The Musick of the Mocking Birds, the Roar of the Cannon: The Civil War Diary and Letters of William Winters

The Musick of the Mocking Birds, the Roar of the Cannon: The Civil War Diary and Letters of William Winters

The Musick of the Mocking Birds, the Roar of the Cannon: The Civil War Diary and Letters of William Winters

The Musick of the Mocking Birds, the Roar of the Cannon: The Civil War Diary and Letters of William Winters

Synopsis

William Winters was unlike most of the young soldiers who answered the Union's appeal for men in 1861 and 1862. He was different from many of his comrades in age and point of view, and his war service was also out of the ordinary.

The last great surge of popular voluntary enlistment swept up Winters, a thirty-two-year-old saddle and harness maker and father of three from Indiana. Like so many others in the Civil War, Winters was a prolific correspondent, and through his letters we have a record of some lesser-known campaigns. Winters served in the siege of Vicksburg and in the Red River Campaign, frequently as a nurse, a role that emphasized for him the darker side of the war. These letters and journal entries show a sensitive man who reflects upon both the loveliness of the southern locales in which he found himself and the hideousness of war.

Excerpt

Spring was on the land, and the Sixty-seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment was marching off to war again. In the ranks, Sgt. William Winters, though on a destructive raid deep into enemy territory, a mission "to try to kill my fellow men," was nevertheless alive to the beauties of the land and the season around him. In his letters home he tried to describe one of those glorious southern springtides that for a season drive from the mind all memory of the South's raw, dripping winters or the fetid heat of its summers. Sights, sounds, and smells combined in a harmony of pleasant sensations, as Winters wrote of shrubs, flowers, and fragrances and noted that "the musick of the mocking birds" was now to be heard in the land.

That was just like William Winters, a mature father of three who went off to war and served through some of the conflict's most decisive campaigns but filled his letters home with far more about his surroundings and his comrades than about his battles and commanders. Winters's war was a journey of discovery into a culture and climate both different from and similar to his own, and his letters reflect his fascination with the contrasts he found--and perhaps as well his desire to focus on the beauties of nature around him as a relief from the dreary scenes of war in which he was a participant. No mocking- birds sang in Winters's "old Hoosier home" or among the "pineclad hills" of his boyhood home in New England, but their song was common in the Deep South. "The musick of the mocking birds" would have been perhaps as common as any acoustic feature of a world so enchanting that Winters thought he might very much like to live there, but for the discordant and sinister note of its being "cursed with rebels and slavery." The mocking irony of human wickedness in the midst of creation's beauties was rarely lost on Winters and characterized his Civil War odyssey.

William Winters Jr. was born in Connecticut in 1830. As a young man he came--possibly in company with other members of his family--to Cincinnati, Ohio, where in 1853 he married Harriet J. Smith, a twenty-

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