Sunday, October 21, 2018

Just Finished Reading - No Freedom Shrieker

No Freedom Shrieker: The Civil War Letters of Union Soldier Charles Biddlecom, edited by Katherine M. Aldridge is an amazing collection of letters. In fact, they are among the best common soldier letters that I've ever read. Found in a box in a New York state barn by the editor they provide a perspective we do not often get.

Charles Biddlecom was a early enlistee, signing up in the 28th New York in the spring of 1861. Poor health, particularly rheumatism, helped Charles receive a discharge in the fall of 1861. However, he was drafted into the 147th New York in the summer in 1863. As a conscript, his views of the army and his situation was probably not unique. While he certainly felt a responsibility to maintain his honor and fulfill his obligation, he was hoping for another medical discharge. And, he absolutely refused to consider deserting although others were doing so.

Suffering from the hardships of army life in the post-Gettysburg Army of the Potomac, Biddlecom rode the ebbs and flows of soldering during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns. Like all of us, he had good days and bad days, steady-even days and frustratingly-odd days. What makes Biddlecom's letters so intriguing is that he shares pretty much anything and everything with his wife Ester, or Es as he often calls her. It is as if he feels an obligation to fill up each and every sheet of paper with news of his life as that is his only means of communication with his wife and their children. Biddlecom does not give the reader the impression that he had real tight comrade relationships; perhaps another reason he shares so much in his writing. These situations are to the benefit of the modern student, as he includes so much about his soldier experience for us to learn from.

Despite ultimately voting for Lincoln in the 1864 election, largely because he cannot stand the peace Democrat "Copperheads" backing McClellan, Biddlecom is not a fan of "Old Abe." He thinks that Lincoln does not prosecute the war at an aggressive enough rate in the fall of 1863 and hopes for a Fremont Republican ticket in the fall of 1864. When that is not realized he goes with Lincoln.

Biddlecom's brigade and the 147th (5th Corps) have a conspicuous role in the Battle of Weldon Railroad, of which he is particularly proud, but he is at his best in writing out his thoughts when he has time in camp between battles. In one of my favorite passages he ponders the symbolism of his old uniform coat. "I drew a new blouse today and I wish I could send my old coat home, for I think a great deal of it as I have worn it throughout the campaign. I should like to save it as a souvenir of the hard fought battles of the Wilderness, Laurel Hill, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Petersburg. I should like to keep it with all its dust, samples of soil from Culpeper to this place. 'Tis not much of a coat now, the skirts torn and ragged, and it is sadly ripped under the arms. Still, as I look at it as it hangs on the butt of my musket, I think more of it than I ever did of any article of dress I ever owned in my life before. Sadly, like everything else I suppose, it will, as Mother says sometimes, 'go the wayof all earthly things.' That is to dust and faith. The old coat's journey will not be a long one, for the sun and dust have already turned it dark blue to a dingy kind of nondescript mud color. Isn't this lots to say just about an old coat?" Now, isn't that amazing insight into a soldiers world of thoughts? Yes, indeed!

This book is a must read for students of the common Civil War soldier. Rarely do we get such insight into what a conscripted soldier thinks and feels in the last year and a half of the war. I can't recommend it enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment