The diary of William Moulton is a record of a literate and observant civilian accompanying a friend, Capt. Melville C. Wilkinson, of the 107th N.Y. Infantry, as he traveled from Elmira, New York, to Alexandria, Virginia.
The diary of William Moulton is a record of a literate and observant civilian accompanying a friend, Capt. Melville C. Wilkinson, of the 107th N.Y. Infantry, as he traveled from Elmira, N.Y., to Alexandria, Va. The diary is an engaging and insightful record of war-time Washington and the life of officers in the camps defending the capitol. Moulton was simultaneously enthusiastic about seeing the capitol and thrilled at the ability to use his social contacts from Elmira to navigate the maze of red tape besieging the city.
While waiting in Washington for a pass, Moulton visited the Navy Yard, where he saw the ironclad Passaic (called Monitor No. 2), under heavy guard. He managed to board the Passaic simply by ignoring sentries, strolling up to the ship and asking an officer to come aboard. Moulton's description of the ship, however, is intentionally slight, so as not "to give aid & comfort to the rebels." After being asked to leave by an irritated sentry, Moulton roamed around the Navy Yard, and described the bustle of activity there in the manufacture of weapons and munitions. Later, he visited a number of the most popular tourist attractions, including the Patent Office, the Washington Monument (for which he gives a nice description), the White House, and the Smithsonian. In each place, he was careful to note the objects of historical and cultural interest, and most of all, as he put it, the "machinery, machinery, machinery. That's all I have to say." Through the influence of friends from Elmira, Moulton gained entrance to the capitol building on Christmas day. He remained unimpressed with the members of the House of Representatives: "such laziness, such inactivity, such political dishonesty & trickery should make even the members blush."
In one of the more interesting passages in the diary, Moulton wrote of visiting friends in the camp of the 141st N.Y. Regiment. His description of the visit (December 20-21) gives a strong impression of the camaraderie amongst the officers of the regiment and at the same time of the stress and boredom they must felt in a forward camp. Moulton was even (apparently) allowed to go out on picket duty where he overlooked the no man's land between Union and Confederate-held territory, where civilians needed passes even to enter onto their own property. The diary includes less extensive descriptions of Baltimore and Alexandria, of war-torn Harpers Ferry, Norfolk, Fortress Monroe, and Philadelphia.
Moulton's friend Wilkinson was discharged from the 107th Regiment on 23 January, 1863, suggesting that the two may have been visiting Virginia to finalize arrangements for Wilkinson's discharge. In August, 1863, Wilkinson reenlisted in the 7th Veteran Reserve, where he remained for the balance of the war.