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Richard Smith Diary

Identifier: RH-A-3761

Scope and Contents

During his time as soldier Richard Smith keep a diary of the last months of the Civil War in 1865. In the diary, Sargent Smith mostly discusses the weather, duties he performed on a daily basis, when and where his unit’s camp was moved, and briefly mentioned skirmishes with the rebel forces. The writing for each date seldom goes over a single line on the paper and is usually written in sentence fragments. The diary is good way to see the different duties performed by a soldier and track the movements of the First Michigan Cavalry, but is limited in that is does not convey emotion or the struggles of being a soldier.

Once, Richard and the First Michigan Cavalry left the state of Michigan they headed towards Washington D.C, encamping at Winchester, VA. Richard and his unit spent most the war fighting in Virginia, but made brief movements into Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The unit was originally under the command of General Nathanial Banks, but would finish the war under the command of General Philip Sheridan. In early 1863, the First Michigan Cavalry was organized with three other Michigan cavalry units into the Michigan Cavalry Bridge, under the command of brevet (temporary) General George A. Custer. The First Michigan Cavalry was not battle shy, seeing action at the battles of Cedar Mountain, 2nd Bull Run, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and Five Forks. The First Michigan Cavalry also participated in the skirmish that fatally wounded the famous Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and was present at the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. After Richard and his unit returned to Washington D.C. to participate in the Grand Review, they were ordered west to Fort Leavenworth, KS and onto Ft. Laramie in the Wyoming Territory.

Sergeant Richard Smith makes it as far west as Salt Lake City, UT before being mustered out of serve on March 10, 1866. By 1870, Richard Smith had returned to Kalamazoo County, became a farmer, and married his wife Susana. He lived out the next 50 years of his life in the Vicksburg area and is buried in the Schoolcraft Township Cemetery for Vicksburg residents.


  • Creation: January 1-April 1, 1865


Biographical / Historical

Richard Smith (July 10, 1839 - August 14, 1920) was born and raised in England. In 1858, Richard immigrated to the United States and shortly after that found work as a farm laborer for Russell Bishop of Schoolcraft, MI. After the Civil War broke out Richard decided to enlist in Company I, First Michigan Volunteer Cavalry to serve in the Union Army.


1 Volumes ; 8.5 x 14 in

Language of Materials


Physical Description

The diary is composed of four pieces of 8.5 x 14 in. lined paper and takes up less than .05 feet of cubic space. The paper the diary is written on is over 150 years old, so a photocopy of the diary is included in the collection and should be handled at all cost before the original document. The original document is very fragile, and the seams and ceases of the paper are beginning to deteriorate and break apart. Some straining and yellowing of the paper is present on the documents, but overall the writing is still easily readable. If the original document has to be handle please use extreme cautious, care, and sensitivity.


This diary was composed during the final months of the American Civil War by Sgt. Richard Smith of the First Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. The written entries date from 1 January to 1 April 1865, and focuses on the unit’s time encamped in Virginia.


This diary was purchased through the Starring Endowment.

Richard Smith Diary Finding Aid
Matthew Eugene Machinski
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections Repository

Charles C. and Lynn L. Zhang Legacy Collections Center
1650 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5307 US
(269) 387-8490