A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell

By Donald Worster | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Hornets' Nest of War

Wes Powell was an eager warrior, ready to do battle for a righteous cause, and to his mind the cause of the Union was decisively righteous. Five days after President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to put down a rebellious South, the young school principal of Hennepin was at the head of a group of locals who went charging off to serve. They took a train to Granville where they enlisted, then went on to Joliet, a center for organizing volunteers into military units. Passing their medical examinations, they were mustered into Company H of the Twentieth Illinois Infantry Regiment of the United States Army. The men elected Wes to be their sergeant-major, but by mid-June the army had elevated him to a second lieutenant. Those college years were good for something after all. So were the days of teaching students often older and larger than he. And so were those months of exploring rivers, rowing a boat, developing survival skills, and gaining confidence in his ability to handle whatever came his way.

Wes may not have looked especially like a commander of men. Army records describe him at enlistment as twenty-seven years old, five feet six inches tall, of light complexion, with gray eyes and auburn (or sandy in one military record) hair. He was on the short and slight side, though exceptionally hardy. But in his mind, and apparently in the minds of other men, including the army, he showed promise of leading a company effectively into combat, though he had not an ounce of military experience.

All over the nation passions were running high that spring of 1861. Lincoln's election to the presidency had been the match lighting a fuse long in the laying. He was, in the eyes of many Southerners, a

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A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Prologue - Green River Station, 1869 ix
  • Part One - Northern Days 1
  • Chapter 1 - A Mission to America 3
  • Chapter 2 - Rising on the Prairie 37
  • Chapter 3 - The Hornets' Nest of War 85
  • Part Two - Canyons of the Colorado 107
  • Chapter 4 - Westward the Naturalist 109
  • Chapter 5 - Down the Great Unknown 155
  • Chapter 6 - Surveying the High Plateaus 203
  • Chapter 7 - Kapurats 261
  • Chapter 8 - The Sublimest Thing on Earth 297
  • Chapter 9 - Democracy Encounters the Desert 337
  • Part Three - Washington, D.C. 381
  • Chapter 10 - Myths and Maps 383
  • Chapter 11 - Redeeming the Earth 437
  • Chapter 12 - The Problem of the West 467
  • Chapter 13 - Journey's End 533
  • Notes 575
  • Bibliography 611
  • Acknowledgments 645
  • Index 647
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