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Diary of a Michigan Civil War prisoner to be narrated

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       Civil War history fans will learn how the diary of a Michigan Civil War prisoner ended up in the hands of an author who was so stirred with the prisoner's day-to-day grim account, he felt obligated to get it printed.

        Ohio journalist and Civil War author Don Allison will relate how he published "Hell on Belle Isle: Diary of a Civil War POW" when he speaks at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 12 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, 303 Pearl St. NW. The presentation is open to the public free of charge. Parking is free.

       Allison will combine his own historical research of Civil War days with the information recorded in the diary of Jacob Osborn Coburn, a quarter-master sergeant from Big Rapids, MI in the 6th Michigan Calvary of Custer's Wolverine Brigade. Sgt. Coburn was held prisoner for several months on Belle Isle, an island in the James River near Richmond, VA before he died. The prison camp was built to house about 3,000 prisoners but at times housed twice that number.
        Two accidental discoveries led Allison to publish this book in 1997. The first occurred while he was reading a photocopy of an old newspaper article on the 38th Ohio Infantry. He found an adjacent column that referenced Coburn’s diary. Curiosity compelled him to get a transcript of the diary. The second incident occurred while he and his wife were traveling in Southern Michigan and visited an antique shop. Allison found a photograph of Coburn. He knew then he needed to pursue this endeavor.
       Coburn was captured on October 18, 1863 in Charles Town, VA and was marched to Belle Island in early November. He survived a few months until he became ill with diarrhea and died March 8, 1864. After Coburn's death, this first-hand account of the horrors of prison life was sent to his parents by a Union hospital steward, a rare and valuable source for those interested in prison life.
       In an excerpt of the diary written in January 1864, Coburn wrote: "It is three months since I was captured. Then I expected that all enlisted men would be paroled and exchanged and returned to our lines. We were full of health, heart, hope and spirits. We were fleshy, having known but little of hunger. We were confident in our ability to endure almost anything.
            "Now we are down, clear down, starved out. Our flesh as well as hope and spirits are all broken or nearly so. We get peevish and irritable, cross, dirty and careless. Eat like beasts, our faces and hands begrimed with dirt and pine smoke and but little inclination to wash them or strength if we had."
             Allison’s interest in the Civil War began as a child. Both sides of his family found in the War. Today he is the editor of the Bryan Times in Bryan, OH. He has written numerous articles on the Civil War and is a member of the 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry reenactment unit.
            His presentation is co-sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Society (, the Grand Rapids Civil War Round Table, and the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

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