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.

Personal accounts in letters in comparison to factual information in diary entries

For our final project, Mary Medure and I collaborated together to compare and contrast James Merrill Linn’s diary entries and his letters to his mother and brother, John. We wanted to focus more on the content of his diary entries and letters rather than specific tools that documented his locations. Thus, instead of mapping, we chose to each transcribe different letters that would be eventually tagged in TEI and converted to a Digital Edition. Mary and I chose to transcribe letters that were written around the same time frame to compare the content in each letter. Additionally, we wanted to transcribe both the letters that were in the same time frame as the diary entries we transcribed earlier this semester. Mary transcribed the letter to John on February 11, 1862 and her diary entries she already transcribed were February 8-12, 1862. I transcribed the letter to Linn’s mother on February 19, 1862 and the diary entries from February 5-7, 1862. We used Voyant tools to compare his most commonly used words in his diary entries and letters.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 1.32.59 PM

Transcription Difficulty of Letter to Mother on February 19, 1862

During the transcription process, Mary and I separately transcribed the 2 pages of each letter and then collaborated together to clarify the words we could not decipher. We would read the letters aloud to each other to make more sense of Linn’s experiences. However, some words were illegible so we went to the archives in the library to read the letters first hand. In Linn’s letter to his Mother, Mary and I could not read the words at the end of each page because of the binding of the documents. In the archives, we could not bend or fold the pages over to read the full words so we had to make some educated guesses related to the context of each sentence. In Pierazzo’s article, she raises a great point that “[j]udgment is necessarily involved in deciding what is in fact present [in the manuscript], as when an ambiguously formed character resembles two different letters; but the transcriber’s goal is to make an informed decision about what is actually inscribed at each point (Meulen and Tanselle, 1999, p. 201)” (465). This demonstrates that although Mary and I went to the archives for a second look at the documents, we still needed to make educated contextual guesses for multiple words for the document to make sense. For example, the screenshot on the left shows the word “tomatoes” cut off. In this section of the letter, he was talking about food and “toma-” is legible. Therefore, I needed to make an educated guess with regards to the context of the sentence to figure out the word that was cut off at the end of the page.

Color Coding of Events and Affiliation in Letter to Mother February 19, 1862

Color Coding of Events and Affiliation in Letter to Mother February 19, 1862

After the transcription process, we needed to start tagging the words that we felt were most important to include. To make the tagging process simpler, we color coded based on person/people, place, affiliation, object, state, trait, event, date, time and military role. In our diary entries, we did not color code to the same extent. We found that affiliation and person/people  were important enough to be a separate entity. For instance, we consider “Americans” to be an affiliation because it is a group of people associated to a specific location. We also categorized “war” and “battles” as events rather than places because they are at different locations. I did not have “event” as a category in the diary entry I transcribed because he would refer to the battles as their real names. As he writes to his mother, I believe that he refers to the battles generally because he is not using the letters as a reference to his specific locations and events.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 5.33.53 PM

Color Coding of Descriptions and States in Letter to Mother February 19, 1862

After color coding, we noticed that the majority of words we highlighted were descriptions and states of well being.  Highlighted in turquoise are the descriptions and highlighted in gray are states, including weather and emotions. He is writing to his mother pertaining more of his personal experiences and his emotional responses to the war overall. After color coding the letters, we tagged the words that were highlighted and transferred the document to Oxygen to make a Digital Edition.

Letters to Mom & John

Letters to Mother and John most commonly used words

Voyant is a great tool to use when comparing contextual information in different documents. Therefore, Mary and I thought it would be a good idea to compare the diary entries to the letters using Voyant.  First, we took our my transcription files of Linn’s letter to his mother and brother, John, to show the most commonly used words. I noticed that he frequently used “hope”, “remember”, “little”, and “home”. These words are more of an expression and description of how he feels and his reactions to his surroundings as opposed to specific locations and people. He refers to “home” (Lewisburg) frequently, which makes sense because he is talking to his mother. Generic terms like “men” and “company” are commonly used because his letter to his mother is more of a representation of his personal experiences rather than a collection of locations he travels to or people he encounters.

Diary entries (both)

Linn’s diary entries most commonly used words

After analyzing our transcriptions of Linn’s letters to his mother and brother, Mary and I combined our diary entries to see the most commonly used words. We noticed that military men of different ranks were prevalent throughout his diary entries. Linn refers to specific people such as General Burnside, Captain Bennet, and many more. Comparatively speaking, “battle” appears to be used in both the letters and diary entries; however, “battle” is significantly larger, indicating it was used more, in his diaries. This supports the hypothesis that Linn’s diary entries are more of a personal account of places and people, whereas his letters to his family are more of his emotional experiences throughout the war.

Transcribing Linn’s letters to his mother and John around the same time as Linn’s previously transcribed diary entries gave Mary and I the support to claim that Linn’s diary entries are a personal collection for himself of locations he has traveled to and people he has encountered along the way. In contrast, Linn’s letters to his mother and John are more generic and express his feelings regarding the war rather than the a series of places and people. Color coding helped us significantly as we found that our hypothesis was correct in saying that Linn’s writing to his mother and brother were more emotional and personal whereas his diary entries were a collection of people and places for himself to remember later. To visualize the contrast in diary entries and letters written to family, Voyant is a great visualization tool to give the viewer a general idea of the premise and themes of each document. Overall, this project gave me a much better understanding of James Merrill Linn’s diary purpose in writing what he did in both his diary entries and letters to home.

Here are the links to my final TEI product!

Digital edition:

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.
Pierazzo, Elena. “A Rationale of Digital Documentary Editions.” Literary and Linguistic Computing. 26.4(2011): 463-477.



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.


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.

On Tagging and Markup

The process of marking up text itself reveals some key inherent aspects. As I built my TEI file, I saw the structure of the text as dictated by the appearance of objects, places and their relationships and definitions. For example, I noticed the relatively few times places were mentioned in the text. Only one place, “the road” was mentioned within Linn’s narrative for my section of text, events were tied to names not places. After going through the process it is evident that the marked up file is inherently different than the original. One problem I encountered was determining the amount of information and detail to include in my markup. If I did  too little I might end up losing important meaning or details, marking up too much risked obscuring the original text.  Pierazzo comments on this dilemma and notes that a transition can be viewed as  model of a physical object, considering there are an infinite number of details present in a physical object, one might be tempted to create a model that aspires to be the original as much as possible, however, a model is useless unless it is a simplification of what it models. Pierazzo  suggests this balance between too much and too little detail can be remedied with a application of a “grid of features” , a hierarchy of what characteristics of a text are important. 

This if an example of levels of detail TEI markup language allows. The transcriber must make decisions on what is important.

This if an example of levels of detail TEI markup language allows. The transcriber must make decisions on what is important.

The collaborative process changed the way I thought of edited work production. For the tagging of words, what might be an obvious tag for one might not be for another, while neither would have reasons completely disproving the other. Compromise was the eventual outcome thus collaborative texts are built on compromises between differing viewpoints. When considering other’s viewpoints on the same text, one gains the appreciation of how one’s own editing is the result of their own interpretation.

Elena Pierazzo mentions this as part of a larger phenomenon encountered in digital transcriptions, that is the essential effect of the transcriber when they chose what to bring to light. Pierazzo claims that a text in its original form contains an infinite number of facts and that transcription is “a substantially  interpretive act” as only a finite number of those facts can be presented in a marked transcription.

For example, place vs. object was a significant issue that was brought up in class. Is the Cossack, a ship, a place or an object? Some considered the Cossack an object as all ships are objects, others considered it a place as it behaves this way in Linn’s narrative, much like a house. The finished collaborative transcription is very different from one made individually. Pierazzo mentions this distinction with her description of a diplomatic edition.

Pierazzo claims that a direct transcription is  “a derivative document that holds a relationship with the transcribed document.” A diplomatic transcription however, is a “formal presentation of such a derivative document” that is proofread, corrected and peer reviewed before publication for the public. 


The finished product is a result of collaboration and is inherently different than the original individual text.