Erasmus Lee Bell was born in 1843 in Page County, Virginia. He enlisted in Company K of the 10th Virginia Infantry in June of 1861, at the age of 18. By November of 1862, he had been promoted up through the ranks to the position of 2nd Lieutenant. He fought in nearly every major engagement in the Eastern Theater until his capture at the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864. He spent the rest of the war as a POW until being released under the Oath of Allegiance on June 15, 1865. He would then go on to marry Catherine Spitler, and live as a merchant in Lynchburg until his death in 1920. His diary was donated by Stewart Coleman.
Bell, like many Civil War soldiers, frequently demonstrated his commitment to his Christianity. There are recurrent mentions of services, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and discussions in his diary. These different religious functions were a daily ritual for Bell, and they were only ever interrupted on days of battle. This may be attributed to religious revivals that occurred in many Confederate armies in late 1863 through 1864. Not only did these revivals restore morale, they also bolstered it for the rest of the war.
Bell notes on several occasions in his diary the presence of “negro” soldiers and guards during his time as a prisoner of war. Specifically, while being moved to Morris Island, he says a group of “negro” guards formed to transport he and his men, “to their chagrin.” Confederate POWs often chose to openly demonstrate their distaste towards the idea of being guarded by black soldiers. The hostility and contempt Confederate soldiers showed towards black troops in the Union army is well documented, and it was considered policy in the Confederate army to kill any black soldiers taken prisoner during battle. Bell also mentions receiving confirmation of the Fort Pillow massacre, where the Confederate army slaughtered 300 black Union troops who were apart of the surrendering garrison.
Many soldiers fell prey to rumors during the war. Bell mentions in his diary an officer informing him of France’s recognition of the Confederacy and forming a military alliance against the United States, which Bell took to be true at the time. No foreign nation ever formally recognized the Confederacy, however, which Bell later came to realize. He further references other rumors of Confederate victories, which turned out to either be falsehoods or embellishments.