AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The Special Collections and Archives Department of Auburn University Libraries has added another significant historical document to its collection of materials documenting the American Civil War. Through a donation by the family of Nancy Eckert Galbreath, the Thomas Thompson Eckert diary has become a permanent part of Special Collections and Archives’ documents available to scholars studying this chapter of American history.
The Eckert diary, with entries written between Jan. 2 and Dec. 1865, offers a glimpse into a time when the United States was preparing for the end of the Civil War and the period immediately after. Eckert, at the time the general superintendent of military telegraph at the War Department with the rank of major, was a confidant of President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton. He participated in the failed Hampton Roads peace conference in February 1865 and was at Lincoln’s bedside when the president died on April 15, 1865.
His diary entry on the death of Lincoln is considered by historians as one of the most powerful written at the time of the event. On April 15, 1865, Eckert wrote: “7 oclock 22 minutes our beloved president Abraham Lincoln breathed his last. I have been on duty at his bed side all night with the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton my heart is too sad for expression.”
Casually read, many of the entries appear mundane – financial notations to track expenses, but placed in the context of historical events, they offer valuable details. On Feb. 27, 1865, Eckert noted an expense of $5 to hire a carriage to honor Secretary Stanton’s reception, thus documenting an everyday necessity of wartime Washington, D.C., social life.
In addition to the diary, the Galbreath family also has donated Eckert’s commission as Assistant Quartermaster of Volunteers with the rank of captain, signed by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, dated July 19, 1862; Eckert’s commission as colonel signed by President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, dated April 5, 1866; and Eckert’s commission as brigadier general signed by President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, dated April 9, 1866.
The contents of the diary are publically available online through the Auburn University Libraries’ digital collections. The Eckert and other Civil War diaries may be accessed at http://content.lib.auburn.edu/cdm/search/collection/civil.
Items such as the Eckert diary are among the types of in-kind donations received by the Auburn University Foundation on the university’s behalf. For more information about making donations of this nature, contact Auburn’s Office Development at (334) 844-7375.
(Written by Jayson Hill.)