Henry Mosler's Civil War Diary


Picturing Battle of Perryville

Guest blogger Kurt Holman is a park manager at the site of Kentucky's Perryville Battlefield State Historical Site. He describes the ways he and the park staff have used Henry Mosler's drawings to understand better the landscape its history.

"The Henry Mosler Drawing of the Battle of Perryville"

The Henry Mosler Drawing of the Battle of Perryville"

We have studied this depiction of the Battle of Perryville quite heavily to determine the subjects depicted therein. Perhaps the most distinctive feature in the drawing is the crib/barn with the double shed [at center]. This structure, no longer extant, was photographed in 1885 from the SE, showing the opposite side as Mosler depicted. At the time, this structure was in such a decrepit condition that it probably collapsed or was torn down soon after the photograph was taken.

1885 Widow Gibson Crib Picture

We have named this structure the "Widow Gibson Crib/Barn" after the woman who lived on the farm where the Battle of Perryville was waged.

The "Widow Gibson" was born Mary Jane Bottom in 1822 to Turner Bottom and Nancy Bridges. Turner Bottom had a brother "Jacob" and Nancy Bridges had a sister "Polly" (Mary) Bridges. Jacob Bottom married Polly Bridges. The two couples had a total of 11 children. One of Jacob and Polly's sons was Henry P. Bottom. Soon after Mary Jane Bottom was born, both her parents (Turner and Nancy) died of some illness and the whole family moved in together with Jacob and Polly. This makes Henry Bottom and Mary Jane double first cousins. In October of 1848, Mary Jane Bottom married Milton Gibson. Milton died of illness early in 1862, leaving Mary Jane Gibson a Widow with three small boys, living as sharecroppers on Henry Bottom’s Farm. The Battle of Perryville took place mostly on the farm of Henry P. Bottom.

We have located the location of both the "Widow Gibson Cabin" and the "Widow Gibson Crib/Barn" through archaeology. The two structures were approximately 100 Yards apart. The soil tests on the cabin site show habitation between 1848 and 1863, with a one-year margin of error. These habitation dates coincide perfectly with the marriage of Mary Jane and Milton to the Battle in October of 1862.

Mosler also depicts an artillery battery in the right of the image. Given the context with the known location of the Widow Gibson Cabin and Crib Barn, this places his perspective as on a hill occupied by Captain Samuel Harris' 19th Indiana Battery, looking almost due east. This means the Union Soldiers depicted in the foreground are from Colonel George P. Webster's Brigade. The regiment in the left foreground is likely the 80th Indiana Infantry. The attacking Confederates are from Donelson's and Stewart's Brigades (of Cheatham's Division) towards the left and probably S.A.M. Wood’s Brigade (Simon B. Buckner's Division) on the right of the image.

The "artistic license" of the drawing is evidenced by the height of the horizon and the size of the Crib/Barn is much too large. If one looks closely at the tiny Confederate soldiers in front of the structure, in context, make the structure huge, much larger than real life. Also, Mosler would have only be able to see the tops of the roofs of the Cabin and Crib. Since only one structure is seen in his drawing, he seems to have only drawn the most distinctive structure, the Crib/Barn, and made it way too large. With that and the elevated horizon, it is assumed he was trying for some type of "Birds Eye View." When the writer [Kurt Holman] was attempting to locate the site of Mosler's perspective for the drawing, he was tempted to take the "Modern View" from a high ladder.

'Artist-Paintings': Claiming the Profession

From at least the age of 22, Henry Mosler represented himself as an artist in official documents. He claimed the title and profession early in his career.

Arrow Draft Registration Records

For example, in draft registration records from June 1863, Mosler used the title when asked for his profession. Here, he appears among a list of other men who worked as merchants and laborers including among others an ice dealer, a dentist and a book keeper.

Mosler Census 1870 Block

In the Manuscript Census of 1870, the Mosler household provided information about their occupations. The census taker listed Henry's father Gustav as manufacturer of safes and Sophia his mother as keeps house. Henry, a man of 29 years old, was recorded as Artist-paintings.

Mosler's Travels through Midwest during the Civil War

Mosler Rail Pass
Mosler Rail Pass Verso

Artist Henry Mosler's diary is the primary piece of evidence to understand his travels through Kentucky during the Civil War. Other items from his papers, including this rail pass, also help us to identify his plans and to locate his whereabouts during 1861 and 1862.

Mosler intended to travel westward from Cincinnati, his hometown, through Indiana on the Ohio & Mississippi Rail Road; the pass is dated September 18, 1861. As indicated at the top of the card, train conductors collected tickets from passengers en route. Why then did this document remain in Mosler's possession?

At nearly 9 p.m. on September 17, the day before Mosler's ticket was issued, a six–car train on the Ohio & Mississippi line between Cincinnati and East St. Louis was derailed near Huron, Indiana. The engine crossed the bridge without incident, but the next four other cars crashed, and fell into the creek below.

Troops from Col. Turchin's 19th Illinois Regiment were aboard. More than one hundred soldiers were killed or wounded.

In the days and weeks following, local and regional newspapers reported the story. And, by early October, artists depicted the accident in engravings in periodical such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper [October 5, 1861] and Harper's Weekly [October 12, 1861].

What other documents from Mosler's papers can help to explore further period in which he served as an illustrator during the Civil War?

On the trail of 'Secession Biscuits'

According to his diary, on October 20th, Henry Mosler offered to help some "beautiful girls" whom he encountered the day before. He noted,

I politely offered my assistance to bring forward those things I was by Underbrush of Pine so that you could not see 10 steps ahead then passed into a road also in the depth of the forest. I always keeping a sharp lookout with Carbine in hand. While moving cautiously along I noticed some secession Biscuits on the ground. I halted and said I to her I suppose you are not leading me into a trap. There were secession troops here says I. Yes. says she only yesterday their pikets where here before you came we took a rest on my shawl packed the horse with flour Blankets & &c I returned where I left for camp found camp had been moved about 2 miles ahead to the Cross Roads.

This scene captured my imagination for at least two reasons: 1) Here’s yet another example of Mosler's encounters with "beautiful girls" along his journey. And, 2) his vivid account of spotting Confederate crackers along the trail piqued my curiosity.

Southern soldiers evidently dropped "secession Biscuits" when they camped in the woods the evening before. As they had moved on from that site, Mosler was not in danger. Still, his description of the discovery of crumbs of the Confederacy is an evocative image, almost like a fairy tale. I was especially curious about the biscuits themselves, whether they were a bread or a cracker, sweet or savory. After poking around in William C. Davis’ A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray, I found a recipe for Confederate Biscuits:

Mix 1 quart of flour and 3 teaspoons of cream of tartar. Then dissolve 2 tablespoons of shortening or lard and 1 teaspoon of baking soda in hot water, and add enough to the flour to make a stiff dough. Cut into biscuit-size pieces and bake in a 400° oven for 15 minutes or until done, or on a plank in front of a fire until brown.

Davis attributed this recipe to Confederate Receipt Book: A Compilation of Over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times, Richmond, VA: West and Johnson, 1863.

If you bake some on your own plank, would you let us know the results?

–Kelly Quinn

Quinn is the Terra Foundation Project Manager for Online Scholarly and Educational Initiatives at the Archives of American Art

Dreaming of Old "Abe"

In addition to his diary, Henry Mosler maintained an illustrated notebook in early winter 1862. The slim leather bound notebook contains several pages of pencil drawings. These include studies of people and an interior of a grand space, perhaps a ballroom. In addition to passage written in German, Mosler recorded a few dreams.

Henry Mosler's illustrated notebook entry
Henry Mosler's illustrated notebook entry from December 19, 1862. Henry Mosler papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

One featured President Abraham Lincoln. Mosler's mother, Sophia, asked the president about the length of the war.

Mosler wrote:

19th Dec something bad

1 Dec. 1862 I dreamed that Old "Abe" was sitting in our room talking with my mother Mothr asked him how soon he thought the war would be over. he answered—not before I'm out.—meaning the —Presidency —Also dreamed about J.L. (I afterwards found that she the same night dreamed of me

2 I dreamed my brother had come home but was very sick—but not dangerous He also told us that the Doctor had given 52 kinds of Medicines—I also dreamed some fellows where going to knock down my father when I immediately started in the store room in which my father was rushed for a hatchet and was ready to defend him but he as it appears heard them talk what they where going to do and when I entered he asked me what those fellows had said, and I told him, he answered bold, let them come.

O'er Juanita: Civil War Songs

Henry Mosler transcribed two sets of song lyrics in his diary. Perhaps he heard or sang Juanita during his service with the Union troops in Kentucky. It is curious that he included Juanita as it was a song popular among the Confederacy. The lyrics and music circulated in songsters, short pamphlets that contained lyrics.

Sheet Music For Juanita
Juanita: A Spanish Ballad, Historic American Sheet Music, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Copies of the Juanita songster are held in special collections at universities including University of Alabama and Duke University.

Mosler recorded the following in an undated entry in his diary:

o'er Juanita

Soft on the mountain
Lingering falls the Southern moon

Bright on the fountain
Brake the day too soon.

In thy dark eye's splendor
Where the warm light loves to dwell
Weary looks yet tender
Speak thy fond farewell

Nita, Juanita, let us never never part
Nita, Juanita, Lean thou on my heart.


When in thy dreaming
Moons like this shall shine again
And day light beaming
Prove thy dreams are vain
Wilt thou not relenting
For thine absent lover sigh
In thy soul consenting
To his prayer gone by

Nita Juanita Let me linger by thy side?

Nita Juanita be my own fair bride

Caroline Sheridan Norton authored the lyrics. Norton (1808–1877) was a British feminist, reformer, and author.

Word Cloud of Mosler's Diary

Word Cloud of Mosler's Civi War Diary

Henry Mosler's daily entries of marching through Kentucky form the core of his Civil War Diary. In total, the diary is composed of roughly 4,700 words; 3,445 of which focus on the narrative of his time with the army troops. The frequency with which he used certain words is registered here in this "word cloud" graphic.

Words that Mosler used more often appear more prominently in the chart. Following the conventions of diarists, he oriented himself (and his readers) in time and space by recording the date, time of day, and place name. It follows then that words like night andday and evening and morning are larger. What other words emerge? Notice how the words march, miles, skirmish, and camp display on the screen. These are the action verbs and nouns that dominated Mosler’s days; it makes sense that they dominate the graphic.

By paying close attention to Mosler's writing, we can learn more about him as a person. As we prepared the transcript of the diary, we puzzled over his sentence constructions, spelling, punctuation, and word choices. One Archives of American Art staff member observed, "It is as though he was thinking in German and writing in English." For example, we noticed how often he capitalized nouns. Indeed, English was not Mosler’s first language. In other passages in the diary, Mosler wrote in German. And, he himself was interested in language and speech. On October 19, when Mosler encountered a woman along his journey, he mimicked her local vernacular accent and vocabulary, observing that she expressed herself in "the language of the mountain regions."

Mosler's use of language in the diary supplements and extends the illustrations he prepared for Harper's Weekly during the Civil War. Would you like to experiment with a "word cloud" of the diary? Help yourself to a word-processed version of the transcript. We used Wordle to create ours.

Preparing the Illustrations: The Assasination of General Nelson

Near the end of his diary, Henry Mosler noted details pertaining to the assassination of Major General William "Bull" Nelson. While thousands lost their lives in battle during the Civil War, Gen. Nelson's death was perhaps more disconcerting because of the circumstances surrounding it. He was killed after a heated exchange with another Union officer in Galt House, a luxury hotel in Louisville on September 29, 1862. His murderer bore the unlikely name of General Jefferson C. Davis. The episode was sensational.

According to Harper's Weekly, Mosler visited the hotel shortly after the episode. Part investigative reporter, part crime scene artist, Mosler depicted the incident for his editors in New York.

1862 10 18 Harpers Weekly
Mosler's engraving depicting the assassination of Major General William "Bull" Nelson

Ten days later, they published an engraving based on Mosler's drawings and account.

Mosler used his diary to record at least two pieces of information about Nelson's murder: a cartoon–like sketch and two pages of notes.

Mosler seemed to make some visual notes on the position of Nelson's body and the thrust of the attack. This cartoon may be the earliest draft of The Assassination of General Nelson by General Jefferson C. Davis.

Mosler's sketch pertaining to General Nelson's murder
Mosler's diary entry pertaining to General Nelson's murder
Mosler's sketch and diary entry pertaining to General Nelson's murder

In addition to a set of visual notes, Mosler made verbal ones as well. Mosler's cursive handwriting, often tight and hard to read, is larger and looser as if he jotted down the information.

Combine the medium–faded, smudged pencil in a 19th century book that was carried through a war–with his handwriting makes this passage particularly hard to decipher.

Here is a transcription of these notes:

Gen Nel walked Privey & back — Struck Jeff Davis of a question put to him on fire right side of the Neck God drn him I guess he dont know who I am—he asked Gibson whether he had a weapon Gov Morton, Gen Nelson replyed (he would remember not) Nelson struck him Davis took an attitude just if he intended to strike Nelson afterwards Davis tried to walk past where Nelson again struck him on the left cheek when [illegible] Davis said this shall not end yet occured about 9 O'clock

Gov Nelson stept to Gov and asked him did you come to wittness this insult to me. Sir I was asked standing here to see what —— was said –— Nel then walked to west end of the room through tin door Davis walked off appeared to be walking from Gibson who was in the east end of the room Davis passed out of the room to go to the door I observed he had a pistol in his right hand he passed out to the right and I immedietely heard the pistol I heard a struggle in the Hall and immediatly Jeff Davis appeared holding Jeff Davis illegible get held by an Officer who afterwards they were parted when someday send

Preparing the Illustrations: The Reception at Danville

Few sketches survive from the period in which Henry Mosler served as an aide-de camp in the Civil War. He typically prepared his drawings in a sketchbook in the field and sent them to his editor at Harper's Weekly.

His small diary measures 15 by 8 cm or 6 by 2.5 in. It's roughly the size of a dollar bill or a smart-phone. And, it's a slim volume; only 37 pages remain.

Yet, one can find a few pencil drawings amid the pages of handwritten daily entries, addresses, and other lists. One is this line drawing of a streetscape.

Pencil Sketch from Henry Mosler's diary, October 1862
Pencil Sketch from Henry Mosler's diary, October 1862
Reception of the Ninth Indiana Volunteers at Danville, Kentucky after Driving Out the Rebels as it was published in Harper's Weekly November 8, 1862
Reception of the Ninth Indiana Volunteers at Danville, Kentucky after Driving Out the Rebelsas it was published in Harper's Weekly November 8, 1862

When compared with his published illustrations, it is clear that this was a study of the streetscape of Danville, Kentucky. Details of the buildings make it evident. Consider the similar roof lines, steeples, facade compositions, fenestration, and massing.

In his diary, Mosler noted:

Today we namely the 9th Indiana Ky were ordered to advance as skirmishers to Bardstown We advanced only a short distance when the Rebel opened a brisk fire our skirmishers returned the fire bravely we drove them fighting through Danville The citizens not at all frightened waved the Union Flag and Handkerchiefs while the Bullets were flying The reception was grand People where so overjoyed that they stopped our horses and forced us shake hands before we passed in the evening we returned to our old Camp where we rested well all night being rather cold.

Harper's Weekly published a brief note of explanation from Mosler as a companion piece to the image.

Danville, October 14, 1862.

To the Editor of Harper's Weekly:

Inclosed please find a sketch of the reception of the Ninth Indiana Regiment at Danville, Kentucky, after driving the rebels nearly five miles, fighting their way through town,which was held by the rebel John Morgan and his force of cavalry. The Ninth fought gallantly, commanded by the brave Colonel W. H. Blake. We captured, including prisoners in hospitals, about 500, who were all paroled. The Union feeling and exhibition of joy when we entered was never equaled. This is also the residence of General Fry and General Boyle. The town contains about 3000 inhabitants. The Ninth Indiana was greatly complimented by their General, W. L. Smith Commanding, General Nelson's Division.

Yours respectfully, Henry Mosler

Battle of Perryville

October 8th, 2012 marked the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Perryville, a Civil War battle in Kentucky. Henry Mosler was on the scene. In his diary, he wrote of the many skirmishes, the sounds of cannonading, and the paucity of water.

He also poignantly described his impressions as he walked the abandoned battlefield and the hospital.

In the evening Col Blake Cotton and myself went out to view the Battlefield which was a sight that I have not the power to express we where also at the Hospital where about 200 wounded where lying suffering some crying Oh! mother Oh! Doctor Oh give me some water. enough to make any one feel the terror of this war we encamped again under a large tree with but a Blanket over us In the morning I made a sketch of the Battle at Perryville and the town of Perryville in about 3 hours and sent them to be mailed at Louisville by our sutler of the 9th Indiana

Mosler's sketches appeared in Harper's Weekly on November 1, 1862.

The Battle of Perryville, Found October 8, 1862 by Henry Mosler
The Battle of Perryville, Found October 8, 1862 by Henry Mosler

According to Kurt Holman, manager of the Perryville Battlefield, Mosler's illustrations from Harper's are among the few and most contemporary depictions they have of the landscape. Holman explained the Battery in the above image is the 19th Indiana Battery (Captain Samuel Harris). The infantry regiment in the foreground is believed to be the 80th Indiana. Holman and his staff have consulted his illustrations when rebuilding and interpreting the historic grounds and resources.

How did drawings Mosler made in Kentucky wind up in New York?

Harper's Weekly was a prominent periodical published in New York City. As an 'embedded artist,' Mosler developed his drawings in the field, sometimes on the battlefield. He sketched the troops and landscapes. Later he conveyed the materials to John Bonner, his editor, hundreds of miles away. Mosler explained this process matter of factly in a diary entry from October 8, 1862.

In the morning I made a sketch of the Battle at Perryville and the town of Perryville in about 3 hours and sent them to be mailed at Louisville by our sutler of the 9th Indiana

A sutler was a civilian merchant who toured with the troops and sold provisions such as tobacco, sugar, and coffee. This sutler may have worked as a go-between for Mosler when he was in remote locations and unable to mail items directly himself.

Once the drawings arrived in New York, other artists transferred Mosler's images to wood engravings.

'Meanwhile for curiosity I traveled down this lane'

Henry Mosler authored a few particularly vivid entries in his diary. This one from early October 1862 is perhaps of my favorites. In it, he describes a visit to a convent located near Bardstown. He wrote:

Meanwhile for curiosity I traveled down this lane which wound its way into more and more picturesque scenery untill we beheld rising above the
beautifull foliage a Castle (so it appeared) I could hardly believe my eyes that really it existed or whether I was dreaming. The major and myself rode on towards this sight, when we where surprised to find ourselves in the Court entering a beautifull Broad Gate passing closer we found it to be a nonery. We watered our horses in the tank that was placed there for that purpose, dismounted and surveyed the church in the rear where we found nons strolling in their white caps and pale faces further and we saw a group of soldiers who had gone for water looking in the high and gothic shaped windows giggling and laughing and enjoying themselves highly which immediately drew our attention and the first thing I knew I found myself also staring in the large window into the large school room where about a hundred of beautifull girls now prommenading up down joking and laughing at the soldiers as they, but to tell the truth I never beheld _ more beautifull girls than I saw there In the evening we encamped ' about 2 miles this side of Bardstown Camped all night marched all day to day about 16 miles

Where was he? Whose convent was this? Who were these beautiful women in white caps?

Intrigued, I started sleuthing. After I emailing several religious orders in the region, I struck up an exchange with Kathy Hertel–Baker, Director of Archival Center of Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. She confirmed a story about troops visiting their campus during the Civil War.

She included a passage from Anna Blanche McGill's Sisters of Charity of Nazareth the centennial history of the Congregation, 1812–1912, published in 1917.

"Within Nazareth's secluded precincts one day appeared a foraging corps. Mother Columba consented to share her stores, provided the no annoyance was given by the soldiers. The captain gave his promise, which some of his men disrespectfully broke; a group of them crowded toward the windows of the recreation hall, endeavoring to engage the attention of the schoolgirls who were already in a condition of excitement and anxiety. Immediately, Mother Columba with her marvelous dignity passed into the yard; one of the officers stepped up and asked if she wished anything. 'I am looking for a gentleman,' said she, and the words proved sufficient to disperse the offenders."

Hertel–Baker attached an illustration of the Nazareth campus buildings dating from 1871.

An 1871 illustration of the Nazareth Academy, Bardstown, KY
An 1871 illustration of the Nazareth Academy, Bardstown, KY

She explained, "The Church is on the far right, and as you move to the left, there is the Motherhouse, and finally, the large Nazareth Academy building. The men would have been looking into the first floor windows of the wing second from the left."

This find was one of those exhilarating moments during a research project when one can connect the dots and fill in details. Marshaling evidence from Mosler's diary, period maps, and the convent's library allowed me to understand the scene much more fully. I appreciated being able to compare the accounts of men peering in and women peering out. And, I was especially pleased to corroborate Mosler's whereabouts in early October 1862.

–Kelly Quinn

Quinn is the Terra Foundation Project Manager for Online Scholarly and Educational Initiatives at the Archives of American Art