movements in which we lost quite a number of men – including our Orderly Sergt. Morris Robbins – the battle opened in earnest.
The Confederates – elated at their first success – made a heavy attack on our works -. They didn’t attack in the front of our Regt – but on the opposite side – like of the horse shoe. This threw all the balls & shells right on our backs – so we jumped over on the other side of the works & laid low.
And they give us a perfect hail of Cannon balls & Shells right there.
Balls to the right of us – Balls to the left of us – Balls to the front of us & in short balls all around us.
I suppose no less than a dozen shells fell within a radius of 100 feet of us – throwing up the dirt – bursting – & tearing around generally in a fearful style.
A fearful slaughter
There was a Regiment laying over a hundred yards or so back of us – one shell struck right among them – & the way the limbs – & muskets & things flew was appalling, mingled with the noise & screeching of the shells was the piteous cries of the wounded men. It was fearful. One shot struck right in a stack of muskets – & knocked the muskets around in all directions.
In the midst of all this fray – there was [Fifth Corps commander] Genl. [Gouverneur K.] Warren riding around as cool as if he was inspecting a wheat field.
Well about the fight.
They made a very heavy attack on our works on the other side – but were repulsed first, last & all the time & many a brave Southern man was left on the ground weltering in his blood.
Of their assaulting Columns – but few reached their woods again, nearly all were killed, wounded or captured.
One South Caroline Regt. charged about half way over the ground & finding how useless was their bloody labour – that they lay down and threw up their hats as a token of surrender. No sooner did they do this than our men ceased firing on them – and they taking advantage of this – got up & ran to their rear as fast as their willing feet could carry them.
But they were not destined to get off so easily – for no sooner did they get up to dust – than our whole line opened on them, and few of them ever got back safe.3
The rest of our force are busily engaged in destroying the [Weldon] Rail Road
Saturday 20 Aug. 1864
More Rain & Uncomfortable Weather.
Our Brigade was relieved from duty in the breastworks, and we came back a short distance & built more works. Correct4
The Boys in Mud.
Sunday August 21 1864
Cloudy & Warm by turns.
People say that the discharging of heavy guns has the effect of making it rain – & I am persuaded to believe that there is something in that theory – judging from the heavy rains we have had lately.
The Confederates made another attack on our lines – down below us a piece – but were easily repulsed.
We moved down the Rail Road a piece, and again threw up works.
This is the day the assault was made in the horseshoe
Monday 22 Aug. 
Warm in the day time, but heavy rain during the night.
We are in a sorry condition – in regard to our personal cleanliness. Have scarcely had time to wash our faces, since the movement began, and have had no opportunity at all to cleanse our clothing.
Our army is generally known as the “boys in Blue” – but this part of it could be more appropriately called the “Boys in Mud”
To day we strengthened our works & waited for an attack – but none came.
Holding our position
Tuesday 23 August. 
Got a ration of fresh bread – a loaf a piece. How good it tastes – even if we don’t have any butter.
Continued to tear up the [Weldon] rail road. In the afternoon we advanced in line of battle to protect the First Brigade [Third Division, Fiifth Corps, Army of the Potomac] in destroying the track. 5
Our Generals have to be very careful how they move – Heavy bodies of the enemy are concealed in the dense woods – near us – & the least gap in our lines is at once taken advantage of by them.
They are doing all they can to regain this road – but Grant holds on to it – with the grip of a bull dog.
In the evening we came back to our works. Wrote 2 letters
Marks of the Storm
Wednesday 24 August 1864
Cloudy And Shiney – by turns
Lay in the breast works at noon & then go over in the woods & encamp. Recd 1 letter
Thursday 25 August 
Very Hot in the Morning, but rain in the afternoon. Got orders at 3 O Clock this morning to pack up. We accordingly packed up forthwith, but as they didn’t appear to want us just then we laid down and rested as best we could. Finally – about 11 O Clock we fell in, & marched out the [Weldon] Rail Road toward Petersburg. We were on the field that the Confed’s had fought on some days previously, and the trees were fearfully cut & scarred by musket balls.
A great many little saplings were cut down entirely by the leaden storm that had rained on them, and it is a mystery to me, how the enemy managed to live at all in such a hot place.
A hard days work
Presently we were ordered back in quick time, and lay in the breastworks, awaiting an attack from a body of the enemy who were hovering on our flanks.
Towards evening we hear heavy firing down the road – & it is said the Second Corps is having a heavy engagement all to them selves.6 We soon were ordered down that way & forming across the road on the left of the [Weldon] R. R. – we went to work & threw up breastworks. The ground was soggy & heavy – our tools were poor & scarce – and although we worked as hard as beavers – it was a couple of hours before we got anything of much consequence up.
In the evening when we got done I was so tired that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t rest laying down – and I could not rest standing up nor walking around. Every bone, I believe – in my whole body ached – and I could get no rest in any position – for a good while.
I think I can safely declare – without fear of contradiction from subsequent experience – that I worked harder to day than ever before or after during my life
Recd 1 letter
Friday 26 August 1864
More rain to day.
Lay in our works all day resting. Drew rations of potatoes, onions, Bread – whiskey &c.
Wrote 2 letters
Saturday [August] 27. 
Went out – about a Division – toward Poplar Grove Church recconoitering.
In the afternoon Genl Grant, Mead, Warren, Hancock & other notables ride by our camp.
Wrote 3 letters
Getting ready to stay
Sunday Aug. 28. 1864
Weather getting somewhat cooler.
Co. & Brigade Inspection
Jas Peraras time having expired he today departs for home. The first of our Company to leave us.
The officers are putting up their marquees & things are having a staying look about them. Recd 1 letter
Monday Aug 29. 
Rainy, Muddy & uncomfortable
Made out pay roll for Co. I.
Detailed to work on the hospital.
Recd 1 letter
Wrote 3 d[itt]o
Tuesday August 30, 1864
Cloudy & Fair by turns.
Finished Co I muster Rolls. Wrote 1 letter
Feeling for a weak spot
Wednesday [August] 31 
Detailed to work on the new Fort out on the Rail Road.
About 5 O Clock P. M. We came in & got orders to pack up. It didn’t take us long to do that & we marched over & occupied the old camp ground – which we had vacated on the 24 Aug.
In the afternoon there was considerable picket firing along the lines – the Rebs – are evidently feeling for an open spot – & if they find one – we shall soon know it.
Mustered in Evening
Other Diary Entries of John D Vautier, 88th Pennsylvania:
- DI: June 1864 John D. Vautier (88th PA) Diary Entries
- DI: July 1864 John D. Vautier (88th PA) Diary Entries
- DI: September 1864 John D. Vautier (88th PA) Diary Entries
- Vautier, John D. “Private John D. Vautier Diary.” Descendants of the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Ed. Phyllis Weaver Bickley. Todd Leiss. Web. 30 Dec. 2015. <http://www.old88thpvi.com/the-eighty-eighth-documents.html>. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Vautier is discussing the Battle of Globe Tavern which was fought from August 18-21, 1864, mostly by the Fifth Corps on the Union side. Warren initiated this left flank portion of Grant’s Fourth Offensive against Petersburg by moving west to the Weldon Railroad. Once he got onto the railroad, the Confederates predictably retaliated aggressively, launching three days of attacks in a four day period. They had to make every effort to keep this supply line open, but ultimately failed. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Vautier is talking about the attack of Hagood’s South Carolina Brigade, on the opposite side of the “horseshoe” from Vautier and his 88th Pennsylvania. For more on this August 21, 1864 attack, and the amazing story of Hagood facing off against a member of the famous Iron Brigade, see here. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The word “correct” seems to indicate that Vautier checked his notes and saw that he copied this day’s entry down correctly, as opposed to incorrectly attributing the action of August 21 to the August 19 entry earlier. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Vautier’s 88th Pennsylvania was in the Second Brigade, also of Crawford’s Third Division, Fifth Corps. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Vautier heard correctly, whoever was doing the talking. Hancock’s Second Corps, Army of the Potomac was having a very bad day against A. P. Hill’s Third Corps and Hampton’s Cavalry. In the aftermath of this Federal disaster, some wondered why Meade hadn’t reinforced Hancock from Fifth Corps by sending a portion of Warren’s men directly down the Weldon Railroad to Hancock’s aid. ↩