Mysterious Civil War diary turns up in Arlington

ARLINGTON — A diary found about 25 years ago in an old house northeast of town describes life during the Civil War through the eyes of a Union soldier, Sgt. Jesse Hyde.

From Jan. 6, 1862, to July 6, 1864, Hyde chronicled the daily actions of the 1st Kentucky Infantry, Company H, as they marched and fought their way through Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Hyde’s 158-page dairy includes entries about rebel troops and the taking of prisoners, gambling and drunkenness among Union soldiers in camp, the execution of a deserter, the soldiers who died from heat exhaustion and those who walked barefoot in the snow. It chronicles the lack of water and food (“one cracker for two men”) as well as the plundering of nearby farms and the burning of towns.

It’s difficult to stop reading.

But how did this Civil War diary end up in a farmhouse northeast of Arlington?

That’s the question Steve Baylor of the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society plans to answer at a presentation this afternoon at Arlington Free Methodist Church.

In 1988, Dorothy Smoke found Hyde’s diary in the back of a closet in the house near the end of Grandview Road. She gave it to her friend, genealogical society founder Marietta Roth.

“It was in a stairway closet,” Dorothy Smoke said. “It was an old house, there were a lot odd things in there.”

It was in the care of the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society until two years ago.

“The society’s board decided the diary was too valuable and too fragile to remain in our own library,” Baylor said. “It needed to be in archival care.”

The Arlington genealogists contacted the University of Washington and the Washington State Archives, but neither institution had time or money to make digital copies. Instead, the Arlington group sent the diary to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. There the diary was added to Kentucky’s online archive. The Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society volunteered to transcribe the 150-year-old diary, with society member Kay Crabtree doing most of the work, Baylor said.

The work that Baylor and Crabtree did is remarkably valuable, said Jennifer Duplaga of the Kentucky Historical Society.

“It is a thrill to have that soldier’s view of the war preserved for the future,” Duplaga said. “The people in Arlington will never have any idea how valuable it is to us.”

In the meantime, Baylor did some work on Hyde’s genealogy in the attempt to figure out how the diary ended up in Snohomish County.

At some point, Hyde moved to then-Washington Territory and he died in Yakima, Baylor said. His widow then moved to the Pilchuck community near Bryant, north of Arlington.

“We don’t have a certain answer as to what happened next,” Baylor said.

Hyde’s widow, Lillie, was friends with the Baker family and they all were involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, a post-Civil War veterans organization founded to provide support for soldiers and their families.

It is probable that Hyde’s widow gave the diary to the Bakers, Baylor said.

Daniel Baker bought the farm off Grandview in about 1882 from the Parks family, the original homesteaders. After belonging for a time to the Fuss family, the farm was purchased by the Smoke family. The Smoke brothers sold the farm to the Rubicon Foundation of Seattle in 1993, several years after Dorothy Smoke found the diary.

While the Civil War seems far removed from Snohomish County, there are Civil War veterans buried throughout the region, Baylor said.

An experienced genealogy researcher and educator, Baylor, 68, is retired from the Arlington School District. He is a past president of the local and state genealogical societies and serves on the state Historical Records Advisory Board.

His presentation today includes a slide presentation and a description of the society’s work on the diary.

“The Hyde diary was a fun project,” Baylor said. “I just followed the hints in the diary to do the research. There are no real answers, but our conjecture is a good bet.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Hear more

A free presentation of “The Strange Case of Sgt. Jesse Hyde,” a Civil War soldier, is set for 1 p.m. today at Arlington Free Methodist Church, 730 E. Highland Drive, sponsored by the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society. The diary can be viewed at www.kyhistory.com by searching for Jesse Hyde.

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