Two hundred years ago, the United States was still deeply embroiled in the War of 1812, a conflict with Great Britain that had a lasting impact on Ohio through the creation of new towns and settlements, and the cementing of cultural and geographic boundaries in the Great Lakes region that exist to this day. A new item available on Ohio Memory–the Nathan Newsom diary–sheds light on this conflict from the perspective of an American soldier while bringing to life the everyday conditions and sufferings experienced by troops of the time.
Newsom was an orderly sergeant in Captain Calvin Shepard’s company from Gallia County, Ohio, during the war, and this document covers his experiences for the period (roughly) of August 9th, 1812, through February 3rd, 1813. The full title of this narrative account is “A Short summary of a journey, taken by volunteers from Gallia County; for the purpose of destroying Indians and the invasion of Canada,” and within its pages, Newsom reflects on and records the struggles of being part of this company, in many ways woefully unprepared for the conditions they faced.
The tone is set early on in the volume when on August 13th, the company encamps near the courthouse in Chillicothe (then serving as the state capital), and Newsom remarks that the men are already “embarrassed in the pecuniary way…. Various things were promised us, when we marched, by our officers for our convenience which were never complied with.” This is a running theme throughout the narrative as the author describes low wages and a lack of weather-appropriate clothing, as well as rampant illness and numerous desertions by desperate soldiers. Various punishments were meted out to deserters over the course of Newsom’s text, including fines, tarring and papering followed by eyebrow shaving and half-rations, and “riding the rail.”
However, not all of Newsom’s narrative focuses on the challenges of the journey–he also records his impressions of the early landscape of Ohio as the company covers many miles in their travels. He describes Urbana and its environs as “uncommon level,… tolerable productive of the necessities of life; a fine country for beef and bees.” Of the land surrounding “Soloman’s town,” (near modern-day Huntsville), he records “a pleasant fertile neighborhood. A variety of timber grows here to great perfection… interspersed with small prairies which add to the ornament and convenience of the country.”
Newsom’s volume leaves off in February of 1813, just before “some decisive battle is… conjectured to take place.” We hope you’ll take a look at this fascinating narrative, which includes exciting accounts of Hull’s surrender of Fort Detroit, numerous Indian attacks, and much more!
Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!