Bisel's diary covers the period from the battle at Cheat Mountain, West Virginia (September 12, 1861) until his mustering out (July 11, 1865).
The diary is filled with descriptions of the countryside and the attitudes of the residents toward the Union soldiers in Virginia and Tennessee where the 12th Battery spent much of its time during the war. Bisel, with wit and wry humor, depicts Civil War camp life, its discomforts, activities, and especially the antics and transgressions of the men. In a matter of fact style he records the treatment of enlisted men by their superiors and the often harsh and even unnecessary punishment meted out.
Bisel describes the action at the battle of Cheat Mountain (September 12, 1861), which was Robert E. Lee's first campaign; Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign (May-June, 1862), including the battle at Cross Keys (June 8-9, 1862); the second Bull Run Campaign, with eye-witness accounts of the battles at Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862) and Bull Run (August 29-30, 1862); the Chancellorsville Campaign (April-May, 1863); and the defense of the Nashville-Chattanooga Railroad at Murfreesboro, Tennessee (December 7, 1864) during the Franklin and Nashville Campaign. Bisel describes the marches, the discomfort of rail transport, and most compellingly the horror of battle and its aftermath. The diary also contains newspaper descriptions of Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, his march to the sea, and the Carolina Campaign, along with commentary on Grant's successes at Petersburg and Richmond.
The diary reflects the political attitudes of Bisel and his fellow soldiers toward the Emancipation Proclamation, the 1864 elections, and Northern Democrats. Of special interest are the reactions to President Lincoln's Assassination and John Wilkes Booth's capture.
Bisel describes the low morale of the Union troops at Chattanooga at the close of the war. He notes the possibility for further military service by joining the mercenary forces in Mexico. Comments on the treatment of Confederate prisoners are frequent, and the attitudes of Union soldiers toward the prisoners is reflected in the diary. Of particular interest is a copy of a letter from Ohio governor John Brough which expresses anger at Confederate treatment of Union prisoners and relief that he does not control the fate of Confederate prisoners (May 13, 1864). Also included are copies of dispatches reporting Jefferson Davis' capture (May 14, 1865) and a copy of a war department memo on reduction of expenses.
Of interest is an article copied from the
New York Tribune which urges benevolence on the part of the North toward the South and shows concern about the lean years ahead for Southern families. Bisel comments on the article at its end. The diary also contains a list of the members and their hometowns of the 12th Ohio Battery; a description of Shelby, Ohio, which includes the types of industry, trades, churches, schools and professions found there. Other miscellaneous entries include observation on marriage, doggerel rhymes and a clothing bill for 1864-1865.
A separate item in the collection consists of an undated speech on women's rights.