Linn’s Letters During the Battle of New Bern


Figure 1

As my final project for Digging into the Digital, I chose to look at the letters James Merrill Linn wrote home from March 16 to 26, 1862. I chose these particular dates because they are the letters that he sent as the Battle of NewBern was taking place. In the archives, the diary entries that he would have written during this battle are missing. Either they were lost on the way to Bucknell University’s archives, or he did not write in his diary during the battle. Either way, the letters he wrote home are the only pieces of his first hand occurrence of the battle. My research question is “Do the letters he wrote from March 16 to March 26 actually help to make sense of what happened during the Battle of New Bern?

To get the most accurate answer to my research question, I chose to do close reading. I did not think mapping would be as helpful since I was not worried about the particulars of his location, but rather what was said in the pages. I thought that this would be the most helpful because I could compare it to the diary entries before and after the battle, to see if it does accurately fill in what happened during the battle of New Bern. I was given ten letters from the archives to do a close reading of. I transcribed eight letters written to his brother, John that look like the page shown in Figure 1.

I did not find transcribing the pages too strenuous but I did come across a few difficulties in the letters. In one letter, he must have spilled water on the corner of the page because part of the first line was illegible due to

Figure 2

Figure 2

water damage (Figure 2). There were only a few words that I could not decipher. The majority of my difficulties came from words that Linn used that I have never heard before and had to look up, or words that I have never heard in that context before. The most interesting example of this is in Figure 3 where Linn writes, “I have an altered Harpers ferry which is boxed to send from here”. I had never heard of a ferry that you can box and send home before, so I turned to the Internet to do some research on “Harpers ferry”. At first I came up empty-handed, all the sites said was that this was a National Historic Park of a historic town in West Virginia. However, when I added the word “gun” to my search, it revealed that Harpers ferry was the first rifle made by an American armory.

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Figure 3

After transcribing the letters, I began to analyze them through TEI. I put the transcriptions into Oxygen and marked them up. We did the same for Linn’s diary entries in the beginning of the year so I was able to compare his letters to John during the battle of New Bern to other diary entries he wrote. While tagging the letters I noticed a few different things than when tagging the diary. I do not think we used the “affiliation” tag at all Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 9.55.39 PMduring the tagging of the diaries. This time around I used it much more often though. Such as when tagging his company, or the rebels, or anything that refers to a formal relationship with a group of some kind. I also used the “state” tag very often this time around. I think this is because the letters he wrote home to his family are much more personal than what he wrote in his diary. Most likely because he wrote this diary for himself for the future, or for the public to read so he doesn’t put more facts into it than his emotions.

The letters he wrote to John are not as factual, although he wrote about the dates a lot. Most likely because Linn constantly wanted his brother to know what he was doing and where he was going. He also wrote more about generals and the men higher up in the ranks, rather than his comrades, unlike what he wrote in the diaries. I think this is because the diaries are for him personally and he knows who the comrades he is writing about are. John does not know the soldiers fighting alongside James, so he wrote more about the men who tell him and his comrades where to go and what to do. For example he never once mentioned his friend and fellow soldier Beaver in the eight pages that I transcribed, while in the diary he talked about him more than anyone else. Linn wrote about home much more often in the letters than in the diary. He talked about sending relics home, like an altered Harpers ferry, sending money home, and the letters he receives from his family. One part that I found very interesting was when he wrote, “My don’t Annie or Laura write. I have not received anything from them for a long while. I am glad the old shop is gone, though I think you let it go cheap”. In all the diary entries I read, he barely mentioned his sisters, but in a letter to his brother he did. Also, he wrote of events going on at home, something he would rarely do in the diary entries.

Since his diary entries are much more factual than the letters this might seem unfortunate because I am trying to see if the letters written in this time period fill in what happened at the battle of New Bern. I do not have as much information as I would have in a diary entry about this battle, because he writes more about what is affecting him in the battle, and especially the annoyances. One was when he “loaned a pair of my boots to a little Jew belonging to my company, but he disgraced them by blacking out in the battle”. Fortunately, we do have facts about the battle besides through these letters to John.

03161862aThe first two letters, on March 16, were solely focused on the events that unfolded during the battle of New Bern. These letters were not to his brother John, but to a newspaper from his hometown of Lewisburg, called the Star & Chronicle. Captain Hassenplug asked Linn to forward to the newspaper the casualties, loss, and present state of his company. Linn wrote that more have died of disease than have been killed in battle. He also wrote of their advances, attacks, and retreats. On the top of one of the pages Linn wrote “Recapitulation” and gave a summary of who dies, who transferred, who was discharged, who deserted the company, and who was wounded and where they were hurt. He even dedicated a whole paragraph to experiments that him and his company performed in light of the sentence “I have often been reminded of the remark we often hear that it is a wonder so many escape”. Linn thought the newspaper would find their experiments of firing funs at different ranges, and the accuracy of the guns to be interesting.

Ultimately, transcribing Linn’s letters during the battle of New Bern did help me to comprehend the events that unfolded as Linn and his company were in the battle and the aftermath of it. Close reading allowed me to understand what happened during the battle, and also to look at how Linn wrote his letters compared to in his diary. I thought that this project was extremely interesting, and I enjoyed transcribing the letters to figure out how Linn wrote his letters home. It was also very fascinating to read the letter to the Star & Chronicle because it is very different from everything we have looked at in class. Overall, this project allowed me to have a better understanding of the battle of New Bern, and Linn’s writing techniques.


Links to my marked up files:


Works Cited

Linn, James Merrill. Letter to Star & Chronicle. March 16, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Linn, James Merrill. Letters to John. March 19-26, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Linn, James Merrill. Diary. March 12, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Linn, James Merrill. Diary. March 24, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Linn’s Journey to South Mills through Mapping


Reading and transcribing the diaries of James Merrill Linn and even analyzing them helped a bit with understanding the text, but what we have done recently helped even more. Mapping out his diaries allowed us to visually comprehend where Linn went and how it related to the events occurring at the same time. Through ArcGIS I could map out where Linn travelled in my particular diary entry, April 18-19, and get a clear view of Linn’s participation in the Civil War.

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Linn’s Journey to Battle at South Mills

From the text I could think about the places where he went, but I had no idea what it looked like mapped out, and I couldn’t fill in the blanks about where he went and in what time period. I knew that he somehow travelled from the Pasquotank River to Currituck and then to the battle at South Mills but I did not know through what route. I also did not realize until I mapped it out that Currituck is so far out of the way, I thought it would just be in a straight line to the abttle. Through ArcGIS it was easy to see the route Linn and other soldiers took to get to South Mills. ArcGIS is a geographic information system used for working with and creating maps. It is such a good tool to use because “stories are both individual and collective, and each of them link geography (space) and history (time)” (Bodenhamer, 16). ArcGIS allows you to connect where something took place and when, and create a map using both of them. Although “the humanities and social sciences especially have advanced new lines of inquiry characterized by a different and more nuanced understanding of space…” (Bodenhamer, 15) and this tool works so well in the humanities department like in our situation, it can be used in other subjects too. “Archaeologists came early to GIS… Maps of uncovered human habitats, long a staple of the archaeologist, were easier to chart with the survey-based techniques of GIS. Artifacts bore a spatial relationship that was important in interpreting the past…” (Bodenhamer, 21). It’s easy to relate our experiences of trying to figure out where Linn travelled and when to uncovering human habitats for archaeologists. We are both just trying to connect geography and history to map out where everything took place in relation to another.

I really like that through GIS, there is a more set map of where Linn travelled. Without this technology, it would just be left up to each of us to interpret the diaries our own ways. However, using this tool, it allowed us all to map out where Linn definitely wrote that he was. Whether that is true or not all depends on the accuracy of Linn’s writings. Unfortunately, critics of GIS claimed that “evidence about the world depends upon the perspective of the observer, a distinction that GIS obscured. Two people who view the same object may interpret it quite differently because of their different assumptions and experiences” (Bodenhamer, 19). Personally, I think this is a good part of GIS because it is left up to facts and evidence, not opinions and assumptions.


My Web App:

Linn’s Journey To South Mills: Mapping and Web App

How Tagging Helped Me

When marking up a transcription it also forces you to take a deeper look into the diary entry, mainly just because you’re analyzing it even mScreen shot 2014-10-26 at 10.37.45 PMore. It has allowed me to understand the details of Linn’s diary better, especially who the people are and how they relate to John Linn and to the Civil War. For example, I was not sure if I had transcribed the word “twit” correctly, but after I did and looked up the definition it helped my to better understand the context of the text around it. It was particularly helpful to work with my classmates to figure out together who someone mentioned in a diary was because it was most likely in another student’s diary as well. It definitely allowed me to understand better how edited texts are produced, and it is not easy. OScreen shot 2014-10-26 at 10.42.30 PMur editorial board had some particular issues with resolving disputes over places vs. objects. Although I did not have any of the words in my diary post that were being argued over, one that was constantly discussed was if we should tag regiments as people. We did finally decide and all compromised on many tagging of words and discussions. It all had to do with judgment, and “Judgment is necessarily involved in deciding what is in face present… but the transcriber’s goal is to make an informed decision about what is actually inscribed at each point” (Pierrazo 465). Thankfully, it was a collaborative effort with the rest of the class that we were all able to work on together via computers and the Internet. Pierrazo put it in a way that makes sense by saying, “An electronic edition is like an iceberg, with far more data potentially available than is actually visible on the screen, and this is at the same time a great opportunity and a temptation to overdo things, When so many possibilities exist, there is a danger of technological considerations of what can be done taking priority over intellectual considerations of what is actually desirable or necessary in any particular case” (Pierrazo 467). Making decisions about transcribing has the potential to take an incredibly long time. “We all know how important economic considerations are in our decision-making processes; almost all of our research projects are funded for a specific time-span and budget, and so it is fundamental to ensure that the transcription (and encoding) is feasible within this lifetime.” (p 469). Although we don’t have to worry about a budget, it would not be time conscious to give every single word an in-depth tag, and we did a good job at tagging words but not going overboard.

Skiing Invented During the Civil War

Personally, I think the relationship between ideas and modes of representation is very confusing. But visual modes of representation do help to clarify events in time.

For example, in class we made timelines of our lives and then our days. It was really interesting to see what you remember, but also helps to have it all mapped out on a timeline to clearly see the chronology of important events in time. “For Christians, getting chronology right was the key to many practical matters such as knowing when to celebrate Easter and weighty ones such a knowing when the Apocalypse was nigh.” (Grafton, pg 11) It’s not just important for ordinary people to use chronology to remember information, it can also help with dating significant events in time. However, in historical times there was no exact chronological order of every event that occurred. So people had to use visual modes of representation to get an accurate timeline of events. “Still, experiments continued. Some were graphic, like the effort to lay out all the main historical events on a calendar that stretched not from the Creation or Abraham to the present but from January 1 to December 31, with important events in the past stacked up day by day, through the year.” (Grafton, pg 17).Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 10.46.02 PM

It’s interesting to think about how time played out for Linn in his diary. It was also fascinating to see how really significant events in history occurred in the same years as Linn’s diary, so while the Civil War was going on. For example, who knew that the first transantlantic telegraph cable was used during the same decade as the Civil War was taking place. However, this would not have been as simple if we did not have the technology we possess today. It definitely made studying and comparing historical events easier and more accessible to the public. Although it is very eminent, we must remember that “Though technology plays an important role in our story, it doesn’t drive it.” (page 15) It was especially interesting that Linn didScreen shot 2014-10-05 at 10.45.40 PM not mention any important historical events that occurred outside his life in the Civil War. For example, skiing was invented in the same winter when Linn was writing in his diary. Although he did not have the Internet or any technology that would have allowed him to gain access quickly, I assume that word of a new sport like skiing would have been spread about in the United States as well, but there was no mention of skiing or any important event that occurred outside of his immediate realm.