Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Booknotes: Ordered West

New Arrival:
Ordered West: The Civil War Exploits of Charles A. Curtis edited by Alan D. Gaff and Donald H. Gaff (UNT Press, 2017).

During the Civil War, Charles A. Curtis was a quartermaster with the 5th U.S. Infantry, serving on the Desert Southwest frontier from 1862 to 1865. His memoir of that experience appeared in serial form in the Montpelier, Vermont newspaper Argus and Patriot, released in three installments published between 1877 and 1880 under the title "Army Life in the West." The first two were supported by Curtis's contemporary notes, but the last was reconstructed from memory with details less reliable.

Through the efforts of Alan and Donald Gaff, the memoir has been rediscovered and is now available in book form for the first time. Their editorial intervention is intentionally gentle, generally limited to "arranging the narrative into chronological order, eliminating duplicate material, and removing a few anachronisms." From the description: "Annotated with footnotes identifying people, places, and events, the text is lavishly illustrated throughout with pictures of key figures and maps. A detailed biographical overview of Curtis and how his story came to print is also included." The footnotes are explanatory in nature and appear with moderate frequency throughout the text.

According to historian Jerry Thompson, who would know such things perhaps more than any other scholar, the Curtis memoir "has to be one of the most significant documents relating to the history of the army in the Southwest to be uncovered in the last several decades." More from the description: "In addition to his keen observations of daily life as a soldier serving in the American Southwest, Curtis’s reminiscences include extensive descriptions of Arizona and New Mexico and detail his encounters with Indians, notable military figures, eccentrics, and other characters from the Old West. Among these many stories readers will find Curtis’s accounts of meeting Kit Carson, the construction of Fort Whipple, and expeditions against the Navajo and Apache."

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