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L. Leon (Louis)
Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier
Charlotte, N.C.: Stone Publishing Co., c1913.


Louis Leon, a Jewish Southerner from Charlotte, North Carolina, kept and later published a diary of his experiences fighting for the Confederate army during the Civil War. Although it is unclear whether his family was originally from Charlotte, Louis and his brother, Morris, a soldier in the 44th Georgia Regiment, spent several years in the South prior to the war and considered it their home. Louis first joined the "Charlotte Grays," Company C of the first North Carolina Regiment, and began his tour of duty on May 21, 1861 in Richmond, Virginia, one day after North Carolina seceded from the Union. His tour of duty through Virginia lasted six months, during which time he participated in the First Battle of Bull Run. His regiment disbanded shortly after, and he returned to Charlotte, indicating in his diary that his experience as a soldier was over. However, five months later he joined the 53rd North Carolina Regiment as a private under Captain Henry White and fought in several skirmishes while marching from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. He fought in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 and was taken prisoner less than a year later, in May 1864. On April 10, 1865, after spending eleven months in a New York prison that had struggled to contain a smallpox epidemic, Leon took the oath of allegiance to the United States and was reunited with his parents in New York City.

In 1913 at the age of 72, Louis Leon published his Diary of a Tar Heel Confederate Soldier with Stone Publishing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina. Aware that most first-hand accounts of the Civil War were written by officers, Leon sought to offer a perspective of the war from "the life of the man behind the gun." His narrative provides an overview of a soldier's itinerant routine over a four-year span, during which time the basic need for sleep, food, and clothing became as important as the battles he fought and survived. He notes in his preface that his stories of "camping, marching, fighting, and suffering" will resonate with former soldiers, and indeed, much of his diary simply catalogs these occurences, which reflect the harried life he led at the time. Leon inflects his diary entries with humor at times, although his outlook becomes increasingly despairing toward the war's end. Several incidents stand out from his routine chronicling, including his references to the hospitality of Southerners toward Confederate soldiers, his involvement in the Battle of Gettysburg, his unhappiness at being guarded by African Americans while he was a prisoner of war, and his description of the eleven months he spent as a prisoner of the Union Army. Leon does not discuss his religion prominently in the narrative, but he does record certain Jewish holidays. The final chapter of the narrative is an excerpt from Colonel James T. Morehead's history of the 53rd North Carolina regiment. In this excerpt Morehead describes the final days of the regiment's fighting before the Confederate army surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.

Armistead Lemon
Harris Henderson

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