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Basil H. Messler was born in 1834 in Dayton, Ohio. In 1852, when he was 18, he moved with his family to Canton, Illinois. He enlisted in the Union Army in 1864, at Fort McClellan in Davenport, Iowa. Messler served in the Mississippi Marine Brigade, which was commanded by Brigadier General Alfred W. Ellet. He saw action at Vicksburg several times. The Brigade was dissolved in August 1864, and Messler was reassigned as Commissary Sergeant of the First Battalion Calvary Regiment. He was later promoted to Corporal. After his discharge from the army, Messler married Mary J. Whitehall in 1866. He attended Lombard College and became a dentist, practicing in Canton, Illinois. Messler died in 1916, at the age of 82.
The Basil H. Messler diary, 1864-1865, includes a single volume containing Messler's diary entries during his time in the Civil War. Messler's diary spans from late February 1864 to late January 1865. It mainly describes the non-combat life of Messler and his fellow soldiers. The Mississippi Marine Brigade patrolled the Mississippi River between Canton, Illinois, and Greenville, Mississippi, protecting local plantations from Confederate raids. Messler describes several raids and a battle. For the most part, however, he focuses on day-to-day events, including patrolling on the scout boat, picking berries, shooting and butchering cattle, getting a haircut, visiting other regiments, celebrating President Abraham Lincoln's reelection, and acting as a bodyguard for southern female college students. Later entries discuss a debilitating illness that kept him in and out of the hospital and taking a great deal of medication for several weeks.
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