Time Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1996. 10 1/4 x 10 1/4, hardcover with dust jacket, 168 pages, illustrated, index. Like new condition.
This book is a mosaic of the daily life of soldiers during the American Civil War. Encamped in winter, on campaign, or in lulls between battles, soldiers wrote. Their letters and diaries, even their sketches, testify that survival required more than beating the odds in combat. It meant keeping body and soul together against a conspiracy of circumstances. Through this album of emotions and recollections, you can experience the idealism, tedium, petty grievances, jokes and gibes, camaraderie, and desolation of the boys and men who were now soldiers.
Whenever possible these excerpts- collected from hundreds of published and unpublished sources- have been painstakingly matched with photographs, sketches, or artifacts associated with the writer. To do this we had the assistance of an extensive network of expert consultants who have contributed to other Time-Life projects, notably our 28 volume series The Civil War and its companion work, Echoes of Glory. With these diverse resources and access to materials in libraries, archives, and historical societies across the country, we compiled a dramatic account of daily life in the army.
There are several reasons for the abundance of first-hand sources from the Civil War. Postage was relatively cheap, only three cents. And the mail systems were remarkably effective: Mail packets were even exchanged across enemy lines. Above all, a surprising number of soldiers, not only officers but recruits as well, could write, describing their plight with simple eloquence. From camp near Chattanooga, Tennessee, Private Benjamin F. Jackson of the 33rd Alabama wrote: "Ma, I want to see you all the worst I ever did before in my life, but I don't know when I can hear from you for we are fixing to take another march. We got orders yesterday to throw away all our clothing but one suit. We aren't allowed to have but one pair of pants and have them on, one pair of drawers, two shirts, and one pair of socks. We have been in a line of battle or fighting...for fifteen days and it has not missed but one day but what it rained. I have...waded creeks up to my arms without anything to eat for three days at a time. It has been hard times with us and worse a coming I am afraid."
Many soldiers were capable artists who recorded scenes in diaries and sketchbooks. And professional artists, employed by magazines such as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly, traveled with troops to collect eyewitness views of events for readers. Besides battle scenes, these correspondents, or "specials," drew everything of possible interest to the people back home: soldiers busy at their mess, makeshift theatricals, field hospitals, the long wagon trains of armies on the march. These sketches were taken by courier to the publications, where small teams of engravers transferred them to woodblocks for printing.
Contemporary photographs also bring these accounts to life, animating the voice on the page with an image. Technical innovations at midcentury enabled the fledgling craft of photography to record the Civil War extensively, the first such use of the camera for an event of this magnitude. Transporting cumbersome equipment and portable darkrooms mounted on wagon beds, men like Mathew Brady and his assistants spent months traveling with the army, recording with unforgiving faithfulness the ecpectant gaze of new volunteers and the haggard expressions of weary veterans.
So between these covers is the enduring testimony of men trapped by war. Men who faced not merely enemy soldiers, but far more constant foes; boredom, hunger, disease, and fear. Here to is a cross section of society in the second half of the 1800's; boys barely in their teens, farmers, freed blacks, devout Presbyterians, plantation owners, mechanics, schoolteachers, deserters and malingerers, heroes and cowards.
As you read the words of individuals struggling to cope with the effect of events swirling around them- trying to make sense of an unknown and unknowable fate- perhaps it will be possible to understand better the shattering toll of the Civil War.
On the cover: Waging the soldier's never-ending struggle for comfort, three Union men capture what warmth they can from a small fire. The title above the photograph reads, "Fancy the comforts of such a life as this!"