Home > 19th Century, Civil War, Slavery > Benjamin Watkins Leigh Travel Diary, April 1861

Benjamin Watkins Leigh Travel Diary, April 1861

Creator: Leigh, Benjamin Watkins, 1831-1863.
Collection number: 5515-z
View finding aid. 

Abstract: Benjamin Watkins Leigh was born in 1831 in Richmond, Va. Leigh practiced law until he enlisted as a captain in the Confederate army on 21 May 1861, receiving a commission in the 1st Batallion, Virginia Infantry Regiment. By June 1863, he had been transferred to the 42nd Virginia Infantry Regiment and promoted to full major. Leigh died in the Battle of Gettysburg on 3 July 1863. The collection consists of a highly detailed travel diary kept by Benjamin Watkins Leigh in April 1861 during a trip through the South, taken with his brother a month before Leigh enlisted in the Confederate Army. The brothers began their trip in Virginia and proceeded through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, before returning to Virginia through Mississippi and Tennessee. The diary contains lengthy, often block-by-block descriptions of the buildings and landmarks in the cities and towns Leigh visited, including Wilmington, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans, La., among others. The diary details Leigh’s travel route, opinions on traveling by steamboat and rail, and observations on landscape and climate, as well as descriptions of meetings with family, friends, and other associates, including Abraham Minis and James Louis Petigru, as well as several encounters with slaves. Several entries mention local reaction to events in the Civil War, including the ratification of the Constitution of the Confederate States, the Battle of Fort Sumter, and the secession of Virginia from the Union.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: Several of the entries contain descriptions of interactions with enslaved individuals.

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