Library & Archives
James W. Conover (1832-1864)
Carla Z. Tobias
Monmouth County Historical Association
70 Court Street
Freehold, New Jersey
On July 7, 1862, following the debacle of the Seven Days battles in Virginia, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 men to serve for an enlistment of three years. New Jersey responded by raising five new infantry regiments. One of those regiments, the 14th, contained three companies (A, D, and G) of Monmouth County men.
Company D was raised in Freehold during July and August 1862 by Captain James W. Conover, who was able to recruit 100 men to serve in his unit. Conover and his men were mustered into the army at Camp Vredenburgh, 2.5 miles west of Freehold, on August 26, 1862 and departed for the front on September 2, 1862. Company D, along with the rest of the 14th Regiment, spent their first months in the army guarding the vital Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge across the Monocacy River, east of Frederick, Maryland. They were stationed there from September 1862 to June 1863. In July 1863 they were assigned to the VIII Corps and then to the III Corps of the Army of the Potomac. In March 1864 the 14th was transferred to the Army of the Potomac's VI Corps, serving with the Third Division.
In April 1864, Captain Conover had gone home to Freehold on leave. Upon his return to the 14th Regiment on April 29, he began keeping a diary, writing down brief accounts of his activities. Less than a week after Conover's return, the Army of the Potomac took the offensive against Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The series of battles that resulted during May and June 1864 have come to be known as the Overland Campaign. These engagements were among the Civil War's bloodiest. The 14th Regiment would participate in the fighting at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Hanover Court House, and Cold Harbor.
Between April 29 and June 15, Captain Conover kept a record in his diary of what he saw, noting the losses suffered by his company, often mentioning men by name. He also kept track, as best he could, of the 14th Regiment's movements, mentioning place names, as well as miles travelled and positions held. Two final entries, dated July 9 and 10, 1864, describe the 14th Regiment's involvement in the Battle of Monocacy, fought east of Frederick, Maryland near the railroad bridge that the 14th had guarded during 1862-1863. It was during this fight that Conover was shot through the hip and in one leg. He was taken to a hospital in Frederick where he noted "[t]he doctors were very attentive." Despite their efforts, Conover's wound proved to be mortal. He died on August 4, 1864. His body was returned home to Freehold and was laid to rest in Maplewood Cemetery. His widow, Martha, filed a claim for $544.20 in back pay due to her late husband. An 1865 document approving that request is found in this collection.
The Grand Army of the Republic post that was established in Freehold after the war was named after Captain Conover (see Collection #142 Grand Army of the Republic, Department of New Jersey Collection).
DESCRIPTION OF COLLECTION
The James W. Conover Papers consist of a five-page typewritten transcript of his diary and an 1865 document from the Second Auditors Office of the U.S. Treasury Department approving Mrs. Martha Conover's request for pay due to her husband from February 29, 1864 to August 3, 1864.
The diary was transcribed during April 1945 by Mr. James W. McClees of Los Angeles, California, who owned the original. Mr. McClees notes at the end of the transcript that his mother was Captain Conover's sister. The diary's narrative runs from the time of Conover's return from leave on April 29, 1864 to June 15, 1864 and describes the 14th Regiment's involvement in the engagements of the Overland Campaign. The two final entries are dated July 9 and July 10, 1864 and describe the 14th's actions at the Battle of Monocacy, Maryland, as well as the circumstances of Conover's wounding.
The Treasury Department document bears the signatures of Second Auditor E.B. French, who noted on October 21, 1865 that he had examined Mrs. Conover's claim and found that Captain Conover was due $544.20, and Second Comptroller John Brodhead, who approved the claim on November 3, 1865. It is a single-page, handwritten item.
While brief, Captain Conover's diary provides an interesting perspective on the battles of the Overland Campaign, as seen by a company-level officer. His notes on the casualties that his company suffered, along with the names of those wounded and killed, will be especially useful to researchers examining the history of the 14th Regiment. Civil War reenactors will also find his first-person observations helpful.
Other collections in the MCHA Archives that relate to the James W. Conover Papers are Collection 1 Peter Vredenburgh Papers; Collection 9 William Burroughs Ross Papers; Collection 33 Cowart Papers; Collection 134 US Army, New Jersey Infantry Regiment, 14th, Company G (1862-1865); Collection 145 US Army, New Jersey Infantry Regiment, 14th, Company D (1862-1865), and Collection 146, US Army, New Jersey Infantry Regiment, 14th, Company E (1862-1865). Subjects Alphabetical Collection 109, Letters 1861-1869, contains a three page April 13, 1863 letter from Corporal Nick Hagerman of the 14th Regiment's Company D, describing activities in their camp along the Monocacy River, east of Frederick, Maryland.
David G. Martin's The Monocacy Regiment: A Commemorative History of the Fourteenth New Jersey Infantry in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 1987) and Bernard Olsen's Upon the Tented Field (Red Bank, NJ: Historical Projects, 1993) are useful histories of the 14th Regiment. Both can be found in the MCHA Library.
On microfilm in the library are copies of the Monmouth Democrat and Monmouth Herald and Inquirer newspapers of Freehold, both of which were published during the Civil War. Many of the wartime issues contain letters written to the papers by local soldiers, some of whom were with the 14th Regiment. A wartime photograph of Captain Conover with his lieutenants (P-746) can be found in the Photographic Collection.
For a complete list of the MCHA's Civil War holdings, see the librarian for a copy of the guide to the MCHA Civil War collections.
PROVENANCE: Gift of Mr. James W. McClees.
SIZE OF COLLECTION: 2 items
BOX # / FOLDER # / CONTENTS
1 / 1 / Diary transcript, 1864 April 29-June 15 and July 9-July 10, and Treasury Department claim adjustment for $544.20, 1865 October 21 and November 3. Two items.
Bilby, Joseph G. and William C. Goble. Remember You Are Jerseymen!: A Military History of New Jersey's Troops in the Civil War. Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 1998.
Stryker, William S. Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War. Trenton, NJ: John Murphy, 1876.
This page last updated 31 July 2008.