Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Priceless Little Volume

McCarthy wrote his little book so that details of the daily life of a common soldier should not be lost to history. Given that this was first published in 1882, one expects some (a) racism, (b) damnyankee vitriol, and (c) romanticizing of the Lost Cause. One is not disappointed.

Except for that, however, this is a priceless little volume with precious few wasted words. For the writer, nearly every sentence in it provides at least one valuable fact: Taking research notes on it involves nearly reproducing the book in one's own files.

McCarthy covers everything in minute detail from what the common soldier ate on the march to the kinds of conversations he might have going into winter camp. The book is full of detailed scenes like his description of what happens when an entire regiment descends upon a farmer's well, and what the hapless family's farmyard looks like afterward. These are the kinds of things you will never find elsewhere if you are looking to immerse yourself in the life of a soldier. It's not dry recitation of fact that one might expect from the title, however; it is told with not only an eye for detail, but an ear for dialogue and a great sense of humor as well, so it makes for a very enjoyable read. Sketches by McCarthy's Lieutenant add impact, particularly the poignant swords-to-plowshares thumbnail at the very end.

Belongs on every Civil War reference shelf.

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