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.

Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 10.08.48 PM

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.

Letters vs. Diaries

Through this final project, I wanted to find out if James Merrill Linn wrote differently to his mother and brother than he did in his diary entries that we analyzed earlier this year. I also thought it would be interesting to analyze the different ways in which he address his mother versus his brother. In order to accomplish this goal I decided to collaborate with my classmate Rachel Harmatz that way we would have double the data to work with. I began by transcribing a letter that James Merrill Linn wrote home to his brother John on February 11th, 1862, while Rachel worked on transcribing a letter written home to his mother on February 19th, 1862. We purposely picked two letters that were written around the same time chronologically to allow us to make a stronger comparison.

snap talk1

Drawing seen in letter to John

Although the transcription process was made much easier by working with a partner, Rachel and I still faced some difficulties. For example, there was a part of the letter to John in which there was an image drawn over the words. This made seeing the words underneath a very difficult process for us. However, I think that the image might be a drawing of the company houses that he previously discusses. Therefore, even though the image serves a purpose, it made reading the letter much harder. In the letter to James Merrill Linn’s mother he also drew a picture, however the words were on either side of the picture so it did not interfere. We are not sure as to why in this case the image was not drawn in the same fashion. Additionally, there were some individual words that both of us were not able to figure out, even in context. We went to the archive to look at the original document, but even when looking at this, some of the words were still indecipherable.



For our next step we decided to color code before tagging through oxygen because we both found this a useful step while working with Linn’s diary entries. We agreed on which tags would be useful to us, and created our own key for the colors to code with. One difference between coding these letters from when we coded Linn’s diary entries, was that we decided to take advantage of the “affiliation” tag. For example, we chose to mark North Carolinians as an affiliation, because they are not just people, they are people affiliated with a specific place. This process of coding allowed us to easily see visually which word types were more prominent, which will be very useful for our analysis. We then coded using TEI before transferring this word document into oxygen so that we could create our digital edition.

Another means in which we thought would provide us with useful analysis was Voyant tools. Voyant tools allow us to see which specific words are most prominently used. Since we want to compare both the letters to John and his mother, and the letters as a whole to the diary entries, we decided to make several cirrus’ through Voyant. We made one of the letter to John, one of the letter to the mother, one of both the letters, and one with both the diary entries. We did not think it would be necessary to make two separate cirrus’ for Rachel and I’s diary entries because we deemed them similar enough.

After all these steps were completed, we were finally able to begin our analysis. Through analyzing all three documents (diary entries, letter to John, and letter to mother) through TEI and Voyant tools, I can conclude that the context he includes in each document varies considerably. The diary entries are very factual and provide a play-by-play of James Merrill Linn’s days. On the other hand, the letter home to his mother is much more personal. The letter home to John falls somewhere in the middle of the diary entries and the letters home to his mom. The letter home to John includes a mix of factual information related to his war experiences and personal emotional experiences.

Voyant cirrus of diary entries

The analysis of the diary entries has been done previously in the year. We coded the diary entries, and through this we were able to discover that the diary entries heavily focused on people, objects, and places that directly involved him in the moment. Additionally, through close reading we observed that Linn focuses on weather and the specific time of day in which he goes to certain places. He also focuses on specific accounts and details of the war. This led me to believe that Linn wrote the diary entries for himself as a reference that he could look back to in order to trace his past steps and remember when certain events took place. Additionally, the Voyant cirrus served as a very helpful form of analysis. Voyant tools allows the viewer to see which words come up the most throughout the document. The words that are at the center and the largest in the screenshot are the most prominent. The words that are the largest all relate directly to the war, such as, killed, capt, battle, men, col, boats, island, barracks, quarters, and gun. This shows that Linn was very concerned in his diaries to have an accurate account of each day during the war. Although this would serve as very helpful in order to map James Merrill Linn’s path, through this we do not get to know Linn on a personal level. I was curious to see if Linn also wrote to his mother and brother, John, about these same details, or if he opened up about his experiences and emotions to them.

After transcribing the letters to John and Linn’s mother, and analyzing both of them through TEI and Voyant tools, it can be concluded that both of these letters are much more personal in comparison to the diary entries. Some aspects that made these letters more personal was that they included stories and Linn expressed both his humor and emotions. When reading these letters I felt a closer connection to Linn than I felt while reading any of Linn’s diary entries. However, one main distinction between the letter to John and the letter to his mother was that the letter to John still included specific accounts and details from the war, where as this was not seen as much in the letter to his mother.



Through analyzing James Merrill Linn’s letter to his mother, I believe that its purpose served to inform his mother of how he was doing through telling her stories of his personal experiences. For example, Linn includes his responsibilities, i.e. being military commander, and what he specifically does such as issuing out food and arranging cooking. Additionally, there are many instances after doing a close reading that led me to see that Linn cares deeply for his mother. For example, in one part of the letter, he discusses how he wants his mother to know that he is safe, and apologized for being too busy to write. Also, even by just taking a glimpse at the color coding document, I can see that grey is one of the most commonly seen colors, which corresponds to states, i.e. emotion. However, I remember from coding Linn’s diary entries that states was one of the least seen word types. Throughout this letter to his mother, Linn expresses emotion heavily. For instance, he expresses excitement when he talks about the amazing food he receives. Through the voyant cirrus, we were able to see that two commonly used words were hope and wish. This illustrates that Linn was very expressive throughout the letter of his feelings. Lastly, it is important to note that in order to make his mother feel connected to his life, he includes funny stories. One story that I enjoyed from this letter was how one of the doctors mistook a man named Foster, as General Foster, and did not notice until after he finished treating the man. Therefore, although Linn does not focus heavily on accounts related to his war experiences, some stories about the battles and prisoners do come up in this letter on some occasions.

Letters to John

Voyant cirrus of letter to John

The context of the letter to James Merrill Linn’s brother, John, had a balance between war accounts, and personal details. This letter was not nearly as factual as the diary entries, but  discussed details of war significantly more than he did to his mother. When analyzing the color coding document for the letter to John, one of the most commonly seen colors is light green, which correlates to affiliation. Some things that we categorized as affiliation are regiments and companies. Since these word types are seen frequently, we can conclude that Linn discusses specific occurrences that happen during his time at war a good amount. However, this does not mean that Linn cares about his mother more than his brother, it might be because his brother is a boy and can relate to these types of details better. For example, Linn discusses his fraternity Phi Kappa Psi in this letter, which is something reasonable for his brother to be more interested in than his mother. Looking at the Voyant of the letter to John also proves this point. Some of the most used words relate to war such as company, men, island, wounded, and condition. However, unlike the Voyant of the diary entries, not all of the words are solely related to war. This letter did have some emotional and personal aspects and Linn took the time to let John know that he is safe and he explained his living situation and gave him details such as the good bread the cook heats up for him. Therefore, the context included in the letter to John was a nice mix between the other two documents. Linn did not only discuss details of the war, but through this letter we also go to learn about him and his experiences on a personal level.

Overall, this project allowed me to compare the writings of James Merrill Linn, and this analysis was made possible through both TEI and Voyant tools. I thought it was interesting to learn about the different aspects of his life Linn decided to mention and discuss in his own diary, versus to his mother and brother. It is important to note that my personal interpretations played a huge role in the coding that I did and therefore the conclusions that I made. A different person could have chose to code different word types, and based off of that come up with different conclusions. Despite this fact, I enjoyed this project very much and it was nice to get to know more about James Merrill Linn and not just of his whereabouts during the war.

The links to my digital edition and TEI file can be opened through the links below…

Works Cited

Linn, James Merrill. Diary. February 5-7, 8-12, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.
Linn, James Merrill. Letter to John. February 11, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.
Linn, James Merrill. Letter to Mother. February 19, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.


Week of 12/1 Assignments

It’s our final week of class 🙁

Here is what will happen in each class, important milestones, and plans for next Monday.

Monday, December 1

  • Final project workshop
  • abstract (150-200 words) due by 11pm

Wednesday, December 3

  • Final project workshop
    Outline of expectations for lightening talk

Friday, December 5

  • Final project workshop
  • Expectation of working draft of artifact by end of Friday’s class.
  • Homework: Prepare for Monday’s lightning talk

Lightening talk consists of:
Short in-class presentation of final project (3-5 minutes long) that is an articulation of research question, reason why this tool was chosen, whether or not it achieved the sought for answer to research question, demonstration of its function/argument as distinct because of the tool/approach.

Monday, December 8

  • Lightning talks

Analyzing Transcription with Tagging

Using close reading as a tool to analyze the transcription helped us to better understand the text. In class, we have used two tools/techniques, categorizing words by colors and TEI. Both of which were very useful, especially TEI, in categorizing important words. By tagging words, we analyzed every bit of information they might offer. Pierazzo stated “no transcription, however accurate, will ever be able to represent entirely the source document” (Pierazzo, 464). Although we can’t represent it entirely, we can at least get every bit of information we can.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 9.31.15 PMCategorizing words by colors was a very interesting technique. It is simple yet efficient in highlighting significant words. We tagged words by categories (people, places, events, traits, states, etc.) and highlight them in different colors. As simple as it sounds, we encountered a lot of problems. We had to define what is and what isn’t tag-worthy. The categories were a problem themselves. We had many arguments on what should be in which category. For example, we had to define whether “Cossack” should be a place or an object. Like “Cossack”, many words were on the verges of two different categories. Overall, it was interesting to see how everyone chooses to tag and how Linn chooses to write down his observations. There were more tagging for people and objects than anything else. Linn seems to be more concerned with physical things.Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 10.19.14 PM

TEI changes the way we can analyze text.Similarly to the colorization technique, TEI allows us to categorize words with a variety of options. With the help of TEI, we have endless options in tagging significant words. In Pierazzo’s article, Dristol stated “to all intents and purposes there is no limit to the information one can add to a text—apart, that is, from the limits of the imagination” (466) when commenting on the possibilities of TEI. While encoding with TEI, I had a lot of problems with deciding how many different codes I needed to analyze a word. We had a lot of options but we also had a lot of words. With TEI, I found myself tagging more words than with the colorization. I tagged a lot of words that were not significant. However, by tagging them, I was able to learn everything we could from the physical states of the object to the time and place.

The collaborative process works in our advantage. As we were able to work with each other, we made sure that we had the same guidelines for tagging these words. Pierazzo said that the opinion of the editor changes the interpretation of the transcription. By deciding on the tagging of certain words, we can have similar interpretation of the text, therefore prevents us from deviating from the accepted guideline.

Blog IV: TEI, XML, and Close Reading

The density of brown descriptive terms in the second day of the diary.

The density of brown descriptive terms in the second day of the diary.

Through the markup of Linn’s diary entries and close examination of the words and phrases he used to express himself, I have developed a deeper understanding of Linn’s words and have begun to formulate new questions based on the last two weeks’ exercises.  I consider myself lucky that my page of Linn’s diary contained two days worth of writings.  This has allowed me, through markup of descriptive terms, to witness how Linn’s writing styled changed by day, and by his emotions at the time.  By looking at the density of negative descriptive terms, I was able to pick out a distinct change in Linn’s tone between the 7th and the 8th.  More specifically, the occurrence of negative descriptors was roughly three times as dense on the 8th than it was on the 7th.  I was able to assume from this information that Linn’s mood dropped dramatically between the two days, likely a result of the incessant rain and cold weather he had to sleep in.  This kind of revelation is possible through the features Pierazzo describes as “Semantics,” the markup of “dates, names of people, of places, keywords.”  I would never have noticed this subtle change, nor really understood Linn’s feelings these days without close reading and markups of the text.


Collaborating with the rest of the class in creating a standardized markup style gave me insight into the workings of editorial boards; specifically how long the editorial decision process takes.  As a group of ten, we spent the better part of 15 minutes discussing the benefits of labeling boats as objects or places.  Both sides of the argument made good points, and we found it difficult to come to a consensus.  I think this illustrates a point made by Elena Pierazzo, “objectivity is not very productive or helpful in the case of transcription and subsequently of diplomatic edition… it is argued here for informed, circumspect, documented, scholarly interpretation.”  There was no right answer in the debate we had.  It was a matter of weighing the facts in front of us and making a subjective decision, a decision that was in part based on what information we wanted the markup to carry.  We ended up marking named boats as objects because we wanted readers to know that they were only referred to as places in specific circumstances.  This is an example of the purpose of a digital edition as defined by Pierazzo, that they are meant “to achieve the scholarly purpose of the edition–a purpose which, by definition, varies.”

A selection of my original markup...

A selection of my original markup…

... vs. the same selection after group editing.

… vs. the same selection after group editing.