NEW YORK, N.Y. — Larry Knight will follow in history’s footsteps on Wednesday, Sept. 11.
He will follow in some mighty big footsteps, those belonging to great-grandfather Adelbert Knight.
In spring 1862, a 21-year-old Adelbert “Del” Knight left Lincolnville to join the 11th Infantry Regiment, United States Army. Writing with a small, tight cursive penmanship, he started keeping a diary on Dec. 11, two days before his outfit participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia.
Adelbert Knight probably wrote with a quill pen, and before the war ended, he started a second diary, sending his first one home to his mother Julia. He fought with the 11th U.S. Infantry at Gettysburg in ’63 and at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and Cold Harbor in spring ’64.
There his luck ran out, but his diary did not.
Captured at Cold Harbor, the unwounded Adelbert Knight shipped to Confederate prisons in Richmond, Va. and then at Andersonville, Ga. There he kept writing in his diary; his observations about the prisoners’ diet (or lack thereof), the weather, and prison life offer startling insight to Camp Sumter, as the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp was officially called.
Nine days after arriving in this infamous camp, Adelbert sold his pen and ink for bread.
Adelbert Knight survived Andersonville and later transferred to prisons in Savannah and Millen in Georgia; Florence, S.C.; and Salisbury N.C. He returned to Lincolnville, married and moved to Belfast and had a son, Burt Leroy, who moved to Manchester, Conn.
There Burt, a traffic manager at the historic Cheney Silk Mills, had a son, James Adelbert Knight, who was born in 1923. James Adelbert had a son, James Lawrence “Larry” Knight,” in 1952; he graduated from Manchester High School in 1970. His mother, Bette, and brother, Craig, currently live in Eddington; Bette helped connect Larry with me at the Bangor Daily News after reading “Maine at War” columns in The Weekly, the publication that I edit.
When Larry was a Manchester HS senior, his English teacher “offered projects you take [at home] rather than going to class,” Larry recalled. “It had to be something substantial.”
His parents suggested that he transcribe Adelbert Knight’s diaries, of which “I was aware of … when I was a child,” he said. One diary was complete, the other was partially written, and Larry opted to transcribe the complete diary.
He did so page by page, day by day, on an Olympia manual typewriter. “Luckily I took typing when I was a sophomore. My father had the same teacher,” he said.
The project took “weeks,” Larry said. “At times it took longer to read it then to type it. I enjoyed doing it; it was a lot of fun.”
He submitted his project, which received an “A.” “The teacher was quite impressed,” he recalled. “I don’t think he expected what he got to read.”
Larry possesses “the original typed pages”; album-mounted photocopies went to various relatives, including his mother, who shared her album with The Weekly. Larry has sent “a PDF of the whole document” to be catalogued by the Library of Congress.
Adelbert Knight’s two diaries went into a safe-deposit box; during a recent Maine visit, Larry Knight invited me to examine them. Larger than an iPod, smaller than an iPad, the diaries are in excellent condition — and the story they tell is incredible.
His English project led Larry to develop a lifelong interest in the Civil War; he “connects with it” via Adelbert’s involvement. “It’s amazing that he (Adelbert) volunteered to go, that he was able to live through what he went through, to live through it so I can be alive now,” Larry said.
He and his father visited Andersonville National Historic Site for his dad’s 75th birthday in 1998. Touring the prison site, which seems gloomy even on a sunny day, left “me speechless, just the feeling I had of my great-grandfather being there and what he went through,” Larry said. “It was very special.”
He plans to return to Andersonville and the other prison camps later this year.
And next week Larry Knight and his son, Bryan Jonathan Knight (who lives in Manhattan), will recreate 9/11 on the streets of Manhattan. Their observance will not be tied to the 12th anniversary of the modern 9/11, however.
According to his diary, on Sept. 11, 1863, Adelbert Knight and the 11th U.S. Infantry broke camp in Manhattan at 7 p.m., marched from 71st Street south on 3rd Avenue to Broadway, then south to Canal Street, and then west to the docks, where the soldiers boarded a ship and later took train cars to Philadelphia.
The New York Draft Riots had subsided into history, so the soldiers were no longer needed to protect the city.
So this Wednesday, Sept 11, Larry and Bryan will follow Adelbert’s route “at approximately the same time of day” along the same Manhattan streets. “Google Maps tells me the full walk from 71st and 3rd Avenue to the Hudson River (Canal Park) is 4.8 miles and should take approximately 90 minutes to walk,” Larry indicated in a follow-up email.
For Larry, “the march” will be poignant, not only because “it will be 150 years to the day” since Adelbert “went that way,” but because Larry might not have been alive, period in 2013.
Twelve years ago he worked for a Burlington, Mass. company that had an office about four blocks from the World Trade Center. Along with an NYC-based company engineer, “I was supposed to be in one of the towers on Sept. 11 ” for a 9 a.m. meeting with Port Authority officials, Larry explained.
“I still have an audio of the voice mail from the guy calling from our New York office on Sept. 10 to see if I was coming” to the meeting, he recalled. “Luckily my boss told me not to go to that meeting.
“Our engineer was running late [on Sept. 11]. He was just entering the main door [of a World Trade Center tower] when the plane hit. Obviously he turned around and ran,” Larry said.
“I am habitually early” for meetings, he commented. “I would’ve arrived at our office at 8 a.m. and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We would’ve been up there” in the Port Authority offices “when that plane hit if I had been there.”