Diary of Adam Burns Smith

Adam Burns Smith enlisted with Co. B of the 33rd Missouri Infantry Volunteers (Union) in Jefferson City on August 14, 1862. The next year Smith found himself in the midst of Gen. U. S. Grant’s protracted campaign to capture Vicksburg. Like many soldiers, Smith kept a journal to record the daily events of his life. His lengthy, and often detailed, entries described operations along the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi and around Helena, Arkansas, including skirmishes with rebel forces at Fort Pemberton near Greenwood, Mississippi, and gunboat maneuvers. Smith also wrote of scouting expeditions, company drills, and training in light artillery. He even frequently included brief reports on the weather. A sampling of his entries gives an idea of the sundry experiences of a soldier:

• March 11: “Landed at a deserted plantation about 2-1/2 miles above the rebel Fortifications…and were immediately ordered to shore to form in line of battle.”
• March 21: “The evening was spent in singing and mirth…. We also received a mail which was very cheering as we had not heard from Home for some time.”
• April 20: “Was in town...and had a likeness taken in the afternoon.”
• May 2: “Proceed to cover up the dead horses of which there was a great number about half covered and filling the air with stench.”
• May 10: “Went to [a] Preaching a[t] Regimental Headquarters…. The assembly was in a peach orchard.”
• May 28: “In the morning we buried Andrew S. Haley and worked strengthening the magazine.”

Diary of Adam Burns Smith, 33rd Missouri Infantry Volunteers, dated March 11 to July 4, 1863. Missouri History Museum.

Smith was promoted from first sergeant to second lieutenant on June 6, 1863. He was ordered to dress himself appropriately to reflect his new rank, which he did by sewing second lieutenant straps on the shoulders of his uniform. Less than a month later Smith was killed in action while defending Helena during a failed Confederate surge on July 4, the same day that Gen. Grant finally took Vicksburg. Smith was shot through on his right side, just above the hip. Ironically, he had written in his diary the day before how he and his comrades were awaiting the enemy, whose arrival "we wished for earnestly." Capt. John G. Hudson made the final entry in Smith's diary by recording the fallen soldier’s request to him, "Captain, tell Father I died trusting in the Lord." They were the last words Smith spoke. He is buried at the Mississippi River National Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. Smith’s diary was recently conserved by Northeast Document Conservation Center using funds from the IMLS Civil War Project Grant.

—Jeff Meyer, Curator