Sandusky's Civil War General:General John Beatty's diary, "The Citizen-Soldier," reveals life during the Civil War

Tucked away in a far back corner of Oakland Cemetery is a family plot with very modest markers. One of those markers is for a native Sanduskian and it may hold one of Sandusky and Erie County’s best kept historical secrets.

The plot is for the family of John and Mary Beatty, who sold the land that became Oakland Cemetery to Sandusky. Interesting, but that’s not the secret.

Within that family plot is a 26” x 14” x 7” marker that reads: “General John Beatty, Erie County, OH, December 16, 1828. Columbus, Ohio, December 21, 1914.”

A general? 

The tombstone is the same size for all the family members. 

No statue. 

No indication that one of only two Erie County’s generals is buried there. 

That’s the secret, and it leads to a fascinating story.

Beatty was born in Sandusky in 1828. When the Civil War started in 1861, he was living in Columbus and like many, enlisted as a private in the army. His group became the 3rd Ohio Infantry.

It didn’t take long for his superiors to recognize that he had a skill for military tactics, especially as a civilian turned soldier.

In 1861, he went from private to lieutenant colonel. 

One year later, in 1862, he was promoted to colonel.

And in 1863, after two years of service, he was promoted to brigadier general. 

As if being promoted from a private to a brigadier general in two years wasn’t significant enough, Beatty’s claim to historical fame is a diary he kept during the war. His diary was published in 1879 as “The Citizen-Soldier.” He was encouraged to publish his diary, which gave an authentic representation of what daily life was like during the war. 

Many books on the Civil War were published, but they tended to be about the epic battles, like Gettysburg. Beatty’s book gave an unadulterated view of what it was like for a soldier in the day to day: the good, the bad, the exciting, and the boredom.

Beatty was a natural writer and he often shows his poetic side. 

A period photo of Beatty taken by famous Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.February 4, 1862. 
“From the band of the 10th Ohio, half a mile away, come strains mellow and sweet. The air is full of moonlight and music.”

Lack of information on what was happening in the war was an issue back then. 

The entry for July 5, 1862 reads: “An Atlanta newspaper of the 1st instant says the Confederates have won a decisive battle at Richmond. No Northern papers have been allowed to come into camp.”

He even had his brush with two future presidents. 

Once, in 1862, as a colonel, he served on a court-martial board with General James Garfield.

Another meeting was noted in his entry for August 25, 1861.

It reads: “The 23rd Ohio, Colonel Scammon, will be here tomorrow. Stanley Mathews is the lieutenant-colonel of this regiment, and my old friend, Rutherford B. Hayes, the major. The latter is an accomplished gentleman, graduate of Harvard Law School, and will, it is said in all probability, succeed (John) Gurley in Congress.”

Not being a professional soldier, Beatty was very candid on observations of fellow officers.

July 20, 1863.
“Officers are more selfish, dishonest, and grasping for notoriety than the miser for gold. I know of one officer who has great credit, in official reports and in the newspapers, for a battle in which he did not participate at all. In fact, he did not reach the field until after the enemy had not only been repulsed, but retired out of sight; and yet has not the manliness to correct the error, and give the honor to whom it is due.”

Sometimes you know things intellectually, but until you see them in person, it doesn’t really hit home.

This happened to Beatty.

November 30, 1861.
“The Third is encamped five miles south of Louisville (KY), on the Seventh-street plank road.
As we marched through the city my attention was directed to a sign bearing the inscription, in large black letters, ‘NEGROES BOUGHT AND SOLD.’ We have known, to be sure, that negroes were bought and sold, like cattle and tobacco, but it, nevertheless, awakened new, and not by any means agreeable, sensations to see the humiliating fact announced on the broad side of a commercial house. These signs must come down.”
Often you read that life in camp was the opposite of the adrenaline rush of battle.

The Sandusky Library has an original 1879 copy of “The Citizen Soldier” in its archives that was donated by Beatty. (Photo/Tim Fleck)December 29, 1863.
“Nothing of interest has transpired to-day. Bugles, drums, drills, parades—the old story over and over again; the usual number of corn-cakes eaten, of pipes smoked, of papers respectfully forwarded, of how-do-ye-do's to colonels, captains, lieutenants, and soldiers. You put on your hat and take a short walk. It does you no good. Returning you lie down on the cot, and undertake to sleep; but you have already slept too much, and you get up and smoke again, look over an old paper, yawn, throw the paper down, and conclude it is confoundedly dull.”

As expected, he often describes the stark reality of war beyond the obvious descriptions of battle.

January 4, 1863. (After the three-day battle of Stone River, TN)
“One mule I heard of, had a leg blown off on the first day’s battle; next morning it was on the spot where it was wounded; at night it was still standing there, not having moved an inch all day, patiently suffering, it knew not why nor for what.”

September 19, 1863 Chickamauga (TN): Beatty is ordered to fall back to Rossville.
“The march to Rossville was a melancholy one. All along the road, for miles, wounded men were lying. They had crawled or hobbled slowly away from the fury of the battle, become exhausted, and lay down by the roadside to die. What must have been their agony, mental and physical, as they lay in the dreary woods, sensible that there was no one to comfort or to care for them, and that in a few hours more their career on earth would be ended.”

Through the horrors of war, some of his accounts show his sense of humor. 

October 5, 1863.
“A shell entered the door of a dog tent, near which two soldiers of the 18th Ohio were standing, and buried itself in the ground, when one of the soldiers turned very coolly to the other and said, ‘There, you d___d fool, you see what you get by leaving your door open.’'

One entry during a fight shows Beatty’s sense of humor in the face of danger.

January 3, 1863.
“Rifle pits are being dug, and I am ordered to protect the workmen. The rebels hold a strip of woods in our immediate front, and we get up a lively skirmish with them. Our men, however, appear loth to advance far enough to afford the necessary protection to the workers. Vexed at their unwillingness to venture out, I ride forward and start over a line to which I desire the skirmishers to advance, and discover, before I have gone twenty yards, that I have done a foolish thing. A hundred muskets open on me from the woods; but the eyes of my own brigade and of other troops are on me, and I can not back out. I quicken the pace of my horse somewhat, and continue my perilous course. The bullets whistle like bees about my head, but I ride the whole length of the proposed skirmish line, and get back to the brigade in safety. Colonel Humphrey, of the Eighty-eighth Indiana, comes up to me, and with a tremor in his voice, which indicates much feeling, says: "My God, Colonel, never do that again!" The caution is unnecessary. I had already made up my mind never to do it again.”

There are references to Sandusky in the diary.

On the inside front cover is the dedication sticker with Beatty’s signature. Though Beatty was born in Sandusky, he spent most of his life in Columbus. (Photo/Tim Fleck)April 28, 1863.
“…a good-looking non-commissioned officer of the battery came up to me, and, extending his hand, said: "How do you do, General?" I shook him by the hand, but could not for the life of me recollect that I had ever seen him before. Seeing that I failed to recognize him, he said: “My name is Concklin. I knew you at Sandusky, and used to know your wife well." Still I could not remember him. "You knew General Patterson?" he asked. "Yes." "Mary Patterson?" "Yes; I shall never forget her." "Do you recollect a stroll down to the bay shore one moonlight night?" Of course I remembered it. This was John Concklin, Mary's cousin.”

Beatty is part of a promotion revue board. A sergeant is applying for promotion to 2nd lieutenant.

August 31, 1863.
“… this old Sergeant, who, by the way, belongs to a Michigan regiment, came up to me and asked: "Was John Beatty, of Sandusky, a relative of yours?" "He was my grandfather." "Yes, you resemble your mother. You are the son of James Beatty. I have carried you in my arms many a time. My mother saved your life more than once. Thirty years ago your father and mine were neighbors. I recollect the cabin where you were born as well as if I had seen it but yesterday.”

In January of 1864, he resigned his commission after his three-year enlistment was over to return to his banking business in Columbus so his brother William could enlist.

His diary entry for November 12, 1863 shows that he was not interested in the glory of higher rank.

Speaking with General Lovell Rousseau.
“I told him I was exceedingly anxious to get home; that it seemed almost impossible for me to remain longer. He said that I must continue until they made me a major-general. I replied that I neither expected nor desired promotion.”

John Beatty is a Sandusky-born hero and a well-respected recorder of an important page in American history, giving us a realistic view of life for a soldier during the Civil War, who, amid the horrors of war, kept his dignity and humility.
His final diary entry.

January 1, 1864.
“Standing here to-day, I take off my hat to the reader, if by possibility there be one who has had the patience to follow me thus far, and as I bid him good-by, wish him  ‘A Happy New Year.’"