Civil War Mercer Museum journal

Bringing History to Life

An Abington student unearthed a soldier's unread Civil War diary while interning at a local museum. Her historical detective work shed new light on life during a pivotal time in America, and her findings are available to the public.
By: Regina Broscius
Jennifer Rogers was elated when the archivist at Doylestown's Mercer Museum gave her the go-head to transcribe the journal, which dates from Private Joseph Eisenbrey's enlistment to the end of the war.

The journal, which Rogers spent 10 months deciphering, includes vivid descriptions of “soldiers that had been made to bite the dust,” scarce food, and camping on the cold ground. The impact of Eisenbray's experiences in Company C, 8th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Cavalry remains with her.

"Transcribing the journal deepened my appreciation for local history and allowed me to develop a friendship with the man behind the diary." — Jennifer Rogers, American Studies major

Eisenbrey wrote vividly about the war's last major battle at Appomattox Court House where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union's Ulysses S. Grant:

April 9th, 1865. Sunday.
The Rebels could not resist long. ... An “orderly” had just been brought a dispatch that Lee had surrendered his whole army to Grant. If they had not we would have annihilated every one of them. We encamped on the Battle field for the night, only the field between us and the Rebels, some of our boys went across and talked to them.

Jennifer Rogers Mercer Museum discharge2

Private Eisenbrey's original discharge papers discovered in the Mercer Museum archives by Abington student Jennifer Rogers.

Credit: Regina Broscius

A week later, victory turned to sorrow as word of Abraham Lincoln's assassination spread:

Sunday Ap. 16th.
News came today that “Our President” had been shot by a cowardly assassin. The men are all gathered around the camp fires talking it over in subdued tones, some believe it and others not. If it is so it is the “Greatest loss the Country could have received at the present time.”

Wednesday April 19th
The assassination of President Lincoln is a sad affair indeed to think that as soon as the fruits of his administration was beginning to show themselves ... that He should be cut down; ... [he was] released from the cares and troubles of this world.

In one of his final entries, Private Eisenbrey reflected on the future:

Saturday August 19th
I hope to become a useful citizen and help build up our nearly ruined country so that Peace, Prosperity, and Harmony may exist throughout the land from Maine to the shelf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Rogers couldn't resist the urge to find out more about the rest of her friend Eisenbray's life. She dug through census records and journals, learning he was born in the Bucks County river town of Lumberville. He raised a family in Philadelphia while building a successful dental practice.

Private Joseph Eisenbray never resided more than an hour from the Mercer Museum, where — thanks to Abington's Jennifer Rogers — he lives forever.

Sharing Research with the World

Jennifer Rogers' painstaking work added the experiences of a local Civil War soldier to the historical record. Ellen Knodt, professor of English, encouraged her to share her research through the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities (ACURA). Rogers also submitted her work to the Pennsylvania Historical Association, which selected her to present Private Eisenbray's story at its annual conference.