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Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Memorandum Book

George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883)

     By mid June 1864 my great grandfather George W.E. Row had already lived through a momentous year. He had been courtmartialed in March for being absent without leave from Company I Sixth Virginia Cavalry and reduced in rank from First Sergeant to Private. During the battle of the Wilderness he fought with his regiment virtually on the front door step of his family home, Greenfield plantation. Greenfield was at that time deserted, as his mother and sister had fled to Hadensville in Goochland County to put distance between themselves and the Union army. George had also taken a watch and pen knife from an adjutant of General George Custer, which he gave to his neighbor Maria Dobyns.

Front inside cover of memo book

     Another item captured by George that month was this little black memorandum book, which up to then had belonged to a trooper of the 5th New York Cavalry. In the years that followed George used this book to scribble notes in and these have some interest in their own right. But today I want to focus on what was written by that unknown Northern cavalryman. Here I want to acknowledge the work of Deborah Humphries, who annotated and transcribed much of the contents of this book and who in large part deserves the lion's share of credit for today's post.

      The entries begin on January 1, 1864. These early writings consist of poems, homilies, hymns and what not that this soldier wrote to fill up his empty hours in winter camp and perhaps to boost his morale as well. Beginning on March 3 he begins to write of the activities of his regiment as the Union army begins its crossing of the Rapidan River into the Wilderness of Spotsylvania. I will present the diary entries for each day or two days, followed by the transcription.

May 3-4

     May 3. Left Stevensburgh 11 1/2 o'clock P.M. Arrived at Ely's Ford Germanna Ford about Sunrise. Made Parker's Store 3 p.m. No enemy seen. Camped for the night. Pickets attacked in the night. [?] for Col. Hammond.
     May 4. 5th New York Left to hold Parker's Store until infantry came up. Pickets driven in at 6 A.M. Our Regt falling back on the Plank Road about four miles. At half past 11 o'clock they came up and a great battle began.  Gen Getty's brigade who relieved us was badly cut up. Our Regt lost heavily. Capt. McGwynn killed. Co. H lost four men. Regt ordered to Wilderness Tavern. Could not get to division.

May 5

     May 5. Remained in camp all day. Heavy Fighting all day but little Artillery firing. Our loss very heavy in killed and wounded. Captured a large number of prisoners.

May 15-16

     May 15. [First line erased] on picket at night. The enemy's picket about 30 rods from mine. 
     May 16. Drove the enemy across the River Nye. The 13th Regt Penn. Cavalry joined us at this place. Post under command of Col Hammond. 
May 22

     May 22. Left Bethel Church for Oxford Crossing in advance of the 6th Corps. Found the enemy in force. Had four men wounded. Co. H two men wounded. B.F. Washburn was shot through the chest. Surgeon reports he cannot live.

May 23

     May 23. Left Oxford Crossing for Noel's Station on Gordonsville Railroad. Found enemy in force at Anderson's Ford on Little River. Threw some shells but no one hurt. Met Charles Ferguson in 44th New York Vol Infantry.

May 25

     May 25. At Anderson's Crossing Little River. Saw Gen. Wright, Barkley, Newl and Griffin. No fighting of consequence. Showers in the evening. Gordonsville Railroad track torn up five or six miles. 

June 1

     June 1. Left Hanover C.H. for Ashland Station. Drove the enemy before us as we supposed but when we got there found them in our rear. They tried to take the town but were repulsed with heavy loss. Maj. White mortally wounded. Col. Hammond slightly. Our loss very great. Made our way down Railroad. The enemy charging our rear repeatedly.

June 2-3

     June 2. Left camp near Hanover C.H. 5 o'clock P.M. Marched until 2 a.m. Lost my horse by colic. Camp tonight 5 miles from Mechanicsville. 
     June 3. Left camp 12 o'clock for front. Col. Pressent 1st Vermont Cav. killed. Col. Benjamin 8th New York Cav. badly wounded. Relieved 1st Vt & 8th NY but found no enemy. 

June 6-7

     June 6. Left Hawes Shop also known as Salem Church and came to Old Church Hotel. Regt. went on picket. Weather very hot. 
     June 7. Regt still on picket.

June 8-9

     June 8. Came to enemy on farm owned by Mr. Ruffin, the man who fired the first gun from Fort Moultrie on Sumter. Very heavy firing in the direction of Richmond all the afternoon and evening. 
     June 9. Laying in camp. But few guns heard  today. 

June 10-11

     June 10. Rebels charged on the 18th Penn and drove them in on to 1st Conn. Capt killed of 1st Conn. Two rebs killed. 
     June 11. Fifth New York went out Bethsaida [?] Church on a reconnaissance drove in the enemy's pickets about 1 1/2 miles. Captured one man belonging to Fields Div. Hills Corp. Found the enemy in force and in entrenchments. Had two men killed and two wounded. Fell back to our old position. 

June 12-13

     June 12. Rgt. went out on picket, relieved the 18th Penn. Received orders to withdraw to Allen's Mill about dark. [?] left about daylight.
     June 13. Followed up the 5th Corps across the Chickohominy at Longbridge crossed on pontoons at 5 o'clock p.m. Camped about 6 miles from the river at 2 o'clock a.m.

June 14

     June 14. Resumed our march at 6 o'clock a.m. to Charles City Court House about 4 miles. Drew 1/2 day's rations and returned to church and went into camp.


  1. In gathering and scanning the items from the family "trunk" we didn't realize at first the significance of this little book. I had very mixed emotions while transcribing. Growing excitement as I read the movements of the units; sadness realizing that there really is only one reason why GWE had this item for himself; a New York regiment? Wow. We could come very close (if not actually) pinpointing this soldier. There are certain days that I can put GWE and this unit in the same place. But GWE was not always with his official unit. The National Park Service has a system of Soldiers names. By finding the injured soldiers mentioned I could discover the owner...almost. There are blogs and sites devoted to each of the units. As always, it's a matter of time. Thank you Pat for the post

  2. And there's this image of the pontoons this soldier marched towards according to his last entry:

  3. Great material. Thank you both for your hard work to make this post possible. It is an intriguing part of the story, and it makes it all that more real.

  4. 5th New York History

    unit roster at

  5. Possible owner CLark Winch?

  6. I am a direct descendent of the B.F. Washburn mentioned in this diary entry. I have been tracking down information about him for many years. His name was Benjamin Franklin Washburn he went by the name Frank. Originally from Ticonderoga, NY area.

    1. Amazing. Thank you for posting your message.