Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CWL----The Last Letter Home: On Campaign, On The Battlefield, In The Hospital, In Prison

Proud To Say I Am A Union Soldier: The Last Letters Home From Federal Soldiers Written During the Civil War, 1861-1965, Franklin R. Crawford, Heritage Books, 238pp., , 20+ photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $29.95.

Crawford has done good service to Federals who died during the war. Similar in many ways to a portion of Greg Coco's work focusing on Gettysburg, Crawford organizes and edits the letters home of 31 Federal soldiers. He is a careful researcher who offers between 15 and 40 notes for each of the individuals. Crawford's comments are not overwrought with Victorian pathos but are clear and concise summaries of the soldiers journeys, camplife and encounters on the battlefield.

Private Pliny F. White, Company E. 14th Vermont encounters drills, picket duty, drills, weapon care, drills after he enlists in early September 1862. With other Vermont regiments that enlisted during the early fall of 1862, the 14th travel to Washington D.C. to man the forts. White frets that his term of service will expire and no combat will be seen. Fortunately Confederate raider Mosby strays to close to Washington DC and two Vermont brigades are ordered out of the forts. Marching from northern Virginia, through Maryland, the Vermonters arrive in Gettysburg on July 2. He writes on July 2 to his sister, "The chances are that today we shall go into battle." Pliny must wait 24 hours for that to happen. Wounded severely in the arm, Pliny is sent on July 5 to the Seminary Hospital. His last letter is July 31. One other letter follows. Francis Bell writes to White's family that Pliny died at 10pm on August 5 due to fever and diahrea (sic).

Ernst Damkoehler,a veteran of the Prussian army and private in Company I, 26th Wisconsin, has commissary duties which bores him but does allow him to sell his free time as a horse groom. Safe during the 1862 and 1863 campaigns of the Army of the Potomac due to his rear eschelon duties. The Eleventh Corps in which Ernst serves is transferred to Chattanooga and participates in the breakout. Stripping the commissary to the barest essentials, Sherman orders commissary soldiers to be transferred to the front in the Atlanta campaign. His last letter home is April 17 1864. He is wounded and captured at Resaca, sent to Andersonville Prison. He dies in June 1864 from complications of the wound and diarrhea. Twelve graves in Anderson hold men of the 26th Wisconsin.

Crawford sets forth soldiers' remarks with a simplicity and directness that is sobering. Each soldier's story takes about 20 minutes to read. The impact of reading the soldiers' description of the ordinariness of their camps, their marches, their cooking, their drills helps the reader to understand these were ordinary men. Loving and missing terribly their families contrasts with the aloneness of being one dying soldier in the Seminary Hospital that held over 700 or being one of the fifty a day who died at Andersonville.

Readers who are reenactors or those who wish to recall to memory the lives of Civil War soldiers will enjoy this book. Also, those editing family letters would do well to look to this book as a model of a difficult task well done.


Naim Peress said...

I bet this book is both haunting and moving.

Maymomvt said...

Hi--do you have a copy of this book on-hand? I can't get it quickly and I am wondering where the Pliny F. White letters are located. Are they in a public archive?

Thanks for your help. Sarah

Rea Andrew Redd said...

The book is available on Amazon.com