Sunday, April 24, 2011

You Won't Go Wrong With These Books

This is the conclusion of my miniseries about favorite accounts written by soldiers who served in the trans-Mississippi. Although I have listed six books altogether, please bear in mind that there are many others that I could have selected. The basic point of all of this? The trans-Mississippi, although perhaps not the most important theater of the war, is highly fascinating in its own right and is deserving of more attention than it is likely to get during the sesquicentennial.

Croushore, James H., ed. A Volunteer’s Adventures: A Union Captain’s Record Of The Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946).

John William De Forest, of a wealthy Connecticut family, spent six years in traveling to Europe and Asia and had several publications to his name before the war. So, a gifted writer became a soldier and survived to share his experiences. His service in the 12th Connecticut Infantry took him to Louisiana where he first experienced combat at Georgia Landing (Labadieville) and then later at Port Hudson. The book is a mix of narratives that were first published as articles soon after the war and letters. After serving in Louisiana, the 12th Connecticut fought in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, however, the bulk of the book is about Louisiana, a place that clearly fascinated De Forest. Engagingly written, this account by a highly intelligent man contains a number of insights; my favorite chapter is titled “The First Time Under Fire.”

Wiley, Bell Irvin, ed. Fourteen Hundred And 91 Days in the Confederate Army: A Journal Kept by W. W. Heartsill For Four Years, One Month and One Day Or Camp Life; Day By Day, of the W. P. Lane Rangers From April 19, 1861 to May 20, 1865. (McCowat-Mercer Press, 1953; reprint ed., Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1992).

Privately printed on a small press with pasted in photographs in 1867, this is a book that is difficult to describe. The words, “quirky,” and “unique,” though, spring to mind when describing it. Enlisting in east Texas, Heartsill was dispatched to west Texas; next authorities transfered his unit east where they were captured at Arkansas Post. Transported to a POW camp in Illinois, Heartsill is then exchanged by being sent east to City Point, Virginia, and then he fights at the battle of Chickamauga. Wearying quickly of the Army of Tennessee, Heartsill and three other Texans leave (“desert”) Bragg’s army and make a remarkable trip from Georgia to Texas; personally I think the account of their odyssey is a valuable look at Confederate society in the midway through the war. Heartsill’s war ends in Louisiana and then Texas. Heartsill’s diverse experiences make this unlike any other Civil War book that I am familiar with. In addition, he liked to emphasize words by putting them in all capital letters—thus we have “WIMIN” emphasized and then words were occasionally put in all capital letters for no apparent reason, but that is part of the fun of Heartsill’s book. And the title!! You just have to like a book with a title like this one. Broaden your knowledge of the Civil War by reading Heartsill—you won’t regret it.

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