A Stillwater soldier’s Civil War diary
“Cool. Our brigade was routed out at 2 o’clock in the morning to march and my Regt. was in the lead and soon over took the rebs and the bullets began to whistle, but the pickets dint ketch up with the Regt. untill 12 o’clock just in time before the ball commenced.”
That is the April 8 entry in the 1864 diary of John Goman, a corporal in the Union army during the Civil War. He is describing the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads, also known as the Battle of Mansfield.
Taking place in northwestern Louisiana, the day ended in a Confederate victory after more than 3,000 casualties – about two Union soldiers for every one Confederate – according to a National Park Service (NPS) battle database.
His diary is a testament to not only Goman’s bravery and struggles, but also to life as a Civil War soldier.
This extraordinary piece of history found a new home earlier this year – the Museum in the Beartooths in Columbus. At the end of April, Diana LeBrun – one of Goman’s many descendants in the area – donated the journal to the museum, according to Museum Director Penny Redli.
There it tells the story of its author – Stillwater County’s very own Civil War veteran.
LIFE OF A CIVIL WAR SOLDIER
According to Goman’s obituary in the March 10, 1938, edition of the Columbus News, he was born near Montreal, Canada, around 1842, and moved to Wisconsin with his parents when he was young.
It was in Wisconsin on Aug. 16, 1862, where – around the age of 20 – Goman enlisted in Company F of the Twenty-third Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, under the Department of the Gulf.
His name can be found on a roster of the Company in “War of Rebellion, 1861-1865,” an excerpt of which is on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.
The roster lists the fate of each man, many describing disability, disease, or death. The Twenty-third Infantry lost 305 men during service – 41 killed or mortally wounded, and 267 died from disease. Goman’s entry simply lists the date he was mustered out of the military.
Throughout his three years of enlistment, Goman took part in some very important battles.
The complete list of engagements in his obituary shows: Chickasaw Bayou (Dec. 1862), Arkansas Post (Jan. 1863), Greenville and Cyprus Bend (Feb. 1863), Port Gibson (May 1863), Champion Hill (May 1863), Big Black River Bridge (May 1863), the sieges of Jackson (May 1863) and Vicksburg (May – July 1863), Bayou Bourbeau (Nov. 1863), Sabine Cross Roads and Cane River (April 1864), and the sieges of Spanish Fort (March – April 1865) and Fort Blakely (April 1865).
That list includes pivotal battles of the Vicksburg campaign, the culmination of which – coupled with the Union victory at Gettysburg the day before – proved to turn the tide of the war in the North’s favor. It also mentions engagements of the Union’s ill-fated Red River campaign.
Goman fought right until the end – the siege of Fort Blakely, ending on April 9, was one of the last combined-force battles of the war, according to NPS.
The Twenty-third Infantry occupied Mobile, Ala., at the end of the war, mustering out on July 4, 1865.
Goman fought across Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.
The obituary tells a fascinating story: during the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau, Goman narrowly escaped capture and imprisonment by the Confederates as a prisoner of war. Unlike most of the members of his brigade, Goman did not hear the order to retreat – a mishap that saved his freedom.
A WISCONSINITE BECOMES A MONTANAN
Following the war, Goman married his second wife (his first wife died), Elizabeth Ellis, in 1870 in Wisconsin. The obituary describes how the family moved to Montana around 1913 – initially settling west of Shepherd in Hoskin’s Basin before moving to “Countryman Creek country.”
At the time of his death, Goman had eight children surviving. His children in Reed Point were Harrison Ira Goman, Abraham Goman, and Minnie Thompson. Two of his sons were living in Laurel – Delbert Goman and James Goman. He had three daughters living in Wisconsin.
An article published in Washington, D.C.’s National Tribune shortly before Goman died discusses how the Civil War veteran had three sons in World War I. Two served overseas and one served on the Mexican border.
Goman’s military service was not only passed on to his sons, but the tradition has been continued by several generations of his descendants, according to Redli.