Thomas, Henry Colesberry
Manuscript Diary of Henry C. Thomas, War Department Clerk, and son of controversial Union General Lorenzo Thomas, recording his experiences and life in Civil War Era Washington, D.C., 1863.

Pocket diary, narrow 12mo, containing 162 day entries, (out of 365 days, three days per page, 63 pages, plus blanks), 11 pages of cash accounts, and 4 pages of memoranda at end. Bound in original bleak leather wallet style binding, in very good condition, minor rubbing at edges, text very clean and legible written in pencil and a variety of inks. Booksellers label on front pastedown of "J. T. Heald, Wholesale & Retail, Bookseller & Stationer, Binder & Blank Book Manufacturer, 421 Market St., Wilmington, Del.."

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The present diary was written by Henry Colesberry Thomas, (1833-1900) while working in President Lincoln's War Department during the critical year 1863, and living in Washington, D.C. Although the diary entries end in 1863, Thomas occasionally made accounting or address entries up until the mid-1870's. The diary commences with Thomas's first entry, on January 1, 1863. Thomas's entries are sporadic, occasionally missing days after recording his thoughts for days or a week at a time. The final entry was made on Sunday, October 11, 1863, about two weeks after the death of his infant daughter.

The entries clearly show that Thomas is a man who adores his wife and family and regrets their weekly separation. While working in Washington, Thomas returns to the family home in Wilmington, Delaware on weekends to be with his family. He frequently mentions his wife, Sallie, and he has many references to General Lorenzo Thomas, whom he refers to as "Father," as well as other family members, including his sister Mary, and brothers Lo and Evan. Henry began this diary just five months after losing his lifelong friend and cousin, his wife Sallie's brother, Richard Brindley, who died in the field in July 1862 (see item 11 above).

Henry's diary provides both a personal and exciting look into war time life in the nation's capitol.  The entries include descriptions of Henry's near-crippling battle with "varioloid," and how he was followed and taunted by a pack of young boys accusing him of carrying small pox. In another entry he angrily calls a fellow officer a "Yankee pedlar of wooden nutmeg" when the stranger voices offense at the colored nurse aboard a train who is tending to one of Brindley's children. In another entry, would-be thieves identified as "Volunteers" are caught stealing goods from a family shed, and elsewhere he writes of finding a friend drunk in a horse stall. Henry, it seems, was allowed to spend his weekends at home in Wilmington (which he refers to as "Greenway"), and several entries relate domestic activities such as  corn planting, shoe shopping, and the enjoyment of being away from his work. The diary also relates the family sorrow upon the loss of Henry and Sallie's second child, Kate Latrobe, who is stricken with an unknown disease and after a week of considerable suffering dies, leaving the devastated parents to mourn her loss.

The diary relates that one of Henry's co-workers, a "Mr. Addison," has been arrested for communicating with the South. Henry seems perturbed by this. Henry is careful in the diary, not to mention any specific military battles, or information that might cause his own arrest. One gets the feeling he was very careful in what he shared in his diary -- he doesn't mention any specific battles or Union generals by name. The majority of his comments are his observations on daily life in D.C., family matters, going to church, missing his wife, and things of this sort.

In one fascinating entry -- just a few days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee's defeat at Gettysburg, Henry is unhappy at being assigned to the Washington City Guard; he is given a rifle and is trained to defend the city. Clearly, the nation's capitol is tense with the fighting -- less than 100 miles away, and even non-military clerks are now being drilled!

In another late-January 1863 entry, Henry tells of his slow recovery from "varioloid," a pre-cursor to small pox, his confinement at home, and concern he might transmit the disease to others, particularly his wife. Shortly after his return to Washington in early February, he writes of an uncomfortable encounter with some unruly boys. For some reason, he turns the diary upside-down and writes a few sentences about drawing attention to his sickness in short bursts over several pages. We have connected his "cryptic" messages to reveal the following:

"Feb. 11 -- Arrived at the depot, I gave a hasty survey of the disposition of the people, sought a dark corner to get my money ready, which I had prepared so as not to keep one waiting for change. Held my head down, walked up and got my ticket, tried to find a dark corner in the car, but could not, had to take a seat in one where every two seats faced each other. Felt rather uncomfortable, but held a paper before my face and pretended to read, till I could trust to the dark. Suspected the man at my side of looking at me rather closely, and was convinced of the fact when he left the seat and did not return. Walked through Balt[imore] to the other depot. Had to wait there some time before the ticket office opened. Secured a dark seat and all was well. Arrived at Wilmington, had to walk out to Greenway in the slush & rain."

Henry's sickness apparently kept him out of the office for most, if not all of February, before he returned to work on Monday, March 2, when he pens:

"Made my appearance at the office today for the first time since my sickness. Found myself overwhelmed with work, got my desk pretty well straightened up..."

However, March would prove to be another difficult month for the Thomas family, as Henry's father, Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, was stripped of his "Adjutant" status, punishment for apparent poor job performance, and sent south to command the Union's colored troops. While Henry does not specifically refer to this punishment in his diary, he notes his father's departure from Washington on Tuesday, March 26, when he pens:

"Lo and Ev left this morning for the army. Capt. Hurlings [his sister Mary's husband?] rode it with them to town. Father left on the 5 O'clock train for the west..."

Overall, the diary is of interest for its presentation of a somewhat different picture of the Civil War, relating the experiences of one who might be called an "insider," a man working for President Lincoln's War Department in Washington, D.C., and whose father, was one of Abraham Lincoln's more controversial generals, as well as its description of daily life in the District of Columbia during war time.

Biography:

Henry Colesberry Thomas (1833-1909) was the son of Lorenzo Thomas (1804-1875) and Elizabeth Brindley Colesberry Thomas (1806-1879). The Thomas, Colesberry, and Brindley families were related through marriage, and lived in the Wilmington, Delaware area in the late 18th and much of the 19th centuries. Henry's mother Elizabeth, was the niece of American canal engineer James Brindley (1745-1820), the daughter of his sister Mary who had also emigrated to the United States from England. Henry's father, Lorenzo, was the son of Newcastle County registrar, Evan Thomas, and would serve U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as his Adjutant General during the Civil War.

Henry courted Sallie Brindley -- his second- or third-cousin -- and they married on June 4, 1857. Henry began a career as a federal employee, eventually working as a clerk in the War Department during the Civil War at the time this diary was written. Henry and Sallie would have three children: Sallie, Kate Latrobe, and Richard. Sadly, Kate would die shortly after her first birthday, the details of this sad ordeal are chronicled in this 1863 diary.

Henry C. Thomas appears to have remained in the employment of the War Department until his retirement, after which he moved across the country and settled in Spokane, Washington, where he lived out his final years dying in 1909.  His wife Sallie died in 1885, and was buried in Washington D.C. After Henry's death, his body was shipped back to the District of Columbia so that he could be buried next to his beloved Sallie, and their infant daughter Kate.

Sallie's father was James Joseph Brindley (1783-1858), the son of American canal builder James Brindley (1745-1820). The Brindley family were affluent members of the Wilmington, Delaware community, friends with George Washington, Benjamin Latrobe, E. I. du Pont, and other historical figures. Sallie's mother was Hannah Baker Brindley, and she had two sisters: Elizabeth and Rebecca, and one brother, civil war hero Richard Brindley, who died leading his men into battle in July 1862 (just months before this diary was started) at the Battle of Gaine's Mill. Henry refers to Sallie dozens of times in this diary.

Lorenzo Thomas (1804-1875), Henry's father, was born in Newcastle, Delaware into a proud military family. Lorenzo's father Evan was of Welsh extraction, and served in the militia during the War of 1812, and one of his uncles was a favorite officer of General George Washington.

In 1832, Lorenzo married Elizabeth Brindley Colesberry, daughter of Dr. Henry Colesberry and Mary Brindley -- sister to America's James Brindley (1745-1820). Lorenzo and Elizabeth apparently had seven children: Sarah and James (both died in infancy), Henry (1833-1909), Lorenzo Jr. (1837-1912), Mary Thomas Hulings (1838-1918), Evan (1843-1873), and Randolph (1849-1861). In this diary, Henry mentions his father many times, and makes occasional references to his mother, sister Mary, and brothers Lorenzo Jr (he calls him "Lo") and Evan. Apparently Lo worked with or near Henry in Washington D.C., while Evan fought on the Union side in the U.S. Army. Both brothers would survive the Civil War, but Evan would be killed in northern California's "Modoc War," in 1873.

In 1823, Lorenzo graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He saw action in the (Second) Seminole War and served as General William O. Butler's chief of staff in the Mexican War. Thomas then became General Winfield Scott's chief of staff until the outbreak of the Civil War.

In March 1861 he was named Abraham Lincoln's Adjutant-General and, two months later, given the rank of brigadier-general. In March 1863, as punishment for alleged inadequacy, he lost his status as adjutant (while retaining his rank) and was assigned to organize black troops in the South. His departure from Washington D.C. is mentioned by Henry in the diary. After the war, Lorenzo was brevetted a major-general in recognition of his military service.