“We Have Been Knocked About So Much”: The Journal of Howard J. Ford, Part IX

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

This is the final installment in a series. Click here to read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guided tour through the Civil War service of Pvt. Howard J. Ford of Cambridge, Mass. We finish up the series today with the last few pages of his journal, which was acquired by the MHS in 2019.

The spring of 1863 was chaotic for Howard. His regiment, the 43rd Massachusetts Infantry, was ordered out from New Bern to Washington, N.C., three separate times in less than two weeks. He was clearly exhausted and frustrated. On 17 April, he wrote:

Just 10 days ago tonight at 9 ½ o’clock we were tumbled out of bed and started for Little Washington by the overland route. Got back to camp at 3 P.M. the 10th. About 2 P.M. the 11th started again for L.W. but this time by the water route. Got back to camp at 11 ½ P.M. the 15th inst. And today we are ordered off again at 2 P.M. to go on the “Escort” again for Little Washington. We have been knocked about so much that only 259 men left camp. Some fell out by the way.

Map of New Bern and Washington, N.C.

The reason for all this movement was a Confederate siege on Washington, a Union-occupied town 40 miles to the north. (It was called by some “Little Washington” to distinguish it from the national capital.) Howard didn’t see much action there, but he was impressed by the blockade runner Escort. On this third deployment, the regiment found the Confederate batteries deserted, and many “disheartened” rebel soldiers simply walked up and surrendered. Howard got a chance to visit the town, which he thought “quite pretty,” and to attend an African American church service.

He also drew an impressive diagram of the Union entrenchments.

Pages from the journal of Howard J. Ford, 20 April 1863

The 43rd Regiment left again for New Bern on 24 April. The following week was fairly uneventful, except for a short excursion west toward Kinston and back. Howard’s journal describes a quiet period in camp; he made a ring for his daughter, bought a straw hat to help with the heat, and weighed himself—161 pounds, 204 ½ with all his equipment. The troops even captured a fawn, which Howard called “a beautiful creature.”

His last entry was written on 3 May 1863 and reads only: “All Well as usual.”

Last page of the journal of Howard J. Ford, 3 May 1863

I couldn’t find any records accounting for his whereabouts or activities for the next two months, but I do know that he never made it home.

Howard J. Ford died of typhoid fever on 1 July 1863 at Hammond General Hospital in Beaufort, N.C., one week after his nine-month term of service had expired. According to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, “there were 75,148 documented cases of typhoid fever with 27,058 deaths (36% mortality rate) within the Union army. […] In a war where two thirds of deaths were from disease, typhoid fever was among the deadliest.”

Howard was survived by his wife Mary Agnes (Reid) Ford and their two young children, Howard and Lizzie. Unfortunately, little Howard died of scarlet fever just five years later, when he was seven. Mary never remarried and lived until 1920, dying just a few weeks shy of her 80th birthday. And Lizzie, who was less than a year old when her father died, lived to be 89 and was survived by three daughters, three sons, and at least four grandchildren.