Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hood, Trobisch & Johnson: "A CIVIL WAR CAMPAIGN THROUGH MISSOURI: Recollections of a German Soldier"

[A Civil War Campaign Through Missouri: Recollections of a German Soldier comp. by Dennis Hood, trans. by Stephen Trobisch, and ed. by Cynthia Johnson (Leonard Press, 2012). Softcover, maps, notes, index. 169 pp. ISBN:978-1-931475-59-4 $18]

Through the efforts of a small group of historians and enthusiasts (like Kentuckian Joe Reinhart), a growing number of Civil War diaries, reminiscences, and letters written by German-American soldiers are being translated and published. The German memoir published in the pages of A Civil War Campaign Through Missouri is noteworthy both for its anonymity and its literary quality.

Translator Stephen Trobisch also contributes the introduction to the volume. In it, he describes the nature of the original handwritten manuscript, essentially two parallel but intersecting narratives, which, due to the depth of detail, were likely based upon a wartime journal of some sort. Trobisch also recounts the unsuccessful quest to discover the name of the author. He offers up a few candidates, none of whom really stand out. It is fairly clear from clues in the writing itself that the man was an officer of some kind, although, curiously, he never describes his duties and/or command responsibilities as a member of the 15th Missouri.

The writer [for simplicity's sake, named "Alexander" by the editors] betrays a cultural chauvinism similar to that of Reinhart's German soldier correspondents. He is critical of the "American" volunteer army (and a vocal defender of incompetent Euro-phile John C. Fremont), and clearly does not think much of Missourians or their brand of civilization, the latter an opinion also shared by many native soldiers.

At around 70 pages of narrative, Alexander offers a detailed rendering of the first months of what would be the 1862 Pea Ridge Campaign, basically the long march by the Army of the Southwest from Rolla (Mo.) to Bentonville, Arkansas. There's not a great deal of strictly military discussion, but Alexander's depictions of the march itself, along with the natural landscape, towns, and villages traversed, are vivid.  Along the way, he records many of his personal interactions with the inhabitants of the area.  His writing is also spiced throughout with European literary and historical allusion.

Rather than adopting the scholarly convention of an abundance of sourced notations attached to persons, places, and events mentioned in the text, the book's sparse footnotes are mostly translation comments. No map charts the progress of Alexander's march, but a pair of drawings show the locations of the Union winter camps at Rolla and the area around the towns of Springfield and Little York. A complete German language transcription of the original manuscript is also included.

Though they cover only a very brief time interval, the depth of Alexander's writings do provide much in the way of individual insights of the type useful to those researching the attitudes and experiences of ethnic Civil War soldiers. Students of the Pea Ridge Campaign should also find the book helpful to their investigations. The editors of A Civil War Campaign Through Missouri have earnest hopes that its publication will spark the uncovering of more information, including the identity of its author, the result of which will be a new edition clearing up old mysteries. Appreciating all that they've done so far, I wish them luck.

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