John Daniel Follmer diary and memoir
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
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Overview and metadata sections
John Daniel Follmer enlisted on July 10, 1962. He was later mustered in on September 23, 1862. He served at several training camps including Camp Simmons (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on the northwestern corner of Camp Curtin), and Camp Casey at Alexandria, Virginia before joining the Army of the Potomac on January 1, 1864 in which he was promoted from cavalryman to Quartermaster Sergeant of Company F of the 16th Calvary Regiment. Battle experiences included the war’s most noted and discussed campaigns at Gettysburg, the Battle of the Wilderness, the Siege of Petersburg, and General Lee’s surrender at Appomatox Courthouse which solidified the Union Army’s victory. At the close of the war, he was mustered out of service on August 11, 1865 in Richmond, Virginia. Afterwards, he took his earnings and resettled in Michigan. Born in 1840 in Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, Follmer grew up on the family farm in Pennsylvania where he worked as a Blacksmith, before leaving home to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. There, he met and married Martha C. Warner – who had served as a teacher at girl’s school in Kalamazoo, Michigan – of Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1869. Together they had seven children, with only four surviving through adulthood: Clarence Howard (b. 1871 – d. 1878), John Franklin Follmer (b. 1873 – d. 1920), Cora Bell Follmer (b. 1874 – d. 1874), Laura May Follmer (b. 1876 – d. 1904), Charles Edward Follmer (b. 1877 – d. 1880), Fannie Follmer (b. 1880 – d. 1909), and Ralph Warner Follmer (b. 1882 – d. ?). He was employed in several occupations including the bookkeeper and then the superintendent at the Muskegon Boom Company (sawmill); worked in the sawmills in Ford River, Michigan in 1881 for two years—health related issues affected his short tenure there; a short stint as a salesman; then he worked with a lumber company in Arkansas in 1887 but returned to Michigan after two months because of failing health. His illnesses included nasal catarrh, asthma, chronic diarrhea, and colds, all of which he noted to have been the residual effects of a myriad of poor conditions that he and fellow company members were forced to endure while serving in the army.
In 1890 the Veteran’s Act was passed which extended assistance to Union Army veterans who were favorably discharged after having served at least 90 days and had become disabled as a result of serving in the military. Follmer applied for assistance at the moment he decided to retire in order to begin work on the family farm in Schoolcraft, Michigan. Sarah Wilson’s (2002) research suggests that he was approved to receive a pension based on the physician’s report of his illnesses. She wrote, “In May 1891, John Follmer’s doctor diagnose [sic] him as suffering from nasal catarrah, rheumatism, heart trouble and an ulcerated rectum.” All of which prompted “the doctor [to rate] him as ¼ a man for labor” (3). Although, it was not until his final occupational venture in Arkansas that any of his health related issues affected his life in a major way.
Unable to perform physical labor which slowed him down—with memories of the Civil War as his primary topic of conversation—Follmer decided to write a memoir of his experiences during military service. His reflections covered a wide range of experiences and details of the war. He died some years later in 1901 from heart failure, also a condition which originated during the war.
The two volumes here contain John D. Follmer’s reflections on and observations of various moments of the Civil War as he experienced them, which were recorded much later in life. It was while in retirement that he begun the process of composing his diaries on which this finding aid is based. These diaries have been popular among academicians as Follmer’s works have been the subject of academic papers and theses. Recreating those experiences in his narrative, Follmer gives an exceptional up-close-and-personal documentary style which, on occasion, offers the reader as well a close experience of the war.
Volume 1 covers the three years he spent in service from 1862 to 1865. This volume is fascinating in details and emotional insights. There are two versions: one is handwritten and the other typewritten. He discussed issues from the disappointing rations to home sickness to marching orders to face-to-face gun battles. Regarding the rations, he once wrote “On such rations we were expected to keep fat and strong, and fight like devils, be model soldiers, and courteous gentlemen. We managed to fill the bill. I reckon?” (p. 10, original manuscript / p. 4, typed manuscript). However, the scarcity of the rations they received which lacked sufficient nutrients to keep the soldiers well coalesced with the difficult environmental conditions which later produced unpleasant illnesses and bodily ailments. In addition to illnesses he also reported that some men died of homesickness. But, “[d]iscipline had done much to make us soldiers” (p. 5, typed version). He spoke vividly of the carnage and death left by previous battles observed along their path from destination to destination. There’s also the issue of the war’s toll on the soldiers as time passed: “War is a horrible thing. It makes men heartless, brutal, and in many instances sinks out of sight all of higher and nobler manhood.” Then, of course, the occasional political commentary, “If good old President Lincoln would send Stanton to China, and Halleck to Patagonia, and allow Gen. Meade to exercise his excellent judgment without restraint, furnish men and ameans, 1864 would see the war successfully ended.” The better descriptions that Follmer offers come later in the volume during the year 1864 where he offers a more extended prose with “thick” descriptions of what he saw and of the people he encountered.
Volume 2 is completely handwritten and is an account of the battle at Gettysburg in July of 1863. Follmer supplements his narrative with large quoted portions of text from correspondence and books written by individuals like Edward A. Pollard (author of “The Lost Cause”), Arent DePeyster (a British military officer), Adolphus Greely (an explorer and United States military officer), a Carlton (unidentifiable), and Morgan Rawls (a Confederate Army officer and politician). He also quotes a large section of the newspaper the Richmond Enquirer.
Gift of the University of Michigan.; 1988 acquired
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Weckea D. Lilly
- Finding Aid Date
- July 2012
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.