Turned inside Out: Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac

Turned inside Out: Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac

Turned inside Out: Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac

Turned inside Out: Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac

Synopsis

This memoir is no misty-eyed bit of nostalgia. Frank Wilkeson writes, he tells us, because "the history of the fighting to suppress the slave holders' rebellion, thus far written, has been the work of commanding generals. The private soldiers who won the battles and lost them through the ignorance and incapacity of commanders, have scarcely begun to write the history from their point of view". Wilkeson's is a firsthand account of the fumbles and near-cowardice of the commanders, of their squandering of opportunity, materiel, and human life; yet it also portrays foolishness, cupidity, recklessness, and sloth in the ranks. Wilkeson believes stoutly in the virtues of private soldiers who enlisted early in the war; he has a jaundiced eye for the bounty-hunter, conscript, immigrant, and Johnny-come-lately soldiers of the 1864 army. Nor does he cover the battlefield with the haze of glory; he writes frankly and directly of the scenes of death and mutilation, of battlegrounds covered with dead and dyingmen and animals in the hot summer sun.

Excerpt

James M. McPherson

Civil War soldiers described their first experience of combat as "seeing the elephant." This expression denoted any awesome phenomenon too powerful and fearful to describe in words. It probably derived from the exciting arrival of the circus in town with elephants bigger than any animal ever before seen. The Civil War was the biggest and most fearful experience that any generation of Americans has known. More than 620,000 soldiers lost their lives, 2 percent of the 1861 population of 32 million. If 2 percent of the American people were to die in a war fought at the end of the twentieth century, American deaths would number more than five million--a huge elephant indeed. The Civil War also did more to shape American society than any other event in the country's history. It preserved the United States as one nation, indivisible; it abolished the institution of slavery that had plagued and divided the country from the beginning; and it shifted the locus of economic and political power from the rural plantation South to the urban industrializing North.

Little wonder that surviving Civil War veterans looked back on their military service as the most intense and meaningful experience of their lives. By the 1880s many of these veterans were writing their memoirs, giving speeches about their war adventures, presenting papers to meetings of veterans' associations, and the like. At first most of these chroniclers were . . .

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