Gary Bevirt’s great-greatgrandfather left a priceless gem for his family — a soldier’s diary from the Civil War.
William Jefferson Adams enlisted in the Union army in 1861 at age 17 and served until the war ended in 1865. Although the actual diary remains safe with Bevirt’s parents in Illinois, imagery pours off every photocopied page in the guise of Adams’ cursive handwriting.
Bevirt likes looking through this little window to the past, following Adams’ route as he chronicled his travels through several towns, cities and states.
"This is in his own hand, something that nobody has tainted or changed. He was there. He wrote these things down," said Bevirt of Scottsdale. "It’s like having a videotape of the event."
The diary mainly recalls battles and hardships endured by the Union Army. While Adams did not explain much about his emotional state, his diary tells of crossing rivers in rickety boats, foraging in forests for food, marching up to 33 miles a day and skirmishing with the enemy Confederate rebels.
"When we did attempt to lay down," one excerpt reads from Feb. 14, 1862, "our blankets would freeze to the ground, as it was snowing and hailing."
When granted a 30-day furlough from duty, Adams wrote about returning home to Centralia, Ill., to see his father at the kitchen table reading a newspaper — and finding Adams’ name among the dead. Upon seeing him at the door, his mother "concluded that she had come in contact with a ghost."
"The best joke of all," he writes in late 1864, came when an old black man rushed to the side of the road as Adams’ unit marched by, asking at the top of his lungs where "Massa Lincoln" was.
Some soldiers patted their tall captain on the back and said, "Here he is."
The man then "sprang at the Captain, got hold of him and exclaimed, ‘God bless you Massa Lincoln’ ," Adams explained, with the man adding that he had been praying to see Lincoln for a long time.
Bevirt enjoys having the diary when an occasion calls for explaining some of the real life behind the war.
"I have two daughters, and whenever they’re studying the Civil War, I have come in and given tidbits," he said. "Some of these things you don’t hear about."