“Half way across the river”

Robert Cromwell (1838-1918) was a Union soldier serving in the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company A. For several months during the spring and summer of 1864 he kept a diary. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project was lucky enough to scan, catalog, and digitize the diary, and numerous other papers of the Cromwell family.

Two pages from the diary of Robert Cromwell of the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, including a 30 May 1864 entry describing the sights and sounds of battle. Cromwell Family Papers, Civil War 150 Legacy Project. Robert’s company took part in Major General William T. Sherman’s so-called “Atlanta Campaign,” a relentless and brutally long-lasting effort to sweep through Georgia, and ultimately seize Atlanta from the Confederate army. In his 30 May 1864 entry, Robert beautifully described the thrilling grotesquerie of the battlefield, with all its horrific forms of sensory overload:

“…crack crack in our front followed by a continuous crash of small arms then increased by heavy artillery soon brought us to our feet. For 35 or 40 minutes the roar was terrific.

…The unceasing roll of musketry the concussion caused by the booming cannon and bursting shell conspired to produce indescribable sensations, mingled exultation and awe.”

But the levity and humor found in the following anecdote from 13 July 1864, is even more noteworthy. Robert’s company is encamped on one side of the Chattahoochee River, and the Confederate troops they fought mere weeks earlier are encamped across the way. As Robert states:

“Although against orders conversation will occur.  Agreed last night to xchange [sic] papers this morn and when the query arose as to how the xchange [sic] would be effected I proposed to meet one half way across the river by swimming to a snag which they agreed to.

I then stripped put a Nashville paper of the 9th in a handkerchief and struck out was joined by the reb a young fellow made one exchange and bidding each other good bye put back.

About 2 hours after made another trip with the Missouri Democrat of the 6th and was met by the same fellow with the Memphis Appeal of yesterday found that they belonged to Cheathams Division and were the same that our division charged on the 27th ult…

Last night one sung out ‘How long is this war going to last?’ 12 years was our reply. They laughed…”

Two pages from the diary of Robert Cromwell of the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, including a 13 July 1864 entry describing friendly encounters with Confederate soldiers. Cromwell Family Papers, Civil War 150 Legacy Project. During election season, it can be easy to fall into the droning lull of extreme partisanship, serving as easy prey to strident sloganeering and absurd absolutes. I recommend browsing a diary like that of Robert Cromwell’s, encountering a delightful tale of swimming to the middle of the river to exchange a bit of information, and after which swimming away—the opponent unharmed and a bit wiser.

You can read this diary, part of the Cromwell Family Papers, by searching keyword “Cromwell” on the Civil War 150 Legacy Project page on Virginia Memory.

-Jennifer Rogers, former CW150 Project Archivist

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1 Comment

  1. Dale said:
    8 November 2014 at 9:52 am

    Thank you for letting people know about this gem!

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