Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Hard Marching Every Day

If you're a Civil War enthusiast and you've read your fair share of published soldier letters, you likely know that not all soldier's letters collections are created equal. Some soldiers were just plain able to convey their thoughts and share their experiences better than others. Then, too, one must consider the audience they were writing to. It made a significant difference whether a soldier was writing to his mother or father or his wife or a newspaper back home, who published his letters in their editions. The later was the case with Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont Infantry.

Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk, 1861-1865, edited by Emil and Ruth Rosenblatt. Fisk's letters to Montpelier's Green Mountain Freeman have appeared in numerous scholarly works on the Army of the Potomac, as his career spanned the fours years of the war. In many ways Fisk's writing to a newspaper who shared his thoughts colored what he wrote. The majority of this missives to the Freeman are safely written due to the fact that he knew many different people would be reading them. If he had been writing to someone on a more close basis, or recording in a diary or journal he likely would have shared more private thoughts. However, there are occasions when he gets quite personal and tells about times when his patriotism wains and when perhaps he did not do his full duty. There were several occasions when he straight up tells of his fears or seeks a more safe position from which to observe an engagement. He usually doesn't mind telling he cares about his hide remaining without holes. This tendency follows closely with Peter Carmichael's idea of soldiers' pragmatic adaptability as a means of coping with the stresses of military life.

Fisk's 2nd Vermont spent the majority of its time in the Army of the Potomac's VI Corps. The VI Corps saw especially hard fighting during the Overland Campaign, around Petersburg, and during Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign. They certainly put in their time marching from place to place. Unfortunately for me and my interests, Fisk was detailed as a hospital guard at City Point during the March 25, 1865 Battle of Jones Farm and the April 2 Breakthrough, and thus doesn't leave much comment on either event other than mentioning the death of Capt. Charles Morey on April 2.

The editors mention that Fisk kept a diary in addition to sending letters to the Freeman. One wonders why perhaps the diary wasn't included as an appendix to the book. It would be interesting to compare his private diary thoughts to his public letters sent to the newspaper.

Regardless, Fisk's letters make for a good and informative read and provide significant insight into the challenges Civil War soldiers faced on a day-to-day basis. Hard Marching Every Day is book at every student of the Civil War soldier should read. I recommend it.

Here are a few passages I found particularly insightful:
Dec. 31, 1863: "Camp life is about as dull as a soldier need wish it to be. A cold, drizzling rainstorm is just now upon us, and the pattering rain drops are making merry music on the canvass overhead, while not a few of them manage to find their way inside of our little shanty. At every crack, under the eaves, and all around, the water persists in obtruding its unwelcome presence in our midst. Some of these impertinent raindrops, with a presumption quite unpardonable, pay no attention to the roof of our house, but rush through and drop inside as if aware of the superior comfort to be found near our fire, which they have have nearly put out. The consequence of all this is that our floor of mother earth is becoming very muddy and slippery; our blankets, our beds and our knapsacks are becoming soaking wet, and everything in the tent is beginning to present a horribly untidy appearance. Notwithstanding all these unfavorable circumstances, I have secured myself a position on my bunk, with two knapsacks for a seat, and in events, I have determined to pen you a fine lines."

June 11, 1864: "These bullets have a peculiar sound. Some of them come with a sharp 'clit,' like striking a cabbage leaf with a whip lash, others come with a sort of screech, very much such as you would get by treading on a cat's tail. Then there are others, the sharpshooters' bullets we suppose, that whistle on a much higher key, and snap against a tree with as much force as if the tree had been struck by a heavy sledge hammer. Some strike in the dirt with a peculiar "thud," others fly high in the air and make a noise similar to a huge bumble bee. They do not tarry long by the way. What they do is done quickly, and woe to the man that stands in their way."

 Dec. 15, 1864: "We are finally back here on Gen. Grant's line fronting Petersburg. . . . There is nothing desirable about this place. It is all fighting and no fun. We neither whip nor get whipped here. Is regular cold blooded duelling, day after day, with no decisive result on either side, and fellows no braver than I am, get tired of it after a while. I suppose those that are braver have keener relish for this continual skirmishing and picket firing, but I own I haven't, and a man that writes must tell his own feelings and speak his own thoughts. But they have got us here now, and we will make the most of it. Somebody must do this work, and they probably thought it might as well be us as anybody. We know how it is done."

No comments:

Post a Comment