Major James Austin Connolly.
Supreme Court, State of Illinois.
Major James Austin Connolly, the author of this diary of the March through Georgia from Atlanta to the Sea, and the writer of the letters published with it, was a well known, able and distinguished lawyer of Illinois. In January, 1861, he came to Charleston from Ohio, where he had been admitted to the bar in 1859, and had afterward practiced law for a year as a partner of Judge Andrew K. Dunn in whose office he had been a student. He was engaged to be married to Judge Dunn's sister; in February, 1863, they were married, and it was to her that the letters now published were written. In the meantime the Southern states had attempted to withdraw from the Union and civil war was raging. After the capture of Fort Donelson in February, 1862, a committee, of which the young lawyer was one, went from Charleston to do what could be done for the men of the home county, who were wounded in the battle. In this expedition Mr. Connolly was first brought in actual contact with the war and it is the subject of the first of these letters. Six months later, he was himself in the army, having with others raised a company of which he was elected captain and having four days later been elected major of the regiment, the 123rd Illinois Infantry. Within three weeks after leaving camp in Illinois, he was with the regiment in the bloody battle of Perryville, Kentucky. A few months later the regiment was mounted, armed with the Spencer rifle, a new and effective repeating weapon firing seven shots, and was attached to Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry and Major Connolly saw much active service with that regiment. Soon after the battle of Chickamauga he was assigned to duty as Inspector of a division in the 14th Army Corps and was attached to the staff of General Baird, the Division Commander. From that time until the end of the war he was a Division Inspector and was separated from his regiment. He was in the battles of Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge and Atlanta and in many others, was in the march of Sherman's army to the sea at Savannah, and north through South Carolina and North Carolina. The letters, written at frequent intervals as opportunity allowed, contained a fairly continuous account of the life of the soldier from August, 1862, to November, 1864. When the army started on the march to the sea all railroad and telegraph communication with the north was severed and from that time until Savannah was reached, instead of writing letters which could not be mailed, Major Connolly kept a diary by writing on loose sheets of paper day by day events of the day happening within his own observation. In fact, he began the diary on October 1, in anticipation of the march, and the severance of communication by mail, so that for six weeks the diary and the letters cover the same period of time, but from November 11, when communication
216was actually cut off until December 15, when the army was in sight of Fort McAllister and Savannah, there is a complete hiatus of the letters. Upon reaching Savannah he copied a part of these sheets as they were written into a book which he sent by express to his wife at Mt. Gilead, Ohio. Later he copied the rest of the sheets in another book which she also received.
Before his death he had prepared the letters having in view their possible future publication. They are contained in this article, just as he left them. The diary is published just as it was written with one exception noted in what he himself said. In the later years of his life referring to its publication, he said: "It is not a record made after the events, but a record made day by day, in tent, in bivouac, by the roadside, in saddle, just as the opportunity offered and the spirit moved. The writer was quite young when this record was made. He is conscious that he omitted much which it would have been well to have preserved and included much not worth being preserved, but he does not feel at liberty to add to or withhold from this diary anything then written, except in the single instance of a bitter criticism upon a general officer, who is now dead, and this in obedience to the maxim ‘de mortuis nil nisi honum.’ It must go as a truthful picture of the daily life of a single soldier during that great campaign through Georgia, without any trimming or burnishing. Like the old army ambrotype, it may not be a delight, but it is a true picture just as it was taken in the stirring days of Then."
Very few of the men who had part in the making of that picture remain to look upon it, but its vivid portraiture still has interest for their successors and descendants, the men and women of today.
Major Connolly had leave of absence from the army twice during the time covered by his letters — a short leave in February, 1863, when he went to Mt. Gilead and was married and a few days in January, 1864, when he visited his wife also at Mt. Gilead. He must have had another leave in April, 1865, for he was again at Mt. Gilead when President Lincoln was assassinated and on April 15 was ordered by telegraph to report at Washington. He was a member of the escort which accompanied the dead President's body to Springfield.
He was promoted to brevet Lieutenant-Colonel at the end of the war but he was known as Major Connolly to the end of his life. He brought his wife to Charleston, and renewed his practice of law in which he was very successful and established his reputation as an able lawyer. He gave a part of his attention to public affairs, was twice a representative in the legislature, served thirteen years as United States attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, was a member of the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Congresses and was appointed Solicitor of the Treasury by President Arthur, but declined the appointment. He was a lawyer of eminent ability and character, a gallant soldier and a devoted patriot who rendered distinguished service to his country both in military and civil life.