Time Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1997. 10 1/4 x 10 1/4, hardcover with dust jacket, 167 pages, illustrated, index. Some thin scratches to the back of the dust jacket. The book itself is in brand new condition.
This book is by and of the soldiers and civilians who experienced the Battle of Chickamauga. Through their words and images you can relieve the emotions, the terrifying rush of events, the horrors- and even the human comedy- of the Civil War's bloodiest two days. Thus you hold in your hands an album of personal recollections from letters, diaries, photographs, sketches, and artifacts.
To compile this special volume, we combed hundreds of sources, both published and unpublished. We had invaluable help from an extensive 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able to assemble a dramatic narrative told from many perspectives: manuscript letters and journals- some previously unpublished- regimental histories and privately printed memoirs, articles in little known historical society publications, and more.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. A surprising number of recruits could write, and write vividly. Private William J. Oliphant of the 6th Texas Infantry remembered the horror of fighting at night at Chickamauga; "It was now quite dark but just ahead of us was a brilliant light. A field was burning and we were ordered to charge through it...The fence was on fire and the tall dead trees in the field were blazing high in the air. Dead and wounded men were lying there in great danger of being consumed."
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 army to depict events for readers. These correspondents drew virtually everything of possible interest: battles, lounging soldiers, the odd piece of equipment. Sketches dashed off in a few minutes 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, etching with light the brave faces of the soldiers, as well as the bodies stiffened on the field. When Brady's stark photographs of the dead were first exhibited in New York City in 1862, the public thought, albeit briefly, that such horrific images could actually bring the war to an end.
So here you find living testimony from the battlefield of Chickamauga. As you look into the eyes of these soldiers and civilians, as you read the words of those dazed by the violence around them or by the grief that follows the fighting, perhaps it will be possible to perceive more clearly the shattering experience that was Chickamauga.
Cover Photograph: Lee and Gordon's Mills, about 12 miles south of Chattanooga, was the scene of some of the early skirmishes that started the two day Battle of Chickamauga.
Cover quotation: "We must drop a soldier's tear upon the graves of the noble men who have fallen by our sides." General Braxton Bragg.