As reported in “What I’m About To Read,” I have been eagerly awaiting Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories. When it arrived, I rushed it off to get a signature from Peter “Buck” Zaidel, a/k/a my dentist.
Then I sat down to read and wound up staying awake far past my bedtime that first night.
Just opening the book to the end papers gives a quick snapshot of the men (and one woman) who became embroiled in the war. Moving right along, I became engrossed in the rush of enthusiasm when the government issued the call to arms. Here was the abrupt change in the lives of these farmers, clerks, and in one case a minister who had already reached the life expectancy of forty-six when he joined. I learned something new on almost every page – the tension between the regular army and the green recruits, new officers who did not know military terminology, the privations of weather, poor clothing, and bad food.
The text and photographs serve to show how history should be taught. Of course it would be unrealistic to require students to read the entire three-hundred page book even with lots and lots of spectacular photographs. Selecting almost any chapter and learning of the lives of these young fighters would give students an appreciation for what an earlier generation suffered and sacrificed.
Two favorites so far: James Sawyer provided a list of the pieces of his new uniform including “sky blue” overcoat and pants, 1 forage cap, and “1 pr coarse wide shoes.” Andrew Knox wrote,
One of the boys took his plate, knife and fork from his haversack, laid the plate on the table and laid on it an attractive hunk of beef. On cutting it open two or three fat maggots rolled out. He emptied his plate on the dish and reached for a hard tack. This broke easy. The reason was shown, as several lively skippers trickled down on his plate. “I Yum!” said he, I’ll drink my coffee with my eyes shut,” and he did.
Skipper = moth. Given the poor quality of the food, it’s amazing that so many were able to survive and fight.
At 50 pages in, I have only one complaint: because of the size and the sans serif type, the photo captions make for extremely difficult reading, which is a shame because they provide an education all on their own.
Thank you, Buck and Di, for this fabulous contribution to our history!