Time Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1997. 10 1/4 x 10 1/4, hardcover with dust jacket, 168 pages, illustrated, index. New condition.
This book is by and of the soldiers and civilians who experienced the battle of Fredericksburg. Through their words and images you can relieve the emotions, the terrifying rush of events, the horrors- and even the human comedy- of this pageant of unimaginable courage and bloodshed. You hold in your hands an album of personal recollections, embellished with drawings, maps, photographs of artifacts, and, especially, images of people.
To compile this special volume, we combed hundreds of sources, both published and unpublished. We had invaluable help from a network of consultants. Using our own diverse resources and historical materials in libraries and archives around the United States, we were able to assemble a dramatic narrative told from many perspectives: manuscript letters and journals- some previously unpublished- regimental histories and privately printed memoirs, articles in little known historical society publications, and more. Then we set about the painstaking task of locating photographs of these soldiers and townsfolk to accompany their personal accounts.
That so many firsthand accounts survived is due to a few accidents of history. Soldiers could mail a letter home for only three cents. And the mail systems set up by the opposing armies were amazingly reliable. Mail packets were even exchanged across enemy lines. A surprising number of recruits could write, and write vividly. Private Alexander Hunter of the 17th Virginia Infantry, on the hopeless Federal assault against Marye's Heights, said, "From the hill back of the heights the division of Pickett watched the advance, filled with wonder and a pitying admiration for men who could rush with such unflinching valor, such mad recklessness into the jaws of destruction...Across the plain, with no martial music to thrill them, only a stillness that would strike terror into spirits less gallant- across the plain still onward sweeps the dauntless brigade with serried lines and gleaming steel. It was superb!"
Field sketches abound, too. Before photoengraving was developed to reproduce photographs in newspapers and magazines, periodicals such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly employed artists who traveled with the Union armies to depict events for readers. Present at Fredericksburg were not only the best Northern artists but an Englishman working for the Illustrated London News who sketched some rare views behind Confederate lines. Such sketches, dashed off in a few moments during a battle- often at great personal peril- were taken by courier to the publication, where they were transformed into woodblock engravings suitable for printing.
Another element that adds to the unique texture of this album is the photographs. Technical innovations during the 1850's brought the fledgling craft into its own, and the Civil War was the first in history to be extensively recorded by the camera. In the blockaded South, photographers lacked supplies and equipment and rarely covered the action. The North's activities, by contrast, are well chronicled, thanks to the efforts of men who endured great hardship. Photographers like Mathew Brady and his assistants spent months following the army, capturing powerful images of battlefields already transformed into hallowed ground.
So here you find living testimony of the sanguinary clash of titanic forces at the quiet town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. As you look into the eyes and read the words of the soldiers who fought there and the townsfolk caught between the two armies, perhaps it will be possible to understand the extremes of tenacity, heroism, and folly on display during these fateful days.
Cover Photograph: Colonel Robert Nugent, commanding the 69th New York Infantry, fell seriously wounded in the celebrated attack of the Irish Brigade at Fredericksburg. His men, although repulsed, were among the fallen who came closest to the Rebel held stonewall on Marye's Heights.