Three Years a Soldier: The Diary and Newspaper Correspondence of Private George Perkins, Sixth New York Independent Battery, 1861-1864

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Griffin, Richard E., ed. Three Years a Soldier: The Diary and Newspaper Correspondence of Private George Perkins, Sixth New York Independent Battery, 1861-1864. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006. 444 pp. $45.

George Perkins was a twenty-year-old Harvard-educated (two years) Massachusetts resident when he enlisted in a New York volunteer artillery battery in late 1861 after the onset of the Civil War. He wrote long and extensive diary entries, recording his activities, diet, thoughts, ailments, the weather, and events occurring around him. His battery fought in the Army of the Potomac in the East, being converted from regular light artillery to become a "flying" battery to accompany cavalry in rapid movements and raids. He vividly recorded his participation in the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, including the peninsular campaign, the battles of Kelly's Ford, Chancellorsville, and Brandy Station, the Wilderness campaign, and Sheridan's Shenandoah campaign in 1864 until he was mustered out in December 1864. He was fortunate to miss Gettysburg and other bloodbaths because his unit was otherwise engaged or in Washington, D.C., being refitted.

Perkins, whose pre-war occupation was unclear to his editor, was extraordinarily well educated for his day, and his diary entries reflected his learning and philosophical demeanor. An avid reader in his copious spare time in camp, he devoured all reading material available to him from dime novel drivel to working out his own Latin translations of Caesar's Gallic Wars. His diary included quotations from Homer in Greek, as well as comments on the popular novelists of the day, and he even knocked off a Dickens novel in two days. In 1864, when a revival of religious sentiment took root in the Army of the Potomac, he recorded his thoughts about Christian attitudes, attending prayer meetings in camp and debating with himself on the evil temptations of theater-going.

Readers of this journal will be most interested in Perkins' writings for his hometown Woburn, Massachusetts, weekly newspaper. …