George Templeton Strong (1820-1875) might very well be the most famous Northern civilian diarist from the Civil War (with Mary Chestnut having the same honor from the South). As a prominent New York real estate attorney and socialite who was born into some privilege, Strong fastidiously made detailed daily entrees that fully caught the atmosphere and action of the times he lived in. He was also an opinionated man. According to Professor John Willis, “Strong combined a distinct elitism with his high attainments, and probably suffered from few doubts about the validity of his opinions, even after he altered them.” His first entry was made in 1835 and he continued on an almost daily basis right up through to his death in 1875.
According to this contemporary obituary, Strong was a founder and treasurer of the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War, which allowed him an enhanced position in viewing the war. Strong was also a founding member of the Union League Club, an organization pledged to "cultivate a profound national devotion" and to "strengthen a love and respect for the Union.”
Strong’s 2,250-page diary was first discovered in the 1930s but not made available to the general public until 1952, when MacMillan released it as a four-volume hardcover set in slipcase with wraparound artwork. Complete first edition sets with the slipcase in fine condition are extremely difficult to find and generally run in the $500 range.
Noted Civil War historian Allen Nevins edited the work and provided the introduction. Considering Strong’s Sanitary Commission work, Nevins noted that, “It is evident that during the war few men in the country toiled harder than Strong, or with less thought of reward.” Strong and his diary were extensively quoted in Ken Burns’ TV documentary The Civil War with George Plimpton providing the voice of Strong. Volume 3 covered the Civil War years and was released by MacMillan as a standalone volume in 1962 titled Diary of the Civil War, 1860-1865. Whether one has the four-volume set or the standalone edition, this is a primary source cornerstone of the Civil War.