Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Marching with the First Nebraska: A Civil War Diary

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Marching with the First Nebraska: A Civil War Diary

Article excerpt

Marching with the First Nebraska: A Civil War Diary. By August Scherneckau, edited by James E. Potter and Edith Robbins. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. Pp. xxxi, 338. Preface, acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, epilogue, bibliography, index. $34.95.)

Despite the plethora of published Civil War letters and diaries, scholars bring forth new samples of the genre on a regular basis. Each editor claims the work has a special value for historians or general readers seeking to understand some aspect of the war, whether it be a campaign in the Mississippi Valley or northern conceptions of manhood. But in the case of August Scherneckau's diary, editors James Potter and Edith Robbins are justified in their claim to have found "a unique document" that has "several attributes [which] distinguish [it] from other Civil War soldiers accounts" (p. xiii) . Marching with the First Nebraska is an important contribution to the confessional literature of the Civil War.

August Scherneckau, a literate and thoughtful participant-observer, immigrated from Germany in 1857. Much of the interest of this diary stems simply from Scherneckau's immigrant status, personality, and ability to weave a narrative. His diary, translated from the German by Edith Robbins, sheds new light on the immigrant experience in western regiments. Scherneckau often commented on his relationship with the native-born men of his regiment and with the other Germans in his unit. Because the First Nebraska was deployed in areas with large German populations, such as St. Louis, Scherneckau also depicted the effect of the war on civilian immigrants.

Scherneckau's diary also covers topics and regions that are underrepresented in the current array of published confessional literature. Editor James Potter, senior research historian at the Nebraska State Historical Society, notes that Scherneckau's account is the "most extensive personal record of a Nebraska soldier's service that has yet come to light" (p. xv). Relatively few published letters and diaries depict the war in areas where the First Nebraska served: Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska Territory. Scherneckau did not participate in any major battles; in fact, the first time he personally witnessed death during action was January 1864. Scherneckau's account provides new perspective not of battle but of the vital activities soldiers performed away from the front. He described the task of building Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob, Missouri, with a combination of military personnel and local whites and African Americans. …

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