LeRoy Gresham (1847-1865) was a teenaged invalid who kept a diary for nearly every day of the Civil War, recording the news, his Confederate sympathies and perceptive details about life on the homefront as he experienced the conflict through newspapers, letters and personal visitors. The son of an attorney, judge, and plantation owner in Macon, Ga., Gresham’s diaries provide a poignant record of his suffering and that of his family during those trying times.
Gresham had just turned 17 when Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union forces left Atlanta for the army’s “March to the Sea,” November-December 1864. Macon was thought to be in the line of advance, and LeRoy Gresham’s diary reflects the uncertainties felt by many Georgians who feared their homes would be in Sherman’s path.
An entry chronicling the historic event, dated Nov. 17, 1864, will be featured in the Library’s “The Civil War in America” exhibition, opening Nov. 12. The diary has never before been on public view.
“Clear and warmer. Rode down to Dr. Emerson’s and found the town in an uproar about the approach of the enemy, who are this side of Griffin and ‘marching on,’ 10 & some declare 15,000 strong. The trains have been running in all day with the stores, etc. The College will be broken up tis thought. We have about 10 or 11,000 to oppose them & I can’t see why Macon should give up. 8 P.M. We have received the following from Mr. Bowdre which I copy for future reading:
‘Mrs. Gresham: The news is bad enough: our forces have been compelled to retreat, & were at Barnesville last night (40 miles from Macon) & Gen. Toombs tells me they will be some 15 miles from Macon tonight—I mean ours— Sherman’s army is coming on as rapidly as they can; his cavalry camped last night, it is said, only 10 miles from Forsythe in Butts co. He is coming in two columns—it is thought by those who ought to know that Sherman’s forces will be here on Sunday or Monday, possibly sooner, unless opposed & we have too small a number to do anything much I fear. We may fight him in this vacinity [sic] but I fear not with any chance of success. Gen. Toombs advises all ladies & children to get away if they can. He is now at our store. I am greatly disturbed myself about my family. Yours in haste P.E. Bowdre.’
“We do not know what to do or think. We have no place to run to, where we could be safe, and we feel awfully about it. The town is in a furor of excitement & I fear little or nothing will be done to save the town. If Father were only here!”
Gresham began a final diary entry on June 9, 1865, and died nine days later due to causes unknown.
His “voice” will also be lent to a special blog featuring historical Civil War figures and complementing the upcoming exhibition. You can read more about it here.
Stay tuned next Wednesday for another spotlight on other items from “The Civil War in America.” Until then, you can read about them in these previous blog posts: