Personal Recollections Of The War By A Private Soldier

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By one of those happy accidents that nourish historians and magazines of history, an antiques dealer, sorting through the contents of the attic of a house in Mahopac, New York, in 1962, came across two notebooks that had apparently belonged to a Union soldier in the Civil War. She promptly bought them. One of the volumes contained copies of letters; the other, in a different hand, had a title page written in elaborate calligraphy, as shown at the left. This volume was a memoir, copiously illustrated with water color drawings pasted onto the lined pages of the notebook.

The antiques dealer’s son-in-law, Alec Thomas, was fascinated and curious about the man who had so lovingly constructed this explicit account in pictures and words of his wartime service, and he searched out the official documents of the soldier’s life. Private Alfred Bellard, Company C, 5th Regiment of the New Jersey Volunteers, had been an eighteen-year-old carpenter’s apprentice from Jersey City when he enlisted for a three-year hitch in August, 1861. He had fought through many of the major battles of the war, was wounded at Chancellorsville, and was mustered out in August, 1864. After the war he became a printer and engraver and died in 1891 of epilepsy in a soldiers’ home in Kearny, New Jersey. The most likely supposition is that Bellard wrote and illustrated the memoir when he got home after the war, using his wartime letters—which some family member had faithfully copied into a notebook—to refresh his memory. His drawings vary so much in sophistication that it is believed he used Harper’s Weekly or other war-time periodicals as models for a few of them.

Bellard’s memoir, from which the following pictorial excerpt has been chosen, will appear later this fall under the title Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Memoirs of Private Alfred Bellard (Little, Brown and Company; edited and with an introduction by David Herbert Donald).

 

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